Headlines for Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Kansas AG: Private Emails by State Officials Not Public
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says state officials aren't required to publicly disclose emails sent through private accounts even if the messages involve public business. Schmidt said in a legal opinion Tuesday that individual state employees don't meet the legal definition of a government agency or government-funded entity under the Kansas Open Records Act. The act requires agencies or government-funded entities to make their records available to the public, though it contains dozens of exceptions. The Republican attorney general issued the opinion at the request of Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. Hensley sought the opinion following disclosures that Budget Director Shawn Sullivan used a private email account at least twice in December to circulate details about budget proposals to a group that included two lobbyists.
Uber Hires Former Brownback Campaign Manager as Lobbyist
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Ride-hailing company Uber has signed Governor Sam Brownback's former campaign manager and several high-profile lobbyists to represent it in a fray over efforts to regulate the industry. The Kansas Secretary of State's Office says Mark Dugan, who managed Brownback's successful re-election campaign, registered as a lobbyist for Uber on Monday. The Wichita Eagle reports that the move came after Brownback on April 20 vetoed a bill that would have increased regulations on companies like Uber. Bill backers are vowing to attempt to override the veto during the wrap-up session that begins Wednesday. The governor's office said Dugan played no role in the decision to veto the bill. Uber didn't immediately return a message that The Associated Press left through its website.
Audit Indicates Sex Predator Program Costs to Double by 2025
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's auditing agency says that the civil commission of sexual predators for treatment in Kansas will double in cost over the next 10 years. The Legislative Division of Post-Audit presented a report Tuesday that estimates the program's cost will increase from $13.9 million in 2014 to between $26 million and $34 million in 2025. In Kansas, offenders deemed sexual predators are committed to a Larned State Hospital after they serve their criminal penalties. The number of patients in the program has grown to 258 and just three have been released since the program was launched in 1994, while 27 have died during their confinement. The report also found deficiencies in the way patients are assessed. The agency running the program says many of the report's recommendations have already been implemented.
Kansas House Committee Delays Review of Democrat's Remarks
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has delayed its investigation of a Democratic lawmaker who labeled as "racist bigots" supporters of a bill ending college tuition breaks for students living in the U.S. illegally. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the investigating committee cancelled a meeting scheduled for Thursday on a complaint against Representative Valdenia Winn of Kansas City. Chairwoman and Republican Representative Erin Davis of Olathe said a committee member had a family emergency. The meeting has not been rescheduled. The complaint against Winn was filed by nine GOP lawmakers over Winn's comments during a House Education Committee debate in March. The lawmakers who complained said Winn's remarks were inflammatory and represented a personal attack. But Winn attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said Monday that she was exercising her free speech rights.
Kansas Governor to Re-Enact Signing of Anti-Abortion Measure
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback plans to have four ceremonies across Kansas to re-enact his signing of the nation's first ban on a procedure that critics describe as dismembering a fetus. The Republican governor's events Tuesday are at a Catholic church education building in Lenexa and Catholic high schools in Pittsburg, Wichita and Hays. Brownback signed the measure April 7, and it takes effect in July. Oklahoma enacted such a law days later. Both states' laws ban doctors from using forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Such instruments are used in dilation and evacuation procedures performed during the second trimester. Abortion rights supporters say such procedures are often the safest for women seeking to terminate pregnancies during the second trimester.
Trial Set for Kansas Teen Accused of Killing Sister
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A 15-year-old Kansas girl will go on trial in September for first-degree murder in the stabbing death of her sister. Sierra Niehaus pleaded not guilty Monday to killing her sister, 13-year-old Galazia, at the family's home in rural Saline County on August 1. She is being tried as an adult. The Salina Journal reports that the trial was scheduled to begin September 15 and is expected to take about a week. Attorney Julie Effenbeck was appointed to represent Niehaus, who earlier this month was transferred from juvenile detention to Saline County's adult inmate population. Judge Patrick Thompson ruled in April that Niehaus should be tried as an adult. She was 14 when her sister was killed.
Lawsuit: Leavenworth Defrauded FEMA, Illegally Dumped Sewage
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A whistleblower lawsuit alleges the City of Leavenworth defrauded the federal government in claiming reimbursements for water pipe and bridge repairs that were actually damaged prior to the 2011 flood. The lawsuit unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas also alleges the city's water treatment plant illegally dumped waste directly into a creek behind the plant that runs into the Missouri River. It also alleges truckloads of solid sewer waste were dumped on top of the ground behind the facility. The city of Leavenworth declined to comment on the allegations. Former assistant plant supervisor Michele Coffman also claims in her suit that the city retaliated against her after she raised concerns over the practices. The Justice Department has declined to intervene at this time, but is monitoring the lawsuit.
