Headlines for Wednesday, January 20, 2016
US Supreme Court Returns Death Penalty Cases to Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the death penalty sentences for three Kansas men sends their cases back to the state's highest court. The justices ruled Wednesday that the Kansas Supreme Court was wrong to overturn the sentences of Jonathan and Reginald Carr, and Sidney Gleason in a separate case. The Carr brothers killed four people and wounded a fifth in 2000 in Wichita. Gleason killed two people in 2004 in Great Bend. The Kansas attorney general's office says the Kansas Supreme Court will determine whether additional proceedings are necessary. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says it would have been difficult for the victims' families to go through a new sentencing. But Gleason and Jonathan Carr's attorney, Sarah Johnson, says there are "definitely some issues" that remain to be addressed.
Kansas Regents Continue to Seek Some Limits on Guns on Campus
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Regents has adopted a new policy for concealed weapons on state university campuses that will continue some restrictions for gun owners. The board adopted the policy unanimously Wednesday. It will take effect in July 2017, when state law will no longer allow the universities to continue barring concealed weapons from buildings unless those buildings have security measures such as metal detectors. The new policy prohibits the open carrying of guns on state university campuses. It also says that when guns are kept in cars or dormitories, they must be secured. The policy requires each university to come up with detailed policies on the safe storage of weapons. The regents developed the policy amid strong criticism of the state law from many faculty, staff and students.
Kobach: No Plans to Ask Legislature for Dual-Registration Law
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he has no plans at this time to ask lawmakers to ban voters who use a federal form to register from casting ballots in state and local elections. Kobach said Wednesday that he believes a judge made legal errors when he ruled last week in favor of voters who challenged his office's "dual registration" system. He says he may appeal or ask the judge to reconsider. The court found last week that the right to vote under current Kansas law is not tied to the method of registration. The American Civil Liberties Union says the fact Kobach is unwilling to go to the Legislature shows just how arbitrarily his office has been behaving, and that they do not believe lawmakers would authorize it.
DCF Secretary Denies Discrimination Claims and Defends Safety Record
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families is defending the agency's efforts to ensure the safety of children in the foster care system. The Wichita Eagle reports that DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore spoke Tuesday to the House Committee on Children & Seniors. Some same-sex couples in Kansas say that the agency has discriminated against them in foster care and adoption cases. Gilmore told the committee that the accusations of discrimination are untrue and are distracting attention from other important issues. Gilmore also called the state's foster care system one of the safest in the nation. A November report showed five children died in the foster care system during 2015. One death was attributed to maltreatment. The other fatalities were caused by illness and car accidents.
Kansas Lawmakers Discuss Teacher Merit Pay
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Legislators in Kansas are hearing plenty of opposition as they consider a merit pay system to reward higher quality teachers. A House Education Committee hearing on Tuesday allowed teachers and lobbyists to discuss the issue. Governor Sam Brownback's policy director, Brandon Smith, spoke in favor of merit pay and compared it to efforts that proved successful in the District of Columbia and states such as New York. But Kansas Families for Education lobbyist Brian Koon said merit pay risks leaving vulnerable children behind. The State Board of Education provides $1,100 scholarships to give teachers an incentive to attain a national certificate in their teaching specialties but Kansas law does not mandate merit pay for teachers.
Kansas Would Have Fewer School Districts Under New Proposal
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Republican legislator in Kansas has outlined a proposal to cut the number of local public school districts in the state by more than half. Representative John Bradford of Lansing said the plan he introduced Wednesday would leave the state with 132 school districts instead of the current 286. Ninety-nine of the state's 105 counties would have only one district. Bradford said the state can achieve significant savings by reorganizing school districts because there would be fewer administrators and administrative buildings. He said the plan would not close individual schools. Some fellow Republicans said they are interested in looking at how local school districts can operate more efficiently. But Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist Mark Tallman said there's no evidence that Kansas residents want to consolidate districts.
Kansas Senate Committee Reviewing Bill to Reduce Marijuana Penalties
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would reduce the state's penalties for marijuana possession and allow the limited use of marijuana for medical purposes. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee is meeting today (WED) for the first of two days of hearings on the legislation. The panel is taking testimony from supporters today and hearing from opponents Thursday. The House approved the bill last year. The measure would decrease the maximum penalties for first-time, misdemeanor marijuana possession to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Under current law, the maximum penalty is a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill also would allow cannabis to be used in treating seizures and set up a program to research industrial hemp production.
