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Headlines for Tuesday, March 27, 2018

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

Kansas Woman at Center of 1954 School Segregation Ruling Dies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Linda Brown, the Kansas woman who, as a girl, was at the center of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down racial segregation in schools, has died at age 76. Topeka's former Sumner School was all-white when her father, Oliver, tried to enroll the family. He became lead plaintiff in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that ended school segregation. Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel of Topeka confirmed that Linda Brown died Sunday afternoon. Funeral arrangements are pending. Her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, founding president of The Brown Foundation, confirmed the death to The Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis says her legacy is not only here but nationwide. He says the effect she had "on our society would be unbelievable and insurmountable."

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Kansas Considers Making Schools Liable for Not Arming Staff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas schools that refuse to allow teachers to carry guns could be held legally responsible in the event of a tragedy under a proposal drafted after last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school. Opponents of the measure, which got its first hearing Tuesday in front of the House Insurance Committee, expressed concern it could effectively mandate arming teachers rather than allowing it, as several states have done. 

"It would certainly open the door for that conversation," said Democratic Rep. Brett Parker, an Overland Park school teacher. "The further we go down this rabbit hole, the more chance there is for even more obnoxious legislation moving forward." Even if that provision is stripped, as some advocates suggested during the hearing, the bill would prohibit insurers from denying coverage to a school because it lets its teachers or staff members carry weapons. At least nine other states have provisions in place giving teachers the option of carrying guns in schools, but the Kansas plan seems to go further than most other laws in place or under consideration. The proposal is separate from one embraced by Republican leaders in the House that focuses on improving school infrastructure instead of arming staff. That measure, which appears to have broader support, won first-round approval on Tuesday.

Representative Blake Carpenter, a conservative Derby Republican who helped write the legislation that holds schools liable, said he is confident armed and trained teachers will save lives. Police could be minutes away, and in smaller districts where modest funding means school-resource officers aren't hired, the bill would allow for "next best thing," he told the committee. "It is not, if our kids will be killed. It is, when will they be killed and what are we doing to prevent it?" Carpenter said. Kansas legislators started working on school safety legislation a week after a Valentine's Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and staff dead. Gun control advocates say the portion that presumes negligence against school districts is highly unusual and seems to match closely with concealed carry laws typically applied to businesses in some states, and not schools.

Kansas law has allowed teachers to carry concealed guns since 2013 but school districts across the state have disallowed the practice after EMC Insurance Companies, the state's primary school insurer, refused to provide coverage to schools with armed staff. Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist Mark Tallman opposed the bill. He said insurance providers could still choose to deny coverage, yet schools would have no choice but to allow staff to arm themselves regardless. Even if an insurer is willing to provide under such circumstances, Tallman said, the rates would become very expensive. Carpenter said for an insurance company to increase rates or to outright refuse to provide coverage to a school, it would have to prove that having an armed staff creates a higher risk environment. According to the State Department of Education, the 286 local school districts expect to spend $23.7 million on insurance in the current school year, not including health insurance. No testimony provided during the hearing predicted what that expense would become if the legislation passes. Parker said he has received 284 pieces of written testimony opposing the bill, much of it from teachers unhappy with the prospect of being armed and working alongside others who may or may not be. "We're inventing new ways, it seems, to drive people out of the teaching profession in Kansas," Parker said.

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Kansas Lawmakers Pass 'Swatting' Bill Sparked by Deadly Hoax

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have approved tougher penalties for making false calls to police three months after police fatally shot a Wichita man during a deadly hoax emergency call. The Wichita Eagle reports the bill makes fake calls that result in death a felony comparable to second-degree murder. Any false call for emergency help would be at least a misdemeanor, becoming a felony if the caller uses a fake identity or electronically masks their identity. The bill is named the Andrew Finch Act, after the man killed by Wichita police as they responded to a hoax emergency call in December that they thought was a hostage situation. The legislation was championed by his mother, Lisa Finch. The bill is headed to Governor Jeff Colyer after the Legislature passed it on Tuesday.

