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Headlines for Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Latest: Kobach to Appeal Voting Rights Ruling

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says his office will appeal a federal judge's ruling that Kansas cannot require proof of citizenship in order to vote.  In a statement late Monday, Kobach says the ruling by Federal Judge Julie Robinson is an "extreme conclusion" that "is unlikely to survive on appeal."  Kobach says: "Her conclusion is incorrect, and it is inconsistent with precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Robinson issued a permanent injunction blocking a law championed by Kobach that requires proof such as a birth certificate to vote.  (Read more about this story.)

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Lawsuit Claims Kansas Official Exposed Private Voter Data

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach challenging a multi-state voter registration database it claims exposed sensitive information including partial Social Security numbers from nearly a thousand state voters. The complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas alleges "reckless maintenance" of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which compares voter registration lists among participating states to look for duplicates. The program is aimed at cleaning voter records and preventing voter fraud but has drawn criticism for its high error rate and lax security. Kobach, a conservative Republican seeking his party's nomination for governor, was vice chairman of President Donald Trump's now-disbanded commission on election fraud. The ACLU claims Kobach has made the program a linchpin in his efforts to reduce citizen participation in Kansas elections. The program was started in 2005 and had only four participants when Kobach took office in 2011. By 2017, 30 states were participating in Crosscheck and more than 100 million voter records were added to the database, according to the lawsuit. Eight states — Florida, Alaska, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — have left the program due to security risks and data reliability concerns since Kobach began managing it. Crosscheck compares registration lists and analyzes voters' first name, surname and date of birth to determine whether a person is registered in multiple states, but the lawsuit contends most of the hits are false matches. Kobach encourages states to provide voters' partial Social Security numbers and other confidential information to narrow the list. The lawsuit alleges Kobach regularly sends voter signatures as well as the server address and passwords via unencrypted email. The ACLU's lawsuit, which seeks class action status, contends it is unknown how many voters had their information exposed but alleges that in a single communication in 2017 Florida election officials released the name, date of birth, address and partial Social Security number of 945 Kansas voters in responding to an open records request. That included the personal information for the three named Kansas plaintiffs — Scott Moore, James Long and Nancy Perry — on whose behalf the ACLU filed the suit. Kobach's office had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, but its spokeswoman said a statement might be issued later.

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Kansas Senator Moran Criticizes Family Separations at US Border

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senator Jerry Moran says he opposes the forced separation of families during a crackdown on illegal entries into the U.S. and is working to stop it. Moran said in a statement Tuesday that the separation of children from parents attempting to enter the U.S. illegally demonstrates that the immigration system is broken. Moran said he is working with fellow senators and President Donald Trump's administration to "bring the current circumstances to an end." He said the U.S. can secure its borders "in a moral way" that "honors our values." Moran added: "Our country must make the well-being of these children a priority." His statement came a day after Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder sent U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions a statement asking Sessions to halt family separations.

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Koch-Backed Rule Change Reaches Kansas Supreme Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Koch Industries-backed proposal to allow lawyers unlicensed in Kansas to provide free legal services is being considered by the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said Tuesday it is inviting public comment on the proposal before making a decision. Comments will be accepted until July 19. The current rule allows lawyers who are licensed outside of the state to obtain a "restricted" license to work only for their employer while in Kansas, and the proposed change would also allow them to provide free services to clients other than their employer. Koch Industries and Cargill are the two biggest companies with a Kansas foothold pushing for change that would allow them to put their lawyers to work on charity cases. Before arriving at the Supreme Court, the proposal was under review by the state Board of Law Examiners. The board makes recommendations to the Supreme Court but so far has not said whether it supports a change.

