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Headlines for Monday, January 26, 2015


Kansas House Committee Working on Plan to Expand Medicaid 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is working on a proposal to expand the state's Medicaid program to capture additional federal dollars promised by the federal health care overhaul. The Vision 2020 Committee heard testimony Monday in favor of expanding Medicaid from the Kansas Hospital Association and the state's largest health system, Via Christi. Committee Chairman and Lawrence Republican Tom Sloan said a bill should be drafted within a few weeks. The state's $3 billion-a-year Medicaid program provides health coverage for the needy and disabled, but it doesn't cover childless adults without disabilities. The 2010 federal health care law promises to pay all of the cost of expanding Medicaid through 2016 and at least 90 percent after that. But many Kansas Republicans remain skeptical the federal government will keep its promises.


Kansas Legislative Panels to Consider Budget Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislative committees are preparing to consider proposals for closing a projected $279 million shortfall in the state's current budget. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. says the panel will begin hearings Wednesday on budget-balancing legislation. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has scheduled debates on budget-balancing proposals for Wednesday and Thursday. Governor Sam Brownback's proposals include diverting funds for highway projects and public pensions to general government programs. The state also faces an additional budget shortfall of $436 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The shortfalls arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to boost the state economy. The governor has since proposed slowing down future income tax cuts and increasing tobacco and alcohol taxes.


Kansas Attorney General to Appeal School Funding Ruling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas' top prosecutor has announced plans to appeal a district court panel ruling that found the state isn't spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education. Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced the appeal plans Friday morning. Later, his office announced it had filed a motion asking for a clearer explanation of the ruling. Schmidt also said he doesn't distinguish between the formula and the funding of the formula. Part of the debate over school finance has centered on whether the formula itself is flawed or simply underfunded. Schmidt told lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee new court filings will come soon. 


Sexual Assault Reports Double at University of Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The University of Kansas received nearly twice as many sexual assault complaints in 2014 than the year before. School officials attribute the increase to improved awareness of the crime. The school's Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access says it received 169 complaints last year, compared with 85 in 2013. IOA Executive Director Jane McQueeny says 120 of the 169 complaints were filed under Title IX, which requires campuses to provide an education environment that is free from sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence. McQueeny estimated half of the 2014 complaints came in after September, when students protested against the university's handling of alleged rape complaints. She says 28 of the complaints remain open, and five new complaints have been filed so far this year.


Kansas Geologists Seek More Funding Amid Earthquake Spike 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas geologists say they need more funding to investigate an unprecedented spike in earthquakes in the state. Kansas Geological Survey Director Rex Buchanan told the House Energy and Environment Committee on Monday that about half a million dollars is needed to beef up seismic monitoring. The agency recorded 206 earthquakes since January 1, 2013 after detecting just three from 2004 through 2012. Buchanan said the agency is still studying the problem, but they see a connection between the earthquakes and the practice of injecting wastewater into underground wells. This technique is used as a part of several mining processes, including the hydraulic fracking process. Fracking is used to get at previously unreachable oil and natural gas deposits. However, some activists have criticized the practice as excessively harmful to the environment.


Businesses Support State Takeover of Workplace Safety Enforcement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The idea of having the state take over enforcement of workplace safety rules is getting some support in the Kansas House, despite hesitation in the state Senate. Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee pulled back from the idea after they were told such this week that it couldn't be used to reduce the number of regulations. But the idea may still be alive in the House, largely because the state's business community strongly supports it. The Kansas Department of Labor has studied the idea of the state taking over workplace safety enforcement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Both House and Senate commerce committees heard a report last week about the proposal. The federal government provides funding for states who take over the responsibility.


Supporters Push for Rules Changes for Dental Practitioners

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A plan to address a Kansas dental care shortage with a new type of health care worker is being pushed again in the Legislature despite stiff opposition. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that registered dental practitioners would be able to perform basic services, such as fillings, crowns and some tooth extractions. Supporters argue the mid-level practitioners could cut costs, but opponents charge the idea would endanger patients. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration said 99, mostly rural, Kansas counties have some form of dental-related health professional shortage. Both Fort Hays State University and Wichita State University have supported the creation of dental practitioner programs.


