Headlines for Monday, February 23, 2015
Kansas AG Backs Open Records Enforcement Proposal
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A legislative proposal that would make it easier to investigate allegations that governmental agencies are improperly redacting public records has the backing of Attorney General Derek Schmidt. If the legislation advances, prosecutors would be able to more quickly get to the bottom of claims that details have been improperly withheld. Currently, county or district attorneys and the attorney general are tasked with investigating alleged open records violations. Prosecutors need to review the full record to determine whether a document has been improperly redacted or withheld. But Schmidt says accused violators often are hesitant to turn over unredacted records because they fear the records then will be improperly released. Under the legislation, prosecutor would be prohibited from releasing the documents without a court order.
Plan to Allow Kansas Groceries to Sell Wine, Liquor Advances
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a bill to allow grocery stores to sell wine, liquor and full-strength beer starting in July 2018. The measure endorsed Monday by the Commerce Labor and Economic Development Committee also would allow convenience stores to sell full-strength beer in July 2018. The committee's 10-7 vote sends the bill to the full House for debate. Groceries and convenience stores currently can sell what's known as cereal malt beverage, or weak beer. Only liquor stores can sell other packaged alcoholic beverages. Grocery and convenience store chains have been pushing for a change for years, and supporters argue it would make the market freer. But critics say such a change will destroy small businesses and make it harder to prevent alcohol sales to underage buyers.
Kansas House Panel Considers Blocking Common Core Standards
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republicans are pushing to overhaul the Kansas school curriculum with a bill blocking the Common Core standards. The House Education Committee held a hearing Monday on the bill, which would bar any school district from adopting curriculums developed by entities outside of the state. Common Core has been adopted by 44 states, but critics have objected to it as inflexible and say it usurps local school decision-making. Republican Representative Ron Highland of Wamego, who chairs the committee, says he has seen a rising tide of constituents opposed to the standards. But Democratic Representative Ed Trimmer of Winfield said that bill could have unintended consequences like blocking advanced placement courses and instruction preparing students for college entrance exams. Republican lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to block the standards during the previous legislative session.
Governor Creates Social Services Policy Council
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback is creating a taskforce to look for ways to decrease poverty. Brownback created the Social Services Policy Council by executive order Friday. A news release says it will focus on improving high school graduation rates, finding employment for people on state assistance and provide incentives for marriage. The council will consist of seven to 13 members appointed by the governor and will be supported by the Department for Children and Families. Brownback said in a statement that the state's social services need to do more work to help people become self-sufficient and start strong families. A House panel held two days of hearings earlier this month on potential measures to reduce the state's divorce rate.
Kansas Bill Would Direct Study of Industrial Hemp
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Agriculture would begin studying the cultivation of hemp under a bill before the state Legislature. The House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on the bill today (MON). The measure would direct the department to conduct research focusing on efficient means of producing hemp in Kansas as well as analyzing its potential uses and the economic benefit of creating a local hemp industry. Industrial hemp products range from clothing to construction materials and fuel. The hemp varieties grown for industrial uses are related to the marijuana cannabis plant but are bred to have an extremely low content of the chemical component that produces the marijuana high.
Kansas Had Largest Decline in Highway Spending in Past Decade
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Budget problems in Kansas prompted Republican Governor Sam Brownback to propose siphoning off transportation dollars to help erase projected shortfalls. But even before then, federal data showed that Kansas had the biggest decade-long decline in per-person spending on highways of any state. Brownback is facing bipartisan criticism for proposals to divert $858 million from highway projects through June 2017 to deal with budget problems arising after lawmakers reduced personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at his urging. But data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration shows per-capital highway spending was 29 percent lower during the state's 2013 fiscal year than in fiscal 2003 - or $490 compared with nearly $695. Kansas ranked fifth in per-capita spending in 2003 and dropped to 28th a decade later.
