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Headlines for Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Republican Jeff Colyer Takes Oath of Office, Becomes Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Jeff Colyer has been sworn in as the new Kansas governor. Colyer took the oath of office Wednesday in a Statehouse ceremony after former GOP Governor Sam Brownback resigned. Brownback stepped down to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Colyer was Brownback's lieutenant governor for seven years. The 57-year-old Colyer was the state's longest-serving lieutenant governor. He is facing a skeptical, Republican-controlled Legislature that is deeply divided over a court mandate to increase spending on public schools. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that funding for public schools remains constitutionally inadequate. Brownback proposed phasing in a $513 million increase over five years and relying on growth in state revenues to pay for it.

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Governor Colyer Promises 'New Day' for Kansas After Taking Oath

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Jeff Colyer promised a "new day" of openness Wednesday shortly after taking the oath as Kansas's governor, then made overtures to a skeptical GOP-controlled Legislature on the divisive issue of public school spending. Colyer, the state's longest-serving lieutenant governor, replaced former GOP Governor Sam Brownback immediately after Brownback stepped down to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Colyer, a 57-year-old surgeon, took the oath for his new office in a ceremony inside the Statehouse. "We will set a tone and insist on an environment of openness, honesty and respect and without harassment, especially in this building," Colyer said. "When others blame and complain, I'll be busy working for you and finding solutions." Colyer largely avoided policy issues in his inaugural address, which included a call to the state's residents to "give yourself to your fellow man." He plans to give a longer and more detailed speech to a joint session of the Legislature next week.

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New Kansas Governor Faces Skeptical Lawmakers, Disputes over School Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — As Republican Jeff Colyer takes over as Kansas's next governor, he's facing a skeptical Legislature deeply divided over a court mandate to increase state spending on public schools.  Colyer is replacing GOP Governor Sam Brownback, who's stepping down to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The biggest task facing Colyer and the GOP-controlled Legislature is responding to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in October that funding for public schools remains constitutionally inadequate. Brownback proposed phasing in nearly $600 million increase over five years and relying only on growth in state revenues to pay for it. The plan angered many Republicans, who viewed it as fiscally reckless.  Colyer will also have to contend with problems at state prisons, mental hospitals and in the state's child foster care system.  Colyer could also face a push to expand the state's Medicaid health coverage for poor families and must navigate difficult political currents in seeking a full, four-year term next year.

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Outgoing Governor Decries Underfunding of Kansas Facilities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Outgoing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says the state's prisons, hospitals and other facilities are in disrepair after years of underfunding. Brownback, who was stepping down Wednesday to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, raised concerns last week after the State Finance Council approved a 20-year, $360 million building project at Lansing Correctional Facility, The Kansas City Star reports. "Getting this new prison built is a big deal," Brownback, who became governor in 2011, told reporters. "We've got a series of state assets that have been underfunded for years." The state's psychiatric facility in Osawatomie just regained its federal Medicare certification last month after a nearly two-year process that required the state to make a slew of updates. Brownback described it as a "pit" and said that a state hospital and training center for the developmentally disabled in Parsons is "worse." Brownback pushed back on the suggestion that he had responsibility for the underfunding. "For 155 years? No," said Brownback. Kansas marked its 157th year of statehood Monday. Pressed again on the fact that he had been governor for seven years, Brownback replied, "And we got a new prison, didn't we?" State Senator Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat running for governor, and others repeatedly pointed to Brownback's tax cuts, which the Legislature rescinded last year in the face of a budget hole, as the reason the state could not keep up facilities. She called Brownback's comments "insulting to our staff who work in those facilities . under some dire conditions." State Senator Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican who chairs the Senate budget committee, noted that Brownback's budget recommendations for the state hospitals for both the current and previous budget years was tens of millions of dollars less than the hospitals had requested. "We need to look at repairing what will last for the next 50 years, tear down what won't and invest in new facilities if needed," McGinn said in an email. Robert Choromanski, the executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union that represents state workers, said Brownback is "obviously responsible" and "obviously let those facilities deteriorate." Before taking the oath of office, incoming Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a statement through his spokesman that he "believes that it is time to make smart investments in our infrastructure." "But, like most things, it matters more how you spend the money than the total dollars spent," said Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Colyer.

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New Kansas Governor to Keep Practicing Medicine

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas's new governor is a surgeon who plans to continue seeing patients even as he directs state government. Republican Governor Jeff Colyer said Wednesday during his inaugural address that he plans to continue seeing patients for a few hours a week. He said people should not be surprised to see him working from 80 to 100 hours a week. Colyer was sworn in to replace former Republican Governor Sam Brownback after Brownback stepped down to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Colyer had been lieutenant governor for seven years. His Kansas City-area practice performs both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. The new governor spent part of his speech calling on Kansas residents to perform public service and recounting a past medical relief mission to Rwanda during its genocide in the 1990s.

