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Headlines for Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Plan to Curb Kansas Courts on Schools Advances

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a proposed state constitutional amendment to limit the courts' power to decide education funding questions. But the Judiciary Committee's 12-10 vote Wednesday showed supporters will struggle to get the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the proposal in the full House. The measure would strip the courts of their power to determine whether the state's spending on education is adequate and leave the decision to legislators. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient under the state constitution. The House has passed a plan to boost education funding. But top GOP leaders in the Senate have said they won't consider any increase until a constitutional amendment goes on the ballot.

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Kansas Governor Backs $520 Million Schools Plan Blocked by Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Jeff Colyer endorsed a Kansas House plan Wednesday that would increase spending on public schools by roughly $520 million over five years but that is being blocked by GOP state Senate leaders. The House's bill is a response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in October that the state's current spending of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient under the state constitution. "On a dollar figure, I think the House bill is a good place that could help solve this issue," Colyer told reporters, The Wichita Eagle reported. Colyer spokeswoman Kara Fullmer later said the governor would sign the House bill if lawmakers sent it to him. Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, and Majority Leader Jim Denning, of Overland Park, do not plan to allow a debate on the House plan. They said Tuesday that they do not believe the state can afford the higher spending without raising taxes within two years. House members backing the plan argued that its costs can be covered through the annual growth in state revenues. Wagle and Denning also said the Senate would not debate any school funding plan until legislators first put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to curb the power of the courts to decide future education funding issues. But Colyer has said repeatedly that lawmakers should approve a plan aimed at satisfying the court before taking an annual 2 ½-week spring break scheduled to start Saturday. The House Judiciary Committee was considering a proposed constitutional amendment that would strip the courts of their power to declare the state's total spending on public schools to be insufficient. Kansas has been and out of education funding lawsuits for several decades, and the last one was filed in 2010 by four local school districts. The Supreme Court has issued multiple rulings forcing lawmakers to increase spending, and GOP conservatives have sought regularly to amend the state constitution, without success. An effort by conservatives to oust four of the seven justices in the 2016 elections also failed. Both houses must pass a constitutional amendment by two-thirds majorities to put it on the ballot for a statewide vote. Republicans have the necessary supermajorities in both chambers, but conservatives and moderates are split over an education funding amendment. Democrats strongly oppose such measures, seeing them as an attack on the courts and public schools.

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Governor Signs Bill to Boost Kansas National Guard Numbers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer signed a bill granting National Guard members free, full college tuition in response to a dwindling number of recruits. The new law will take effect in July after Colyer signed it Wednesday, but legislators still need to allocate funding for the program. Bill author and Republican Representative Diana Dierks of Salina said the Guard has shrunk by 16 percent over the last 10 years. She said offering to cover the entire tuition expense may increase the appeal of joining the branch and bolster recruitment. The Guard previously would cover only a portion of tuition costs. Dierks says that in the Army, Air Force and other branches of the military, it is known that the Kansas National Guard has had more difficulty recruiting.

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Man Fatally Shot During Altercation with Lawrence Homeowner

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police are investigating after a man fatally shot a stranger who police say showed up that the man's home in the middle of the night. Police Officer Andrew Fennelly says in a news release that 32-year-old Trevor Mohawk was shot early Wednesday and died later at a hospital. Fennelly says a man and woman who lived in the house were awakened by sounds of someone on their front porch. The male took a gun outside and encountered Mohawk. Fennelly says the two men had a physical confrontation that resulted in Mohawk being shot. He says the homeowner was treated and released for injuries he suffered during the confrontation. The two men didn't know each other. No one has been arrested in the shooting.

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Water Park Co-Owner Free on Bond in Kansas Murder Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A water park co-owner charged in the decapitation death of a 10-year-old boy on a 17-story Kansas waterslide was freed on bond Wednesday as the criminal case moved forward against him and two others. Jeff Henry, co-owner of Texas-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, posted a $500,000 bond within hours of being booked into the Wyandotte County jail in Kansas. Henry was extradited from Texas, where he lives, after he was indicted last week on charges including second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab at the water park in Kansas City, Kansas. His attorney didn't immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment. Henry is due in court Thursday. The slide's designer, John Schooley, was arrested Monday in Texas and also faces charges including second-degree murder. During a hearing Wednesday, he agreed to be extradited to Kansas and will be transferred there next week, said Dallas County sheriff's spokesman Raul Reyna. An attorney for Schooley didn't respond to a request for comment. Another executive is charged with manslaughter. A Kansas grand jury indicted Henry and Schooley men on allegations that Henry made a "spur of the moment" decision to build the Verruckt — touted as the world's tallest waterslide — and that he and Schooley lacked technical or engineering expertise in amusement park rides. Prosecutors argue that the ride violated "nearly all aspects" of longstanding standards established by the American Society for Testing and Materials. "In fact, the design and operation of the Verruckt complied with few, if any, of the industry safety standard," the indictment states. The raft Caleb was riding on went airborne and hit an overhead loop on the slide. Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said in an earlier statement that the indictment "is filled with information that we fully dispute."