District Conceals Whereabouts of Thomas Hart Benton Painting

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - Some members of a class that donated a Thomas Hart Benton painting to a Shawnee Mission school in the 1950s are wondering where the gift is being kept. The district says it has the painting, called "Utah Highlands," but it isn't saying where. The district's spokeswoman says the location is being kept secret for security reasons because the painting is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The students spent $750 to buy the painting in 1957. Its value was appraised a few years ago at $700,000. The painting hung for years in the library of the school now called Shawnee Mission North. It hasn't been seen publicly since 2008. The Kansas City Star reports that school administrators have worried about storing the painting for years as its value increased.


Feds in Kansas File Kidnapping Charge Against Texas Man 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a man with abducting a Texas woman at gunpoint before blindfolding and handcuffing her to bring her to Kansas.A criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas alleges 24-year-old Joseph Andrew DeRusse of Austin intended to try to convince the 24-year-old woman to marry him and had bought an engagement ring. He prepaid for three weeks at a bed and breakfast in the north-central Kansas town of Narka. Instead he was arrested early Friday near Newton, Kansas, less than two hours after the woman was reported missing by her father. Authorities tracked the GPS signal on her car. An affidavit indicates the couple had been in a relationship before breaking up in December. Court records do not show a defense attorney.


Former Executive Seeks to Toss Medicaid Suit Extortion Claims 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former executive of the firm managing part of the privatized Medicaid program in Kansas has asked a judge to toss out counterclaims accusing her of trying to extort $3 million. Sunflower State Health Plan Inc. and parent Centene Corporation made the extortion claims last month while responding to the federal lawsuit filed in October by former Sunflower Vice President Jacqueline Leary. Her lawsuit contends she was wrongfully fired after protesting potentially improper cost-cutting moves for the Kansas Medicaid program. On Monday, Leary asked the court to dismiss the counterclaims brought by her former employer — arguing those accusations were made as retaliation for her filing the lawsuit. Medicaid covers health services for the poor and disabled. Kansas has turned its administration over to Sunflower and two other private companies.


KU Law Student Files for Lawrence City Commission Seat

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A University of Kansas law student has filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Cori Viola says her time as a clerk for the nonprofit advocacy group Kansas Appleseed helped bring to light some issues she thinks the commission ought to change. One of those issues, Viola says, is a city ordinance that requires people convicted in Municipal Court to pay a little more than $72 per day for jail time. She says that for low income defendants, the requirement often just makes it more difficult for them to improve their situations. The 23-year-old has lived in Lawrence for six years, while receiving her undergraduate degrees and working on her law degree. She says the City Commission could benefit from having a younger voice and new perspectives.


Dalton Gang Attraction Added to Registry of National Historic Sites

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A southwest Kansas roadside museum about a gang of bank and train robbers is among the newest properties added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Kansas Historical Society said in a news release that the Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum in Meade County is one of six new Kansas listings. The attraction was built around the former residence of a sister of the outlaw Dalton brothers. The gang was practically wiped out in 1892 while attempting to rob a pair of banks in Coffeyville. The Meade Chamber of Commerce got help from the Work Projects Administration, or WPA, and the National Youth Administration in developing the site in 1940. 


Proposed Southeast Kansas Landfill Project Stalls

GALENA, Kan. (AP) - After nearly seven months of debate, a major obstacle has emerged to a proposed southeast Kansas landfill. The city of Galena has learned that it will need approval of Cherokee County commissioners to submit an application to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to develop the landfill. The Joplin Globe reports that commission chairman Richard Hilderbrand says he doesn't see that happening. He noted that the commission has always been "unanimous against it." Controversy arose after the Galena City Council acquired land and structured a contract for a 40-acre landfill on 160 acres near Riverton. The commissioners previously thought they would not be able to stop the proposed landfill project from moving forward. Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby said he was astonished. 


Woman Dies in KCK House Fire 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a 69-year-old woman  died in a fire at a Kansas City, Kansas apartment complex early Sunday. Investigators said a man and a woman lived in the apartment. The woman was removed from an upstairs bedroom but later died of her injuries. Her name wasn't immediately released. A man escaped the fire before crews arrived with non-life-threatening burns. One firefighter also sustained minor injuries while battling the blaze. Damage is estimated at $80,000.