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New Kansas Governor Open to Education Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  New Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer is open to a top Republican legislator's proposals for ending ongoing legal battles with local school districts over education funding. Colyer said Wednesday that the education proposals from Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning are a good place to start. Ahead of Colyer's swearing-in Wednesday, Denning said the new governor should endorse rewriting the state constitution's provisions on education funding or initiate new settlement talks with the four school districts now suing the state. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state must increase its spending on public schools. Colyer also said after his inaugural address that he will be working with legislators on measures to increase government transparency and could issue executive orders on the issue.

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Kansas Democrats Launch Website on New Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas Democrats aren't waiting until incoming Republican Governor Jeff Colyer takes office to launch a website criticizing him. The state Democratic Party unveiled its website Wednesday ahead of Colyer's swearing-in. The site ties Colyer to the policies of departing GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and is www.BrownbackClone.com . Colyer has served as Brownback's lieutenant governor for seven years. Brownback is stepping down as governor to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Brownback's popularity waned after his 2014 re-election because of the persistent state budget problems that followed aggressive income tax cuts that Brownback championed in 2012 and 2013. Legislators rolled back most of the tax cuts last year. Colyer was Brownback's running mate in 2010 and 2014. He is running for a full, four-year term as governor this year.

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Deeper Review of Kansas School Funding Likely After Audit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas's attorney general and conservative lawmakers worry that the State Department of Education has informally tweaked policies determining how school funding is distributed.  Their concerns are likely to prompt a broad, independent audit of how the department distributes more than $4 billion in aid each year to the state's 286 school districts.  Education Commissioner Randy Watson said Tuesday that he's working a plan for such a review.  A state audit last month said a calculation used by the department for decades in distributing transportation funds was "not authorized" by law and cost the state an extra $45 million over the past five years. Top Republican legislators failed to get the department's deputy commissioner suspended but continue to ask whether similar issues exist elsewhere in the funding formula.

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Kansas Senator Supports Immigration Fix with Border Security

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Senator Jerry Moran listened to some tough talk from his constituents at a town hall meeting in Wichita that drew supporters of protections for young immigrants brought to this country as children. The Kansas Republican told about 100 people who came Wednesday to the event that he is on the side of fixing the soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to bring certainty to the lives of these younger immigrants. But he also said there is also a need to do something with border security, although that doesn't necessary mean a brick-and-mortar wall. He says keeping a deal simple provides an opportunity to find common ground. Moran also says more needs to be done to make sure Russia does not interfere in the midterm elections.

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Kansas Bill Would Require 1 Year Between Lawmaking and Lobbying

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposed bill before the Kansas House would require lawmakers and some state officials to wait a year after leaving office before they could become lobbyists.  The House Elections Committee discussed the bill on Monday but took no action.  Current state law prohibits lawmakers and public officials from being lobbyists only while they are serving in state government.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports the bill imposing the one-year wait would apply to lawmakers and some statewide officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and insurance commissioner. It also would apply to cabinet secretaries, heads of other state agencies and senior staff of those agencies.  The bill would not prevent lawmakers for lobbying without pay or from taking a job at a company or organization that lobbies state government.

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Tougher Penalties for Hoax Emergency Calls Under New Bill

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Stiffer penalties would be possible for calling in hoax emergency calls under a bill introduced in the Kansas House in response to a deadly police shooting in Wichita.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill introduced Tuesday would allow for a murder prosecution if someone dies during a future "swatting" prank. Twenty-eight-year-old Andrew Finch was unarmed when he was killed last month as officers responded to a fake story about a shooting and kidnapping at his home.  Twenty-five-year-old Tyler Barriss, of Los Angeles, is accused of making the false call. Court documents say it stemmed from a small wager in a "Call of Duty" online video game tournament.  Barriss has been criminally charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm and interference with a law enforcement officer.

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Kansas House OKs More Liquor Hours, Tougher Drunk Driving Penalties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House approved a bill that would toughen penalties in some drunken driving cases on the same day it approved allowing restaurants to serve alcohol earlier in the morning.  One bill would allow restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 6 am, rather than 9 am Restaurants and bars would still stop serving at 2 am.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports supporters said the bill would bring the state in line with surrounding states, which attract breakfast and brunch business away from Kansas. The bill faced little opposition.  The other bill would toughen penalties in some fatal drunken driving cases, with the minimum for aggravated battery increasing from 38 months to 47 months and the minimum for involuntary manslaughter rising from 62 to 89 months.  Both bills still require Senate approval.

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Ruling: Kansas Law Targeting Boycotts of Israel Chills Free Speech

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Kansas law barring state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel, saying the state law violates their free speech rights.  U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the "First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law."  Crabtree granted the request from the American Civil Liberties Union to block enforcement of the law while the case proceeds. The judge found it is "highly likely" that the Kansas law is invalid and blocking it protects a constitutional right.  The law that took effect in July prohibits the state from entering into contracts with individuals or companies participating in a boycott of Israel.  Twenty-four states have such policies.

