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Headlines for Thursday, December 17, 2015

The day's top news stories from around the region...mostly Kansas.
The day's top news stories from around the region...mostly Kansas.

Kansas Lawmaker Resigning to Head Conservative Policy Group 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The chairman of a Kansas House committee that handles legislation on abortion and gay-rights issues is resigning to lead a conservative group seeking to influence social policy. Republican Representative Steve Brunk of Wichita submitted a letter of resignation to the secretary of state's office Thursday. He is stepping down January 4. Brunk said he will become Kansas executive director for the Colorado-based group CitizenLink. It is affiliated with Focus on the Family, which has been aligned with the Kansas Family Policy Council. Brunk said he'll be building an organization that can link churches, pastors and thousands of individuals to influence state policy and local elections. He said he won't be lobbying lawmakers. The Wichita Eagle first reported last week that Brunk had been offered the job.


Board Chairman Resigns from CURB

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The chairman of a state board leading an agency that represents home and small-business utility consumers has resigned, partially out of frustration over major changes other board members are considering for the agency. Brian Weber, of Garden City, announced his resignation from the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board Wednesday. It comes five days after other board members discussed either dissolving the agency or changing its mission to focus on fighting federal clean-air regulations. The Wichita Eagle reports that last week, the board also stripped acting consumer counsel Niki Christopher of her roles of representing consumers in the Legislature and of speaking to the news media about utility matters. CURB is usually the only legal party representing residential customers and small businesses in rate cases before the Kansas Corporation Commission.


Suspect in Kansas Bomb Plot Files Motion to Change Plea 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 21-year-old Topeka man who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he plotted to bomb an Army installation in support of the Islamic State group wants to change his plea. John T. Booker Jr. filed a motion Wednesday in Topeka, asking for a change-of-plea hearing. A judge has scheduled that for January 12. A message left Thursday with Booker's public defender, Kirk Redmond, wasn't immediately returned. Booker is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device and attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group. Court documents show Booker 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.


US Attorney for Kansas Criticizes Effort to Bar Syrian Refugees 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. attorney for Kansas has issued a statement criticizing efforts to bar Syrian refugees from entering the country, and discouraging discriminatory acts against Muslims in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris. The Wichita Eagle reports that U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Tuesday that decisions regarding the resettlement of refugees are part of the federal government's authority over immigration. Several governors, including Governor Sam Brownback, have spoken out against letting Syrian refugees into the United States, citing that terrorists could enter the country under the guise of being a refugee. In his statement, Grissom says fear of terrorism is no reason for backlash against Muslims in America. He also says the Department of Justice will act to enforce hate crime laws.


Chris Christie Files for Kansas Republican Caucuses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be part of the Kansas Republican caucuses next year. The Kansas Republican Party said in a news release Wednesday that Christie paid the $15,000 filing fee to qualify for the March 5 caucuses. Christie visited Kansas several times in 2014 to campaign for Governor Sam Brownback's re-election. He was chairman of the Republican Governors Association at the time. He is the seventh candidate to file for the Kansas caucuses. Others are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.


Kansas Issues $400 Million in Highway Construction Bonds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Department of Transportation has issued a state record of $400 million in highway construction bonds to take advantage of the suspension of a state law limiting the agency's debt burden.  Kansas transportation secretary Mike King also says favorable market forces warranted issuing the bonds.  The 2015 Kansas Legislature and Governor Sam Brownback agreed to suspend for two years a provision forbidding the transportation department's aggregate bond debt service to exceed 18 percent of the agency's annual highway revenue. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bond transaction in early December and pushed borrowing in the 10-year, $7.8 million T-Works program to $1.2 billion.  King says department advisers recommended a large bond offering because the state's cost to secure capital could rise unexpectedly.


University Presidents Back Sexual Assault Notations 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — University presidents in Kansas say they want to know if students have been kicked out of school or criminally convicted for sexual assault before admitting them. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that university presidents gave their stamp of approval Wednesday to a proposed Kansas Board of Regents policy. The policy would requires all state universities to add nonacademic misconduct transcript notations for students expelled for forcible sex offenses or other serious personal offenses. Sexual assault questions also would be asked during admission and re-admission in an attempt to catch prior offenders coming in from community colleges or out-of-state schools. The policy could go before the full Board of Regents as early as February. If approved, the policy would go into effect on July 1, 2017.


