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Headlines for Thursday, November 7, 2019

DA: Kansas Judicial Panel Did Not Violate Open Meetings Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A prosecutor says a commission that screens applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court did not violate the state's open meetings law in choosing three finalists for a vacancy. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Thursday that the nominating commission took a final vote during a public meeting in October with a unanimous show of hands. He says other votes by paper ballot to narrow a list of 19 candidates to three for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to consider were not binding actions. Senate President Susan Wagle filed a complaint with the attorney general's office this week over the paper ballots. The Wichita Republican argued that not announcing the results of each votes violated the Open Meetings Act. Wagle's office says it is preparing a response to the decision.

(– earlier reporting –)

GOP Complaint Spurs Probe of Kansas Court Selection Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top Republican legislator's complaint has launched an investigation into whether a commission that screens Kansas Supreme Court applicants violated the state's open meetings law. Senate President Susan Wagle is objecting to how the nominating commission used paper ballots in picking three finalists in mid-October for Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to consider in filling a vacancy. How each member voted wasn't disclosed during the commission's public meeting. Wagle filed a complaint Tuesday with Attorney General Derek Schmidt. She urged him to declare the Open Meetings Act was violated and the commission's actions are void. Schmidt turned the investigation over to the Sedgwick County district attorney. Commission Chairman Mikel Stout said Wednesday that it is making information about how individual members voted available to anyone seeking records of the balloting.


Kansas Boosts Tax Collection Forecast $510 Million Over 2 Years

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials have issued new and more optimistic fiscal forecast boosting the state's projected tax collections by $510 million over two budget years. The forecast issued Thursday eases the budget picture as Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly prepares to push to expand the state's Medicaid health coverage for the needy. But the better numbers also are likely to intensify an effort by Republicans to cut taxes. GOP Senate President Susan Wagle said there's no excuse not to return extra dollars to taxpayers. State officials boosted projected tax collections for the current budget year by $207 million, or 2.8%, predicting $7.7 billion. The new forecast predicts $7.9 billion in tax collections for the fiscal year beginning in July 2020. That's $303 million, or 4.1% more than the previous forecast issued in November.


Kansas GOP Colleagues Spurn Davids's Request on Adoption Rule

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Republican Congress members are rejecting a request from the state's lone congressional Democrat that they join her in opposing a federal policy that will allow faith-based adoption agencies to get taxpayer funding even if they turn away same-sex couples. Representative Sharice Davids sent a letter Tuesday asking GOP colleagues to use their relationships with President Donald Trump to help reverse the policy, which rolls back a regulation from former President Barack Obama's term barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Davids is among nine LGBTQ members of Congress. The Kansas City Star reports Kansas Representatives Roger Marshall, Steve Watkins and Ron Estes issued a joint response supporting the Trump administration's decision after receiving Davids's letter. Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts also say they support it.


Voters Back Redistricting Amendment to Kansas Constitution

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has ended an unusual practice for redrawing the lines of legislative districts that has cost university communities political clout. Voters on Tuesday approved an amendment to the Kansas Constitution eliminating a requirement for the state to adjust federal census figures when the Legislature redistricts itself every 10 years. The adjustment counts college students and military personnel not where they're living but in a "permanent" home elsewhere. For thousands of people, that's outside Kansas. Kansas is among only a few states that adjust federal census figures for redistricting, and before the practice started in the 1990s, the state did its own census for decades. Secretary of State Scott Schwab called the adjustment archaic and said it would have cost the state $835,000 ahead of redistricting in 2022.


Corrections Official Says Mass Commutation Worth Considering

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections said a mass commutation of offenders was worth considering during his confirmation hearing. Jeff Zmuda was asked to comment Tuesday on what happened earlier in the week, when more than 450 inmates walked out of the doors of prisons across Oklahoma as part of a massive commutation. Zmuda said Kansas officials are looking at several ways to make reforms and ease overcrowding and "that's certainly one that could be considered." Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said releasing non-violent inmates "sounds like a fantastic idea," but cautioned that if someone who has been released early commits a violent act "there's hell to pay." The hearing ended with a Senate committee recommending that Zmuda be confirmed. The full Senate will vote early next year.


State Concedes Law on Raw Milk Ads Is Unconstitutional

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A central Kansas farm couple prevailed in a lawsuit challenging a state law that limited advertising of raw milk. Shawnee County District Court Judge Richard Anderson signed a consent judgment Wednesday ending a lawsuit filed by goat farmers Coraleen and Mark Bunner, who run Shepherd's Gate Dairy near Pfeifer. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Kansas attorney general and agriculture secretary conceded the 50-year-old law was unconstitutional. Under the law, producers faced misdemeanor charges for advertising raw milk in any way other than a sign on the dairy's property. A law restricting the distribution of raw, unpasteurized milk to the producer's farm remains in place. Kansas Agriculture Secretary Mike Beam said the agency would urge the 2020 Legislature to change the law.


