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Headlines for Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lawrence Hospital Eliminates Health Insurance for 3 Dozen Employees

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) -- Lawrence's community hospital -- LMH Health -- will soon eliminate health insurance for part of its workforce.  At the end of the year, the hospital will discontinue health insurance for three dozen part-time employees. CEO Russ Johnson told Kansas Public Radio that the cost-cutting move will help keep the hospital more competitive.  "Like any enterprise," he said, "we have to look at being competitive in the market and realize that every cost we have, ultimately, is laid off onto patients who pay the bill."  The 36 hospital workers losing their health insurance will also lose the ability to accrue paid vacation time.  The changes take effect in January.  Two years ago, LMH Health announced a $100 million expansion plan.  (Learn more about this story.)

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Former Prosecutor Drops out of US Senate Race in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former federal prosecutor running for the U.S. Senate in Kansas as a Democrat has dropped out of the race and endorsed a rival only a day after she launched her campaign. Barry Grissom announced Thursday that he is supporting state Sen. Barbara Bollier and urged Democrats to unite behind her. Bollier made headlines in December by defecting from the Republican Party and is running as a centrist. Grissom is a Kansas City-area attorney and an executive in a company that invests in the legal marijuana industry. He was U.S. attorney for Kansas from 2010 until 2016 under Democratic President Barack Obama. He said in a statement that a drawn-out primary contest would be harmful to efforts to capture the seat held by retiring four-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

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Kobach Fires Kansas Senate Campaign Aide over Hateful Posts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Kris Kobach's campaign for the Senate in Kansas says it has fired an aide after learning he regularly posted hateful comments about Jews and racial minorities on a white nationalist website. The latest campaign finance report filed by Kobach's campaign shows it paid Joe Suber of Olathe $500 for field coordinating services in September. The Kansas City Star reports that Suber also filed paperwork with the state in August making the campaign a limited liability company. The newspaper said Suber has a history of making anti-Semitic and racist comments on The UNZ Review, a website with white nationalist and anti-Semitic content. Kobach called Suber's views "abhorrent" and repudiated them. His campaign said Suber ran errands and did other small tasks. Suber suggested some of his posts "might be humor."

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No Douglas County Criminal Charges in Some Marijuana Cases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson says his office will no longer file criminal cases for simple marijuana possession. Branson said Thursday that Douglas County citizens should not be criminally charged when citizens in Lawrence and surrounding communities face little or no penalty in such cases. And he said he hopes the decision will allow county courts and law enforcement to focus on more serious issues. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Lawrence city officials this year reduced fines to $1 for first and second convictions for marijuana possession, for people 18 and with 32 grams or less of marijuana. The city did not change municipal court fines for drug paraphernalia possession, and additional court and diversion costs could still apply. Possession is still illegal in most Kansas communities, and under state and federal law.

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Kansas Says Backlog of Untested Rape Kits Nearly Eliminated

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas law enforcement agencies have nearly eliminated a backlog of 2,200 sexual assault kits that had gone untested, including some that dated back decades, authorities announced Thursday. Agencies have had 2,000 of the kits tested by forensic labs and the remaining 200 should be tested by the end of the month, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said. Officials said the additional testing allowed 373 biological profiles from the evidence to be entered into a computerized DNA database and resulted in 243 hits, which could provide leads to law enforcement agencies. Two cases linked to the rape kit testing have been successfully prosecuted and a third resulted in an acquittal, they said. The bureau also announced it was launching a television and digital ad campaign to create greater public awareness about sexual assault.

"This project has addressed work that was long overdue in Kansas," Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said in a statement ahead of a news conference. "I am hopeful we have made and will continue to make big changes in Kansas."

