Headlines for Friday, October 9, 2015
Ethics Lawyer: Paul Davis Can Continue on Voter Rules Lawsuit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission says former Democratic lawmaker Paul Davis can continue to be part of a federal lawsuit challenging voter registration restrictions. Attorney Brett Barry announced Thursday that Davis's work on the case does not conflict with state law. The State Republican Party demanded this week that Davis withdraw from the lawsuit. They said he was violating a state law that bars former or current lawmakers from arguing in court that a legislative action is unconstitutional unless he or she voted no. In 2011 while serving in the Kansas House, Davis voted in favor of a law requiring people to prove citizenship when they register to vote. Berry says Davis's brief in the case does not violate that state law.
Court Funding Challenge Planned, Despite Plea for Restraint
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Four judges challenging the Legislature's move to defund the state judiciary's budget are undeterred by a plea from the Kansas attorney general urging restraint. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Friday he was grateful the judges voluntarily dismissed on Thursday their case in federal court, an urged them not to file a new lawsuit. A court has already blocked the law until the Legislature reconvenes. But the attorney representing the judges responded his clients don't trust the Legislature and still plan to sue in state court over state constitutional issues. He urged Schmidt to file a court brief agreeing the law is unconstitutional. Legislation passed this year nullifies the judicial branch's budget if a 2014 law stripping the Kansas Supreme Court of its ability to appoint chief judges is struck down.
Kansas Secretary of Corrections Announces Retirement Plans
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas secretary of corrections has announced plans to retire. Governor Sam Brownback's office said in a release Friday that Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts will retire at the end of the year. Roberts has led the state Department of Corrections since 2011. Roberts, who has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi, has also served as warden of El Dorado Correctional Facility and as a correctional counselor. He also has a master's degree in education counseling and guidance. Brownback's office did not details any plans for replacing Roberts.
Shawnee Mission Says School Financial Losses are 'Crippling'
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Shawnee Mission School District, which is blocked from joining a school finance lawsuit, has filed a brief in the case calling the state's funding policy "crippling." The Kansas City Star reports that the Kansas Supreme Court last month affirmed a lower court ruling that Shawnee Mission could not intervene in the school finance lawsuit against the state brought by the Kansas City, Kansas, Wichita, Dodge City and Hutchinson districts. The district was told it could file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Gannon v. Kansas. The district's brief released Thursday says underfunding of the state's school finance system "has led to a crippling loss of teachers," foreign language program, neighborhood schools and property values. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in November on whether Kansas schools are equitably funded.
State Will Issue Birth Certificates to 2 Same-Sex Couples
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas will issue birth certificates to two same-sex couples. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says the birth certificates in the two cases will list both members of the same-sex couples as parents of their children. The two couples were part of pending lawsuits in state and federal court. They argued the state's refusal to issue the birth certificates violated a recent Supreme Court ruling that states must recognize same-sex marriages. Department spokeswoman Sara Belfry told the Lawrence Journal-World the department decided to issue the birth certificates in the two cases after reviewing applicable law and existing court orders.
Kansas Ends Volatile 2014 with 154 Same-Sex Marriages
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Recently released reports show that 154 same-sex couples wed in Kansas during a volatile period in late 2014, months before the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling that legalized the unions nationwide. Newly compiled data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment show that those unions made up less than 1 percent of the 17,655 marriages statewide in 2014. The agency says marriage data so far for 2015 isn't yet available.Tom Witt of the gay rights group Equality Kansas says roadblocks to marriage in 2014 were "substantial," but he expects far more same-sex unions this year. Confusion reigned in Kansas after the U.S. Supreme Court in October turned away appeals from five states seeking to retain gay-marriage bans. One was in the same federal appeals court circuit as Kansas.
More Than 300 Teaching Vacancies in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas had more than 300 vacant teaching positions at the beginning of this school year. Officials from the Kansas Department of Education said the numbers showing there were 317 vacant teaching positions in early September are from the first stage of a study the department is conducting to determine why some districts can't fill certain positions. The state Department of Education previously administered a survey for the U.S. Department of Education on teacher demographics. But this year the state started conducting its own deeper survey. School districts reported their vacant teaching positions as of September 1. In February, will tell the district whether they filled those positions and if not, what factors were responsible. The Wichita school district had the most vacancies with 64.
Kansas Supreme Court Declines to Hear Heartland Park Case
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has chosen not to hear an appeal of a case addressing the validity of a petition drive seeking a public vote on Topeka's proposed purchase of Heartland Park Topeka. The court on Wednesday denied Chris Imming's petition seeking a review of a Kansas appeals court decision that went against the Topeka resident, who led the petition drive. The city and Jayhawk Racing have tried to get the Kansas Supreme Court to hear the case, even though Topeka's city council voted May 5th not to buy Heartland Park. Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks ruled last November that Imming's petition was invalid because initiative petitions can't be filed against administrative ordinances, and in March the Kansas Court of Appeals agreed.
