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Headlines for Thursday, October 26, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Ex-Staffer: Sexual Harassment Rampant at Kansas Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A former chief of staff to a Democratic legislative leader says sexual harassment is ``rampant'' at the Kansas Statehouse and that she was once asked for sex by a lawmaker. Former legislative aide Abbie Hodgson says that several female college students working as interns in the state Legislature also were pressured to act as after-hours designated drivers for intoxicated lawmakers.  Hodgson was chief of staff in 2015 and part of 2016 for then-Kansas House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, of Kansas City, Kansas. She said her experiences and conversations with other women showed her that Kansas legislators face no repercussions for sexual harassment. She declined to name the lawmakers involved in the incidents. Burroughs did not immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment. Republican leaders say sexual harassment isn't tolerated and that allegations of it are investigated. 


Kansas Democrat Seeks Change in Harassment Investigations 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democratic leader wants the Kansas Legislature to have independent attorneys investigate sexual harassment allegations. Minority Leader Jim Ward also promised Thursday that fellow Democrats in the Kansas House will undergo training on sexual harassment at a December retreat. And Ward pledged that he'll be willing to remove committee assignments from any House Democrat found to have committed sexual harassment. The Legislature's policies say that allegations against lawmakers by their employees are investigated by its administrative services office. Republican leaders said they trust that process. Ward commented a day after a former Democratic legislative staffer said she was propositioned by a lawmaker in 2015 and that in 2016 female college-student interns acted as after-hours designated drivers for intoxicated lawmakers. Ward was not minority leader at the time.


Kobach Transcript: Changes to US Election Law Discussed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A newly unsealed deposition shows Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach discussed with President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission a requirement that people produce proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. Excerpts of the transcript made public today (THUR) show Kobach also testified that GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa has agreed to introduce legislation amending the National Voter Registration Act if Kansas loses a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the document requirement. A judge required Kobach to submit to the August deposition after finding a pattern of Kobach misleading the court. The transcript sheds new light on a November meeting with the then president-elect discussed the possibility of Kobach becoming secretary of homeland security. Kobach says they discussed the issue of noncitizen voting.  


Senate Panel Backs Trump Nominee for Religious Freedom Post

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved the nomination of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. On an 11-10 vote Thursday, the panel recommended that the full Senate consider President Donald Trump's selection of Brownback for the State Department post. Brownback thanked the committee in a tweet "for voting on my nomination favorably." LGBT rights groups decry Brownback's nomination because of his conservative views on issues such as same-sex marriage. During his confirmation hearing, Brownback defended his decision as Kansas governor to scrap an executive order that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. He says state lawmakers should have resolved the matter, not the governor. Brownback made Kansas an economic laboratory by aggressively cutting taxes.


Public Defender Says​ US Prosecutors Violated Court Orders in Kansas Probe

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - The federal public defender says the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas has violated court orders in a court-appointed official's investigation into the recording of attorney-client meetings at the Leavenworth Detention Center. Federal Public Defender Melody Brannon asked a federal judge Wednesday to order the government to show why it should not be held in contempt of court for destroying evidence and refusing to cooperate with the special master as previously ordered. The filing also accuses federal prosecutors of influencing the U.S. Secret Service to not cooperate. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said it would reserve its comment for the courtroom. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has earlier scheduled a November 28 hearing to discuss the special master's findings and other issues related to the probe. 


Kansas Ethics Panel Rejects Bitcoin Contributions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission says the digital currency known as bitcoin is too secretive and untraceable to be allowed as a form of campaign contributions in state and local elections. The commission's decision Wednesday came after Executive Director Mark Skoglund said he received a request from a candidate wanting to know whether it was legal to accept campaign contributions in bitcoins, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. "Bitcoin is a digital currency," Skoglund said. "There is no physical manifestation of this currency in any way. It's just alphanumeric characters that exist only online. It is not backed by any government. The value is subjective and highly volatile. However, there are millions of people who utilize bitcoin." Bitcoin was first introduced in 2009 and is has gradually been gaining acceptance as an alternative form of currency used mainly for online purchases. But governments worldwide have struggled to create standards for accepting bitcoin in anything other than private, commercial transactions. The Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion in 2014 saying federal campaigns could purchase bitcoins as investments and could accept them as a form of contributions under limited conditions. But the commission noted that having bitcoins does not relieve the campaign "of its obligations to return or refund a bitcoin contribution that is from a prohibited source, that exceeds the contributor's annual contribution limit, or that is otherwise not legal." Skoglund said that no state ethics commission has issued a ruling allowing bitcoin to be used in state and local elections. Commissioner Jerome Hellmer said bitcoins are too risky to be allowed in Kansas elections without standardized reporting procedures. "The greatest problem would be the strong probability of the influencing of local elections by totally unidentifiable lobbyists trying to come in," he said. "If you think the Russians affected the presidential elections, just wait. This is what's going to happen."