Last year, the bureau recommended that all rape kits collected in the state go to forensic labs for testing, rather than having law enforcement agencies decide on a case-by-case basis whether to submit them. It launched its effort in 2014 to determine how many sexual assault kits had been collected by law enforcement agencies but remained untested and received a $2 million federal grant in 2015 to tackle the issue. A KBI working group concluded in 2017 that law enforcement agencies had more than 2,200 sexual assault kits that had not been tested, with the oldest collected in 1989. In a report that year, the working group said a lack of training about the trauma experienced by sexual assault victims, a lack of trained officers and victims' advocates, the absence of a statewide policy and public misconceptions about rape contributed to the problem.

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2 Employees Injured in Cargill Plant Explosion in Kansas

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two employees are being treated for burns after an explosion at a Cargill plant in southwest Kansas. Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan says the explosion occurred early Thursday in a stand-alone building away from the agribusiness giant's main plant in Dodge City. The two employees were the only people in the building. Their conditions were not immediately available. Sullivan said the cause of the explosion is under investigation. The plant stopped production for the day Thursday while the explosion is investigated. Sullivan said Cargill expected the plant to resume operations soon and said it will meet its commitments to customers. Sullivan said the Dodge City protein facility employs 2,700 people.

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Manhattan to Allow Women to Go Topless, with Restrictions

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Women are now legally allowed to go topless in Manhattan, with some restrictions. The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday unanimously decided to amend the city code to allow females to go topless. However, property owners and businesses may still require all patrons to wear shirts. The Manhattan Mercury reports City Attorney Katie Jackson recommended the change to avoid potential lawsuits. She said the code could be changed again later. Jackson cited a federal ruling in February 2017 that blocked Fort Collins, Colorado, from enforcing a law against women going topless. Fort Collins is in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, as is Kansas. She said the government could still prosecute a topless woman who is acting in a lewd manner, which is against state law.

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Man in Custody in Connection with Fatal Shooting of Transgender Woman in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say a man is in custody after the fatal shooting of a transgender woman.  Police Captain Tim Hernandez said 30-year-old Brianna Hill of Kansas City was killed Monday morning in eastern Kansas City.  Hernandez said he could not discuss a possible motive but the shooting wasn't related to Hill being a transgender person.  The suspect waited for police to arrive after the shooting and was taken into custody. No charges have been filed.  Hill is the second transgender woman fatally shot in Kansas City this year. In June, 32-year-old Brooklyn Lindsey was found dead on the porch of a northeast Kansas City neighborhood. Marcus Lewis is charged with second-degree murder in her death. A possible motive in that shooting has not been released.

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Lawrence Man Sentenced in Kidnapping, Sexual Battery Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 45-year-old Lawrence man has been sentenced to 11 years and four months in a case in which the reasons for the charges remain unclear.  BJ Lauri was sentenced Wednesday for kidnapping and sexual battery. The Lawrence Journal-World reports an affidavit detailing the allegations against Lauri was sealed after a judge determined the victim's mental or emotional well-being could be jeopardized by its release.  Police previously said that in January, a woman told a Hy-Vee employee she had been held against her will and several "criminal events" occurred during that time. Lauri was originally charged with human trafficking and other more severe charges but pleaded no contest to the two charges.  Lauri's co-defendant, 51-year-old John Brown, is cooperating with prosecutors. He is charged with kidnapping and two misdemeanors.

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Man Killed in Accident at Soybean Plant in St. Joseph

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Federal authorities are investigating the death of a 56-year-old man at a soybean processing plant in St. Joseph.  The accident occurred Monday at AG Processing in St. Joseph.  The St. Joseph News-Press reports the worker, Tony Wilson, died as the result of a fall. His hometown was not released.  Police have determined there was no foul play involved in the death.  AGP spokesman Matt Caswell said Wilson's death was an unfortunate incident. No other details were released.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating Wilson's death.