Judge Won't Hear Retrial of Man Who Punched Attorney
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge is recusing himself from hearing the sexual assault retrial of a man accused of knocking his attorney unconscious during his first trial. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County District Court Judge Mark Braun announced the decision in a ruling he issued this past week in the case of Lance Franklin. Braun was in court in December when attorney David McDonald was punched. McDonald suffered a concussion, cuts, swollen eyes and chipped teeth. Braun found Franklin to be in contempt of court and will continue to handle that decision. Franklin also was charged with felony aggravated battery. Franklin's new defense attorney is appealing "all adverse rulings" against Franklin, including the contempt sentence. The contempt sentence won't be credited toward any of Franklin's other sentences.
Teen Ordered to Stand Trial for Fatal Fire
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 15-year-old central Kansas boy has been ordered to stand trial as an adult on murder charges related to a house fire that killed his mother and sister. Fifteen-year-old former Buhler High School student Samuel Vonachen was ordered Monday to be tried on two Reno County Circuit Court counts of premeditated first-degree murder. Vonachen also is charged with attempted first-degree murder involving his father, and of aggravated arson. Authorities allege that Vonachen used gasoline to ignite his family's two-story Hutchinson home in September 2013, killing 11-year-old sister Audrey Vonachen and their mother, 47-year-old Karla Jo Vonachen. KAKE-TV reports that during Monday's preliminary hearing, prosecutors played investigators' recorded interview of Samuel Vonachen. He told authorities that people are "awful" and he set the fire to send his family a message.
2 People Taken to Hospital After Topeka Town House Fire
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka town house fire has sent an adult and a child to the hospital to be treated for possible smoke inhalation. The Capital-Journal reports that fire crews responded shortly before 3 am Sunday to the blaze. The two adults and two children who lived in the town house were able to escape. The preliminary investigation says the fire started accidentally due to an unattended candle near curtains. There was an estimated $15,000 in structural damage and $5,000 in content loss.
Authorities: Inmate, 25, Dies in Sedgwick County Jail
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Sedgwick County say they're investigating the death of a 25-year-old inmate in the county jail. The sheriff's department says the inmate was found unresponsive in his cell about 8:50 am Sunday while he was being housed in the detention clinic for an unspecified medical issue. The inmate was pronounced dead about a half hour later after resuscitation efforts failed. Authorities did not publicly identify the inmate. The sheriff's department says the inmate was booked in to the jail on Friday on unspecified misdemeanor charges.
Kansas City Man Charged in Armed Robbery of Store
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 28-year-old man is facing criminal charges in the armed robbery of a south Kansas City convenience store over the weekend. Jackson County (Missouri) Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker says 28-year-old Brandon Strozier of Kansas City is charged with first-degree robbery and armed criminal action. According to court records, a store clerk said two men entered the business Saturday night and took a 12-pack of beer after one of them pulled a gun. Police later found a gun in Strozier's jacket. They haven't identified the second man. It wasn't immediately clear if Strozier has an attorney.
Highway 59 Shooter Sentenced to 18 Years in Prison
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for shooting at a man on a highway south of Lawrence after plotting with the victim's ex-girlfriend. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 25-year-old Edward "E.J." Parker was sentenced Friday in Douglas County after pleading no contest in January to attempted second-degree murder. He initially was charged with attempted first-degree murder. The victim, 24-year-old Skylar Workman, survived after being shot in May on U.S. 59. Workman's ex-girlfriend, Brittany Nicole Smith, was sentenced earlier to more than eight years in prison for arranging the shooting. As part of their sentences, Smith and Parker are ordered to pay Workman more than $123,000 in restitution for his medical bills.
Military Appeals Court Tosses Aggravated Assault Conviction over HIV
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The nation's highest military court has reversed the aggravated assault conviction of a Kansas airman accused of exposing multiple sex partners to HIV at swinger parties in Wichita. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces unanimously ruled Monday that prosecutors failed to prove that any of David Gutierrez's acts were likely to transmit HIV to his partners. However, the court upheld a lesser conviction of assault by battery for offensive touching to which his sexual partners did not provide meaningful informed consent. It also upheld his conviction for adultery, even though his wife participated with him in the swinger lifestyle. Gutierrez was a sergeant at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita in 2011 when he was sentenced to eight years behind bars.
