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Headlines for Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Breaking:  Automotive Workers Reach Tentative Agreement to End Strike at General Motors

The United Auto Workers and General Motors have reached a tentative contract agreement that could end a month-long strike that brought the automaker's U.S. factories to a standstill.  GM's Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas, employs about 2,400 hourly workers.

(earlier reporting...)

End of Strike Against GM May be Near; CEO Mary Barra Joins Talks

DETROIT (AP) — A person briefed on the talks says General Motors CEO Mary Barra is joining negotiators at the bargaining table, a sign that an agreement may be near to end a monthlong strike.  Barra was with company President Mark Reuss (Royce). The person who didn't want to be identified because the talks are confidential, says both executives were in the room early Tuesday.  About 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers union walked off their jobs September 16 after their four-year contract expired. The strike has shut down all of GM's U.S. factories and hampered production in Canada and Mexico.  GM's Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas, employs about 2,400 hourly workers.


State Senator Who Left GOP Runs for U.S. Senate as Democrat

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislator who defected from the Republican Party last year is running for the U.S. Senate next year as a Democrat.  The Kansas City Star reports that State Senator Barbara Bollier, of the Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills, promised an independent approach in kicking off her campaign Wednesday. The 61-year-old retired anesthesiologist also condemned dysfunction in Washington as she seeks to replace retiring Republican Senator Pat Roberts.  Republicans haven't lost a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since 1932. But Democrats are heartened by the victories last year of Kansas Congresswoman Sharice Davids in a Kansas City area district and Governor Laura Kelly statewide.  Former federal prosecutor Barry Grissom and Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi also are running as Democrats. Republican contenders include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, western Kansas congressman Roger Marshall and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach .


State Lawmaker Runs for Western Kansas Seat in Congress

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) — A prominent Republican state legislator has launched a campaign for the western Kansas seat in Congress.  State Representative Troy Waymaster of Bunker Hill announced his candidacy Tuesday in the 1st Congressional District. Waymaster has been chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations committee since 2017 and is a key player in budget debates.  Waymaster said he's a conservative running partly because "socialists" in Washington "are tearing our country apart." He is a farmer who was first elected to the Legislature in 2012.  Former Lt. Governor Tracey Mann of Salina and Finney County Commissioner Bill Clifford also are seeking the GOP nomination. Garden City teacher Kali Barnett is running as a Democrat.  Two-term Republican Congressman Roger Marshall announced last month that he's running for the U.S. Senate.


Only Democrat Running for Kansas 2nd District Seat Drops Out of Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The only Democratic candidate running for an eastern Kansas congressional seat has dropped out of the race.  Abbie Hodgson announced Tuesday that she was ending her campaign in the 2nd District. WIBW-TV reports that Hodgson said she didn't have a "viable path" for winning the seat now held by freshman Republican Congressman Steve Watkins.  Hodgson was a one-time speechwriter for former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius and a former staffer for Kansas House Democrats. She worked two years in Washington for the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Watkins is a former Army officer and military contractor who emerged from a crowded Republican primary in 2018 and narrowly won the general election.  State Treasurer Jake LaTurner is challenging Watkins in the Republican primary, arguing that he's vulnerable to losing to a Democrat next year.


High Court Weighs State Role in Prosecuting Immigrants

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is trying to sort out whether states can prosecute immigrants who use fake Social Security numbers to get a job. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in Kansas's appeal of a state court ruling that threw out three convictions after concluding the state was seeking to punish immigrants who used fake IDs to obtain jobs. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has exclusive authority to determine whether an immigrant is authorized to work in the United States. The justices seemed concerned that states shouldn't be hampered in other identity-theft prosecutions when someone might use a stolen Social Security number to get a driver's license or arrange for direct deposit of a paycheck.


FCC Approves T-Mobile/Sprint Deal in Party-Line Vote

The Federal Communications Commission has approved the $26.5 billion combination of Sprint and T-Mobile on a 3-2 party-line vote. The wireless merger still faces opposition from a coalition of state attorneys general, who argue the deal is bad for competition. The companies won't merge while litigation persists. The antitrust trial is scheduled to start in New York in December, an unusual situation given that the Trump administration's Justice Department approved the deal. The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, a Republican, backed it months ago citing the companies' promise to build out a next-generation 5G network to many rural areas, improving internet access. The Democratic commissioners say going from four to three major wireless companies will mean higher prices for consumers. They say it will be difficult to enforce promises made by T-Mobile and Sprint.