Documents Reveal Settlement in Washburn University Lawsuit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Documents have revealed that Washburn University in Topeka paid $45,000 to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit involving its dean of libraries. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that Michelle Canipe, a former instructional librarian at Washburn, sued the university and Alan Bearman in May 2013, claiming the dean bullied, harassed or sexually discriminated against Canipe. The lawsuit also claimed that Bearman and the school created or tolerated a sexually hostile environment and retaliated against Canipe for complaining about unequal treatment. Federal court records show a U.S. district judge terminated the case in March 2014, indicating the parties had reached an agreement. The university provided the newspaper with a copy of the settlement Tuesday showing that Canipe received $27,000 and her attorneys received $9,000.


Real Estate Developer to Take Over Heartland Park Topeka 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A real estate developer and his business partner are the new owners of the Heartland Park Topeka racing facility. Chris Payne said Thursday he and Todd Crossley are the new owners of Heartland Park, apparently ending more months of uncertainty about the track's future. Payne confirmed he has reached an agreement with CoreFirst Bank & Trust and has already taken possession of the track. The announcement came only hours after The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that another potential owner, Jim Farnum and his group, Heartland USA LLC, had ended negotiations with CoreFirst, which took legal ownership of the track in August. The race track's future has been unclear since a proposed deal between the city and former owner Raymond Irwin was rejected by the Topeka City Council in May.


KU Librarian's Estate Gives $500K to Humane Society 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former University of Kansas librarian has given the Lawrence Humane Society nearly $500,000 through her estate. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the gift from the late Ann L. Hyde will be used to help upgrade the Humane Society building or pay for a new facility. The project has an estimated cost of $5 million. Lawrence Humane Society executive director Kate Meghji says the organization would start a public fundraising campaign once it had gathered 50 percent to 60 percent of the total cost. She estimated that would be sometime before 2017. So far, slightly more than $1.2 million has been raised or committed for the project. Hyde was the manuscripts librarian in the Department of Special Collections at KU's Kenneth Spencer Research Library. She died in June 2014.


Bankers Say Economy to Stay Weak in Rural Parts of 10 States 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Bankers expect economic activity to remain slow in rural parts of 10 Western and Plains states over the next few months. The region's economic index declined again in December to 41.5 from November's 43.7. Any score below 50 on one of the survey's indexes suggests that factor will decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the monthly survey of rural bankers released Thursday. He says the current low energy and crop prices are slowing the economy. The strong U.S. dollar and a slower pace of manufacturing are also factors. The bankers aren't very optimistic. The confidence index remained in negative territory even though it improved slightly to 39.8 in December from November's 38.9. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


Federal Prosecutor in Missouri Says 6 Plead in Software Piracy Case


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say six people have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an investigation into a massive software piracy scheme that began in Kansas City and involved $100 million worth of illegitimate software. Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the western district of Missouri, said Thursday the case is among the largest software piracy schemes prosecuted by the Justice Department. She says the case involved more than $100 million worth of stolen or counterfeit software products, including thousands of access codes for Microsoft and Adobe Systems products. Authorities also confiscated about $20 million in assets, including real estate, from six defendants in Missouri, Washington state, Maryland, Colorado and Nevada. The prosecutor's office says the defendants pleaded guilty to various charges, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. The investigation is ongoing.


Kansas Aviation Museum Reduces Hours, Imposes Layoffs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Aviation Museum has terminated two of its five-person staff and announced it will be reducing visitor hours next year. Richard Moore, the museum's interim director, said Wednesday the two positions that were cut this week were full-time marketing jobs. According to Moore, the terminations were a way to absorb the museum's slow traffic. Moore said if the two employees who were laid off do not have new jobs by the middle of May, the museum would consider rehiring them. The Wichita Eagle reports that the museum will only be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays starting Jan. 1. Any special events, meetings, conferences and school field trips that have already been booked will go on as scheduled.


Police in Hutchinson Are Handing Out Money to the Needy 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Police in Hutchinson are handing out $100 bills to the needy thanks to an anonymous donor. Hutchinson Police Captain Troy Hoover says the donor asked police to provide random acts of kindness to people in need. The Hutchinson News reports that police don't even know the identity of the donor. The Fraternal Order of Police has matched the donation. So far police have distributed $1,400. Hoover says police will give another $1,600 before it is done. Hoover says the recipients include single mothers working multiple jobs, military veterans in difficult financial circumstances and people caring for terminally ill family members.


Former Kansas Bank Teller Charged with Embezzlement 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former teller has been indicted on charges of embezzling about $700,000 from an eastern Kansas bank. The U.S. attorney's office announced Wednesday that 47-year-old Denise Christy, of Burlington, faces charges that include embezzlement and money laundering. No attorney is listed for her in online court records. The indictment alleges the crimes were committed while Christy worked for the Burlington branch of Central National Bank. One of Christy's duties was to sell cash in the bank's vault to the Federal Reserve Bank. In May 2014 auditors determined that more than $700,000 was missing. An investigation showed Christy falsified bank records to cover up the embezzlement. Christy is accused of spending more than $77,000 in embezzled funds to pay off loans.