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UPDATE: 3 Now Indicted in Boy's Death on Kansas Waterslide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Latest on the arrest of a water park company's co-owner in Texas in connection to a Kansas criminal case (all times local):

1 p.m.

The number of people indicted in the death of a 10-year-old Kansas boy on what was promoted as the world's largest waterslide has grown to three. The Kansas attorney general's office says Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts co-owner Jeffrey Henry and ride designer John Schooley are charged with reckless second-degree murder in the indictment unsealed Tuesday. The charges stem from the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab who was decapitated in 2016 when his ride went airborne at the water park in Kansas City, Kansas. Schlitterbahn didn't immediately respond to questions about whether they have attorneys. The attorney general's office announced Friday that the Schlitterbahn park and its former operations director, Tyler Austin Miles, had been indicted on 20 felony charges, including involuntary manslaughter.

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11:45 a.m.

A Texas judge has ordered the co-owner of a water park company held without bond as a criminal case proceeds in the death of a 10-year-old boy at one of the company's parks in Kansas. Victoria Cisneros, spokeswoman for the Cameron County District Attorney's Office, says 62-year-old Jeffrey Henry appeared for a hearing Tuesday. She says county prosecutors asked that Henry be held without bond at the request of the Kansas Attorney General's Office. Henry was earlier being held on a $500,000 bond. He's facing charges in Kansas of murder, aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment. Henry will remain at the Cameron County jail in far South Texas as he awaits extradition to Kansas. Cisneros didn't immediately have details on when extradition may occur. Henry's arrest Monday follows a Kansas grand jury's indictment last week of the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, and a former operations director on 20 felony charges. They included a single count of involuntary manslaughter over the death of Caleb Schwab in 2016.

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11 a.m.

The family of a 10-year-old Kansas boy killed on what was promoted as the world's largest waterslide says a criminal indictment shows that issues with the water park company "go far beyond" the boy's death. The family of Caleb Schwab released a statement Monday in reaction to a 20-count indictment released last week of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts and one of its co-owners. Another co-owner, Jeffrey Henry, was arrested Monday and booked into a Texas jail on suspicion of murder, child endangerment and other charges. He's expected in court Tuesday. The Schwab family says they have "full faith and trust" in Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and know he'll "take appropriate steps in the interest of public safety." Caleb was killed in August 2016 while riding the waterslide at the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas. The indictment released last week alleges the slide met few, if any, industry standards and that necessary repairs were avoided or delayed.

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8:45 a.m.

Jail records show the co-owner of a Kansas water park where a 10-year-old boy died on a giant water slide is being held in Texas on suspicion of murder, aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment. Cameron County jail's brief online records cite a "Kansas agency" in the booking charges against Jeffrey Henry. The records don't provide any detail, but a spokeswoman for the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, said Monday that Henry had been arrested in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab. The office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt hasn't responded to phone calls and emails seeking details about possible charges against Henry. The Kansas indictment is sealed. A Cameron County booking clerk says Henry is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. A Kansas grand jury last week indicted Schlitterbahn and its former operations director, Tyler Austin Miles, on 20 felony charges. They included a single count of involuntary manslaughter in Caleb's death. Henry is co-owner of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts. Online jail records did not list an attorney for him.

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New Bill Seeks to Move Kansas State Fair Out of Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have introduced a new bill that would allow the State Fair to leave the city of Hutchinson after more than 100 years. The Hutchinson News reports that Republican Representative Don Schroeder says the bill proposed Monday was inspired by the people "involved" with the fair who are unhappy with the city. He declines to identify anyone by name. Schroeder says one of the contributing factors to the dissatisfaction is the city's stormwater fees, which jumped to approximately $50,000 per year. If passed, the bill would require the fair's board to request proposals from other cities in Kansas to host the event. The board would also be required to submit a report detailing the results of the proposals to several legislative committees.