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Candidate Criticized for Poster of Wonder Woman Lassoing Cop

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Democratic Party is calling for its lone candidate for state attorney general to drop out of the race because of a poster in her law office showing the superhero Wonder Woman pulling a lasso around a police officer's neck. Lawrence attorney Sarah Swain apologized amid the resignation call from her party. The Kansas State Troopers Association and other police groups also criticized her, saying the poster promotes violence against police officers. Swain said she had hung the poster in her law office for years and it was not meant to encourage violence against law officers or anyone else, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . "I understand that this picture has been misconstrued by many as advocating for violence against the police, and for that I apologize," Swain said. "I am not anti-law enforcement. I am pro-truth. And I do not condone violence in any form." The state Democratic Party said the poster disqualifies Swain from becoming the state's top law enforcement officer. "We strongly condemn and reject any depiction of violence against law enforcement, including the image from Swain's law firm," the party said in a statement. "We did not recruit or encourage Swain to run for attorney general, nor have we had any contact with her since she filed.  The Kansas State Troopers Association noted the controversy erupted just days after two Wyandotte County sheriff's deputies were shot and killed while transporting an inmate. "At a time when funeral arrangements are being made for two heroes that gave their lives in service to our community ... this cannot be tolerated," the organization said. Swain said the poster shows Wonder Woman using her "lasso of truth" to force the truth from a police officer, which she said is a metaphor for cross-examination and a zealous defense. Her platform calls for criminal justice reform, including the decriminalization of marijuana, ending the war on drugs and increased transparency for police shootings. "As a criminal defense attorney for nearly 17 years, I have seen firsthand the injustice that can be doled out at the hands of less-than-honest police officers," Swain said. "I have been involved in many cases where the truth was ignored and people's lives were destroyed. These are just some of the experiences that eventually led me to run for attorney general." If Swain withdraws from the race, incumbent Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt will run unopposed in November. Clint Blaes, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Schmidt "respects and admires the selfless service of more than 8,000 law enforcement officers who put themselves at risk to protect and serve Kansans each and every day."

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Kansas Governor Highlights Denial of 21 Requests for Pardons

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has denied 21 requests for pardons and highlighted his decisions with a news conference focusing on a case involving a pregnant teenage girl's murder in 2006. Colyer announced his actions Tuesday during an event outside the Sedgwick County Courthouse with District Attorney Marc Bennett and Sheriff Jeff Easter. One request denied by Colyer came from Everett Gentry. He is among three men serving life sentences in connection with the kidnapping and strangulation of 14-year-old Chelsea Brooks. The child she was carrying also died. Gentry testified that he was driving the car when another defendant strangled the girl. Gentry pleaded guilty to capital murder but he was 17 when the crime occurred and received a life sentence with eligibility for parole after 25 years.

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Candidate Apologizes for Citing Deputy Deaths in Fundraiser

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas congressional candidate has apologized for a campaign email about the deaths of two sheriff's deputies that led to a fundraising page. Brent Welder is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder. The Kansas City Star reports that an email Saturday cited the deaths of two deputies in Kansas City, Kansas, as part of the gun control debate. The email linked to a petition to tell Yoder to stop accepting money from the National Rifle Association. People who signed the petition were taken to a fundraising page for Welder. Welder's campaign spokesman on Monday called the email a mistake. Deputies Patrick Rohrer and Theresa King were shot Friday while transporting a suspect. Investigators believe the suspect may have obtained the gun from one of the deputies.

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Federal Review Clears Topeka Veterans Hospital of Wrongdoing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal review of Topeka's hospital for veterans clears the clinic of misconduct but says it struggles with a shortage of specialists and low staffing levels. The report released Monday by the Office of Inspector General says the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center experienced delays, increased lengths of stay and patient transfers because of the staffing shortage and lack of specialists. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the inspector general reviewed patient records from April 2016 to March 2017 after receiving anonymous complaints. Joseph Burks, a regional VA spokesman, says after the inspectors' visit, the clinic secured an agreement to transfer patients to other hospitals to address the staffing shortage. The medical center also has begun a cardiology services agreement. Burks says officials are generally pleased with the results of the inspection.

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Wichita District Continues Funding Lawsuit Against State

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita school district's battle over state funding has surpassed $2 million in legal bills as it heads into another year. The Wichita Eagle reports that school board members voted Monday for a resolution continuing Wichita Public Schools' membership in Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of districts suing the state. The lawsuit alleges school funding levels violate the state constitution and deprive students of a proper education. The resolution calls for Wichita to spend up to $6 per student annually on the lawsuit, putting the district's total spending so far on the case at more than $2 million. School leaders say the cost is unfortunate but necessary in the fight for more funding. The coalition had over 70 districts when filing the lawsuit in 2010. There are now 40.