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2 NASCAR Teams in Traffic Incidents on Way to Kansas 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Two NASCAR teams on their way to Kansas Speedway were involved in separate traffic incidents that damaged race cars. JTG Daugherty Racing owner Tad Geschickter said Thursday the team transporter for Ryan Preece's No. 47 Cup Series entry caught fire while traveling to Kansas. He said both drivers are fine and the team is "assessing the damage of our trailer and race cars." The location of the incident was not immediately specified. The JTG announcement came roughly 12 hours after Kaulig Racing's truck was in an accident in North Carolina. The Kaulig truck went off the right side of the road, through a guardrail and down an embankment, then overturned and came to a stop in a wooded area. Both truck drivers were transported to a hospital for evaluation, and the team said Thursday both drivers had been released. Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the Xfinity race at Kansas on Saturday for Kaulig.

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Slain Girl's Dad Says Killer's Helper Shouldn't Get Parole

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man who helped kidnap a 9-year-old girl in Wichita and assisted her killer is up for parole for the fifth time.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Bo Shoemaker told members of the Prisoner Review Board on Wednesday that 56-year-old Donald Wacker should remain behind bars for failing to help his daughter, Nancy Shoemaker.  Wacker has a parole hearing next month. He's already spent 27 years in prison for helping Doil Lane kidnap Nancy near her south Wichita home in 1990. After the abduction, the men drove Nancy to a Sumner County field where Lane raped her and strangled her with a belt as Wacker watched. Her body was found more than six months later.  The Shoemaker family now lives in Florida but traveled to Derby for the latest Kansas Department of Corrections public comments session.

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Ex-Teacher, Council Member Pleads in Student Sex Encounter

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former high school teacher and Shawnee City Council member pleaded no contest to having a sexual encounter with a student. Justin Adrian, who taught social studies teacher at Olathe East High School, pleaded Thursday to aggravated battery and misdemeanor sexual battery. He will be sentenced Jan. 8. KMBC-TV reports Adrian, who is 33, began talking to the Olathe East student through an online dating apps. The sexual encounter occurred in a classroom at Olathe East High School. The student was 18, but it is illegal in Kansas for a teacher to have sexual contact with a student at the same school. Adrian resigned from the Shawnee City Council but resigned when the allegations surfaced.

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Police Find 144 Pounds of Meth at Kansas City Home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say police seized 144 pounds of methamphetamine in tires stored at a shed at a Kansas City man's home.  The man, 38-year-old Jorge Rodriquez-Gonzalez, was charged this week in U.S. District Court with drug trafficking.  Charging documents allege a confidential source bought a minimum of one kilogram of meth from Rodriguez-Gonzalez at least five days a week.  Prosecutors said that on October 10, Rodriguez-Gonzalez was arrested after showing up for a drug buy with his wife and two young children. Police confiscated weapons, vehicles and drugs, including the methamphetamine inside four tires in a shed near Rodriquez-Gonzales's home.  Court records show Rodriguez-Gonzalez told authorities he lived where the drugs were found but didn't know how the tires got into his shed.

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Only Democrat Running for Kansas 2nd District Seat Drops Out of Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The only Democratic candidate running for an eastern Kansas congressional seat has dropped out of the race.  Abbie Hodgson announced Tuesday that she was ending her campaign in the 2nd District. WIBW-TV reports that Hodgson said she didn't have a "viable path" for winning the seat now held by freshman Republican Congressman Steve Watkins.  Hodgson was a one-time speechwriter for former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius and a former staffer for Kansas House Democrats. She worked two years in Washington for the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Watkins is a former Army officer and military contractor who emerged from a crowded Republican primary in 2018 and narrowly won the general election.  State Treasurer Jake LaTurner is challenging Watkins in the Republican primary, arguing that he's vulnerable to losing to a Democrat next year.

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Kansas Congressman Roger Marshall Now the Top Fundraiser in Race for U.S. Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Campaign finance reports show that western Kansas Congressman Roger Marshall is well ahead of his Republican rivals in fundraising in the U.S. Senate race.  Marshall's campaign reported raising more than $572,000 in contributions from July 1 through September 30.  Marshall ended the period with nearly $1.9 million in his campaign account because he was able to start with $1.4 million from his House campaign account.  Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's campaign said it hit its fundraising goal for the three-month period by raising $250,000. He had about $198,000 in his campaign account on September 30.  Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle raised almost $248,000 in contributions and loaned her campaign another $275,000. She finished the period with almost $495,000 in her campaign account.