Mexican National Deported Multiple Times Gets Prison for Illegal Re-Entry, ID Theft

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 37-year-old Mexican national who repeatedly entered the United States illegally was sentenced in federal court in Kansas City to 2.5 years in prison without parole.  Rigoberto Vasquez-Milan was sentenced Tuesday for illegal re-entry after being deported and aggravated identity theft.  Federal prosecutors say Vasquez-Milan used another person's name, Social Security card and lawful permanent resident card to get a job at a Kansas City restaurant.  U.S. immigration authorities began investigating Vasquez-Milan in 2018 after he was accused of raping a co-worker. No charges were filed in that case.  Court documents say Vasquez-Milan entered the U.S. illegally at least a dozen times. He was removed from the United States three times and voluntarily returned to Mexico eight times.


Police Find 144 Pounds of Meth at Kansas City Home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say police seized 144 pounds of methamphetamine in tires stored at a shed at a Kansas City man's home. The man, 38-year-old Jorge Rodriquez-Gonzalez, was charged this week in U.S. District Court with drug trafficking. Charging documents allege a confidential source bought a minimum of one kilogram of meth from Rodriguez-Gonzalez at least five days a week. Prosecutors said that on Oct. 10, Rodriguez-Gonzalez was arrested after showing up for a drug buy with his wife and two young children. Police confiscated weapons, vehicles and drugs, including the methamphetamine inside four tires in a shed near Rodriquez-Gonzales's home. Court records show Rodriguez-Gonzalez told authorities he lived where the drugs were found but didn't know how the tires got into his shed.


Kansas Man Admits Making Rape and Murder Threats Against Anti-Abortion Group

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who admitted threatening workers of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has been sentenced to federal prison.  The U.S. attorney's office in says 22-year-old Christopher M. Thompson was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day on one count of making a threat.  Operation Rescue Vice President Cheryl Sullenger says that Thompson threatened to rape her and her daughters and then murder her family. She says in a news release she takes no pleasure in his incarceration, but believes it is a just sentence.  Sullenger says this is a step toward restoring the sense of security he took from families.  His attorney says Thompson never intended to carry out the threats, which were sparked a 2005 story he found online that Operation Rescue had written about his grandmother.


Anti-Abortion Group Opposes Kansas Supreme Court Candidates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An anti-abortion group is opposing two candidates for a Kansas Supreme Court vacancy before a state commission selects finalists for Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.  Kansans for Life announced Tuesday that it opposes state Court of Appeals Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge and Shawnee County District Judge Evelyn Wilson.  The move comes as conservatives seek to overturn a Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights and to require state Senate confirmation of the justices.  A nominating commission is set to interview 20 applicants Thursday and Friday. After it picks three finalists, Kelly will appoint one, with no role for legislators.  Kansans for Life objects to Standridge because of a 2016 appeals-court ruling favoring abortion rights. It opposes Wilson because of her husband's past political contributions to Kelly and other abortion-rights candidates.  Neither judge responded immediately to the group's criticism.


Wichita Lawyer Spared from Prison for Role in Cyberattacks

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita lawyer has admitted to paying a software engineer who launched cyberattacks on websites that criticized the attorney's work.  Court filings show 63-year-old Bradley A. Pistotnik pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of being an accessory after the fact to online extortion threats.  He was immediately sentenced to pay a $375,000 fine and $55,200 in restitution as agreed in a plea deal with the government that spares him from prison.  His co-defendant, VIRAL Artificial Intelligence co-founder David Dorsett , has a change-of-plea hearing set for Monday.  Federal prosecutors allege they are responsible for cyberattacks on, and in 2014 and 2015. The indictment accuses Dorsett of filling website inboxes with threats. An email purportedly demanded that a webpage be removed or the hackers will target advertisers.


4 School Districts in Kansas's Most Populous County Sue Juul

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Four more school districts in Kansas are suing a leading e-cigarette maker as they struggle to stop students from vaping. The Kansas City Star reports that school boards for the 27,000-student Shawnee Mission district, the 22,000-student Blue Valley and the DeSoto school district, which has about 7,100 students, voted Monday to sue Juul. Last month, the board for the nearly 30,000-student Olathe district decided to sue. The lawsuits seek unspecified compensation for the costs of trying to keep vaping out of schools. Blue Valley school board President Cindy Bowling said Tuesday that staff is "spending significant amounts of time monitoring and policing vaping in school." She described it as a "drain of resources and a major distraction." Juul has said it doesn't market to youth and its products are meant to be an alternative to smoking.