Haskell Considers Becoming Federally Chartered School
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Officials at Haskell Indian Nations University have approved plans to consider seeking more autonomy from the federal government by becoming a federally chartered school. The Lawrence Journal-World reportsHaskell's Board of Regents on Thursday approved a resolution to study the possibility of breaking from federal operation to become a federally chartered school instead. The board also approved a move to pursue establishing an endowment association. Haskell President Venida Chenault says Haskell's role serving Native Americans is vital, but the current operating model is holding the university back. Chenault says federally-chartered Howard University in Washington could be a possible model for Haskell. The federal Bureau of Indian Education runs Haskell. But Haskell's federal funding has been flat for years, and federal rules don't allow the school to solicit outside funds.
Appeals Court Puts Hold on Regulation Protecting Waterways
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A federal appeals court has blocked an Obama administration rule that attempts to clarify which small streams, wetlands and other waterways the government can shield from pollution and development. In a 2-1 ruling Friday, a panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati put the regulations on hold until the court decides whether it has jurisdiction to hear challenges to the rules by 18 states. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the regulations in May after two Supreme Court rulings left uncertain which waterways can be protected under the Clean Water Act. States challenging the rules say they go too far and could be costly to landowners, while the government says they would safeguard drinking water for 117 million Americans.
No Charges in Shooting of Suspect Who Fired at Police
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett has decided to file no criminal charges in the shooting death of a suspect who fired multiple shots at police and others. Bennett told reporters at a news conference Friday that Wichita police officers "reasonably believed" 18-year-old Jeffrey Holden presented an imminent lethal threat to their lives. He said the three officers acted in an "objectively reasonable manner" in defending themselves. Bennett used photos and surveillance video clips to publicly detail the events surrounding into the October 26, 2014 shooting. His office then released a 26-page report on the investigation which established Holden fired two different handguns multiple times while walking down a Wichita street. The investigation found Holden then repeatedly fired at officers who responded to citizen calls to 911.
Police: Man Shot in Leg After Wichita Argument
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 29-year-old man was injured after an argument in south Wichita led to a shooting. Wichita police Lieutenant James Espinoza said Thursday that the victim was arguing with a 31-year-old acquaintance shortly after 11 pm Wednesday. Espinoza said the argument escalated and the victim ran from a group of men. Police say the group of men chased the victim and he was shot in the leg. The victim was taken to a hospital for treatment. He is expected to survive. An investigation is ongoing.
1 Killed in Emporia House Fire
EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) - One person has been killed and three firefighters were injured in a house fire in Emporia. The Emporia Gazette reports fire crews were called to the house fire late Thursday. Rich Gould, with the Emporia Fire Department, says crews encountered high heat and flames when they arrived at the home. Gould also says fire hydrants in the area were low in pressure, and that lack of water became an issue. Fire crews found a person who had died in the second story of the home. The victim's name hasn't been released. Three firefighters were treated for non-life threatening injuries. The cause of the fire is under investigation by local police and fire officials as well as the state Fire Marshal's office.
Fire Damages Wichita Chemical Plant
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Officials say no one has been injured after a fire broke out at a chemical plant in southwest Wichita. The fire at the Occidental Chemicals plant was reported just before 5 pm Thursday. Sedgwick County Fire Marshal Dan Wegner said the fire was contained to the storage facility of the plant and was extinguished shortly before 6 pm. According to Occidental's plant manager Steve Hieger, the fire originated inside a sodium chlorite container. Hieger said the incident will have minimal impact on the plant's operations and there is no environmental danger as a result of the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Feds Charge Kansas Woman with Sex Trafficking
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 32-year-old Wichita woman has been charged in federal court with sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom's office says Natasha Harper was charged Friday with one count of providing the girl for commercial sex. Court documents say Harper was arrested in a sting operation conducted by the Wichita Police Department. Officers arranged for the teenager to meet them Thursday at a local hotel and arrested Harper when she brought the girl there. Prosecutors say investigators learned that Harper had been advertising on the Internet that the victim would perform sexual services for $150 to $200 a session. It was not immediately clear Friday if Harper had obtained an attorney. If convicted she could face at least 10 years in federal prison.
Production Forecast Mostly Upbeat for Fall Crops in Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government forecast for fall crops in Kansas is mostly upbeat in its production estimates. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Friday that it anticipates the state will harvest 566 million bushels of corn this year. That is down just slightly from a year ago. The agency anticipates 3.85 million acres of corn will be cut in the state this year, with average yields forecast at 147 bushels per acre. Sorghum production is forecast at 258 million bushels, up 29 percent from last year. Kansas farmers are cutting 3.15 million acres of sorghum with forecast average yields of 82 bushels per acre. Soybean production is expected to be up 3 percent to 144 million bushels. Updated estimates are based on crop conditions as of October 1.
Astros Beat Royals 5-2 in ALDS Game One
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Houston Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 5-2 Thursday night in the opening game of the American League Division Series. Houston's Collin McHugh allowed four hits, including a pair of solo homers by Kendrys Morales. The right-hander lasted six innings before turning the game over to his bullpen, which allowed just three hits over the final three innings. The Astros scored early against Kansas City right-hander Yordano Ventura, putting up two runs in the first inning and one in the second. The home run by Morales cut the lead to 3-1 but the umpires called a rain delay after the second inning. After the nearly 50 minute delay, Royals manager Ned Yost pulled the 24-year-old Ventura and brought in the veteran Chris Young. Young tossed seven strikeouts in four innings before the Kansas City bullpen took over the finish the game. In Game 2 this afternoon (FRI) the Astros' Scott Kazmir will face Kansas City's Johnny Cueto.