Headlines for Monday, June 29, 2015
High Court Won't Review Arizona, Kansas Voter Registration Laws
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court will continue allowing residents of Arizona and Kansas to register to vote using a federal form without having to provide proof of citizenship. The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from Republican officials in those two states who have sought to enforce laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. Supporters of the laws have said that they prevent noncitizens from voting, particularly those living in the U.S. illegally. Critics have said incidents of noncitizens registering to vote are extremely rare, and that such Republican-backed laws hurt voter registration efforts and disenfranchise voters from certain groups that tend to vote for Democrats, including minorities and college students.
Kobach: Kansas Has No Plans to Change Dual Voter Registration System
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansans who register to vote using a federal form without providing citizenship documentation will still not be able to vote in state elections despite the latest U.S. Supreme Court action. The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from Republican officials in Kansas and Arizona who have sought to have federal elections officials enforce state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the state will continue its dual election system that limits people who register with the federal form to voting only in federal elections, unless they provide proof of citizenship. He says Kansas will ask the new commissioners to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to consider changing the form to add the requirement.
US Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Kansas Death Penalty Set-Asides
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three cases in which the Kansas Supreme Court set aside the death penalty for men convicted of capital murder. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the Kansas appeal of its own high court's decision sometime during the Supreme Court's next session, which begins in October. The Kansas Supreme Court in 2014 upheld the capital murder convictions but vacated the death sentences of Wichita brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr and former Topekan Sidney Gleason. The state then appealed the decision to overturn the death sentences to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed this past March to hear all three appeals. The issues the U.S. Supreme Court will consider include jury instruction and separate sentencing hearings.
Kansas Officials Want School Funding Ruling Put on Hold
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The attorney general of Kansas is asking the state's highest court to put on hold a lower court's decision that would provide roughly $50 million more in aid to school districts this week. Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed the request Monday with the Kansas Supreme Court. Schmidt said the three-judge district court panel's decision to invalidate key parts of an education funding law was "unprecedented." The Shawnee County District Court panel's decision ordered Kansas to provide more money to districts using the state's previous school funding formula. The new school funding law took effect in April and scrapped the old per-student formula for distributing aid in favor of predictable grants for each districts. The lower-court panel said the changes violated the state constitution by not providing equal educational opportunities for all students.
Analysis: Kansas Abortion Ruling Could Have Sweeping Effects
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge's decision to block Kansas from banning a common second-trimester abortion method could reshape the state's legal climate on the issue. Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks last week said the law prohibiting a procedure described by critics as dismembering a fetus likely creates too big an obstacle for women seeking abortions. His order will remain in effect until he reviews a lawsuit filed by an abortion rights group. Hendricks also declared the Kansas Constitution creates a right to an abortion that's at least as strong as what the U.S. Constitution provides. Attorneys said if the ruling is upheld, Kansas courts eventually could join a handful of other states that protect abortion rights more than the U.S. Supreme Court. That could jeopardize restrictions upheld here in the past.
Federal Food Program Struggles to Reach Rural Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A child advocacy group says children in a third of Kansas counties don't have access to summer food programs. Many sites across the state provide the federally funded summer meals. But the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice says 35 counties don't have any meal locations in the summer. For example, Rebekah Gaston, an attorney for the group, says no sites are available north and west of Hays. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports state education officials note 100 new meal sites were added this year, many in rural counties. Obstacles to providing the meals in rural areas include finding community locations and partners willing to help and the long distances families would travel to reach the meal sites.
New Data Indicates Drop in Cost of High-Quality Kansas Land
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New numbers from a farm management company show the cost of high-quality land is falling in Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that an acre of high-quality, irrigated land sold for an average of $5,000 in June 2015 in Kansas, down from $6,000 in in June 2014. Data about the 17-percent drop comes from Farmers National Company, which manages and sells farms in 24 states. While many farms are sold by other companies, the data gives an idea of the market's direction. The average selling price also fell in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota. The price was statistically unchanged in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, and went up slightly in Missouri, Tennessee and Washington state.
Advocates Fear Westar's New Billing Plans Could Nix Solar Savings
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Solar energy advocates have raised concerns about Westar Energy's request for new financial setups for Kansas households with solar panels. Mark Horst, a partner in Hutchinson-based King Solar, says the new plans could eliminate the cost savings of installing solar panels. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that as part of a $152 million rate case Westar filed in March, the utility requested two new ways of calculating bills. Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig says the goal isn't to harm solar panel users, but to ensure they pay something toward the costs of operating the grid, since solar energy doesn't cover most homes' total energy needs. Horst says under either new plan, it would take longer for solar users to see savings from solar energy, lessening the incentive for using solar.
