Headlines for Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Kansas Court of Appeals Mulls State Protections for Abortion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit against a Kansas ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure has forced the state Court of Appeals to consider how much the state constitution protects abortion rights. The full 14-member court heard arguments Wednesday in the state's appeal of a Shawnee County judge's July ruling temporarily blocking enforcement of the law, which was the first of its kind in the nation. The judge agreed with attorneys for two abortion providers who said that the Kansas Constitution independently protects abortion rights. The state's lawyers argue that such protections can't be read into broad language about individual liberty. The law enacted this year prohibits 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 common during the second trimester.
Brownback Favors Audit of Child and Families Services Agency
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says he favors an audit of the state's foster care and adoption programs. The governor made the comments Tuesday amid criticism that the Department of Children and Families discriminates against same-sex couples in adoptions and foster care. The Kansas City Star reports that Brownback disagreed with calls for Phyllis Gilmore to be removed as head of the DCF, saying Gilmore has strong experience and the background for the job. Several same-sex couples have said recently that the DCF treated them unfairly, including removing children from lesbian foster parents who wanted to adopt. Brownback says the state's placement policy focuses on the best interest of the child. He also said federal and state laws favor keeping siblings together and placing children with relatives when possible.
Firm Recommends Steps for Kansas to Save, Generate Money
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Consultants have made several recommendations to Kansas lawmakers to save and generate cash, including centralizing the leasing of state office space and having the state transportation department sell off rarely used equipment. Alvarez & Marsal, which is conducting an efficiency study of state government, presented some of their recommendations Tuesday to the Legislative Budget Committee, the same day the committee heard the state is facing a projected a $170 million shortfall in the next fiscal year. Other recommendations made by the firm were that the Kansas Department of Revenue should fill 53 vacant revenue officer and 14 auditor positions. The firm also said the transportation department should sell sponsorship rights, generating upward of $1 million a year from sponsorships of traveler assist hotlines, roadside logo sign programs, motorist assist programs and rest stops. The final efficiency study is expected early next year.
Study: Medicaid Expansion Would Be Budget-Neutral
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A study shows that Medicaid expansion could potentially turn into a moneymaker for Kansas. The Wichita Eagle reports that the study was released Tuesday. Study author Deborah Bachrach says the fact that Kansas is facing a budget crisis is "exactly the reason why it needs to evaluate the economics of expansion." Kansas is one of 20 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Six Kansas health foundations, including the Wichita-based Kansas Health Foundation, commissioned Manatt Health Solutions to study the financial impact of Medicaid expansion in Kansas. Manatt evaluates Medicaid expansion for states and foundations across the country. Governor Sam Brownback's office questioned the study's credibility because one of the study's authors previously directed the Center for Medicaid and State Operations under Kathleen Sebelius.
Guns on Campus Info Session Draws Crowd of More Than 200
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas information session about guns on campus has drawn a crowd of more than 200 students, faculty and staff. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the University Senate organized Tuesday's event. Under state law, public universities in Kansas must allow concealed weapons on campus beginning July 1, 2017. But policies that will guide implementation of the law have yet to be written. During the meeting, many speakers expressed fear of mass shootings, of accidental firearm discharges, of arguments escalating into shootings, of a loss of academic freedom, of increased suicide rates and more. University Senate president Mike Williams, associate professor of journalism, said his goal for university governance was to collect feedback from campus and share it with administrators and state lawmakers.
University of Kansas Chancellor Opposes Guns on Campus
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas' chancellor and 70 of the school's distinguished professors have formally spoken out against the concealed carry of guns on campus. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little addressed the issue in her chancellor's message to faculty and staff on Monday. The professors, including outgoing Provost Jeff Vitter, issued a statement voicing their opposition on Friday. The professors said universities should be able to restrict firearms on their campuses. Under state law, Kansas universities must allow concealed weapons on campus beginning July 1, 2017. The Kansas Board of Regents has drafted a policy to implement the new law on campuses. Gray-Little encouraged employees to attend an information session on weapons on campus Tuesday and to respond to a weapons survey emailed to faculty and staff last week.
Kansas Attorney General Promotes Use of Naturalization Test
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general says he'd like schools in the state to give students the naturalization test that's required of people seeking to become U.S. citizens. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday in a release that he has asked the State Board of Education to integrate the naturalization test into civics education in Kansas schools. Schmidt says citizenship isn't always "fully understood or appreciated" by people who get citizenship automatically. Schmidt says schools should be encouraged to administer the naturalization test as a tool to promote civic learning and encourage exchanges between students and Kansas civic leaders. He says the test includes questions in history and government that are basic to any understanding of the nation's principles and how U.S. government works.
Kansas Economist: Farm Income Has Declined
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A farm economist with the Kansas Farm Management Association says gross income for farms is down by at least 20 percent in the state. The Hutchinson News reports that last year southwest Kansas farmers averaged about $56,000 in accrual net farm income, a $50,000 drop from 2013. Doug Stucky is currently visiting farms across the region working on year-end planning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted in November that net farm income in the country will drop about 40 percent to $55.9 billion this year, reflecting depressed crop prices and a softening livestock market. The decrease in income has affected companies that manufacture equipment as well. Randy Veatch, vice president of sales for Straub International, says agricultural manufacturers are reporting a nearly 30 percent decline in sales since about 2013.