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Woman Booked into Jail After Woman Killed by SUV in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a driver intentionally struck a woman and killed her during a confrontation over a fender-bender. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that police say the death of 25-year-old Robin Kuebler, of Topeka, is being investigated as a homicide. Topeka police Lt. Aaron Jones says Kuebler had been called to an apartment complex's parking lot Tuesday night because her vehicle had been hit. Jones says there was a confrontation and that Kuebler was intentionally struck by a sport utility vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The release says police were able to get a good description of the SUV and found it a few blocks away. A 20-year-old woman has been booked into jail and is being held without bond pending a first appearance.

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Kansas GOP Leaders Seek Limits on Courts' Power

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate say their chamber will not debate proposals to boost funding on public schools until legislators put an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot to strip the courts of their power to rule on whether the state's spending is sufficient.  Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita and Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park said Tuesday that lawmakers must end the court battles forcing lawmakers to consider higher spending. A House committee is reviewing such an amendment.  The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current spending on schools of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient under the state constitution.  The House passed a bill Tuesday to phase in a roughly $520 million increase over five years.

Big Business: Keep Kansas Courts Out of School Funding Issue

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A coalition of Kansas business and agricultural groups is proposing a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature sole authority to decide education funding levels, as the Legislature struggles to satisfy a state Supreme Court order to spend more on schools.  The constitutional amendment proposed by the Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding would remove the state courts' role in deciding what constitutes suitable education funding.  "We need to take politics out of this battle, and let the people of Kansas have the conversation to decide how they want to see this issue resolved," H.J. Swender Jr., of the Garden City-based American Warrior oil and gas company, said in a news release Monday. The other members of the coalition are the Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Livestock Association and the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.  The state has endured years of litigation over school funding, with courts consistently saying Kansas is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a suitable education for each child, particularly students in rural and underperforming districts that often cannot implement special taxes to benefit their schools.  

The state Supreme Court ruled in October that the more than $4 billion a year the state spends on schools doesn't satisfy that requirement and it gave lawmakers until April 30 to file briefs explaining how they are addressing the problem. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by districts in Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas. That lawsuit followed one in 1999 that forced lawmakers to promise big increases in annual spending on public schools. School funding became more problematic after the state slashed its personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at then-Gov. Sam Brownback's urging.  Republican Governor Jeff Colyer said Tuesday that he wants to be the last governor who has to deal with school funding litigation, and amending the state constitution would be "one way of solving it."  "It's time for this to end," Colyer said.

During a briefing Monday, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he would support allowing voters to decide if they want the constitution changed, but he said the proposed amendment could not be passed in time to influence the current school funding litigation.
"I'm just encouraging you, as you do whatever you're going to do over the short term, please don't lose sight of the longer-term issue," Schmidt said. "Because if you do, I have some well-based concern that whoever gets to serve in these roles after us will be having this same discussion at some period hence."

The state constitution currently says "The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." The proposed amendment would change "make" to "determine."  It also would say, "The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power," and that, "Such power ... shall be shown due respect by the other branches of government."  The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to have hearings on the proposed amendment yesterday (TUE) and today (WED).  If the amendment were to pass by at least a two-thirds majority in both chambers, it would be placed on the November 6 general election ballot, where a simple majority of votes would approve it.

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Report: Kansas Sees Fewest Abortions in 30 Years
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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report shows Kansas has recorded its lowest number of abortions in 30 years. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released the preliminary report Tuesday. It shows 2017 data gathered through a state law requiring physicians and hospitals to report abortions to the department. The report says more than 6,700 abortions were performed in the state last year. Of the abortions performed, 11 percent of patients were teenagers, including three girls younger than 14. Nearly 70 percent of the patients never had a previous abortion. The most common method of abortion was the medication Mifepristone, which was used by 58 percent of patients. Data figures also show 3,372 women were Kansas residents and 3,377 were from other states, including Missouri.