Kansas City Considers Moving Forward After King Debate

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Representatives from both sides of a divisive campaign over naming a street in Kansas City for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say they are ready to work together after voters approved a ballot measure replacing King's name with the street's original name. On Tuesday, Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to change the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard back to The Paseo, the street's name since it was completed in 1899. The vote came after months of heated debate that began shortly after the city council voted in January to name the 10-mile boulevard that runs through a mostly black area of the city after the civil rights icon.  A group called "Save the Paseo" in April turned in far more than the 1,700 signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot. The measure to remove King's name received nearly 70% of the vote in Tuesday's election. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who supported the King name, said yesterday (WED) that he and other city leaders must learn from the vote that they have to engage diverse segments of the community when deciding issues important to its citizens.


Time Running Out for Proposed Kansas Coal-Fired Power Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Time is running out to begin construction on a new coal-fired power plant in Kansas before its permit lapses. The battle over the plant has lasted more than a decade. By the time the Kansas Supreme Court cleared the way for construction in 2017, a company involved in it called the chances it would be built "remote." But The Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle report that documents they obtained show the utility spearheading the project told regulators that "significant interest" remains in building the plant. Sunflower Electric Power Corp. asked for an 18-month extension of a key permit "to finalize arrangements" for its construction. State regulators renewed the permit until March 2020 and warned they would not allow more time. Sunflower didn't rule anything in or out this week.


Feds Charge Immigrant Whom ICE Agent Tried to Free in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors have filed federal identity theft charges against a Mexican immigrant whom a former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent tried to free from jail. The U.S. attorney's office said in a news release Wednesday that they have charged 33-year-old Juan Tapia of Mexico with one count each of using another person's Social Security number, aggravated identity theft and unlawful possession of a firearm. Prosecutors say former ICE agent Andrew Pleviak falsely identified himself as an ICE agent in a foiled effort in September to free Tapia from the Kingman County jail. Pleviak pleaded guilty last month to state charges of making false information and attempted aiding of escape. Pleviak also is awaiting trial for a federal indictment accusing him of false impersonation of a federal officer.


Teens Charged in Videoed Robbery Posted to Social Media

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Four suburban Kansas City high school students have been charged with two Halloween night armed robberies, one of which was recorded and circulated on social media. The Kansas City Star reports that police in Overland Park, Kansas, say the teens took clothing and electronics in the two robberies, which were committed around 4:30 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. on Oct. 31. Police found the sport utility vehicle that the suspects had been driving around 10:30 p.m. and took the occupants into custody. The teens are each charged in juvenile court with two felony counts of aggravated robbery. The Star isn't naming the teens because they are minors.


Teen Dies After Being Shot at Wichita Park

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a teenager was shot and killed at a Wichita park during an ongoing social media dispute. Police Capt. Brent Allred said 15-year-old Marion Wheaton was shot Wednesday night as he and two other teenagers walked to the park to a fight. Allred said the dispute was between them and another 15-year-old boy. The Wichita Eagle reports Allred said when that boy arrived at the park with others in a car, one person from the car fired several shots, hitting Wheaton. He died later at a hospital. Allred said no one is in custody. He said it was unclear if Wheaton was targeted. He said some of those involved in the dispute were documented gang members.


Ex-Nurses' Aide Sentenced for Fraud, Mistreatment

TROY, Kan. (AP) — A former nurses' aide from Atchison has been sentenced to two years in prison for Medicaid fraud and other charges. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release that 26-year-old Janelle Lynn Sakakihara was sentenced Thursday for fraud and two counts of felony mistreatment of a dependent adult. Investigators say Sakakihara abused several people in September 2017 while she worked as a nurses' aide at a Highland Health Care and Rehabilitation Center. She was among 10 people in seven Kansas counties charged in September 2018 as part of a statewide enforcement sweep that focused on people committing Medicaid fraud, stealing narcotics and/or mistreating dependent adults while working in health care facilities or board-and-care facilities that receive Medicaid funding.


Kansas Man Arrested in Death of His Granddaughter

SILVER LAKE, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 4-year-old granddaughter. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Thursday that 56-year-old Timothy Wayne Funk Sr., of Silver Lake, was charged in the July death of Brandy Funk. He is also charged with two counts of aggravated endangering a child. Brandy, of Beatrice, Nebraska, died July 23 at a Silver Lake home. Authorities did not release any further information Thursday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Funk remains jailed in Shawnee County Jail Thursday afternoon on $500,000 bond. Funk was discharged from state prison in August 2012 after serving time for driving under the influence, fourth or subsequent offense in June 2008.