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Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder Urges A.G. Sessions to Halt Separation of Families

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Representative Kevin Yoder is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt the separation of families during a crackdown on illegal entries.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Yoder says that as the son of a social worker, he knows the "trauma that comes with children being separated from their parents." He says it can take a "lasting, and sometimes even irreversible toll on the child's well-being."  Yoder is chairman of a House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee.  Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Sessions announced the new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. Prior procedure had limited prosecution for many family entrants.  Sessions says the solution is to build a wall.

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Kansas Joins Legal Challenge to DACA Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas has joined a multistate lawsuit challenging the legality of an immigration program that grants temporary legal status to immigrants without proper documents who came to the U.S. as children.  The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was established by former President Barack Obama in 2012. About 7,000 people in Kansas have obtained work permits under DACA.  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Monday he joined the lawsuit last week at the request of Governor Jeff Colyer.  Colyer said in a statement the lawsuit seeks to roll back executive overreach of Obama's presidency.  Schmidt said he delayed joining the lawsuit while hoping Congress would pass a law resolving the issue of possibly providing a path to citizenship for some of the immigrants.

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Man Who Helped Kill Pregnant Wichita Teen Will Stay in Prison

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has denied pardons for 21 state inmates, including a man who helped kill a pregnant Wichita teenager 12 years ago. The Wichita Eagle reports 29-year-old Everett Gentry applied for clemency earlier this year. He is serving a 25-year-to-life sentence for capital murder in the death of 14-year-old Chelsea Brooks, who was killed so her baby's father wouldn't be prosecuted for raping her. Gentry picked up Chelsea in June 2006, saying he would take her to see the baby's father, Elgin Ray Robinson Jr. Instead Gentry drove her and Ted Burnett to a spot near Andover where her body would later be found in a shallow grave. Prosecutors say Burnett choked Chelsea to death on the way. Robinson and Burnett are serving life prison sentences and aren't eligible for parole.

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Autopsy Released for Kansas Man Killed in Swatting Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County authorities say a man who died after being shot by a Wichita police officer in a "swatting" case had no drugs or alcohol in his system. The county's autopsy shows 28-year-old Andrew Finch died in December from a single gunshot wound. Officers were responding to a report of a shooting and kidnapping at a Wichita address when Finch was shot. The officer who shot Finch testified that he believed Finch had a weapon and was going to fire. Finch was unarmed. Prosecutors say Tyler Barriss called in the fake report to police to "swat" another man because of a dispute over a video game bet. Finch's home was the old address for one person allegedly involved in the dispute. Barriss is charged in state court with involuntary manslaughter.

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Sedgwick County Will Auction Land at Wichita Greyhound Park

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County is planning to auction off land it owns at the Wichita Greyhound Park. No dog races have run at the park for more than 10 years and the county commission says it's time to sell because the land isn't being used and the buildings are deteriorating. The county owns the land but developer Phil Ruffin leases the park itself and buildings on the property. The lease would have to be part of the sale and Ruffin told KAKE that he is interested in buying the land. The property was appraised at a value of more than $2 million. The auction is scheduled for July 17 in Park City.

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Jury Convicts Kansas Sex Offender of Sexual Assaults

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A man already imprisoned in Kansas for child sexual abuse has been convicted of sexually assaulting two victims in Missouri, including a 5-year-old who was assaulted at Fort Leonard Wood.  A federal jury found 39-year-old Craig Ralston, of Emporia, Kansas, guilty on Friday of aggravated sexual abuse of a child younger than 12 and of crossing state lines with intent to commit rape.  Ralston is currently jailed in Kansas after pleading no contest to two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child in a 2009 case.  Ralston was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood when he sexually abused a 5-year-old child. Prosecutors say he also raped an 18-year-old several times in Kansas City in 2008 and also raped her in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ralston has been discharged from the military.

