Headlines for Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Kansas Man Pleads Guilty to 2 Counts in Bomb Plot
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 21-year-old man has pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts in connection with a plot to plant a bomb outside an Army post in northeast Kansas. John T. Booker Jr., of Topeka, changed his pleas to guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to use an explosive device to damage government property. A plea agreement with prosecutors recommends that he be sentenced to 30 years in prison on the first charge and 20 years on the second charge, to be served at the same time. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped a charge of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group. Booker had initially pleaded not guilty to three felony charges. He could have faced life in prison if convicted of those charges. He was arrested in April 2015 outside Fort Riley, about 60 miles west of Topeka, trying to arm what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb in a van.
Northwest Kansas Digs Out from Winter Storm
HAYS, Kan. (AP) _ Residents of northwest Kansas are digging out from a winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on some areas. The National Weather Service says 4 to 15 inches of snow fell across the region before the storm moved out Tuesday afternoon. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph blew the snow into large drifts in some areas. The snow left many roads in the region packed with snow and ice. Part of Interstate 70 was closed for several hours Tuesday before reopening in the evening. The Kansas Department of Transportation reports that several roads remained closed today (WED), including stretches of U.S. 36 and U.S. 283.
Forecast: Elderly Population to Double in Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A university study projects the number of Kansans older than 65 will double in the next 50 years and outnumber children for the first time in state history. The forecast released today (WED) by Wichita State University's Center for Economic Development and Business Research also projects a 21.8 percent increase between 2014 and 2064 as the Kansas population reaches more than 3.5 million people. That is slower than the growth rate for the nation. The biggest social and economic impact may come from projections that the state's working age population is projected to increase only 10.3 percent. Only 20 of the state's 105 counties are projected to grow in population. The remaining 85 counties will see declines. More than 80 percent of Kansas residents will be living in metropolitan areas by 2064.
Kansas Legislators Seeking More Say in Court Appointments
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering amending the state constitution to give the governor more authority over who is appointed to the state Supreme Court. The House on Wednesday approved a resolution that would allow the governor to make appointments that would have to be approved by the Senate. Currently a committee selects nominees for approval by the governor. The resolution got a simple majority of votes and will be voted upon again Thursday, when it will need a two-thirds majority to be sent on to the Senate. Proponents say the current process is undemocratic, while critics argue the measure is a power grab by Republican Governor Sam Brownback. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Wednesday after his State of the Judiciary address that changing the selection process is unnecessary.
Ending Power Plant Deal Would Cost State over $400K
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Putting a stop to a controversial financial deal to build a new power plant for the Kansas Statehouse and four nearby government office buildings would cost $409,000. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the expense was among the details revealed Tuesday as lawmakers met to discuss the plan. At issue is a 15-year, $19.9 million municipal lease arrangement with Bank of America to finance the construction of the power plant. The deal did not go before a legislative committee for approval, and some lawmakers have voiced concern that they were not informed. Last week, Governor Sam Brownback's administration opted to delay the new power plant to give the Legislature time to review the deal. Secretary of Administration Sarah Shipman wrote that the stop order costs between $8,000 and $20,000 per day.
Kansas Among Several States Looking to Ban Sanctuary Cities
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators are among those in several states considering measures to prohibit local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials. One bill would ban so-called sanctuary cities. The other would also withdraw state funding from cities that don't cooperate with immigration officials. It's the latest in a series of anti-sanctuary measures across the nation following the July killing of a San Francisco woman. The man charged is a Mexican man living in the country illegally. The Wichita Eagle reports that at least a dozen states, including Wisconsin and Florida, are considering similar legislation. Some Kansas sheriffs began refusing requests from immigration officials after a federal ruling in Oregon on immigration that indicated the 48-hour detention of a person suspected of being in the U. S. illegally is a violation of constitutional rights.