Kansas Senate Postpones Vote on Fix for Court System Budget
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate is postponing a vote on a bill for ensuring that state courts remain open following a legal dispute involving the judiciary's budget. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said Tuesday that the chamber might debate the measure next week. Senate leaders had been trying to expedite the measure so members could vote on it without debate later this week. But an unnamed senator objected to voting on the proposal without a debate. The bill repeals a 2015 law that nullified the judiciary's entire budget if the courts struck down a 2014 law enacted by Republican legislators. The 2014 law stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts, giving that authority to local judges. The high court invalidated the law in December.
U.S. Senate Panel Approves Bill to Make School Lunches Tastier
WASHINGTON (AP) — School meals could become a bit tastier under legislation approved by a Senate committee. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill Wednesday designed to help schools that say the Obama administration's healthier school meal rules are too restrictive. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan introduced the bill after reaching an agreement to ease requirements for whole grains and delay an upcoming deadline to cut sodium levels. Stabenow is the panel's top Democrat. School lunch directors that have lobbied against the standards endorsed the agreement, saying it would help them plan meals that are more appealing to students. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also backed the compromise, saying it maintains most of the healthier school meal rules. The bill was approved by voice vote.
Report: Kansas Needs State Oversight of Local School Construction Projects
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report from Republican legislators in Kansas says the state needs to provide greater oversight over local school construction projects. The report recommends creating a legislative committee to review proposals from school districts. The legislature would issue bonds for construction projects if a district is deemed eligible for state aid. The measure also suggests that lawmakers limit the projects eligible for state aid. The report is from a joint House and Senate committee that studied school funding issues last fall. The committee is recommending that Kansas overhaul how it distributes more than $4 billion in funding to its public schools. Democrats opposed the recommendations and called the bonding proposals an insult local school boards.
Kansas House Passes Change for Citizen-Called Grand Juries
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill aimed at making it harder for judges or prosecutors to influence the work of grand juries convened by citizens. The vote Tuesday was 101-20 on a bill that would allow people who are responsible for calling a grand jury to observe a judge's instructions to the jurors. Supporters said the bill would make grand juries less secretive and more responsive to the people who call them. Kansas is one of six states allowing citizens to petition for grand juries. The 1887 law was rarely used until about a decade ago, when anti-abortion activists began using it to convene grand jury investigations of abortion clinics and adult bookstores. The measure goes next to the Senate.
Shift of Kansas Children's Initiative Fund Criticized
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback's office is defending a budget proposal that child advocates say would make it easier for Kansas to siphon money from early childhood education. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Brownback's proposal would move all of the money in the Children's Initiatives Fund to the State General Fund in fiscal year 2017. The governor's office says the move is meant to increase accountability and consolidate early childhood programs within the Kansas State Department of Education. Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said she does not see how pulling all funding from the children's initiative will lead to better coordination. The governor's spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said existing childhood programs funded by the Children's Initiatives Fund will continue to be fully funded.
Roads Slick, Snow-Packed Across Parts of Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Numerous roads across western and central Kansas are snow-packed and icy as a winter storm moves across the state. Some of the worst conditions were reported Wednesday in Hays, Salina, Hutchinson and Plainville. Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Ann Williamson advised people to stay off the roads if possible. She says it gives crews a chance to work. National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Jakub says a storm has been dumping freezing rain and sleet across south-central Kansas. He says snow is falling to the north of Wichita, with 1 to 3 inches expected. He says numerous accidents have been reported in the Wichita area, particularly on elevated surfaces such as bridges and overpasses.
Washburn Offers Retirement Incentives to Balance Budget
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Washburn University will offer early retirement incentives to help balance its budget while enrollment is declining. The university's Board of Regents approved the incentives Tuesday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports employees over 61 who retire at the end of the spring semester will receive a lump-sum payment worth 100 percent of their annual base salary, or up to $125,000, whichever is less. Employees who retire in June 2017 will receive half that amount. Washburn also will contribute to the health care coverage of employees who retire before they reach 65, until those employees become eligible for Medicare. School employees have until February 19 to decide if they'll accept early retirement. The school expects to save $1.2 million annually by leaving vacancies unfilled or hiring younger employees who earn less.
Man Charged in Woman's Overland Park Death
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man has been charged in a woman's death. The Kansas City Star reports that the premeditated first-degree murder charge was filed Wednesday against 37-year-old Christopher Duane Wallace, of Overland Park. Bond is set at $1 million. Defense attorney Carl Cornwell didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment. He is accused of killing 35-year-old Jennifer Lopez, whose body was found late Monday inside a Mission apartment. Court documents do not say how Lopez was killed. Wallace was detained at the scene and later arrested in connection with the homicide. Overland Park police described Wallace and Lopez as acquaintances.