Staff Realignments Announced at St. Francis in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The new owners of St. Francis Health in Topeka say they plan to eliminate 60 jobs as part of staff realignment but will also add 86 new full-time positions. The University of Kansas Health System and Nashville-based Ardent Health Services say the new jobs will be primarily in nursing and clinical care areas. Mark Gregson, who is leading the transition for the new hospital, says the laid off workers will be encouraged to apply for the new positions or to look within the Ardent or KU Health systems. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the positions being eliminated include administrative, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health and system positions. No bedside nursing staff jobs will be lost. The two systems announced in June that they would take over the 108-year-old hospital.


Study Finds More Evidence Linking Midwest Earthquakes to Wastewater Injection Wells

DENVER (AP) - Scientists say they have more evidence that an increase in earthquakes on the Colorado-New Mexico border has been caused by wells that inject wastewater from oil and gas production underground. A paper published last week by researchers at the University of Colorado concludes the wastewater increased underground pressure enough to make rock formations slip along fault lines.  It's the latest report to link wastewater injection wells to earthquakes. A sharp spike in seismic activity in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas has also been linked to the practice. Most oil and gas wells produce at least some wastewater that's too salty to use, so regulators allow energy companies to pump it back underground. The Journal of Geophysical Research published the University of Colorado study. 


Reinsurance Company Moving from Kansas to Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Swiss Re, a reinsurance company, says it plans to move its headquarters and 400 jobs across the state line from Overland Park, Kansas, to downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The move is expected in late 2018. President and CEO Eric Smith says the move will bring the company closer to its lead U.S. regulator and provide a more modern workplace. Wednesday's announcement came after Missouri Governor Eric Greitens visited Swiss Re's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland last week to promote Missouri's business climate. The Missouri Department of Economic Development said Swiss Re could access up to $19.8 million in public incentives through the Missouri Works program over the next five years. Swiss Re is a $33 billion global business that provides insurance for insurance companies. 


Airline Service Will Return to Dodge City, Liberal on January 1 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Airline service will return to Dodge City and Liberal beginning January 1. The federal Transportation Department on Wednesday approved San Francisco-based Boutique Air and St. George, Utah-based SkyWest Airlines as providers of air service to the Kansas cities. The Wichita Eagle reports the cities lost service when Alaska-based PenAir filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August. Under the Essential Air Service program, Boutique Air will provide 18 weekly nonstop round trips to Denver International Airport. Boutique, which operates a fleet of Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air turboprop airplanes, will receive an annual subsidy of $3.6 million. SkyWest, operating as United Express, will operate 12 weekly nonstop or one-stop round trip flights to Denver using 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 regional jets. It will receive an annual subsidy of nearly $3.8 million.


Kansas Community Fights Becoming a 'Chicken Town' and Wins

TONGANOXIE, Kan. (AP) — Residents were quick to mobilize after Tyson Foods announced its plans to build a chicken-processing plant outside Tonganoxie in northeastern Kansas. But they weren't on social media to court the Springdale, Arkansas-based company. They used their posts to organize protests to drive Tyson away. Shannon Reischman says she didn't want the bedroom community of about 5,300 people becoming a "chicken town." She and others worried it would be overcome by environmental problems, newly crowded schools and heavy truck traffic. Two weeks after the early September announcement, local officials withdrew their support of the $320 million plant and Tyson started looking elsewhere. Industry and state officials are a bit mystified that any community would turn away 1,600 jobs. Kansas is still trying to attract the plant, but in another town.


Police Investigate Shooting Death of Kansas City Lawyer 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are investigating the death of a lawyer who was shot in his front yard moments after he walked his children to school. Neighbors and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker identified the man as 39-year-old Thomas Pickert, a personal injury lawyer. Pickert was killed Wednesday in the upscale Brookside area of Kansas City. Police said Pickert's wife heard a gunshot and then found her husband fatally injured outside. Investigators interviewed a man who owns a white van seen in the neighborhood at the time of the shooting. Media reports indicate that Pickert recently won a $5.75 million judgment against that man. But police spokeswoman Kari Thompson said Thursday the man is not a suspect in Pickert's death. Thompson provided no other details about the investigation.


3 Kansas Deaths Believed To Be Double Murder-Suicide

GRANTVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man fatally shot his sister and another man before killing himself in northeast Kansas The bodies were found Wednesday at a home in rural Grantville in Jefferson County. Authorities on Thursday said 64-year-old Penny Nelson and 61-year-old James Chavez were killed at Nelson's home. Chavez was a neighbor who was visiting at the time. Sheriff Jeff Herrig says 66-year-old Harlan Gleason shot his sister and Chavez before shooting himself. His body was also found at the home. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Jefferson County detectives are investigating. A possible motive for the shootings has not been released.