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Teacher Protests Put Republicans on the Spot in Red States

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A teacher walkout in Oklahoma is entering its third day in a red state rebellion stretching from West Virginia to Arizona that is putting Republicans on the spot over public education.  Many legislators are forced to choose between placating constituents angry over years of education cuts and conservative supporters who want smaller government and lower taxes.  In Oklahoma, most Republicans broke with party orthodoxy and endorsed hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases to fund public schools. Instead of getting praised, thousands of teachers still thronged the state Capitol, demanding more money, while anti-tax conservatives vowed to challenge incumbents who supported the plan.  Teachers rallying for better pay in West Virginia started the movement, which has since spread to capitols in Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

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University of Louisville Hires Bendapudi as New President

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The University of Louisville has hired the University of Kansas' provost as its new president.  U of L trustees voted during a special meeting Tuesday to hire Neeli Bendapudi, completing a nationwide search for the next leader of the scandal-plagued university. The university has been searching for a full-time president since James Ramsey was forced out as campus president in 2016.  Ramsey was forced to resign after coming under attack for his lucrative compensation and a series of other scandals.  Greg Postel has been serving as U of L's interim president since early 2017.

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Measles Outbreak Continues in Johnson, Linn and Miami Counties

TOPEKA, Kan. – Health officials continue to investigate an outbreak of measles in eastern Kansas.  Since March 8, 2018, 15 cases have been identified – 12 Johnson County residents, 2 Linn County residents and 1 Miami County resident. Officials say a person with measles from out-of-state that was treated at the University of Kansas Hospital is not associated with the outbreak in the greater Kansas City area.  Symptoms of measles typically begin with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red watery eyes. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash develops and usually starts on the face at the hairline and spreads down to the neck, trunk, arms, and legs. 

Here's a list of the locations and dates of potential measles exposure

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Chinese Scientist Sentenced in Genetically Modified Rice Theft

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Chinese national who lived in Manhattan, Kansas, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to steal proprietary rice seeds developed in the U.S. and giving them to visitors from China. Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that 51-year-old Weiqiang Zhang was sentenced for two counts of conspiracy and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. He was convicted in February 2017. Zhang was a rice breeder for Ventria Bioscience in Junction City, Kansas, which developed genetically engineered rice for therapeutic and medical fields. Prosecutors said Zhang stored hundreds of seeds from Ventria at his home. In 2013, Zhang toured facilities in the Midwest with officials from a crop research institute in China. Federal officials found Ventria seeds in the visitors' luggage as they prepared to return to China.

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Man Convicted in Torture, Killing of Wichita Man over Meth

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — One of five people charged in the torture and killing of a Wichita man over a $185 meth deal has been convicted.  KAKE-TV reports 57-year-old Willie Morris was found guilty Tuesday of 10 counts, including first-degree murder, in the November 2016 death of 33-year-old Scottie Goodpaster Jr.  Goodpaster's mutilated body was found November 12 in a Harvey County field, about a week after the crime began in Valley Center.  Investigators say Goodpaster was tortured and a woman was forced to watch, stemming from $185 lost in a methamphetamine deal. Sentencing was scheduled for May 18.  The four other defendants remained in the Sedgwick County Jail on Tuesday.

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Former Sergeant Facing Sex-Crime Charges Returned to Jail

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Valley Center police sergeant awaiting trial on sex-crime charges was returned to jail after reportedly contacting his ex-wife, who is a witness in his case. The Wichita Eagle reports jail records show 50-year-old Thomas Delgado was booked into the Sedgwick County Wednesday after his bond was revoked for failing to comply. According to a court document, a judge ordered that Delgado be held without bond. Prosecutors say Delgado's ex-wife reported receiving unwanted emails from an address belonging to Delgado. The 10 emails received March 29 each linked to the same YouTube music video. Delgado faces trial April 23 on seven charges including sexual exploitation of a child. Prosecutors say he was arrested after his then-wife reported concerns about his contact with teenage girls. He resigned after his arrest.

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Victims Identified in Triple Homicide in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police have identified three men who were found shot to death inside a Kansas City, Kansas, duplex. The victims found Tuesday were 51-year-old Edward A. Rawlins, 46-year-old David C. Rawlins and 40-year-old Addrin C. Coats. Police say the men were all found inside the duplex early Tuesday. The bodies were found after a woman told police she came to the house and saw someone who appeared to be dead. Kansas City, Kansas, police have not released any more information in the case.