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Kansas Regulators Approve Credits from Tax Law Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Customers of Atmos Energy and Black Hills Energy will get bill credits beginning next month under settlements approved by Kansas energy regulators. The Kansas Corporation Commission said in a news release Tuesday the credits are due to federal tax law changes that reduced the utilities' tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent. Atmos gas customers will receive an annual reduction of $18.56 in their bill. They will also get a one year-credit of $6.86 to repay customers for the extra tax paid the first three months of this year. Black Hills residential customers will receive an average credit of $11.57 annually. Customers will receive a one-time credit of 24 cents per meter in April and the surcharge rates will drop 8 cents per month.

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Salina Post Office Evacuated After Suspicious Package Found

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Salina Post Office has been evacuated after a suspicious package addressed to the local police department was found sitting on the floor of the post office lobby. Captain Paul Forrester says police were notified at 9:24 a.m. Tuesday, and the Riley County bomb squad has been called in. The Salina Journal reports the post office was closed and roads were blocked around the building until the contents of the package could be determined. Forrester says a customer found the package in the lobby near the post office boxes.

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Ex-Militia Member Testifies in Kansas Bomb Plot Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former officer in a southwest Kansas group, which called itself a militia, has testified that he left the group following a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub in 2016 out of concern that some of the other members were plotting to carry out a planned attack on Somali immigrants in Garden City.  Former group member Brody Benson took the stand yesterday (MON) on the first day in the trial of Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen. The three men are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction to detonate truck bombs at a Garden City apartment complex with many Somali residents.  Benson testified that Stein often talked about Somalis as cockroaches who should be exterminated. Benson said he initially dismissed the talk as "just blowing smoke." That changed following the 2016 mass shooting in Florida where 49 people were killed. He said he became concerned that the talk of using explosives was escalating into "actual action." Benson said he didn't want any part of it.

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Kansas Legislators Try to Save Law Against Boycotting Israel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators are trying to save a state law prohibiting state contractors from boycotting Israel after a federal judge blocked its enforcement. The state House passed a bill Monday to narrow the law enacted last year so that it would no longer apply to individuals or contracts worth $100,000 or less. The 93-30 vote sends the measure to the Senate. The current law prohibits the state from contracting with individuals or companies participating in a boycott of Israel. More than 20 other states have such policies. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in October on behalf of a curriculum coordinator for the Wichita school district who was denied a state contract. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree in January blocked the law's enforcement while the lawsuit proceeds. 

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Kansas Governor Signs Bill Protecting Tribal Regalia Rights

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has signed a bill protecting the right of native Americans to wear tribal regalia and other cultural objects at public events. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the bill was sponsored by Representative Ponka-We Victors. The Wichita Democrat is a member of both the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona. She contends some states have enacted similar laws in response to policies enforced at events like high school graduations where officials sometimes insist on strict dress codes. The new law bars any state agency, school district or local government from prohibiting any individual from wearing tribal regalia at events or meetings.

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Former School Secretary Indicted on Federal Weapons Charge

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a former Pratt elementary school secretary has been indicted on federal firearms charges. The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas says Claudia Rodriguez-Oviedo was indicted Tuesday on two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by an immigrant who is illegally in the United States. The 33-year-old Mexican national is serving a one-year sentence after her January conviction in Pratt County District court on charges related to a bomb threat to the high school in Pratt high. Rodriguez-Oviedo was a secretary at Southwest Elementary School, and had a work permit at the time. After her local arrest, she allegedly admitted she owned a handgun and a search of her residence found a Remington handgun and box of ammunition. A federal criminal complaint was initially filed against her in December.

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Kansas Prison System Veteran Takes Helm at El Dorado

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 25-year veteran of the Kansas prison system will take over as the warden of a maximum-security prison that had multiple inmate disturbances last summer. Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood announced Monday that Paul Snyder will become warden at El Dorado Correctional Facility April 8. James Heimgartner stepped down as warden of the prison in July after several inmate disturbances. Snyder is currently a deputy warden at Winfield Correctional Facility and began his career in Kansas prisons as a corrections officer in El Dorado in 1993. Snyder also worked at Ellsworth Correctional Facility and the Wichita Work Release Facility.