States, Feds Involved in Movie Theater Antitrust Inquiries 

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Securities filings show the Justice Department is investigating alleged antitrust violations by the country's biggest movie theater chains. AMC and Cinemark both acknowledged investigative demands by the government in recent SEC quarterly filings. Last month, AMC also acknowledged similar requests from Ohio, Florida, Kansas, New York, Texas, Washington and the District of Columbia. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Thursday that his office was among 10 jurisdictions examining whether AMC, Cinemark and Regal have taken action to keep competitors and new theaters out of the market. The Justice Department declined to comment. Messages seeking comment were also left with Leawood, Kansas-based AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.; Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings Inc.; and Knoxville, Tennessee-based Regal Entertainment Group.


Bob Krause, Former K-State Administrator, Dies


MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas State University administrator Bob Krause has died. He was 70. The university said a memorial service for Krause will be Monday at All Faiths Chapel on the Kansas State campus. The Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen funeral home in Manhattan said in an obituary that Krause died of cancer Wednesday at a hospice home in Manhattan. Krause was vice president for institutional advancement from 1968 to 2009, helping the university increase enrollment and fundraising. He was acting athletics director from 2008 until he resigned in 2009 during a controversy over a secret contract with then-football coach Ron Prince. Kansas State sued to invalidate the agreement and paid Prince a $1.65 million settlement. Krause then became director of development at Kansas State's Olathe campus. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and four grandchildren.


2 Men Face Murder Charges in Shooting of East Wichita Man 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two men have been charged in the fatal shooting of a man last week in east Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports that 35-year-old Macy Foard and 23-year-old Alexzander Rye are charged with first-degree murder in the December 8 death of 42-year-old Dejuan Harris. They are accused of going to a house to rob the two people who live at the address, but instead shooting Harris after he answered a knock at the door. Police say the people that the pair was allegedly after weren't home. An anonymous 911 caller found Harris's body about 24 hours later. Rye also faces charges for methamphetamine possession and criminal possession of a firearm in Harris's killing. The men remain in Sedgwick County Jail in lieu of $550,000 in bonds in the two cases. It wasn't immediately clear if they have attorneys.


2 Finalists Selected for Kansas City District Superintendent 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City school district has selected two finalists for its superintendent post. The board is seeking a replacement for Stephen Green, who left to take a similar position with a district just outside Atlanta. Board chairman Jon Hile says the board would not reveal the names of the two candidates until about a week before each arrives in Kansas City next month. During the visits, they'll meet with parents, community and business leaders. The Kansas City Star reports that the candidate visits also will include a trip to a district school. Information on the district's website shows that the superintendent's job will pay an annual salary in the range of $210,000 to $250,000. The district received more than 70 applications for the job.


2017 US Figure Skating Championships Headed to Kansas City 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships will be held in Kansas City. The U.S. Figure Skating Association announced its choice Wednesday. It will be the first nationals staged in Kansas City since 1985, when Brian Boitano won the first of four straight U.S. crowns. U.S. champions will be crowned in men's, women's, pairs and ice dance at the senior, junior, novice, intermediate and juvenile levels. U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith says, "We look forward to hosting our athletes, coaches, officials and fans from around the world in one of the Midwest's greatest cities." Next year's nationals will be held in St. Paul, Minnesota, from January 15-24, 2016.


Kansas City Zoo Had Highest Visitor Count Ever in 2015 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Zoo officials say more than 900,000 people visited the attraction this year, the highest attendance in the zoo's 106- year history. Zoo officials said Wednesday the goal will be to draw more than 1 million visitors in 2016. The Kansas City Star reports the previous record attendance was 714,367 in 1998 after the new African section opened but the numbers fell to 386,835 in 2006. Zoo visits began rising steadily with new amenities and exhibits, such as bringing in polar bears and penguins. The progress was helped when voters approved a $30 million bond issue for the zoo. Officials are now considering improvements to the elephant exhibit and other projects.


Newman University Gets $2 Million from Fugate Enterprises 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Newman University in Kansas has received a $2 million gift from Fugate Enterprises. The university announced Wednesday that the gift will be used for the school's science, nursing and allied health professions program. It's the latest of several donations to the Catholic school from Larry Fugate, owner of Fugate Enterprises, and his wife, Dana. Fugate Gymnasium and one of Newman's residence halls are named after the Fugates. Larry Fugate said in a news release that the couple believes in the Catholic university, especially its contributions to health care professions in the Wichita region.


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