Judge Throws Out Kansas Man's Murder Conviction
OSKALOOSA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man who had served more than 15 years of a life sentence for the 1999 shooting death of his sister-in-law is a free man, after a county judge overturned his conviction. Floyd Bledsoe was ordered released yesterday (TUE) after attorneys presented new evidence that implicated his late brother in the death of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann. A Jefferson County Sheriff's investigator testified that Bledsoe's brother, Thomas, committed suicide last month after DNA evidence implicated him in Arfmann's death. Thomas Bledsoe left behind suicide letters admitting his responsibility in the killing. Tom Bledsoe had initially confessed to the killing before blaming his brother. Floyd Bledsoe had always maintained his innocence. Prosecutor Jason Belveal has the option of pursuing the case but said it is unlikely that will happen.
Kansas Sorghum Growers Concerned About New Invasive Pest
MENTOR, Kan. (AP) — Farmers are concerned that bug that is new to Kansas may be capable of harming sorghum crops in Saline County. A meeting was called in the city of Mentor on Tuesday to discuss what are known as sugarcane aphids. Jeff Whitworth, a crop production entomologist at Kansas State University, says the aphids are an invasive species that reproduce rapidly and produce a sticky substance called "honeydew." He says the aphids, which were first noticed in Kansas in fall 2014, are "probably" not an immediate threat in Saline County. Whitworth said that if the sugarcane aphids become a problem early in the season, there are some sorghum varieties that have proven to be resistant to the pests. The Salina Journal reports that the only hosts detected so far are sorghum varieties, including johnsongrass, shattercane and forage sorghums.
Kansas City Police Identify Man Found Dead Behind House
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police have released the name of a 20-year-old man found shot to death in the back yard of a Kansas City house. The Kansas City Star reports that police identified the victim Wednesday as Lonell Boyles, of Kansas City. A resident of the neighborhood notified police about the body about 1 pm Tuesday. One homicide occurred at the same house and another one near it earlier this year. But police say those two shootings are not connected to Boyles's death.
Collapsing Buildings Become Health Concern in Kansas
KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — The demolition of three deteriorating buildings in south-central Kansas has become more urgent after a portion of one of the structures collapsed. Kingman County officials are meeting Wednesday to discuss requests for demolition bids for the side-by-side buildings. On Friday, a solid brick wall with a wrought-iron balcony came crumbling down. Some of the debris crashed through the glass door of Kingman Lumber and General Store, but no one was hurt. Kingman County communications coordinator Nancy Borst says commissioners believe a recent ice storm was partially to blame, along with years of disrepair. Borst says the County Commission agreed to purchase the lots on June 15 with plans to demolish the buildings. They are thought to have been built in the 1800s.
2 Missouri Inmates Suggest Gas Chamber as Possible Execution Method
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Attorneys for two Missouri death row inmates are suggesting reviving the gas chamber as an alternative method of execution. The inmates, Russell Bucklew and Ernest L. Johnson, argue in court appeals that medical conditions they suffer from would cause painful reactions to the chemicals used in lethal injections. The Kansas City Star reports that the law requires the men's attorneys to offer an alternative method for execution. Their lawyers have proposed the gas chamber, even though the state no longer has a working gas chamber. Bucklew's attorney has also raised a possible second alternative — the firing squad. Bucklew is on death row for the 1996 killing of a man in southeast Missouri. Johnson was sentenced to death for killing three people during a 1994 store robbery in Columbia.
Topeka Speakers Present Array of Topics at TEDx Conference
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Eight people with Topeka ties have spoken to a roughly 250-person audience at the city's TEDx conference. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the presentations at the Topeka Civic theater Tuesday included topics such as helping women grow up with confidence, what people can do to help feed the world and one woman's experience coming out as transgender. Washburn University professor David Carter opened the event by explaining how people can generate collaboration and self-awareness, and build up those around them, through what he calls the "lesser seat," or humility. Washburn Law professor Lori McMillan also explained how three common tax myths relate to Kansas. TEDxTopeka is an independently organized conference licensed by TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design. This was the city's second TEDxTopeka.
Student Research May Rewrite Jasper County Civil War History
JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri State University graduate student's research findings may rewrite the history of the Civil War in Jasper County in Missouri. The Joplin Globe reports that Christopher Dukes outlined two findings based on his research to the Jasper County Commission Tuesday. Dukes says that land acquired by the county to commemorate an 1863 Civil War fight known as the Battle of Sherwood and the Battle of Rader's Farm was part of the actual skirmish site. Dukes says his research shows white Union soldiers with the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Artillery Battery did not abandon black Union soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored unit when they were ambushed on the farm by 70 men led by Confederate guerrilla leader Thomas Livingston, as was previously believed. According to Dukes, the surviving soldiers rallied at a point west of the farm and fought together.
NCAA President Emmert Ambivalent About Vetting Prep Courses
NEW YORK (AP) — NCAA President Mark Emmert says he's "personally ambivalent" about the organization's role in vetting incoming athletes' high school classes. In a high-profile case this fall, University of Kansas officials sharply criticized the NCAA about its delays in declaring top recruit Cheick Diallo eligible. The university had determined that Diallo's education at a New York prep school met its standards, but under current NCAA rules, college sports' governing body prevented him from playing while it investigated whether coursework was legitimate. At the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in Manhattan on Wednesday, Emmert acknowledged: "That would be a huge shift, and the members aren't ready to go there — I want to be really clear nobody is advocating that right now." But he adds that the current setup leaves the NCAA in a "challenging position."