Headlines for Thursday, December 10, 2015
Kansas Case Touches on High Court's Power, Judicial Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys on both sides of a lawsuit dealing with the Kansas Supreme Court's administrative power are conceding that legislators have some say in judicial operations. The high court heard arguments Thursday about a 2014 law that strips it of its authority to appoint the chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts and gives it to local judges. The Legislature passed another law earlier this year nullifying the court system's entire budget if the policy change is struck down. Attorney Pedro Irigonegaray represents a chief judge who sued over last year's law and said it interferes with the Supreme Court's power under the state constitution to administer the courts. But Irigonegaray acknowledged that lawmakers had the authority to create chief judgeships and even describe their general duties.
Legislative Group Delays Authorizing DCF Audit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Members of a legislative committee delayed approval of an audit of Department of Children and Families, which has been accused of discriminating against same-sex couples in foster care and adoptions. Instead, the Legislative Post Audit Committee on Thursday decided to appoint a subcommittee to develop a comprehensive proposal for the audit. The subcommittee's audit proposal is expected to ready for consideration during the post audit committee's meeting in January. Representative Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, had asked for the audit. He contends the agency has discriminated against same-sex couples. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Ward's request focused on potential discrimination but some committee members supported a wider examination. They noted concern about the state's privatized child support system and regulations concerning the safety of foster care children.
Kansas Governor Names Interim Secretaries for Corrections, Aging & Disability
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has named interim secretaries for the state Department of Corrections and the Department of Aging and Disability Services. Brownback's office said in a release Thursday that Tim Keck will be interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, and Johnnie Goddard will be interim secretary for the Kansas Department of Corrections. They start their new positions January 1. Keck replaces KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett, who's leaving December 31. Keck has been deputy chief counsel at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment since 2011. Goddard replaces Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts, who's retiring. Goddard has been deputy secretary of facilities management for the Corrections Department since 2012. Keck and Goddard will serve as interim secretaries until Brownback appoints his nominees for the positions.
Kansas Lawmakers Hear School Financing Arguments
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers tasked with making school finance recommendations have heard conflicting arguments about whether more money for schools means better student performance. The Kansas City Star reports that the Legislature's Special Committee on K-12 Student Success heard from the Kansas Association of School Boards on Wednesday. The association says more school funding does lead to better student performance, depending on how it's spent. Dave Trabert with the Kansas Policy Institute, a think tank, said more funds over the last decade have not led to better results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Kansas currently has a block grant funding plan for schools while the state designs a new formula. The committee plans to hold two more meetings before the legislative session begins in January.
Firm Recommends Ways Kansas Can 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 and 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.
Topeka City Councilman Denies Physically Abusing Son
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka city councilman has denied allegations that he physically abused his 12-year-old son. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that councilman Jonathan Schumm denied the accusations in answers filed by his attorney, Thomas Lemon, to a petition seeking to have Schumm removed from his post. The councilman and his wife have been charged with aggravated battery, or the alternative charge of abuse of a child, for incidents that reportedly happened in October. They were booked into jail on November 20, but posted bond on the same day. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor and senior assistant district attorney Todd Hiatt filed a civil action in November to suspend Schumm as a city councilman, and then to oust him from office. They cited the alleged violence in the filing.
Study: Medicaid Expansion Would Be Budget Neutral, Even Make Money for the State
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A study shows that Medicaid expansion could potentially turn into a moneymaker for Kansas. 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.
Kansas Court of Appeals Mulls State Protections for Abortion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit against a Kansas ban on a common second-trimester 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 first-in-the-nation law. 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, often referred to as a ban on dismemberment abortion, prohibits doctors from using forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Medical providers refer to the abortion method as the dilation and evacuation procedure.
Stepmother of Missing 7-Year-Old Boy Arrested in Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The wife of a Kansas bail bondsman charged with abusing his missing 7-year-old son has been arrested. Wyandotte County jail records show that Heather Jones is being held without bond on suspicion of first-degree murder and child abuse but hasn't been charged. Jones was taken into custody early Thursday on a bench warrant from 2012. The prosecutor's office declined comment. In interviews with The Associated Press, Jones has alleged that her husband, Michael A. Jones, abused her and the missing boy. The remains of a juvenile were found at a barn on the couple's property but haven't been identified. Michael Jones is jailed on $10 million bond on abuse and battery charges. A lawyer appointed for him didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.
KU Student Diversity Protesters Voice Concerns
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Student leaders at the University of Kansas have passed legislation that seeks to improve inclusion on campus just hours after a student protest. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Student Senate unanimously approved a motion Wednesday night to create a wheelchair basketball team. The Student Senate also passed a bill to expand adoption of gender-neutral language. Student leaders are waiting until January to further discuss impeachment proceedings against three top leaders. Hours earlier about 100 student protesters marched in the chancellor's officer and demanded more and faster action on diversity issues. The group dispersed after securing a sit-down meeting with incoming interim provost Sara Rosen. The students' concerns include issues of diversity, inclusion and instances of alleged racism at the university.
Wichita State to Honor Student Who Died in Saudi Arabia
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita State University student who died after trying to stop a suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia will receive an honorary degree. Wichita State officials announced Thursday that 22-year-old Abduljaleel Alarbash also will have a room in Jabara Hall on the college campus named for him. Alarbash, an electrical engineering student, was killed in May when he tried to stop the suicide bomber from entering a mosque in his native Saudi Arabia. He was in that country to be married and planned to return to Wichita to continue his education. His posthumous degree will be awarded during Wichita State's fall commencement ceremony Sunday.