(–earlier reporting–)

3 School Districts in Johnson County Sue E-Cigarette Maker Juul

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The three largest school districts in Kansas' most populous county are suing a leading e-cigarette maker as they struggle to stop students from vaping.  The Kansas City Star reports that school boards for the 27,000-student Shawnee Mission district and 22,000-student Blue Valley voted Monday to sue Juul. Last month, the board for the nearly 30,000-student Olathe district decided to sue.  The suits seek unspecified compensation for the costs of trying to keep vaping out of schools.  Blue Valley school board President Cindy Bowling said Tuesday that staff is "spending significant amounts of time monitoring and policing vaping in school." She described it as a "drain of resources and a major distraction."  Juul has said it doesn't market to youth and its products are meant to be an alternative to smoking.


Missouri Leaders Developing Awareness Campaign About Deadly Risks of Vaping

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri officials are developing a public safety campaign aimed at making young people aware of the deadly risks of vaping.  Republican Governor Mike Parson said at a news conference Tuesday that he is directing leaders of the state health, education and public safety departments to develop a statewide campaign within 30 days. The goal is to educate, warn and discourage vaping.  State health director Randall Williams says there has been an "explosion" in the number of youths who are vaping in Missouri and across the country.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nationwide, vaping is now blamed on about 1,300 illnesses and at least 26 deaths. Missouri has reported nearly two dozen vaping illnesses and one death.  Parson calls the campaign a "first step."


Hallmark to Close Its Home and Gifts Business

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hallmark Cards says it plans to close its home decor and gift products business by the end of the year.  The Kansas City-based company said Monday that Hallmark Home and Gifts will close because of changes in the retail industry.  KSHB-TV reports company spokesman Andy DiOrio said 60 employees will be affected by the closure. He said some will be offered a chance to apply for other Hallmark positions, while others will move to other parts of the company.  The company said in a statement that it will continue to offer gifts through its Retail and Hallmark Greetings businesses.  Hallmark Home and Gifts is one of the company's six businesses.


In Oklahoma, Governor Tests Power of Tribal Gambling

ADA, Okla. (AP) — For the last 15 years, casino gambling has been a financial boon for Oklahoma and many of the Native American tribes located there.  Tribal casinos generate more than $2 billion a year, with $139 million going to the state last year to fund education. But the financial windfall has increased more than the tribes' wealth. It has also brought influence in many towns, where casinos are major employers and tribes fund local services.  The tribes are now locked in a showdown with Oklahoma's new Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, who has demanded a larger share of casino revenue for the state.  The tribes have refused. Many now question whether even a popular governor now has the clout to challenge the popular support for the tribes.


Lawrence Man Sentenced in Kidnapping, Sexual Battery Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 45-year-old Lawrence man has been sentenced to 11 years and four months in a case in which the reasons for the charges remain unclear. BJ Lauri was sentenced Wednesday for kidnapping and sexual battery. The Lawrence Journal-World reports an affidavit detailing the allegations against Lauri was sealed after a judge determined the victim's mental or emotional well-being could be jeopardized by its release. Police previously said that in January, a woman told a Hy-Vee employee she had been held against her will and several "criminal events" occurred during that time. Lauri was originally charged with human trafficking and other more severe charges but pleaded no contest to the two charges. Lauri's co-defendant, 51-year-old John Brown, is cooperating with prosecutors. He is charged with kidnapping and two misdemeanors.


Wichita Lawyer Sentenced in Embezzlement Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 69-year-old former Wichita attorney who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients has been sentenced to three years in prison. Christopher O'Brien was sentenced Tuesday and was also ordered to pay $603,000 in restitution. O'Brien pleaded guilty in March to embezzling. Roger and Marcia Altis, of Eureka, told The Wichita Eagle that O'Brien kept money they paid to him that was meant to pay their debt caused by a 2010 bankruptcy in their family's oil field business. O'Brien also agreed to turn over $554,889 to the bankruptcy estate of a Wichita machine shop and $51,500 to a group of Hawker Beechcraft retirees. O'Brien said in written testimony that he embezzled for more than 25 years from law firms and clients. He used the money for expensive trips and weddings and other personal expenses.


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