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Trial of KU Student Charged with Making False Rape Report Moved to 2020

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has pushed back the trial date for a University of Kansas student who is charged with making a false rape report.  The Kansas City Star reports that the start of the trial was moved to Jan. 6 after the prosecution argued that the defense provided information about expert witnesses too close to the initial trial date of October 28. Judge Amy Hanley found Wednesday that the timing wasn't an appropriate reason to exclude the witnesses.  The prosecution says the woman fabricated being raped by the friend of her ex-boyfriend in September 2018 out of regret and to get revenge. Police say her text messages showed that the sex was consensual.  But the woman attorneys say she is innocent and was making light of what happened in the texts.

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Some US Farmers Get a Reprieve at End of Challenging Year

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Many farmers in the Midwest and South whose planting this year was besieged by wet weather are getting a reprieve, though a few Northern states have seen their harvest prospects go from bad to worse. Minnesota and the Dakotas have seen snow and rain in recent weeks that have hampered an already difficult harvest. But much of the Corn Belt has somewhat recovered from heavy rains in the spring and summer, with experts predicting good yields from what did get planted. Still, it's a far from a stellar year for most farmers. Steve Nicholson, a grains and oilseeds analyst with Rabobank in St. Louis, says that even though many farmers are still struggling, he believes the markets would be a lot more unsettled if a total disaster was looming. Nicholson calls some dire predictions "a bit overblown."

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Bankers Survey Shows Improved Rural Economy in October

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The latest survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states showed an improved rural economy this month, but the ongoing trade disputes continue weighing on the economy. The Rural Mainstreet survey's overall index climbed to 51.4 for October from 50.1 in September. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 indicates a shrinking economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says federal crop support payments and higher grain prices helped boost October's index, but noted that nearly three-quarters of bankers "reported continuing negative impacts from the trade war." The confidence index, which reflects bankers' economic expectations six months out, slumped to a dismal 36.5 from September's already low 42.9. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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2 Missouri Men Die in Train-Car Wreck in Kansas

DALBEY, Kan. (AP) — Two Missouri men were killed when the vehicle they were in was hit by a train in rural northeast Kansas. Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laurie says deputies were called late Wednesday to the scene of the crash near the former settlement of Dalbey. The Atchison Globe reports Laurie says 34-year-old Jeremy McAfee, of Savannah, Missouri, was found outside the truck. He later died at an Atchison hospital. Deputies found 34-year-old Allison Richardson, of Platte City, Missouri, was dead at the scene. The sheriff said the truck apparently was stopped on the tracks. The train was believed to have been traveling about 45 mph before the crash.

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Wichita Lawyer Sentenced in Embezzlement Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 69-year-old former Wichita attorney who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients has been sentenced to three years in prison.  Christopher O'Brien was sentenced Tuesday and was also ordered to pay $603,000 in restitution.  O'Brien pleaded guilty in March to embezzling. Roger and Marcia Altis, of Eureka, told The Wichita Eagle that O'Brien kept money they paid to him that was meant to pay their debt caused by a 2010 bankruptcy in  their family's oil field business.  O'Brien also agreed to turn over $554,889 to the bankruptcy estate of a Wichita machine shop and $51,500 to a group of Hawker Beechcraft retirees.  O'Brien said in written testimony that he embezzled for more than 25 years from law firms and clients. He used the money for expensive trips and weddings and other personal expenses.