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Kansas State's Amaad Wainright Charged, Suspended from Team

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State guard Amaad Wainright is suspended from the Wildcats basketball team after being charged when someone allegedly fired shots from his car in January.  The U.S. Marshals Service says Wainright was arrested Tuesday. He is charged with obstruction, and fleeing and eluding.  The Kansas City Star reports the charges stem from an incident January 17 in Overland Park.  Police said a passenger in Wainright's car fired a handgun into another car in a possible road rage incident. No one was injured and no one was arrested at the time.  Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor says Wainright has been suspended indefinitely. His status will be re-evaluated after the investigation is complete.  Wainright, a junior, didn't respond to an email to his student account Tuesday.

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Kansas Police Investigate Overdose Death as Suspicious

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man's death that police had believed to be an overdose is now being investigated as suspicious.  Lawrence Police Sgt. Amy Rhoads says the 44-year-old man's death was reported on March 24. Police had been investigating the death as an overdose.  Rhoads tells the Lawrence Journal-World that new information obtained last week "led investigators to believe the circumstances surrounding the death were suspicious." She says police still believe the death is an overdose, but that investigators will work to determine what happened before and after the death.  Rhoads declined Monday to release the man's name or additional information about the case. She says the investigation is ongoing.

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Kansas Man Sentenced for Second-Degree Murder

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A man has been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison after pleading no contest to second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a Kansas man.  The Salina Journal reports that 39-year-old Leobardo Velasquez was sentenced Monday in the death of 52-year-old Raul Lopez-Vargas. The judge also ordered him to pay about $365 in trial preparation costs, $193 in court costs and an $800 Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab fee.  Velasquez must also register as a violent offender for 15 years after his release.  Police found Lopez-Vargas dead in the back seat of his vehicle on September 10.  A probable cause affidavit says the Solomon man was stabbed about 100 times. The affidavit says that DNA evidence and shoe prints connect the crime to Velasquez.

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Kansas Man Sentenced for Drunk Driving, Injuring Bicyclist

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to more than three years in prison for driving drunk and injuring a bicyclist.  The Kansas City Star reports that 40-year-old Kevin Eugene Hall was sentenced Monday after a jury found him guilty of aggravated battery and fleeing the scene of an injury accident.  Prosecutors say Hall had been drinking at a bar and purchased alcohol at a store in the hours before the September 2015 crash in Shawnee.  Hall's attorneys had argued there's no evidence of Hall's intoxication level at the time of the wreck or that he was the driver of the vehicle when the bicyclist was hit.  Evidence included Hall's phone in the vicinity around the time of the crash and blood on Hall's car linking the victim.

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Man Freed from Kansas Murder Case Charged in Missouri Death

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man who was released from jail after two juries couldn't convict him in a 2015 Kansas killing is now charged with a homicide in Kansas City, Missouri. Jackson County authorities announced Wednesday that 30-year-old Antoine Fiedler was charged with first-degree murder in the December death of Rosemarie Harmon. He's also charged in the shooting of a male friend of Harmon's. Fielder was released from the Wyandotte County (Kansas) jail after a second mistrial last July in the shooting death of 22-year-old Kelsey Ewonus, of Overland Park. Two juries couldn't reach a unanimous verdict in the case. The murder charge was dropped in September. The Kansas City Star reports Fielder was back in the Wyandotte County Jail January 3, facing charges in other cases including a robbery and alleged carjacking.

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Wichita Police: Man Dies in Wrecked Car After Woman is Shot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are investigating a shooting and car crash that left a man dead and a woman he lived with injured.  Officer Charley Davidson says a man reported early Tuesday that a woman who had been shot came to his door asking for help. The 58-year-old woman was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.  An overturned car was found nearby and a 27-year-old man was dead at the scene.  Police previously said the man was the injured woman's son but Davidson now says she was a longtime family friend who moved into the home after the man's mother died.  Investigators say the man fired several shots into the home's bathroom while the woman was inside, hitting her in the hand.  A motive for the shooting and names of those involved haven't been released.

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Ex-Missouri Governor Urges Court to Allow Wind-Energy Line

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's former governor is urging the state Supreme Court to overturn a decision blocking a 780-mile power line that would carry wind energy across the Midwest.  Former Governor Jay Nixon led arguments Tuesday before the high court on behalf Clean Line Energy Partners. The Houston-based company wants to build a $2.3 billion transmission line from western Kansas across Missouri and Illinois to an Indiana power grid serving eastern states.  Missouri regulators appointed by Nixon rejected the power line last year, citing a court ruling that they said first required utilities to get approval from local governments.  Nixon's term as governor ended in January 2017. Two of the seven judges hearing the case Tuesday had been appointed by Nixon. They didn't recuse themselves but also did not ask questions.

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