Report: Kansas Wheat Harvest Nears Halfway Mark
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new government report shows winter wheat harvest in Kansas is nearing the halfway mark. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that about 48 percent of the wheat had been cut statewide as of Sunday. That is better than a year ago, when just 38 percent had been harvested by this time in Kansas. But cutting in the state is still well behind the 60 percent average. The agency reports that about 84 percent of the wheat is now mature. Southeast Kansas farmers have made the most harvest progress with 70 percent in the bin. Central Kansas trails with 68 percent. Growers in south-central Kansas have harvested 65 percent of their wheat. About 11 percent has been cut in northwest Kansas, and 7 percent in the state's northeast corner.
Police: Man Shot Outside Oak Park Mall Knew Gunmen
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man knew the two gunmen who shot at him outside a suburban Kansas City mall. The man wasn't hit, and Overland Park police stressed in a news release Sunday that the gunfire wasn't random. The shots were fired Saturday night at Oak Park Mall as the man walked toward his vehicle, which was parked near a Macy's store. The man, who is in his 20s, fled in his car and later contacted police. Police say they are in the process of obtaining video surveillance and plan to release suspect photos Monday. Anyone with information is urged to call authorities.
KanCare Starting Ombudsman Volunteer Program
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The state-run program that administers Medicaid is seeking volunteer ombudsmen for Kansas City, Johnson County and Wichita. The KanCare Ombudsman office says it needs the volunteers to answer residents' questions about the program and help with appeals or complaints. Currently there is only KanCare ombudsman Kerrie Bacon, who is based in Topeka. She says she mostly deals with questions through phone calls and e-mails, and it will help to have volunteer ombudsmen see clients in person. Bacon told The Wichita Eagle that most of the calls she answers come from Kansas City and Wichita. A 30-hour training course for the three volunteer locations begins August 1.
Topeka Man Wants Judge to Decide His Sentence
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man who killed his mother chose to have a judge, rather than a jury, decide his sentence. Forty-year-old Jason Hachmeister on Monday waived his right to have a jury decide whether he should receive a sentence of at least 25 years or a Hard 50 sentence. Instead, Shawnee County District Court Judge Richard Anderson will decide Hachmeister's sentence for premeditated first-degree murder. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Hachmeister said he didn't want his family or himself to have to see graphic photos of the crime scene again. Sheila Hachmeister was stabbed and strangled at her Topeka home in September 2011. Prosecutors said Jason Hachmeister stood to receive $125,000 in life insurance because of his mother's death. The sentencing trial will resume July 21.
Man Dies in Lawrence Garage Fire
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A weekend fire at a Lawrence garage has killed a 52-year-old man. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Mark Bradford said Monday that James Beal Clark died at the University of Kansas Hospital, where he was taken by air ambulance from his home. Bradford says firefighters found Clark inside the burning garage early Saturday. The Lawrence Journal World reports Bradford says fire crews arrived at the scene of the fire "within five minutes" of the report and found the garage in flames. He says investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, which caused about $50,000 in damages.
2 Kansas Men Arrested in Connection with Iowa Man's Death
NODAWAY, Iowa (AP) — Authorities have charged two Kansas men with first-degree murder in connection with an Iowa man's death. The Iowa Department of Public Safety announced the arrest Monday of 41-year-old Jon Rubendall and 39-year-old James Bost, both of Hiawatha, Kansas. The men were charged in the death of 44-year-old Allen Pafford, of Nodaway, Iowa. Bond for both men was set at $1 million. An affidavit says authorities found Pafford tied up in a workshop near his mother's home in Nodaway, with a bedsheet wrapped around his head and neck and a bullet wound in the back of his head. According to the document, Bost told authorities that Pafford owed Rubendall $3,000 for drugs. Authorities from Iowa and Kansas arrested Bost and Rubendall in Hiawatha.
Wichita Woman Sentenced to Probation for Stealing Mail
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman has been sentenced to five years of federal probation for stealing mail and cashing counterfeit checks. Federal prosecutors say 35-year-old Jennifer R. Harper was sentenced Monday for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to steal mail. She admitted that she and two men stole the mail from postal boxes and took information and checks from the mail. They would then use the information to create counterfeit checks. A co-defendant, Justin Anderson was sentenced earlier to 6 ½ years. Another man, Jeremy Robinson, was sentenced to one year, three months in federal prison.