Proposed Bill Would Allow Prosecution of Kansas Teachers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow teachers and school administrators to be prosecuted for presented material perceived as harmful to minors. The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill passed the Senate last year and was considered in a House committee Tuesday. It stems from a 2014 controversy in the Shawnee Mission school district over a poster in a sex education classroom that listed oral sex and other acts as ways people express their sexual feelings. Currently, state law protects school officials against the misdemeanor charge of presenting harmful material to minors if it's part of a lesson. The proposed legislation would remove that protection for teachers at public, private and parochial schools. Teachers would face a fine or up to six months in jail if convicted.
Kansas Lawmakers Pledge Support for Transparency Legislation
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are pledging support for a bill that would open up private emails sent by public employees about government business. The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill would make information made by an employee of a public agency concerning business available to a Kansas Open Records Act request regardless of "form, characteristics or location." The addition of "location" comes after Governor Sam Brownback's budget director used a private account last year to email lobbyists a draft of the governor's proposed budget before lawmakers saw it. The new bill would apply to employees who conduct government business on private email accounts. The Kansas Association of Broadcasters and the Kansas Press Association voiced support for the bill. There was no opposition.
Kansas Senate Approves Bill to Lighten State Marijuana Penalties
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would lessen penalties for first and second-time marijuana possession. The vote Wednesday was 38-1. The measure would reduce the punishment for first-time misdemeanor possession to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, rather than the current year in jail and $2,500 fine. A second possession conviction would no longer be a felony, so an offender wouldn't be sent to prison. The measure goes next to the House, which passed a similar proposal last year. The lone vote against the bill came from Democratic Senator David Haley, of Kansas City. He proposed imposing only a $50 fine for the first, second and third time a person is caught possessing small amounts of marijuana. The Senate voted 31-5 against Haley's amendment.
Kansas Senators Consider Overhauling Juvenile Justice System
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A new bill aimed at reforming juvenile justice has been introduced in the Kansas Statehouse. Advocates of the bill told the Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice that it will keep low-risk youth offenders out of prison while saving the state money. According to the advocacy group Kansans United for Youth Justice, 35 percent of young people in detention centers in Kansas are there for misdemeanors only. Supporters say the bill would end that practice and would ensure that the state is only incarcerating only minors who commit a felony and are deemed high-risk. The bill would allow low-level offenders to participate in community-based programs instead of being incarcerated. Megan Milner, deputy superintendent of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex, told the committee that the bill would also create a team to review cases with the input of families and educators. Hearings on the bill are scheduled to continue through Thursday.
State Lawmakers Criticize University of Kansas Bond Issue
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are criticizing an arrangement in which the University of Kansas borrowed hundreds of millions in out-of-state bonds to build facilities without the approval of the state Legislature. The university used Wisconsin-based Public Finance Authority to issue nearly $327 million in bonds last month and set up a private corporation to serve as the debtor so it wouldn't have to seek legislative permission. University officials say they followed the law. The Wichita Eagle reports that House Republicans are drafting legislation to prevent state universities from making similar arrangements in the future. House Speaker Ray Merrick criticized the arrangement as avoiding legislative oversight and public view. The money will finance the construction of buildings on the Lawrence campus, including a science building, dormitory and student union.
At Least 10 Sickened After Visiting Overland Park Eatery
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — At least 10 people have been sickened with a gastrointestinal illness after visiting an Overland Park restaurant last week. The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment is investigating the illness, which is linked to a Buffalo Wild Wings grill and bar. The Kansas City Star reports that laboratory tests that may help identify the illness are pending. The health department began receiving reports Friday from people who became ill beginning Thursday. Students from the Shawnee Mission School District were among the people sickened. Inspections conducted Saturday in response to the illnesses uncovered 17 code violations. Most of the violations were corrected at the time of the inspection. A spokeswoman for the Buffalo Wild Wings corporate office said in a statement that the company takes "food safety very seriously."