T-Mobile Promises Consumer Benefits if Sprint Deal OK'd

NEW YORK (AP) — T-Mobile promises a new $15 wireless plan if its $26.5 billion Sprint deal goes through. T-Mobile is also promising free internet to emergency first responders for 10 years and to low-income households with children for five years. The $15 plan is for anyone, but comes with just 2 gigabytes of data per month. Federal regulators have approved the deal. But attorneys general of 15 states and the District of Columbia aim to block it, saying it will raise prices for consumers. A trial is to start in December. T-Mobile has already made promises to get the deal done, including providing coverage in rural areas and not raising prices for three years. Regulators could fine T-Mobile for breaking the earlier promises, but T-Mobile isn't legally required to fulfill the new ones.


Alabama Tourism Agency Honored for Promoting Civil Rights Trail, Including Kansas Sites 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's state tourism agency is being honored for its work promoting civil rights travel in 14 U.S. states. The office was presented with an award recognizing its marketing campaign for the U.S. Civil Rights Trail during an industry trade show in London on Tuesday. The trail promotes museums, churches and other African American landmarks across the South. Promotional materials include video interviews with civil rights participants from the 1960s and photos of landmarks. Alabama oversaw the project in partnership with the Atlanta-based TravelSouth USA and the National Park Service. The trail includes sites from Kansas to Delaware, including all of the Deep South. The state won an award for best regional destination. A news release says other finalists included areas in Spain, India, the Canary Islands and the Netherlands.


Lawsuit Claims Restaurant Chain Fired Employee with HIV

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) _ An employee of a Kansas City area restaurant chain alleges in a lawsuit that he was forced out after telling a manager that he had been diagnosed with HIV.  Armando Gutierrez filed the lawsuit in federal court saying that he had been working as a server for a year at The Big Biscuit restaurant in Overland Park. Gutierrez says he approached a manager because he needed proof that he didn't have employer-provided health insurance to be eligible for a state program that helps people with HIV. The next day, Gutierrez says he was informed that he was being transferred and would begin working on Sundays, which he had been getting off because of family commitments. The lawsuit says he protested the schedule change and was fired. The restaurant chain's attorney didn't respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. 

Kansas City Police Say Three People Died in Separate Shootings During a Four-Hour Period

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Authorities say three people were killed in separate shootings in a four-hour span in Kansas City, Missouri yesterday (WED.) The first shooting happened just after 3 p.m. The victim was found on a street and died at the scene. Three hours later, officers learned of another shooting and found a woman in a vehicle at a McDonalds restaurant. She died at the scene.  Police say a third person, in his late teens or early 20s, was fatally shot around 7:15 p.m. on the front porch of a home. Kansas City Police Sergeant Jake Becchina says there is ``no indication that the events are related in any way.'' The three deaths Wednesday bring the total number of homicides in Kansas City to 126 for 2019.


Salina Native to Compete in "Friendly" Match Against Sweden

COLUMBUS, Ohio - (KPR)  the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team is playing an international match against Sweden this (THUR) evening. Team member Salina native Adrianna is part of a new era for the influential and successful group of athletes. Franch is playing with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team at a camp in Columbus, Ohio, this week. It's the first team camp under newly-appointed coach Vlatko Andonovski, who lives in Kansas City. While goalkeeper Adrianna Franch is learning about her new coach, she says she would like to follow up the World Cup championship this year with a gold medal at the Olympics next year. Franch, who also completed her fourth season with the Portland Thorns in the National Women's Soccer League, is in Columbus for a soccer "friendly" match against Sweden.


Lawmaker Ditches Bid to Name Stretch of Route 66 After Trump

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker has abandoned his effort to rename a stretch of old Route 66 in northeastern Oklahoma after President Donald Trump. State Sen. Nathan Dahm told the Tulsa World on Wednesday that he's done trying to rename the 4-mile (6-kilometer) span of the historic highway in Ottawa County, which borders Kansas and Missouri. Dahm may find another spot to rename Donald Trump Highway, but it won't be associated with the Mother Road.

"I am open to working with anyone to find a satisfactory solution," Dahm said.

Republican Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who oversees Oklahoma's marketing and branding, swiftly rejected the idea of naming sections of Route 66 after Trump or any other political figure.

"I don't care if you want to call it Mother Teresa Highway or Donald Trump Highway; there is only one thing to call it, and that's Historic Route 66," Pinnell said Wednesday at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a visitor's center in west Tulsa along the roadway, which once connected Chicago to Los Angeles.

Pinnell and others have been working to establish the route of the former U.S. 66 for tourism. Pinnell said a "uniform branding" campaign would soon be rolled out.


KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day.  KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.

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