Former Police Chief Indicted in Gun Sale Scheme in Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former police chief and three other ex-officers have now been indicted in a gun sale conspiracy at the Bel Aire Police Department. Grand jury indictments handed up Tuesday against ex-chief John R. Daily of Bel Aire and former officer Ricky L. Swanson of Wichita are the two latest in what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to buy discounted firearms. Both were charged with wire fraud and mail fraud. Federal prosecutors allege the officers falsely represented the weapons were police department property to take advantage of special pricing and tax exemptions. Court records do not show whether they have an attorney, and no one returned a voice message left at Daily's home. Two other former officers were charged in December for their roles in the scheme.
Seat Belt Usage in Kansas Increases
The Kansas Department of Transportation says more Kansans are buckling up than ever before. Transportation Secretary Mike King said in a statement Monday that 86 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers were observed to be wearing seat belts in 2014. That's up from just 61 percent in 2003. Although the state beat its target for 2014, its seat belt usage rate remains below the national average of 87 percent. The state ranked 40th in the country for seat belt usage in 2013. Transportation official Norraine Wingfield says usage is going up the fastest among teens, and passengers tend to buckle up if the driver does first. Kansas Highway Patrol Col. Mark Bruce says the numbers show that the state is moving in the right direction.
Kansas AG Seeks $450K to Defend New Anti-Abortion Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is telling legislators that defending a new anti-abortion law in court could cost the state up to $450,000. The new law takes effect in July and bans a procedure used in second trimester abortions that critics describe as dismembering a fetus. Kansas is the first state to enact such a ban. Abortion providers have said they're considering lawsuits. Anti-abortion leaders are confident that the statute will withstand a challenge. Schmidt told legislators last week that his office could need $50,000 by the end of June, between $100,000 and $200,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and up to $200,000 for the following fiscal year. Schmidt's office already has paid outside attorneys $1.2 million to defend anti-abortion laws since 2011, without losing a case.
Wichita to Award Varsity Letters to Special Needs Students
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Students who play in a special-needs sports league in the Wichita area scored a victory. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Wichita school board voted Monday to direct schools to award regular varsity letters to students who participate in the Tri-County Athletic League. The board voted unanimously to accept new guidelines proposed by the Tri-County league, which has teams from 11 area high schools for students with special needs. The handbook includes criteria for earning an athletic letter. The decision comes after a Wichita mother complained that her special needs son was told last year that he should not wear a letter jacket with a varsity letter she had purchased for him. District officials have said no one asked the student to take the jacket off.
Kansas Man Pleads No Contest to First-Degree Murder Charge
MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A 31-year-old central Kansas man has pleaded no contest to a first-degree murder charge in connection with the November death of a former Oregon resident. The Salina Journal reports that Clinton Bascue of McPherson entered his plea Monday in McPherson County District Court in the death of 39-year-old James Avery Croft. Croft, originally from Portland, Oregon, before moving to McPherson, was found on November 15 in a car that was in a ditch near Galva, 10 miles east of McPherson. A second person, 28-year-old Kamra Kay Farrell, also has been charged in Croft's death. Her next court appearance also is scheduled for July 6, about four hours before Bascue is sentenced. Farrell's bond is set at $500,000, while Bascue's was revoked as a result of his plea.
Kansas City Police Find Missing 9-Year-Old Boy
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police have found a 9-year-old boy who ran away, reportedly to find his biological mother. Police say the boy, Sir A. Wright, had been last seen Monday afternoon after he jumped out of a cab in southeast Kansas City and ran away. He left a note with a teacher saying he was running away to go to his biological mother's home.
Disease, Drought Taking Toll on Kansas Wheat Crop
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The winter wheat crop in Kansas is showing signs of stress from disease and drought. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 31 percent of the state's wheat is in poor to very poor condition. About 43 percent is reported as fair with 24 percent in good and 2 percent in excellent condition. In its weekly update, the agency says about 18 percent of the wheat has now headed. Spring planting continues with 32 percent of the corn now in the ground. About 2 percent of the soybeans and 1 percent of the cotton have also been planted.
Resigned Bishop to Preside over Upcoming Ordinations
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bishop Robert Finn, who resigned last week as leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, will preside over the ordinations of seven deacons next month. Diocese officials say the ordinations on May 23 conflict with the schedule of Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who was appointed temporary leader of the diocese after Finn resigned. The Kansas City Star reports that Naumann will preside over ordinations of deacons of the Kansas City, Kansas, diocese, which he leads, at the same time the ordinations are scheduled in the Missouri diocese. Naumann also said he wanted to respect the wishes of the seven Missouri deacons, who received their training under Finn's guidance. Diocese spokesman Jack Smith said ordinations are scheduled months in advance and must be performed by a bishop.