Hutchinson Groups Each Receive $1.4 Million Gift
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A former Hutchinson teacher has left nearly $1.4 million to three Hutchinson groups. The Hutchinson Daily News reports money from Deborah Mosier will go to the Hutchinson Public Library, The Boys and Girls Club and the Hutchinson Community Foundation. Library director Gregg Wamsley says the gift comes without any designations for how it should be used. The gift comes just as the library is starting renovations to its building.
Officials Investigate 36 Geese Killed, Dumped in New Cambria
NEW CAMBRIA, Kan. (AP) — The Saline County Sheriff's Office and Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials are investigating an incident in which 36 geese were shot and illegally dumped in rural Kansas. The Salina Journal reports that the geese were found Friday after they'd been thrown over a drain tunnel in New Cambria. Game warden Greg Salisbury says if the person who killed and dumped the geese can be identified, he or she will likely face charges for illegal dumping and wanton waste. Salisbury says the birds appear to be snow geese, which are overpopulated in the Arctic tundra. He says they can be hunted until March, and there aren't any limits on the number that can be killed.
Southwest Kansas Man Claims $1M Powerball Cash Prize
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A southwest Kansas man has claimed a $1 million Powerball cash prize.KSNW-TV reports that the Garden City winner who is remaining anonymous collected the prize Wednesday morning. He matched the first five numbers, but not the Powerball to win the large cash prize in the January 13 Powerball drawing. The Garden City winner picked his own winning numbers on a $10 ticket. For selling the ticket, a Food Mart 3 store in Garden City is eligible to receive a $1,000 selling bonus. A Manhattan woman also has claimed a $50,000 cash prize from the January 13 Powerball drawing.
Lawrence Commission Approves Incentives for Menard Manufacturing Facility
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A city-owned business park in Lawrence will get its first tenant after the city commission approved an incentive package for a Menard Inc.'s manufacturing facility. The commission on Tuesday night approved nearly $2.3 million in incentives for the operation, which will supply Menards retail stores in Kansas and Missouri. The campus is expected to employ 100 to 150 people. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Lawrence VenturePark has been vacant for 15 months. Menard plans to buy 90 acres of the 220-acre park for about $750,000 and pay special assessments of just over $1 million. Douglas County commissioners have given preliminary approval to a $200,000 grant over 10 years for the project. Menard representatives say the incentives will be used for the land purchase and infrastructure improvements.
Quapaw Tribe Sues Kansas over Casino Dispute
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ An Oklahoma Indian tribe has filed a federal lawsuit against Kansas in a dispute over casino gambling in southeast Kansas The Quapaw tribe alleges the state has failed to negotiate in good faith over proposed gambling on tribal land in Cherokee County. The lawsuit contends that discussions stalled when the state wanted to develop a state-owned casino in the area. The tribe's chairman, John Berrey, said it has to stand up for the rights of Indian tribes. A federal judge last month dismissed a separate lawsuit filed by Kansas seeking to prevent the tribe's Oklahoma casino from expanding into Kansas. The state has appealed that decision.
Pending Contract, Baltimore Man to Take KCMO School District Superintendent Job
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Baltimore school official has been chosen to become superintendent of the Kansas City school district. Kansas City School Board members voted Wednesday to begin contract negotiations with Mark Bedell. He is currently assistant superintendent for high schools for the Baltimore County public schools. The Kansas City Star reports Bedell would be paid $210,000 to $250,000 a year. This would be the first superintendent's job for Bedell. He worked for 12 years in the Houston Independent School District as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and school improvement officer. He replaces Steve Green, the district's 27th superintendent, who left in May to lead a district in DeKalb County, Georgia. Bedell will lead a provisionally-accredited school district with about 14,000 students that is working toward regaining full state accreditation.
Sheriff: Inmate Dies at Sedgwick County Jail; Cause Unknown
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 24-year-old inmate of the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility has died of an unknown cause. The sheriff's office says in a news release that the inmate was found unresponsive in his cell around 10:15 am. Both onsite medical staff and emergency responders were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at 10:55 am. Officials say the death will be investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the sheriff's office. Authorities are not releasing the identity until the family has been notified. He was booked into the jail on September 30, 2013 on felony charges.
Oklahoma State Defeats No. 3 Kansas, 86-67
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State upset No. 3 Kansas 86-67 on Tuesday night. The Cowboys beat the Kansas Jayhawks in Stillwater for the third straight time and the fifth time in seven years. Oklahoma State shot 50 percent from the field, made 11 of 21 3-point attempts and outrebounded KU 38-31. The Jayhawks' Frank Mason III scored 14 points and Perry Ellis added 13 for Kansas (15-3, 4-2 Big 12), which has lost two of its past three and fell out of a tie for the Big 12 lead. Oklahoma State (10-8, 2-4) nearly upset the No. 2 ranked Oklahoma University Sooners last week, but they missed a last-second shot and lost 74-72.