Lenexa Hit and Run Kills Pedestrian 

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a pickup truck driver left the scene of a suburban Kansas City crash that killed a 19-year-old pedestrian from Ohio. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the driver was headed southbound around 5:50 p.m. Saturday on Interstate 35 in Lenexa and attempted to cut through a gore area to get to the U.S. 69 ramp. The patrol says Steven Henderson Schuster of Pataskala, Ohio, was struck and killed. The driver didn't stop. The patrol identified the truck as a Toyota.


Agriculture Industry Welcomes Lower Diesel Prices

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The plunge in fuel prices has been a relief across the agricultural sector, easing the pain of low grain prices for growers and boosting profits for cattle ranchers. Livestock producers in the Midwest and vegetable growers in the Sun Belt alike are already reaping benefits. Average diesel prices for 2015 are forecast to be about $1 lower than last year. That may prompt farmers this spring to plant more energy-intensive crops like corn or rice as the cost to irrigate and cultivate drops. Consumers shouldn't expect to see lower prices at the supermarket, because transportation costs constitute only a small slice of those prices.


Bypass Work on Leaking Wichita Water Pipe Nearly Completed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials say work to bypass a leak in a major water pipe at the city's main water treatment plant is nearly complete. Public works employees having been laboring since the leak was discovered last Wednesday to build a bypass around the problem so work can begin to fix the actual leak. City officials say water is leaking out of the main pipe that connects the city's two primary water sources to the treatment plant. KAKE-TV reports Public Works Director Alan King says work on the bypass should be finished Monday or Tuesday. King says crews know generally where the leak is, but not an exact point. He says the leak is not expected to affect water quality.


After Joplin Tornado, Schools Work to Supply Safe Rooms

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — In the years since a 2011 tornado devastated Joplin, school districts in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas have scrambled to provide safe rooms to protect their students, staff and patrons in severe weather. The Joplin Globe reports more than $100 million has been spent on the projects since the tornado, which killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of structures, including nearly a dozen school buildings. School districts including Joplin, Webb City and Jasper in Missouri and Galena and Baxter Springs in Kansas have built at least one community safe room since the tornado. Crews are working in many other districts to complete or start construction on safe rooms. The Riverton, Kansas, district recently decided to put a bond issue on April's ballot that would include funds for storm shelters.


3 Kansas City Teens Charged in Death at Water Park

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Three Kansas City teenagers have been charged in the shooting death of a 14-year-old girl. The Jackson County prosecutor's office announced Sunday that 17-year-old Issac M. Carter, 17-year-old Ce-Antonyo D. Kennedy and 18-year-old Dominic McDaniel face charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Alexis Kane. Prosecutors have requested that each defendant be held on a cash bond of $500,000. Court records say Kane was found shot to death January 11 on the grounds of The Bay Waterpark in south Kansas City. Multiple 9mm shells were found at the scene. Friends said she had met two men at a gas station and got into a vehicle with them. Surveillance video later showed her being physically assaulted and shot.


Wichita State's Frankamp Arrested on DUI Charge 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp has been arrested on suspicion of DUI. Wichita police told The Associated Press that the 19-year-old was arrested early Sunday morning after being initially stopped for failing to signal a turn and maintain a single lane. Police say a breath test showed Frankamp's blood-alcohol content was .186, more than twice the legal limit. A phone message left Monday at his parents' Wichita home was not immediately returned. Frankamp transferred at the end of last semester from Kansas to Wichita State, which has been in the Top 25 all year. The Wichita Eagle reports that the sophomore practices with the Shockers but must sit out this semester because of NCAA transfer rules.


After Ugly Start, K-State in Thick of Big 12 Men's Basketball Title Chase  

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State has charged toward the top of the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats (12-8, 5-2) have won five of their last six games, including wins over ranked opponents Oklahoma and Baylor and once-ranked Oklahoma State. They are just a half-game behind Kansas for first place heading into Tuesday night's game against No. 17 West Virginia, which is tied with Iowa state another half-game back. Coach Bruce Weber says he's seen progress in his team, and a lot of early problems with team chemistry have disappeared.


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