Volunteers Spay, Neuter over 40 Feral Cats in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Volunteers have trapped more than 40 feral cats in Wichita to help control future populations in the south Kansas community. The Wichita Eagle reports the animals were recently spayed or neutered and then released back into a Wichita neighborhood. The effort by the Friends of Felines coincides with World Spay Day...an event sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States...on Tuesday. The Friends of Felines received a $5,000 grant from for the project from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The grant covers the expenses for 100 cats. Sue Schamp of the Friends of Felines estimates there may be as many as 100,000 feral cats in the Wichita area.
Oscar Treasure Housed in KU Theater Building
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - In the four decades since Oscar recipient William Inge's death, the statuette that symbolizes his success has resided in the building that houses the University of Kansas theater program. Inge received this Oscar in 1961 for best original screenplay for "Splendor in the Grass," a story of sexual repression. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Inge was 60 years old in 1973 when he committed suicide after a decades-long struggle with depression. His Oscar is stored at his alma mater, where it is brought out several times a year. The theater's director, Kathy Pryor, also serves as caretaker for the Oscar statuette. She calls it "priceless" and says it "serves as an inspiration" to aspiring thespians.
Supporters Push For Channel Catfish as Kansas State Symbol
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Despite past opposition, some Kansas residents want the channel catfish to become a state symbol. Supporters say the fish has a long history in Kansas and remains one of the most popular species in the state. Bills to designate it as a state symbol have been introduced in Senate and House Committees. The Hutchinson News reports that earlier efforts to honor the fish failed. Opponents suggested a rarer species like the Topeka shiner, or considered the catfish a "second-class" species. The Kansas Agriculture Department says the fish helps the state's economy, as a favorite of anglers and as a major part of the state's aquaculture industry.
Couple Dies in Miami County Crash
PAOLA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a couple died after their car went off the side of a Miami County road, overturned and caught fire. The crash happened around 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Miami County Sheriff's Office identified the victims as 78-year-old Willis D. Hodgson and 77-year-old Beth E. Hodgson. The couple lived in the town of Parker.
Wetlands Center Prepares for Opening Day in Lawrence
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A university wetlands center in Lawrence is gearing up for a June opening to the public. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the 11,000-square-foot Baker University Wetlands Discovery Center is expected to have its ceremonial opening in September. The center will house a research lab, classrooms and offices. The building is being designed to give visitors a panoramic view of the wetlands. Construction of the $1.5 million center is being funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation as part of the highway department's mitigation agreement for 58 acres to extend the South Lawrence Trafficway through the wetlands. The state also agreed to help restore 410 acres of wetlands, which will bring the land's total to 927 acres. The center was also given $350,000 for site improvements.
Study: Missouri Tops in Suspensions of Black Grade Schoolers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new study shows that Missouri suspended black elementary students at a higher rate than any other U.S. state, with the gap between suspensions of black and white students also tops in the country. The report released Monday by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA's Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that Missouri elementary schools suspended 14.4 percent of their black students at least once during the 2011-12 school year, which is the latest data available. That compares with 1.8 percent of their white Missouri counterparts and 7.6 percent of black students nationwide. In Kansas, 1.6 percent of all elementary students were suspended at least once. That rate was 6.5 percent for black students, 5.4 percentage points higher than the rate for white students.
KU Jayhawks Nab Number 8 in AP Top 25 Basketball Poll
The University of Kansas Jayhawks are ranked number eight in the nation in this week's Associated Press Top 25 Poll. The University of Kentucky was the unanimous number one for the fourth straight week. The Wildcats (27-0) received all 65 first-place votes from a 65-member media panel Monday after routing Tennessee and Auburn last week. Virginia remained number 2, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, Wisconsin, Villanova and Arizona. It's the first time the top seven have remained the same for six straight weeks since 1992-93. Northern Iowa moved into the top 10 for the first time in school history, sliding in behind number 8 Kansas and number 9 Notre Dame.