Woman Charged in Fleeing Country with Daughters Back in US
SMITHVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man has been reunited with his 9-year-old and 11-year-old daughters after his ex-wife allegedly took them and fled to Europe. Justin Bush took his daughters home to Smithville on Wednesday. Authorities say Samantha Elmer of Lawrence, Kansas, took the girls in October and boarded a flight from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to Vienna, via Istanbul, ahead of a custody hearing and a trial on theft charges in Johnson County. Elmer and her daughters were tracked down by officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Elmer was arrested Tuesday at an airport in Kansas and appeared in court Wednesday on a charge of taking her children out of the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights. Elmer's attorney, Tim Burdick, declined to comment on the case.
Officials to Investigate 2 Kansas City Firefighter Deaths
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Fire Department is set to begin its investigation into the building collapse that killed two firefighters earlier this year. The Kansas City Star reports Chief Paul Berardi said this week that the investigation into the deaths of 39-year-old John Mesh and 43-year-old Larry Leggio on October 12 will begin early next year. The firefighters died when a wall collapsed on them during while they were in an alley battling the fire. Berardi said that he delayed an investigation because emotions among department personnel were still too "raw" and he wanted firefighters and commanders to have time before formal interviews were conducted. The owner of a nail salon on the first floor of the building has been charged with arson and two counts of second-degree murder in the fire.
Study: New Terminal Cheapest Option for Kansas City Airport
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City Aviation report says building a new terminal would be less expensive than renovating Kansas City International Airport. The department told the Kansas City Council Thursday that a new single terminal would cost about $964 million. Renovations were estimated to cost between $1.04 billion and $1.19 billion. The Kansas City Star reports that city officials have repeatedly said any improvements at the airport will not be paid through general taxpayer dollars. The airport is funded by passenger ticket fees, parking revenues, concessions, grants and other special revenues. City residents will eventually vote on any proposed changes at the airport. The council is not expected to make any recommendations on the airport's future for several months.
Convicted Murderer Dies in Missouri Prison
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Two state agencies are investigating the death of a convicted murderer at a state prison in St. Joseph. The Missouri Department of Corrections says Christopher DeBoe of Kansas City died from "other than" natural causes Wednesday at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center. An autopsy will be conducted. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that the Missouri State Highway Patrol is helping the Inspector General's office of the corrections department investigate the death. No other details of the death were released. DeBoe was convicted in June in Jackson County of first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the September 2014 death of Sherill Collins. Prosecutors said Deboe killed Collins because he believed the victim was having a relationship with his wife.
Missouri Woman Charged in Kansas with Sexual Impropriety
ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri woman has been charged with having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student in 2012 while she was a high school teacher in the northeast Kansas town of Atchison. Thirty-five-year-old Shelley Aversman, of Rushville, Missouri, was charged Wednesday in Atchison County with one count of unlawful sexual relations with a student. The criminal complaint says the Kansas Bureau of Investigation investigated the allegations and took Aversman into custody Wednesday afternoon. She was released after posting $50,000 bond. Her attorney, Andrew Werring, says she will make her first appearance Friday. He said he couldn't comment further because he hadn't received all the investigative reports.
Third Man Charged in Connection with Wichita Double Homicide
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A third person has been charged in connection with a double homicide outside a Wichita home last week. The Wichita Eagle reports that 19-year-old Jonathan Carter is charged with first-degree murder, criminal discharge of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon in the deaths of 55-year-old Betty Ann Holloman and 24-year-old Brenton Oliver. Jail records say he was arrested around 11 a.m. Tuesday. Twenty-four-year-old Brent Carter and 19-year-old Jamion Wimbley have also been charged in the case after their arrests Friday. Police say Brent Carter and Jonathan Carter aren't related. Police say they're searching for a fourth suspect. Each man is being held in the Sedgwick County Jail on a $500,000 bond. The three are set for a preliminary hearing December 23. It was not immediately clear if they have attorneys.
Police Investigate Death of 42-Year-Old Man at Wichita Home
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a 42-year-old man who was found dead in a home was shot to death. Police went to the southeast Wichita home late Wednesday after a 911 call about an unconscious man. Officers found the man dead and say he had been shot several times. The man's name has not been released. KAKE-TV reports that police say he did not live at the house where he was found but knew the homeowners, who are not suspects. Police said there's no way to track the person who made the initial 911 call. This is the 31st homicide in Wichita this year.
Kansas Deputies Confront Nude Oregon Man Taking Pictures
NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas authorities say an Oregon man was urged to head home after he was spotted taking pictures of a wheat field wearing nothing "but a hat and a smile." The Harvey County sheriff's office in Central Kansas says the man was first spotted Wednesday afternoon. Sheriff T. Walton says authorities found the man four hours later — wearing boxers. Walton said on the office's Facebook page that an officer told the man and his friend that "Kansas is not as liberal as Oregon" and "suggested they continue their travels" back home. Walton says it's technically not illegal to be publicly naked in the county, as long as one is not trying to arouse oneself or others. Walton added, "You know folks, you just can't make this stuff up!"
Royals Finalize $25 Million, 3-Year Deal with Joakim Soria
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals finalized a three-year, $25 million deal with Joakim Soria on Thursday, reuniting the former All-Star reliever with the club where he spent his first five seasons. Soria will make $7 million next season, $8 million the following and $9 million in 2018, with up to $4 million in incentives each year. The $10 million option for 2019 has a $1 million buyout. Soria was one of the game's premier closers during his first stint in Kansas City, but he missed the 2012 season for Tommy John surgery and the Royals decided not to exercise their option on him. He signed with Texas and since pitched for Detroit and Pittsburgh, going 3-1 with 24 saves and a 2.53 ERA for the Tigers and Pirates last season.