Headlines for Monday, March 5, 2018
Governor Issues Disaster Declaration Because of Wildfire
MOSCOW, Kan. (AP) — Forecasters are warning of a high risk of wildfires after one blaze burned 10,000 hay bales in the southwest part of the state. Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer signed an emergency disaster declaration Sunday when the large bales burned a half mile north of the Stevens County town of Moscow amid wind gusts of up to 50 mph. This year's fire season follows two years of record setting wildfires. Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Katie Horner says the "lesson learned" from previous years is to mobilize people quickly to prevent fires from getting out of control. Before the bale fire was contained, crews were on standby with planes equipped with large buckets capable of dumping water. Extreme dry conditions will continue to create dangerous conditions Monday.
Kansas Senate Committee Passes Domestic Abuser Gun Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee approved a bill that would make it a felony for fugitives and domestic abusers to possess firearms. Supporters say the new law would allow offenders to be prosecuted in state courts instead of relying on federal courts, which are sometimes too busy to handle such cases. Jo Ella Hoye, a representative for Moms Demand Action, said she was happy with committees' decision. She said the bill advanced Monday bill will help law enforcement protect women and families and ultimately save lives. In addition to fugitives and domestic abusers, the bill also makes it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to have a firearm. The committee also advanced a bill that would allow people who have concealed carry permits issued by other states to carry concealed firearms in Kansas.
Records: State Was Told About Child's Abuse Before His Death
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Records show that the state received at least eight reports that a 3-year-old boy was being abused in the year before his body was found encased in concrete. The Wichita Eagle reports records from the Kansas Department of Children and Families show the agency was told that Evan Brewer's mother was regularly high on methamphetamine and was not feeding him good meals. The records also show that a report of detailed allegations of abuse was not forwarded to a social worker investigating the case. The boy was never removed from the home. His body was found in early September. The agency's new director, Gina Meier-Hummel, said she shares the family's outrage. She says changes to improve the system have begun and will continue.
Kansas Officials Concerned About Youth Mental Health Care
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials dealing with youth in the local court system are concerned about trends in mental health treatment following a drastic change last year in state juvenile justice laws. The Hutchinson News reports that a pressing issue for officials is the often monthslong wait to get care for youth needing inpatient psychiatric treatment. Troubled teenagers waiting for treatment in Kansas are sent back home pending placement, usually worsening behavioral issues that initially landed them in court. The growing wait times are a result of a 2017 law meant to divert the costs of keeping juveniles locked up to pay for treatment they need to stay out of jail. But community mental health officials say they aren't seeing much of the savings coming back from the state to pay for services.
Authorities Look for Missing Man in Tuttle Creek Lake
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are looking for a man who is believed to have drowned in Tuttle Creek Lake near Manhattan. The Riley County Police Department said in a news release that authorities from multiple agencies responded Saturday afternoon to the lake after the apparent drowning was reported. The missing man was identified as 21-year-old Anthony Berg, of Stilwell, Kansas. No other details were immediately released.
Kansas Lawmakers Consider Bill to Protect Speech on Campus
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislation aimed at protecting free speech on Kansas college campuses is facing mixed reviews amid a nationwide debate over how to balance free speech with the schools' desire to protect against disruptions and make all students feel safe and welcome. The bill, which won Senate committee approval last month and awaits a full Senate vote, would eliminate campus "free-speech zones" designated for speakers and demonstrations, require that university speech codes not limit student speech and prevent universities from disinviting guest speakers that might be offensive or divisive. Kansas is one of five states considering similar legislation this year. Republican Senator Ty Masterson, of Andover, who introduced the bill, said that free speech hasn't been much of an issue on Kansas campuses. He calls the bill a pre-emptive measure to prevent a "political arms race" in which faculty or students on one side of the political spectrum silence those on the other. The bill has no enforcement mechanisms or consequences for universities. But Kansas ACLU Executive Director Micah Kubic said it clears up some of the grey area around what colleges can and cannot do. "This bill makes it clear that universities are, in fact, public forums. That they are publicly supported, taxpayers pay the bill, they are an arm of government," Kubic said. While many high-profile events fueling the free speech debate, like protests over far-right author and agitator Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, or conservative scholar and author Charles Murray at DePaul, have been liberals silencing conservatives, things in Kansas have been different. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, the only record of a speaker being disinvited in Kansas was in 2016 at Newman University, a private school. Following student outcry, a scheduled visit from Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier, criticized by abortion opponents over her opinions in several cases, was canceled.