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Nation's High Court Weighs State's Role in Prosecuting Illegal Immigrants Who Use Fake IDs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is trying to sort out whether states can prosecute illegal immigrants who use fake Social Security numbers to get a job.  The justices heard arguments Wednesday in Kansas' appeal of a state court ruling that threw out three convictions after concluding the state was seeking to punish undocumented immigrants who used fake IDs to obtain jobs.  The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has exclusive authority to determine whether an immigrant is authorized to work in the United States.  The justices seemed concerned that states shouldn't be hampered in other identity-theft prosecutions when someone might use a stolen Social Security number to get a driver's license or arrange for direct deposit of a paycheck.

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4 School Districts in Johnson County Sue E-Cigarette Maker Juul

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Four more school districts in Kansas are suing a leading e-cigarette maker as they struggle to stop students from vaping.  The Kansas City Star reports that school boards for the 27,000-student Shawnee Mission district, the 22,000-student Blue Valley and the DeSoto school district, which has about 7,100 students, voted Monday to sue Juul. Last month, the board for the nearly 30,000-student Olathe district decided to sue.  The lawsuits seek unspecified compensation for the costs of trying to keep vaping out of schools.  Blue Valley school board President Cindy Bowling said Tuesday that staff is "spending significant amounts of time monitoring and policing vaping in school." She described it as a "drain of resources and a major distraction."  Juul has said it doesn't market to youth and its products are meant to be an alternative to smoking.

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Anti-Abortion Group Opposes Kansas Supreme Court Candidates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An anti-abortion group is opposing two candidates for a Kansas Supreme Court vacancy before a state commission selects finalists for Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.  Kansans for Life announced Tuesday that it opposes state Court of Appeals Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge and Shawnee County District Judge Evelyn Wilson.  The move comes as conservatives seek to overturn a Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights and to require state Senate confirmation of the justices.  A nominating commission is set to interview 20 applicants Thursday and Friday. After it picks three finalists, Kelly will appoint one, with no role for legislators.  Kansans for Life objects to Standridge because of a 2016 appeals-court ruling favoring abortion rights. It opposes Wilson because of her husband's past political contributions to Kelly and other abortion-rights candidates.  Neither judge responded immediately to the group's criticism.

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Kayakers Find Partially Fossilized Bear Skull in Kansas

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Two sisters have found a partially fossilized bear skull while kayaking the Arkansas River in south-central Kansas.  The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks said in a news release that sisters Ashley and Erin Watt made the discovery in August after flooding apparently dislodged the skull. They posted their find on Facebook, which caught the attention of a game warden.  Two Sternberg Museum of Natural History paleontologists then took a look. One of the paleontologists, Mike Everhart, says the skull was washed out of the same river sediments where Ice Age-era bison remains are found. It's believed to be either a modern grizzly or an older species.  There are several historical accounts of grizzlies in Kansas. But they are believed to have died out in the state by the mid-1800s.

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Colorado Appeals Ruling Unbinding Presidential Electors

DENVER (AP) — Colorado wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's decision that presidential electors can vote for the candidate of their choice and aren't bound by the popular vote in their states.  Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser announced the appeal on Wednesday.  The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that a former Colorado secretary of state violated the Constitution in 2016 when he removed an elector for refusing to cast his Electoral College ballot for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote.  Presidential electors almost always vote for the popular vote winner, and some states have laws requiring them to do so.  The Colorado Sun reports that Griswold says the August ruling puts the presidential electoral process at risk.

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KU Favored in Big 12 After Record 14 Titles in Row Ends

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The University of Kansas has been tabbed as the favorite to win the Big 12 men's basketball title, the season after the end of the Jayhawks' NCAA record run of winning the conference 14 years in a row. League coaches picked KU to finish ahead of Baylor and Texas Tech, which last year made it to the NCAA championship game before losing to Virginia in overtime. Texas was picked fourth in the poll released Thursday, followed by West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and TCU. KU coach Bill Self returns three starters, including senior center Udoka Azubuike, who was picked as the Big 12 preseason player of the year. Texas Tech and Kansas State were the Big 12 co-champions last year. Iowa State won the league's postseason tournament after beating Kansas in the championship game.

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