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Headlines for Thursday, July 23, 2015


Westar Criticized for Multi-Million Dollar Electric Rate Hike Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The largest electric utility in Kansas is drawing strong criticism for proposing to increase its rates by $152 million a year. AARP Kansas has called the proposed increases unreasonable, and green-energy advocates argue that part of the plan will discourage consumers from installing solar panels or taking other steps to conserve power. The Kansas Corporation Commission had its first public hearing Tuesday in Topeka on the proposal from Westar Energy Inc. and plans another Thursday in Wichita. The company has said it needs the rate increases to cover costs already incurred for plant upgrades. The company has said rates would rise by an average of $13 dollars per month for residential customers. 


Pro-Life Group Seeks Review of Kansas Ban on Profiting from Fetal Tissue Sales

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ An anti-abortion leader wants Kansas to review its ban on selling fetal tissue following Governor Sam Brownback's call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.  Executive Director Mary Kay Culp of Kansans for Life said Wednesday workers at abortion clinics may not have enough legal protections if they seek to become whistleblowers. She says the state should also mandate that women seeking to end their pregnancies be given more information if they're asked to donate fetal tissue or organs. President and CEO Laura McQuade of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said it's not necessary to revisit the 2000 ban. She said Planned Parenthood doesn't have a tissue-donation program. Brownback has called for the state medical board to investigate whether fetal tissue is being sold.


Abortion Foes See New Reason for Kansas-Style Ban on Method 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion opponents are using questions about Planned Parenthood's handling of fetal tissue to bolster arguments that other states should follow Kansas in approving a ban on a common second trimester procedure. But abortion rights supporters Thursday decried what they saw as another episode in an ongoing campaign to limit access to abortion services. Anti-abortion activists have released two videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they provide organs from aborted fetuses for research. Abortion opponents said prohibiting a common second-trimester procedure that they describe as dismembering a fetus would restrict potential trafficking in fetal tissue. Kansas enacted the nation's first such ban earlier this year, but a state district court judge last month temporarily blocked it from taking effect. It embodies model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee.


USDA Plans Widespread Production of Bird Flu Vaccine 

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Scientists have developed a vaccine strain that is 100 percent effective in protecting chickens from bird flu and testing is underway to see if it protects turkeys. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday that the agency plans to quickly license the vaccine for widespread production. The USDA is seeking federal funding to stockpile the vaccine nationally. The drug targets the H5N2 virus that killed 48 million birds in 15 states this spring. Scientists believe the virus was spread by droppings of wild birds migrating north this spring. They're concerned it could return this fall when birds fly south for the winter or again next spring.


Brownback Orders Security Reviews for Kansas National Guard Facilities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has ordered a review of security at Kansas National Guard facilities in the wake of the fatal shootings at Tennessee recruiting sites. The governor has asked Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli to identify additional steps that could be taken to ensure guard members' safety. A gunman opened fire on a military recruiting center and a naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee last week, killing four U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy sailor. The gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was killed by police. The shootings are being investigated by the FBI as a terrorist attack. 


Head of Kansas Bioscience Authority Says End Might Be Near 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Recent layoffs and shrinking of the Kansas Bioscience Authority's operations are being seen as signs that the quasi-governmental agency might be on its last legs. KBA president Duane Cantrell says the agency's reputation has been irreparably damaged by the uncertainty over its future. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the KBA laid off about half of its full-time staff over the past few days after chronic underfunding from the state. Created in 2004, the authority was supposed to receive $35 million a year from the state, but just $23 million has made it to the agency over the past four years. Appropriated funds often have been held back by Governor Sam Brownback's administration. The KBA helps invest in Kansas companies engaged in agribusiness, animal health, human health and life sciences.


Kansas Revenue Department Still Processing Paper Tax Returns 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Revenue says it's still processing paper tax returns but should be finished soon. The Wichita Eagle reportsseveral people have complained that they still haven't received their state tax refund even though they filed their taxes months ago. Department of Revenue spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda says the agency should be finished processing paper returns by the middle of next week. She says most of those still being processed were received after May 1. Koranda says if there is a problem with any of the returns the refunds will be further delayed. They also could be delayed if they have been marked for a debt offset in which part of the refund is used to pay debts like unpaid parking tickets or back child support.


House Passes Bill to Prevent Mandatory GMO Labeling 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Companies would not have to disclose whether their food products contain genetically modified ingredients under legislation passed by the House Thursday. The House bill passed 275-150. Republican Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas, and his Democratic colleague, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, championed the bill. Their “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” would replace state and local labeling mandates with a voluntary nationwide labeling system overseen by U.S. Department of Agriculture and modeled on the federal organic certification program. The bill was backed by the food industry, which has fought mandatory labeling efforts in several states around the country. So far, Vermont is the only state set to require package labels for genetically modified foods. That law will take effect in July 2016 if it survives a legal challenge. The country's largest food companies say genetically modified foods are safe and that labels would be misleading. Advocates for the labels say people have a right to know what is in their food and criticize the legislation for trying to take away states' ability to require the labels. There is no similar bill in the Senate.