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Topeka Mayor Leads Domestic Violence Task Force

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka's mayor says experiencing domestic violence firsthand gives her a different perspective on the work being done by the city's newly-formed domestic violence task force. The Mayor's Task Force Against Domestic Violence includes representatives from programs and agencies, including the Topeka Police Department and the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. Mayor Michelle De La Isla said she experienced abuse by her ex-husband for seven years before realizing she needed to leave the relationship permanently. She said she wishes more people understood the gradual progression of domestic violence. Members say having De La Isla lead the task force will give the group a "victim-centered focus" for positive change. Victim's advocates said of the 30 homicides in Topeka last year, six of them were classified as domestic violence-related. 

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Kansas City Refugee Resettlement Declines Amid US Policy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The plummeting number of refugees resettling in Kansas City mirrors a national trend, particularly among those from predominantly Muslim countries. Fewer than 480 refugees resettled in Kansas City last year, compared to more than 740 in 2016, according to U.S. Department of State data compiled by The Associated Press. Just over 50 refugees resettled in the city this fiscal year, which is halfway over. The city's biggest drop has been among refugees from Somalia. Kansas City welcomed nearly 160 Somali refugees last year, but only five so far this year, the Kansas City Star reported. The numbers reflect federal policy changes starting early last year. President Donald Trump lowered the cap on refugee admissions, suspended a program that reunites families split during resettlement and banned arrivals from several mostly Muslim countries, including Somalia. The U.S. is on pace to take in about 21,000 refugees this fiscal year, which is well under the 45,000 cap the administration set. That estimate could be the smallest intake of refugees since Congress passed a 1980 law creating the modern resettlement system. Kansas City refugee resettlement agencies have also seen the impact of the decline in refugees. Della Lamb is one of two federal subcontractors that help with the refugee resettlement process in Kansas City. The organization assists refugees within their first 90 days in the U.S., from completing medical exams and applying for a Social Security card to enrolling in classes for English as a second language. But two-thirds of Della Lamb's staff had been laid off because of the drop in refugees resettling in the city, said Judy McGonigle Akers, the organization's executive vice president. Della Lamb was slated to help 300 refugees in the last fiscal year, but only 167 came. They're scheduled to help up to 160 refugees this year, but have so far helped 33. Federal policy changes have essentially dismantled much of the refugee infrastructure nationally, said Sofia Khan, founder of the nonprofit KC for Refugees. She said: "I'm afraid if this continues, and agencies can't keep up, what happens?"

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Authorities Identify Lawrence Fire Victim

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have now identified the 29-year-old woman who died after a fire in her Lawrence home. The Lawrence Journal-World reports firefighters found Madison T. Halverstadt in a bedroom of the house where a fire was reported early Monday morning. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Division Chief James King said in a news release Tuesday that investigators have ruled the fire accidental. It started in the living room, and remains under investigation. He says a pet cat was found alive at the scene and taken to the Lawrence Humane Society for care.

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Report: Nearly Half of Kansas Wheat Crop Faring Poorly

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government snapshot shows that nearly half of the Kansas winter wheat crop remains in poor to very poor condition despite some recent rainfall. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 49 percent of the wheat in Kansas was in poor or very poor condition. About 38 percent was rated as fair with 12 percent good and 1 percent excellent. It also reported topsoil moisture supplies remain short or very short across 69 percent of the state.

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Wyoming Airline Suspends Most Operations

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines has suspended all flight operations in the five states it operates. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the company announced that the suspension of service was effective as of midnight Monday but said it had not entered bankruptcy. The website for the Cheyenne-based airline listed flights from Cheyenne; Denver; Telluride, Colorado; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Page, Arizona; Prescott, Arizona; and Salina, Kansas. According to a statement on its website, Great Lakes will continue to provide support services to Aerodynamics Inc. charter flights between Denver and the South Dakota cities of Pierre and Watertown. Company officials have attributed recent struggles with providing air service to a national pilot shortage. Great Lakes Founder Doug Voss and Cheyenne Regional Airport Director Tim Barth could not immediately be reached for comment.
 

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