Black Kansas City Firefighter Awarded $350,000 in Discrimination Suit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A black Kansas City firefighter who alleged he wasn't promoted because of his race has been awarded more than $350,000 in compensatory damages. Jurors ordered the payout Wednesday for firetruck driver Tarshish Jones. When he sued in 2015, he had been employed by the Kansas City Fire Department for 17 years and had been eligible for promotion to captain for 12 of those years. He took the captain's test five times and scored high. But the suit said he was "marked down in his verbal testing because he is African-American." The suit says white officers with less experience and lower written scores have been promoted. Jones still hasn't. City spokesman Chris Hernandez declined to comment because of the possibility of an appeal.


Officials: Remains Are Leavenworth Man Missing Since 2009

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ Leavenworth police say remains found last year have been identified as a man who has been missing since 2009. Police Chief Pat Kitchens said DNA evidence proved the skeleton was the remains of William Creech. Leavenworth parks employees found the remains December 13 at the bottom of an embankment north of the Riverfront Community Center. Kitchens said Creech likely died after falling from the top of the tall embankment. The Leavenworth Times reports Creech was reported missing September 27, 2009. He was last seen at his home in Leavenworth, which is near where the remains were found. The remains were sent to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in Texas for the DNA testing. 


Former Johnson County Foster Parent Sentenced for Child Rape

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say a former Kansas foster parent has been sentenced to more than 25 years in prison for sexually assaulting some of the children in his care.  Forty-eight-year-old Sean Murphy, of Edgerton, was sentenced Wednesday for two counts of child rape and one count of child sexual exploitation. A Johnson County prosecutor's office spokeswoman says Murphy was working overseas as a contractor when he was arrested in April and entered a no contest plea in June.  Court documents say he recorded two of the victims engaging in sex acts to create child pornography. The Kansas Department of Children and Families didn't immediately respond to an email message from The Associated Press. But the agency said earlier that Murphy had passed the required home inspection and a criminal background check. 


Woman Enters Guilty Plea in Topeka Man's Clubbing Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka woman has pleaded guilty to reduced charges in a baseball bat killing in a downtown Topeka apartment. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 31-year-old Ebony Lanay Porter will be sentenced in December after pleading guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and interference with law enforcement. She initially was charged with second-degree murder as an aider and abettor in the killing last year of 52-year-old Mark Everett Johnson. Co-defendant Arthur Lee Ford IV is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to intentional second-degree murder. Authorities allege that Porter and Ford plotted to break into Johnson's apartment. Porter and Johnson lived in the same building. During the break in, Ford is accused of killing Johnson. Ford subsequently was spotted on an ATM security camera using Johnson's stolen bank card.


Human Remains Found in Suburban Kansas City Storage Unit

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say human remains have been found in a suburban Kansas City storage unit. Lenexa police said in a news release that the discovery was made Tuesday night as officers were checking on a report that people had been sleeping in one of the units at a U-Haul Moving and Storage facility. The release says police are conducting a "death investigation." No information was provided about the cause of death, age or gender of the person found dead. Lenexa Officer Danny Chavez says that the identification process may "take some time" because of the degree of decomposition.


SKF USA to Close Seneca Factory, Eliminating 170 Jobs

SENECA, Kan. (AP) — SKF USA says it plans to close its plant in Seneca during the next 18 months, eliminating 170 jobs in the small town north of Topeka. The plant is one of the main employers in Seneca, which has a population of about 2,000 people. SKF USA is owned by Sweden-based SKF Group. The company said Tuesday it is consolidating its industrial seals manufacturing work. The work being done in Seneca will be transferred to a plant in Salt Lake City. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Mayor Joe Mitchell called the decision a "huge blow" to the city. Mitchell said he's hopeful the town will find another manufacturer to replace SKF.


State to Auction 40 Surplus Bison from Maxwell Refuge

CANTON, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas will auction off 40 surplus bison at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in mid-November. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says the auction will be held November 15 at the 2,500-acre refuge about 6 miles north of Canton. The department says the bison will be more than a year old and tested for brucellosis and tuberculosis. The auction will involve 10 2-year-old bulls, four cows, eight yearling heifers, eight yearling bulls, five heifer calves and five bull calves.


Big 12 Conference Will Start League Play Earlier in 2018

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Big 12 has released its 2018 conference football schedule, and league play will get started earlier next season. When Oklahoma plays at Iowa State next September 15, it will be the third week of the regular season. That is a week earlier than the first conference games this year, and means the Sooners won't have to wait as long to try to avenge their surprising home loss to Iowa State earlier this month. Big 12 officials released the conference slate Thursday, nearly two months earlier than they posted the 2017 schedule last year. The 2018 Big 12 championship game will again be played the first Saturday in December. Texas and Oklahoma will play their Red River rivalry game at the Texas State Fair on October 6, a week later than this year, and the Sooners will host Oklahoma State a week later next season, on November 10.


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