Kickapoo Police Report 5 Recent Arsons 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities on the Kickapoo Reservation in northeast Kansas are asking for the public's help in figuring out who's been setting fire to hay bales. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that five hay bales valued at about $400 each have been intentionally set on fire on the Kickapoo Reservation recently. The fifth hay bale fire was set Wednesday night. Kickapoo Tribal Police Chief Michael Dougherty says the tribe is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. The tribal police have also sought help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


2 Tribes Back Kansas Effort to Block Quapaw Casino Expansion 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two Native American tribes are backing efforts by Kansas to block the Quapaw Tribe from expanding its Downstream Casino in Oklahoma into southeast Kansas. The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri are asking to be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit. Both tribes contend they have significant competitive interests in the outcome of the litigation initiated. Both operate casinos, and claim there is a "real threat" of tribes outside of Kansas coming into the state to open up casinos and compete with them. Attorneys for the state say the tribes will demonstrate that Indian-law issues are more complex than suggested by the Quapaw Tribe and the United States.


2 Charged in Johnson County for Leaving Girl in Hot Car 

MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — Two people have been charged on suspicion of leaving their 2-year-old niece inside a sweltering car at a shopping center parking lot in Merriam. Twenty-four-year-old Mylesha Anderson and 23-year-old Marques Anderson were charged Wednesday with aggravated child endangerment. They are being held on $25,000 bail. According to authorities, a shoe store employee alerted her manager on Saturday that she had seen a child in a car, covered in sweat and crying. The two attempted to smash the vehicle's passenger window until someone showed up with a truck hitch and got her out. The effort to rescue the girl was caught on cellphone video. Police and paramedics arrived on the scene, and the child's vitals were checked before she was released to other family members. It was not immediately clear if the Andersons have an attorney.


K-State Seeks to Raise $1 Billion

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University and the K-State Foundation are scheduled to begin a campaign later this year to raise $1 billion for the university. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the university's Innovation and Inspiration Campaign kicks off in October and seeks to raise money for Kansas State's bid to become a top-50 public research university by 2025. The events to start the campaign are scheduled for the weekend of October 7-10. Kansas State says the event aims to gather more than 1,000 students, faculty members, staff members, alumni and friends to open the public phase of the campaign. Additional details about the campaign haven't been released.


Kansas Man Sentenced to One Year for 17th DUI Conviction

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) - A 59-year-old Kansas man has been sentenced to one year in jail after pleading guilty in his 17th drunken driving case. The Kansas City Star reportsStephen Gast pleaded guilty after his June 10 arrest, when officers were notified of a drunken driver. Prosecutors say police found Gast in his vehicle and swerving on the road. Most of Gast's 17 driving under the influence convictions since 1980 have been in Leavenworth County, where he is a lifelong resident. Gast was sentenced to a year in jail and $2,500 fine, which are the maximum punishments in Kansas for a person after four or more drunken driving convictions. The sentence allows Gast to leave jail on work release after 48 hours in custody if he can verify employment.


Denver Man Pleads Guilty to Drug Charges 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Colorado man has pleaded guilty to a charge stemming from flying a plane containing more than 200 pounds of marijuana into a southeast Kansas airport. The federal prosecutor's office in Wichita said Wednesday that 59-year-old Kenneth E. Weaver, of Denver, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. In his plea, prosecutors say Weaver admitted his small plane contained about 207 pounds of medical grade marijuana when he flew it into the Iola airport on July 11, 2014. Federal authorities say Weaver had to forfeit his plane and about $460,000 in cash. He's expected to be sentenced to a year in prison when he's sentenced October 5.


Lawrence Commissioner Ribs Topeka over Sewage Releases  

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A Lawrence city commissioner vented about leaving ``flaming bags of poo'' in Topeka after the city's third recent release of raw sewage. Matthew Herbert says he had a ``little tirade'' on Facebook after finding out Tuesday that Topeka spilled 55,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Kansas River. The Topeka Capital-Journal reportsthat  the city of Topeka also released sewage into the river in April and again earlier this month. Topeka's sewage releases head downstream toward Lawrence. Herbert said in a letter to Topeka on Facebook that he'd leave excrement-filled bags "on your city steps'' until the city solves its sewage issues.  Herbert said Wednesday his remarks were tongue-in-cheek, and he's aware the releases were within state limits. He says he has no intention of leaving flaming bags of anything in Topeka. 