Tech Education Incentives Cut for Kansas School Districts
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Budget cuts mean that a Kansas program designed to enhance career and technical education is seeing a significant loss of funding. The Wichita Eagle reports that school districts this year will get less than half the monetary incentives they expected. The incentives are part of a 2012 initiative that called for the state to help pay tuition for high school students enrolled in career and technical education at a community or technical college. It also helped provide those students with transportation to take those classes. The Kansas State Department of Education said in a memo last week that the per-pupil payment for students who obtained certificates in certain high-demand fields will be "approximately $450" for the just-completed school year. That's down from a $1,000 per-student incentive promised in the initial legislation.
3 Cherokee County Employees Face Drug Charges
COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — Three Cherokee County employees face felony drug charges. The Cherokee County News-Advocate reports that Candy Harris, of Columbus, is charged with distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and using a communication device to arrange drug transactions. Rebecca Dobyns, of Columbus, is charged with using a communication device to arrange a drug transaction. She and Harris work for the treasurer's office. Kristin Seal, of Baxter Springs, works in the county's noxious weed department and is charged with using a communication device to arrange drug transactions. They're released on bond. Harris's lawyer, Chris Meek, says she's innocent. Seal's lawyer didn't return a message Monday. It's unclear if Dobyns has a lawyer, and she doesn't have a published phone listing.
Former Kansas County Conservation Director Charged
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The former director of a southeast Kansas conservation district faces federal fraud charges. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Kansas says 29-year-old Danielle R. Passauer, of Neodesha, is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud. The attorney's office says Passauer, former director of the Montgomery County Conservation District, is accused of authorizing about $27,000 in checks to be paid to her in excess of her salary and about $23,000 in credit card transfers to pay for unauthorized expenditures. Passauer appeared in federal court Monday in Wichita. She faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines on each count. J. Matthew Leavitt, a lawyer representing Passauer in the case, declined comment Monday.
Kansas Bomb Plot Defendant Gains Time to Review Evidence
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge is giving a man accused of plotting to bomb an Army installation in support of the Islamic State group more time to review the evidence against him. U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia on Monday granted a request from John T. Booker Jr.'s public defender for an additional 30 days to review evidence gathered by prosecutors, avoiding a trial in July. Murguia gave Booker's attorneys until July 29 to file legal motions and set another hearing for August 19. According to court documents, the 20-year-old Topeka resident was arrested in April while trying to arm what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb inside a van near Fort Riley, about an hour west of Topeka. The charges against Booker include attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Man Dies After Colliding with Semitrailer on Kansas Highway
CHASE COUNTY, Kan. (AP) — A man has died after his vehicle collided with a semitrailer in Chase County. According to a Kansas Highway Patrol report, 18-year-old Kaleb James Montgomery of Marion died on the scene Saturday morning after the collision. Police say Montgomery tried to pass a semitrailer while driving east on Kansas Highway 150, but had to overcorrect to avoid another semitrailer headed west. According to the report, the second semitrailer struck his vehicle on the passenger side, which caused the semi to flip onto its driver's side. Montgomery was ejected from his car and debris from the collision struck another vehicle. Authorities say the driver of the semitrailer was transported to the hospital. The driver of the third vehicle was not injured.
University of Kansas to Offer Reflection Room for All Faiths
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas will offer a meditation and reflection room for people of all faiths and beliefs, beginning this fall. The room will be non-denominational and encourage tolerance of all faiths, spiritual beliefs and practices. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the room will be in a small conference room in the Kansas Union. It will be a temporary reflection room until a permanent one can be established. The Students Senate said in a statement that the room is a small but important step toward making the university more inclusive and diverse. Establishing the room was a yearlong process led in part by Shegufta Huma, a Muslim who says students of her faith met in small spaces across campus for 10-to-15-minute prayer sessions they hold several times a day.
Salina Woman Injured After Car Rolls Near Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 19-year-old woman has been injured in a crash after falling asleep while driving near Topeka. Kansas Highway Patrol reports Anna Kay Zuercher was driving on U.S. Highway 75 around 6 pm Friday when she fell asleep. Authorities said Zuercher's car went off the road and when she overcorrected, the car rolled. The Salina Journal reports that the woman was transported to Stormont-Vail HeathCare in Topeka. The newspaper says the hospital would not release her condition.