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Maine Man Convicted in Rural Kansas Man's Death

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. (AP) — A man from Maine will be sentenced in August after being found guilty of killing a Kansas man while on a cross-country trip.  The Salina Journal reports 35-year-old Robert Colson, of Bucksport, Maine, was convicted Friday of killing Matthew Schoshke of Tescott in August 2017 during a burglary at Schoshke's home.  Prosecutors said Colson shot Schoshke five times before stealing his pickup, several other items and his dog. Colson drove to California, where he was arrested while trying to escape from an Amtrak train after a train passenger was stabbed.  Prosecutors said Colson was on a bus trip from Maine to California when he missed his bus in Salina. He began walking and eventually arrived at Schoshke's home and shot Schoshke when he returned from work.  The dog was returned to Schoshke's family.

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Warren Buffett to Open Company in Lenexa, Creating 500 Jobs

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — Business icon Warren Buffett plans to open a new Geico Insurance service center that will bring 500 jobs to Lenexa.  The Kansas City Area Development Council said in a news release Monday that the center will begin hiring customer service and sales employees immediately. It will open in August and add 500 jobs over five years.  Buffett is scheduled to be in Lenexa Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center.  Geico is owned by Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway. The commerce department says Geico invested almost $10 million in a Lenexa office building for the center.  Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the development council, told The Kansas City Star that the Geico center is the largest job creation announcement in the Kansas City are in at least a year.

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Construction Crews Find What Appears to be Human Remains

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — An investigation is underway after construction workers found what appear to be human remains inside an old coffin in a small town near Wichita.  KAKE-TV reports that workers doing renovations inside a building Monday morning made the discovery. Police say it appears the coffin and bones had been there for years.  The Sedgwick County coroner is expected to have more information soon. Anyone with information is urged to call police.

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Relatives Lose Lawsuit over Douglas County Jail Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Relatives of a woman who died in a Douglas County jail cell have lost their federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the sheriff.  Joseph Harvey, the father of 32-year-old Rachel Hammers, sued on behalf of Hammers' three children after she died in the county jail in May 2012.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports a jury returned its verdict Friday after a two-week trial.  The lawsuit alleged Hammers died because of the defendants' disregard for her medical conditions and faulty medical practices.  The county argued jail staff followed protocol and said Hammers had a medical condition that was not readily apparent.  Hammers suffered from chronic alcoholism and a history of seizures, high blood pressure and alcohol withdrawal. She was in jail for failing to appear on a parole violation charge.

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Kate Spade's Funeral to be Held in Birthplace of Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A funeral will be held for fashion designer Kate Spade this week in Kansas City, where she was born.  The Kansas City Star reports that services for Spade are planned for 3 pm Thursday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church. Her father, Frank Brosnahan, says it's the same church where Spade's grandparents wed.  Spade was found dead by suicide on June 5 in her New York City home. She was 55 and had a teenage daughter and husband.  Spade was working as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine when she launched her company with husband Andy Spade in 1993.  In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or a Kansas City animal shelter.

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Mural Commemorating Historic Court Ruling Nears Completion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A large mural in Topeka commemorating the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case is nearing completion.  The 1954 ruling declared that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the 130-foot-wide, 30-foot-tall mural has been three years in the making. It's being painted on the side of the Hill & Co. building, across the street from the national historic site dedicated to the ruling.  A Kansas City, Missouri, artist, Michael Toombs, is the artistic director for the mural. Funding came from grants, along with individual and corporate donors.  Residents have the opportunity to be part of the process. Painting sessions open to the public are planned for 9 am to noon Thursday through Saturday, weather permitting.

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Wichita Leaders Eye Changes Following Economic Analysis

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Community leaders are on a mission to improve Wichita after new figures indicate that the city's economy is struggling.  The Wichita Eagle reports that analyst and Wichita native James Chung presented an analysis of the city's economy to community leaders last week. The Wichita Community Foundation hired Chung three years ago to look at the city's strengths, problems and potential.  The analysis shows that Wichita lags behind most of the country in key economic indicators, such as labor force, population growth and gross domestic product.  Wichita government and civic leaders agree that changes are necessary.  The foundation followed Chung's presentation with plans to invest $1 million to create the Talent Ecosystem Fund. The fund will be invested in workforce issues, talent development and lifelong learning.

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