Headlines for Thursday, March 5, 2015
Report Finds Major Flaws in Kansas Juvenile Justice System
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says Kansas's juvenile justice system functions inadequately due to poor use of mental health and substance evaluations, dependency on long periods of incarceration, inappropriate assignments of youths to detention facilities and other issues. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the evaluation indicates these and other factors contributed to the high rate of criminal relapse in Kansas. The results of the study, conducted by the nonpartisan Council of State Governments, were discussed with House and Senate corrections committee members at a Wednesday hearing. House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee chair John Rubin, a Republican from Shawnee, said the findings could lead to a comprehensive reform bill to be considered in 2016.
Kansas Senate Panel Endorses Court of Appeals Nominee
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate panel has endorsed Kathryn Gardner's confirmation to the Kansas Court of Appeals. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the full Senate confirm her. Gardner's initial confirmation hearing Wednesday was tense as committee chairman Republican Senator Jeff King from Independence aggressively questioned her qualifications. Gardner has served as the law clerk for U.S. District Judge Sam Crow since 2000 after spending 12 years as a practicing lawyer in Wichita and two years as an assistant state attorney general. Republican Senator Carolyn McGinn said she believed Gardner answered questions well, but wished the names of other applicants to the position were made public. A spokesperson for the Senate said the chamber has not yet scheduled Gardner's final confirmation, but it will be within 20 days.
Kansas Lawmaker Seeks Fall Local Elections Following Low Turnout
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are pushing to move local elections to the fall amid low turnout. Republican Representative Mark Kahrs of Wichita said in a news conference Wednesday that extremely low turnout in Tuesday's city primary elections illustrated the need to move local elections to the fall of even-numbered years to coincide with statewide and national elections. Turnout was 10.4 percent of registered voters in Shawnee County and 13.6 percent in Douglas County, while just 9.6 percent voted in Sedgwick County and 5.8 percent in Johnson County. That's according to a statement by the House Republican Caucus. The Senate already has passed a bill moving local elections to the fall of odd-numbered years. Kahrs has proposed amending both House and Senate bills to move local races to the top of the ballot.
Pensions Big Part of Proposed Aid Boost for Kansas Schools
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New figures from the Kansas Legislature's research staff show that rising state contributions to teacher pensions would eat up much of the proposed funding increases for public schools under a new plan. Republican leaders Thursday outlined a measure for overhauling how the state distributes aid to school districts. They said total aid for the 2016-17 school year would be $333 million higher than it was for 2013-14. That's an increase of nearly 9 percent. But data obtained from legislative researchers showed that when increases in pension contributions are factored out, the increase in 2016-17 compared with 2013-14 would be $184 million, or 5.2 percent. And when proposed aid for 2016-17 is compared with the current 2014-15 school year, the increase outside of pensions is $39 million, or 1.1 percent.
New Kansas Schools Plan Contains Funds for Budget Emergencies
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislative leaders in Kansas are responding to a key concern about their new school funding plan by including a proposal to set aside dollars for extraordinary needs. Top GOP lawmakers outlined a plan Thursday to replace the state's current formula for distributing aid with "block grants" for school districts based on their current aid. Republicans said their goal is to keep funding stable. Some educators worried beforehand that stable funding would hurt districts with growing student populations or financial emergencies. Republican leaders said their plan would set aside funds for school districts with big enrollment increases or other major issues. They said they would set aside $4 million for the current school year, $12.3 million for the 2015-16 school year and $17.5 million for the 2016-15 school year.
2 Prominent Attorneys Unsuccessfully Sought Kansas Appeals Court Spot
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The director of a University of Kansas legal clinic and a former Kansas Bar Association president say they unsuccessfully sought a seat on the state Court of Appeals. The Wichita Eagle reports that law professor Suzanne Valdez and Neodesha attorney Dennis Depew have confirmed that they applied for the state's second highest court. Brownback instead nominated Kathryn Gardner of Topeka. She is the longtime law clerk for U.S. District Judge Sam Crow. The Kansas Senate must confirm Gardner's appointment, and its Judiciary Committee had a hearing Wednesday. Brownback's office has refused to disclose names of other applicants. Depew was Bar Association president in 2013 and 2014. He said he respects Brownback's decision. Valdez would not comment after confirming her application. She directs the law school's criminal prosecution clinic.
Kansas House Committee Considers Rules for Cash, Food Aid
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would prohibit adults who receive cash assistance from the state from using it to patronize strip clubs or buy sexually oriented materials under a bill before a legislative committee. The state Department for Children and Families promoted the measure during a House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee hearing. The bill puts into state law policies enacted under Republican Governor Sam Brownback for cash assistance and food stamps. The policies require able-bodied adult recipients to be employed or looking for work. But the bill contains new restrictions, such as the one involving sexually oriented materials. Another new policy would impose a lifetime ban on receiving food stamps after a felony drug conviction. Critics said the state would be tightening its rules when child poverty is rising.