9 Suspended KC Police Officers to Be Reinstated, Reassigned
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Nine Kansas City police officers who were suspended during an internal investigation into the department's crimes against children unit will be reinstated and assigned to patrol bureau. The Kansas City Star reports two police sergeants and seven detectives are expected to return to work Sunday. The captain who supervised the unit also has been reassigned, though he was never suspended. The investigation began after police officials learned that cases were not being handled promptly enough. Police spokesman Captain Tye Grant says there were never any disciplinary issues involved, so there's nothing preventing the officers from serving in a different capacity. The crimes against children unit handled roughly 1,000 cases in 2015. It investigates abuse, neglect, endangerment, parental kidnappings and custody violations.
Consultant Rejects Compromise Plan for Kansas City Airport
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A consultant for airlines that use Kansas City International Airport says a plan to renovate the airport is unacceptable. The Kansas City Star reports that Lou Salomon, of AvAirPros, told the Kansas City Council's airport committee that a plan submitted by Crawford Architects is not acceptable. He said the plan did not address the airport's future needs for more gates, more concessions and more runway space to accommodate larger aircraft. City and aviation officials have been discussing a plan to demolish the airport and replace it with a single terminal. The Crawford architects suggested expanding Terminal A and doing similar work on Terminal B in the future. Salomon told the council the plan would cost about $984 million, not the $672 million estimated by Crawford.
Parolee in Mutilation Case Arrested in Drunken Driving Crash
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man on parole for killing a Topeka man and removing his tattoos and teeth to prevent identification has been arrested. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 60-year-old Kenneth Cook is jailed in Sedgwick County after a drunken driving crash on Sunday. Cook wasn't hurt, but the other driver was. Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Adam Pfannenstiel says Cook's case is under review. Cook was convicted of the 1992 killing of 33-year-old Charles Duty, whose body was found in the Wakarusa River. Cook's initial sentence left him ineligible for parole for 40 years. But the Kansas Supreme Court found that post-death mutilation doesn't warrant a "Hard 40" sentence. Later the first-degree murder sentence also was overturned, and Cook was retried for second-degree murder. He was paroled last year.
Wichita Council Approves Construction of New Library
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve the construction of a new $33 million central library. The city approved initial plans for a new library about 10 years ago and bought the land for $3.69 million in 2008. The council will have to vote again in a few months to approve a contractor before construction begins. Don Barry, chairman of the Wichita Public Library Foundation board of directors, said that ground could be broken on the project as early as this summer and that it could be completed in 2018. The city will finance the library with more than $36 million in bonds, part of which will be recouped through fundraising by the library foundation.
Kansas Woman Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking Conspiracy
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 22-year-old Kansas woman has pleaded guilty to taking a 17-year-old to a hotel last year for the purpose of prostituting her. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says Tiara Jade Newman of Topeka pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. Newman admitted that she and her husband, 29-year-old Reginald Newman, rented two rooms last March at a Junction City hotel, where Tiara Newman and the girl had sex with a soldier for $250. Prosecutors say Tiara Newman took the girl on another call five days later in Manhattan. Reginald Newman admitted keeping the money from the commercial sex acts. He is to be sentenced in April. Tiara Newman faces not less than 15 years and a fine up to $250,000 when she is sentenced in May.
Woman Charged in Fleeing US Pleads Guilty to Identity Theft
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence woman accused of fleeing to Europe with her two daughters has pleaded guilty to forging her ex-husband's signature on official documents when she fled. Thirty-three-year-old Samantha Elmer pleaded guilty Tuesday to aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors say Elmer forged her husband's signature on a document to obtain passports for their 9- and 11-year-old daughters. Authorities say Elmer 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 Missouri. The girls were reunited in December with their father, who lives in Smithville, Missouri. A sentencing hearing for Elmer will be scheduled later. She faces a maximum of two years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Retired Kansas Police Officer Facing Federal Fraud Charges
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A retired Kansas law enforcement officer who was paid more than $56,000 to train other officers in armed engagement practices is facing federal embezzlement charges. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 51-year-old Kevin P. Vaughn of Wichita is accused of falsifying reports to make it look like his company had completed 15 eight-hour classes the company agreed to provide. Vaughn retired in March 2015 after 28 years with the Wichita Police Department. He is charged with embezzling Department of Homeland Security funds, wire fraud and money laundering. Vaughn is facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.