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KBI Says Western Kansas Sheriff Arrested for Second Time

NESS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a western Kansas sheriff was arrested for the second time in little more than a month for allegedly violating his bond on a previous case. KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood says 47-year-old Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple, of Ness City, was arrested Monday. She says he is accused of contacting a person associated with his initial case. Whipple was initially arrested December 21 on suspicion of perjury, making false information, criminal distribution of firearms to a felon and official misconduct. The KBI has declined to disclose any more information about the initial case. Whipple was elected sheriff in 2000.

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Former KU Student Charged with 18 Felonies After Hacking

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former University of Kansas student is facing 18 felony charges in crimes involving the university's computers. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Varun Sarja, of Olathe, made his first court appearance earlier this month after being charged in November. University spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said Sarja was a freshman in engineering when the computer crimes occurred from December 2016 to May 2017. He is no longer a student at the school. Court records accompanying the charges say Sarja pretended to be with the university IT department when he tried to use a USB stick on a computer on May 2, 2017, but he was prevented from completing the crime. Other records provide no explanation for the allegations. Sarja was freed after posting $2,500 bond. His next court appearance is February 13.

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Parents of Electrocuted Girl Sue Traveling Carnival Operator

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The parents of a toddler fatally injured at a traveling carnival in Kansas have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the carnival's Missouri-based operator. The Wichita Eagle reports that Shaun Bartonek and Rheannon Babcock sued Evans United Shows last year in Clinton County Circuit Court in Missouri. Their 15-month-old daughter, Pressley Bartonek, touched an electrically charged fence last May in Wichita and died five days later. An autopsy report says that a test by an electrical company showed 290 volts coming from the fence. The lawsuit seeks damages of more than $25,000. Attorney Russ Hazlewood is representing Evans United Shows in Plattsburg, Missouri. He says the lawsuit remains in the early stages and that the business has asked to have the case transferred to Kansas where some key witnesses are.

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Man Sentenced for Child Abuse Murder of Shawnee Baby Girl

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A 27-year-old man was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison for the child abuse-related death of an infant girl in Shawnee. Aaron Peck pleaded no contest in November to intentional second-degree murder in the 2015 death of 7-month-old Analeece McHenry-Widmer. The Kansas City Star reports Peck was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years and 11 months in prison. Peck shared an apartment with the baby's mother. Paramedics called to the apartment said the baby was having convulsions. Doctors determined she suffered severe head trauma. Peck initially told police that a 2-year-old child in the home injured the girl but doctors said a young child could not have inflicted the injuries she suffered.

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Plans Move Forward to Install Eisenhower Statue on Kansas Statehouse Grounds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Plans to erect a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the grounds of the Kansas Statehouse are moving forward.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to support installation of the privately financed statue, sending the measure to the House.  The $140,000 likeness of the Abilene native depicts the Supreme Allied Commander speaking to a group of U.S. soldiers preparing to parachute into Normandy in June 1944. Governor Sam Brownback's office took the lead in raising money for the memorial, and at least $100,000 has been secured.  Merrill Eisenhower Atwater says his great-grandfather is an example to "all in the county that come from an impoverished background" of "what hard work and true dedication can do to shape the world we live in."

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2 Wounded in Officer-Involved Shooting in Independence, Missouri

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say two people have been wounded in an officer-involved shooting in Independence.  The Kansas City Star reports that the shooting happened Tuesday after officers responded to reports of an armed suspect near a Dollar General store. Officer John Syme, a police spokeswoman, says he doesn't know whether the officers or individuals fired first.  No officers were injured, and police say the two people wounded were both armed. Syme didn't immediately have an update on their conditions. No other details were provided about what led up to the shooting.

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Owners of Construction Company Guilty in 'Rent-a-Vet' Fraud 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owners of a Kansas City area construction company have pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to obtain government contracts by falsely claiming a veteran ran their company. Federal prosecutors say 53-year-old Jeffrey Wilson, of Belton, pleaded guilty Wednesday to government program fraud. And 57-year-old Paul Salavitch, of Kansas City, pleaded guilty Tuesday to making a false writing, a misdemeanor. Wilson, who is not a veteran, managed the daily operations of the Patriot Construction Co. Salavitch, a disabled veteran, falsely claimed to participating in the company's activities when he was a full-time U.S. Department of Defense employee. Because Salavitch is a disabled veteran, Patriot fraudulently won 20 government contracts worth more than $13.8 million. The two men will have to forfeit about $2.1 million.

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Maine Man Bound over for Trial in Shooting Death in Kansas

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. (AP) — A Maine man will be tried for murder in the shooting death of a Kansas man in August.  Robert Colson, of Bucksport, Maine, was bound over for trial Monday after a preliminary hearing into the death of Matthew Schoshke at his home in Tescott, about 25 miles northwest of Salina.  The Salina Journal reports Colson faces charges of second-degree murder, theft and burglary. The trial is scheduled to start June 11.  Prosecutors say Colson took Schoshke's dog and drove his truck to California. He was arrested about two weeks after Schoshke's truck was found in California. Colson was injured while trying to escape from an Amtrak train after a person on the train was stabbed.  The dog was returned to Schoshke's family.

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