Kansas Oil Production Rose in 2014, Though Gas Dropped
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Newly released numbers show oil production is increasing in Kansas and that natural gas production continues to decline. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Geological Survey released production numbers for 2014 on Monday. They showed that Kansas produced about 49.5 million barrels of oil last year, marking a 5.7 percent increase from 2013. Despite falling prices, last year's oil production was at its highest level in Kansas since 1995. Meanwhile, natural gas production fell by 2.5 percent to about 287.6 billion cubic feet. With a one-year exception, production in Kansas has dropped every year since 1996. Ellis County was the top oil producer in Kansas, with about 3.4 million barrels in 2014. Harper County wasn't far behind, with 2.9 million barrels.
Wichita Eagle Publisher to Become McClatchy Vice President
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kim Nussbaum, president and publisher of The Wichita Eagle for nearly four years, will become advertising vice president for The McClatchy Company, parent company of The Eagle. Her last day in Wichita will be May 29. The company said Nussbaum's appointment is part of a reorganization to strengthen McClatchy's sales and marketing and accelerate its digital revenue growth. Nussbaum will be based in Sacramento, California. The Wichita Eagle reports that Nussbaum came to McClatchy and The Eagle in August 2011 from the Abilene, Texas Reporter-News, where she was president and publisher. She worked in newspapers for more than 30 years, primarily in advertising and marketing, before going to Abilene in 2007. McClatchy also announced Monday that Don Burk, vice president for advertising at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, will be corporate sales director.
1 Dead After House Explosion in Suburban Wichita
DERBY, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County fire officials say one person has been found dead after a house exploded in suburban Wichita. Fire Division Chief Kip Hiebert says the house exploded Monday evening in southeast Sedgwick County east of Derby. The victim's identity has not been confirmed. The cause of the explosion and fire is under investigation. Hiebert says multiple crews helped at the scene and there is no danger of more explosions at the scene.
Pilot Makes Emergency Landing in Eastern Kansas Field
GARDNER, Kan. (AP) — The pilot of a small home-built aircraft was walking around uninjured after making an emergency landing in an eastern Kansas field on Monday. The pilot reported losing oil pressure before landing in a field five miles north of New Century Airport outside Gardner, where it had taken off minutes earlier on Monday morning. The Long-EZ home-built plane landed about 9:50 am. The pilot was the only person aboard the small plane.
Topeka 'Flex Service' Buses to Operate Like Taxis
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Riding some Topeka buses will soon be more like taking a taxi ride. The city's mass transit provider, Topeka Metro, plans to offer a "flex service" beginning August 3. Initially, the service will be offered in east and southeast Topeka. People in the zone can arrange for a small bus to come pick them up at the curb if they call at least three hours in advance. For $2, those passengers then will be able to ride anywhere else in the flex zone. Or they could take the bus to a Walmart Supercenter, a Topeka Metro anchor location, where they will be able to board a fixed-route bus at no extra cost. Topeka Metro spokesman Ronnie Murphy says the goal is to boast ridership.
Small Kansas Church Sues County over Zoning Dispute
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A small southeastern Kansas congregation has sued Crawford County in a zoning dispute over church property that challenges the constitutionality of its zoning laws. Liberty Baptist Church filed its lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas claiming land use regulations violate the First Amendment and federal law. The congregation of 15 members contends it was twice denied a conditional use permit by county commissioners for a new church outside Pittsburg city limits. Its lawsuit contends the regulations are unlawful because they exclude new churches from locating anywhere in the county without undergoing a zoning process. It seeks an order blocking the county from preventing Liberty Baptist from using its property. It also seeks a ruling declaring the county's zoning restrictions on churches unconstitutional. Crawford County's legal counsel declined comment.
Wichita's Carnegie Library Celebrates 100 Years
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita is getting ready to celebrate the centennial of a landmark library building that was built with a $75,000 grant from businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Fidelity Bank officials plan to celebrate the building beginning May 14 when the first book was officially checked out a century ago. There also will be events in the fall, including concerts in the pocket park near the building. For half a century, the building was a library. It later became a municipal court building and then the Wichita Omnisphere and Science Center. Now it is the commercial bankers division of Fidelity Bank. It's not open to the public, but an open house is planned to give people a chance to tour the building.
Chiefs Sign Team President Donovan to Contract Extension
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs and team president Mark Donovan have agreed to a contract extension. Terms of the deal, announced Tuesday, were not disclosed. Donovan spent six years with the Eagles before joining the Chiefs as their chief operating officer in 2009. He was promoted to president two years later. Donovan has been instrumental in updating the fan experience at Arrowhead Stadium, creating new membership programs, implementing new technology and building the season-ticket base. He has also helped to bring several events to Arrowhead Stadium, including numerous college football games and concerts involving the Rolling Stones and Kenny Chesney. Before joining the Eagles, Donovan spent several years working as the NFL's senior director of sales and marketing. He also worked for the NHL and in the private sector.