Arrest Affidavit Offers Look into Case Against Kansas Mom 

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — An arrest affidavit for a west Kansas woman accused of endangering her 11-year-old son by keeping marijuana around the house says the boy was able to draw a picture of the vaporizer she used to turn pot into cannabis oil. The court document recently was released to The Wichita Eagle through an open-records request. It provides some insight into the state's case against Shona Banda, a marijuana activist who says she uses weed to treat a medical condition. Banda's attorney declined to comment on Wednesday to the newspaper. Banda, of Garden City, faces five charges related to marijuana use and child endangerment after her son talked about her drug use during an anti-drug program at school.


Man Who Killed Wichita Restaurant Owner Sentenced to 50 Years 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 47-year-old Wichita man who pleaded guilty to killing a popular local restaurant owner earlier this year has been sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole for 50 years. The Wichita Eagle reports Curtis Mitchell pleaded guilty less than two weeks after his June 4 arrest in the death of 45-year-old Tanya Tandoc. He was sentenced Thursday. Mitchell told police he struck Tandoc with his fists and attacked her when she came home June 3. Mitchell, a local musician who lived in Tandoc's basement, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder the week after her death. He pleaded guilty against the advice of his defense attorney and asked to be scheduled for sentencing as soon as possible. Tandoc owned and operated Tanya's Soup Kitchen.


Judge Orders Kansas Doctor, Wife Returned for Re-Sentencing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A judge has ordered the return for resentencing of a Kansas doctor and his wife convicted of a moneymaking conspiracy at a clinic linked to 68 overdose deaths. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot signed the order Wednesday in the case of Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda. Their hearing is August 31 in Wichita. They were convicted in 2010 of conspiracy to commit health care fraud resulting in those deaths, unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering. Schneider was sentenced to 30 years and his wife to 33 years. But in June, Belot overturned the conspiracy sentence following an unrelated U.S. Supreme Court decision that the victim's drug use had to be the actual cause of death, not merely a contributing factor. He also threw out some convictions.


Police: Man Arrested for Alleged Bomb Threats in Newton

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A man has been arrested for allegedly making bomb threats at three locations in Newton. According to Newton police Lieutenant Bryan Hall, Harvey County dispatchers received a call around 2:45 pm Wednesday from a man who claimed he had planted bombs at a grocery store, the public library and the community corrections office. Authorities say the suspect provided a timeline for when the bombs would detonate. Police say each location was evacuated. Hall said a search was conducted once the time frame had elapsed. No explosive devices were found. Authorities have not identified the suspect.


Northwest Missouri County Fair Takes Down Confederate Flag 

PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) — A northwest Missouri county fair board decided this week to take down a Confederate flag during this weekend's fair. The Platte County Fair Board's president says the flag was put away Wednesday until after the fair's annual stockholder's meeting, when a final decision on its future will be made. The Confederate flag hung in the Dirty Shame Saloon on the fairgrounds since 1963. Judy Davis, vice president of the fair board, says she and most board members didn't remember the flag was hanging on the fairgrounds until questions were raised this week by The Kansas City Star. The flag has become more controversial since nine black people were killed last month at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The alleged shooter is white and appeared in photos waving Confederate flags.


Emanuel Cleaver Heading to Africa on Obama Trip 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver is among other members of Congress joining President Obama on the president's upcoming trip to Africa. Cleaver's office said in a release that Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, leaves Thursday with a Congressional delegation on the five-day trip. Obama will be visiting Kenya, where his father was born, for a summit on entrepreneurship before heading to Ethiopia to address leaders at the African Union headquarters.


2 Miltonvale Residents Fatally Injured in Crash 

CLAY CENTER, Kan. (AP) — Two north-central Kansas residents were killed when the vehicle they were in rolled several times west of Clay Center. The Salina Journal reports that 61-year-old Eldon Hartley and 30-year-old Kattie Hartley died in the accident Wednesday on U.S. Highway 24 four miles west of Clay Center. They were from Miltonvale. The Kansas Highway Patrol says another woman and child were taken to an area hospital. The patrol says the accident occurred when their vehicle left the road and entered the ditch, came back onto the the road and entered the ditch again, where it rolled multiple times. The patrol report says the child was the only person in the vehicle wearing a seatbelt.


Royals Beat Pirates, 5-1, Win Series

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) —The Kansas City Royals' Edinson Volquez pitched effectively into the eighth inning to lead the Royals to a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night. Volquez picked up his first victory since June 26th. He allowed one run on eight hits, while walking one and striking out eight. Meanwhile, the Royals have placed left-hander Jason Vargas on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his elbow. Vargas left the game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night after throwing just 26 pitches. He had an MRI on Wednesday that revealed the extent of the injury. Royals' Manager Ned Yost says Vargas could be out for a year or more. The Royals travel to St. Louis today (THUR) for one make-up game versus the Cardinals, then return to Kauffman Stadium to face the Houston Astros over the weekend. 


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