Westar Requests Rate Increase for Upgrades
LA CYGNE, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy has requested a $152 million rate increase from the Kansas Corporation Commission to pay for environmental upgrades and repairs at two state plants. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the commission will evaluate the request over several months. The Citizen's Utility Ratepayer's Board, businesses and others can intervene to argue for a lower rate or disagree with how the company plans to distribute the funds. About half the request would be used to bring the La Cygne coal-fired plant in line with federal emissions standards. The funds will also be used to make federally requested upgrades to the Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Station. The upgrade requirements came after a tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, according to John Bridson, who is the senior vice president of generation and marketing at Westar.
County Sheriffs from 3 States Sue over Colorado Pot Law
DENVER (AP) — Ten sheriffs from three different states are suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana. The sheriffs are from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. They say in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Colorado's 2012 marijuana legalization vote violates federal law and shouldn't be permitted. The sheriffs were joined by county attorneys from Kansas and Nebraska. They are asking a U.S. District Court in Denver to nullify the marijuana amendment to Colorado's constitution. The lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to legal weed. Separately, Nebraska and Oklahoma have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down marijuana legalization in Colorado. The Supreme Court hasn't said yet whether it will hear that case. And a group of Colorado citizens have filed their own federal challenge, saying marijuana reduces property values.
Military Recognizes WikiLeaks Defendant Manning as a Woman
WASHINGTON (AP) — A military appeals court is recognizing the transgender defendant accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks as a woman. The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington issued the order pertaining to Chelsea Manning on Wednesday. The court says references to Manning in all future filings, orders and decisions shall use either feminine pronouns or gender-neutral phrases such as "Private First Class Manning." The 27-year-old intelligence analyst, formerly known as Bradley Manning, obtained a legal name change in April. She was cleared last month to receive hormone therapy at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking reams of war logs, diplomatic cables and battlefield video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in 2010.
Man Says He Will Withdraw Plea in Topeka Capital Murder Case
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man who surprised many observers by pleading no contest in a capital murder case plans to withdraw the plea. King Phillip Amman Reu-El, formerly known as Phillip Cheatham Jr., told The Topeka Capital-Journal Wednesday that he will withdraw the plea he made last Friday and seek to have his case dismissed. Amman Reu-El avoided the death penalty by pleading no contest as jury selection was beginning for a trial in the 2003 deaths of killing two women and the wounding of a third. He said it was obvious the potential jurors had already decided to convict him and sentence him to death. His original conviction was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court because of ineffective counsel in first trial. Sentencing is set for March 20.
Health Officials Confirm Tuberculosis Case in Olathe
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Johnson County and Kansas health officials say a student at an eastern Kansas high school has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. The Olathe Northwest High School student was diagnosed Tuesday and is being treated. The student, whose age and gender weren't released, will not attend school for at least two weeks. Health officials say they're working to identify students and employees who should be screened for the disease. The deputy director of the Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention predicts there probably will be around 300 screenings. Tuberculosis can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include a bad cough for three weeks or longer, chest pain, weakness or fatigue, and coughing up blood. People with the disease are most likely to spread it to others with whom they have prolonged contact.
Kansas Man Accused of Sex Exploitation Arrested in Arizona
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Kansas man wanted for alleged sexual exploitation of a child has been arrested in northern Arizona. The U.S. Marshals Service announced Thursday that 48-year-old John Thomas was taken into custody after leaving a Chino Valley home in a vehicle. Federal authorities say Thomas had dramatically changed his appearance but still was identified and arrested without incident. He was booked into the Yavapai County Jail, where he will be held pending extradition back to Riley County in Kansas. Riley County police say Thomas allegedly was in possession of numerous images of child pornography and a warrant was issued for his arrest in February. Authorities say information was developed recently that Thomas was most likely residing in Arizona and Chino Valley police assisted the Marshals Service in the arrest.
Homeowners Group Denies Playhouse Proposal for Cancer-Stricken Girl
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The parents of a young girl with leukemia say they want to build a playhouse for their daughter, but they've been blocked by their homeowners association. Pete and Jennifer Schultz, who live in the Kansas City, Missouri, suburb of Raymore, tell The Kansas City Star that 6-year-old Ella Joe's health keeps her from playing with other children, so she needs a playhouse of her own. Their homeowners group says their "hearts are with Ella Schultz and her family," but it denied their proposal for a "barn-style" playhouse because it didn't have enough details.