Mark Desetti, a Kansas National Education Association representative, said the bill is an unnecessary overstep, setting the stage for unintended consequences. "Our concerns about the act are that it just goes too far," Desetti said. "It takes away from colleges and universities an ability to ensure their campuses are safe places for students." Desetti said the legislation is the result of concern among conservatives that right wing voices are going unheard on campuses across the U.S. "There are some people who believe our universities are just bastions of leftist liberals who don't want to hear alternative views," Desetti said. "My experience on college campuses is that nothing could be further from the truth." But University of Kansas student Victoria Snitsar said she witnessed fellow students being asked to remove stickers in support of President Donald Trump from their laptops by a faculty member because the stickers were considered offensive. Snitsar, a member of the Kansas Federation of College Republicans, says that while there are few instances of conservative perspectives being actively silenced at KU, as an institution the university is politically biased. Snitsar said that voices like hers need protection. Brian Lindshield, faculty senate president at Kansas State University, said the legislation wouldn't have much of an impact on his campus. "I think a lot of what is expressed in this bill is covered by our policy already, so I don't think it would change a lot here," Lindshield said.
Kansas Voting Rights Trial Could Have National Implications
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A conservative Republican who has supported President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegal votes cost Trump the popular vote in 2016 will have to prove Kansas has a problem with voter fraud if he's to win a legal challenge to voter registration requirements he's championed. The case headed to trial starting Tuesday has national implications for voting rights as Republicans pursue laws they say are aimed at preventing voter fraud but that critics contend disenfranchise minorities and college students who tend to vote Democratic and who may not have such documentation readily available. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is running for governor and was part of Trump's now-disbanded commission on voter fraud , has long championed such laws and is defending a Kansas requirement that people present documentary proof of citizenship — such as a birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport — when they register to vote.
"Kansas is the site of the major showdown on this issue, and Kris Kobach has been such a prominent advocate for concerns about noncitizens voting and other fraudulent behavior. He essentially led the Trump commission on vote fraud and integrity and he has been a lightning rod — which makes him a hero to people on his side of the argument in trying to tighten up voting laws, but makes him kind of a mischief-maker and a distraction for people who are on the other side," said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Courts have temporarily blocked Kobach from fully enforcing the Kansas law, with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver calling it "a mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right." The trial before U.S District Judge Julie Robinson in Kansas City, Kansas, centers on the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the Motor Voter Law, which allows people to register to vote when applying for a driver's license. Robinson will decide whether Kobach has legal authority to demand such citizenship paperwork, and a key consideration will be whether Kansas has a significant problem with noncitizens registering to vote. Dale Ho, director for the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union said the case is about what national standards the U.S. will have for voter registration.
"It is also a case about this false narrative of noncitizens participating in elections — which Kobach has said for years has been happening in large amounts — and now we are going to see his evidence," Ho said. "His evidence is going to be put on the stand in open court for a federal judge to rule on, and I think the public will finally get to see how little evidence he actually has."
Kobach's office didn't respond to an interview request ahead of the trial, but he has argued in court filings that the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud, contending that even a small number of noncitizens voting could sway a close election. No other state has been as aggressive as Kansas in imposing such proof-of-citizenship requirements. Alabama and Georgia have proof-of-citizenship laws that are not currently being enforced, according to the ACLU. Arizona is the only other state with a similar law in effect, but that law is far more lenient and allows people to satisfy it by writing their driver's license number on the voter registration form.
"All of these states are in limbo while we wait for courts to settle the dispute," Burden said, adding that other states might be interested in similar laws if Kobach prevails.
Kansas has about 1.8 million registered voters. Kobach has told the court he has been able to document a total of 127 noncitizens who at least tried to register to vote. Forty-three of them were successful in registering, he says, and 11 have voted since 2000. Five of those people registered at motor vehicle offices, according to Kobach. In the first three years after the Kansas law went into effect in 2013, about one in seven voter registration applications in Kansas were blocked for lack of proof of citizenship — with nearly half of them for people under the age of 30, according to court documents. Between 2013 and 2016, more than 35,000 Kansans were unable to register to vote. In temporarily blocking the law for people who register at driver's license offices, Robinson in May 2016 said it likely violates a provision in federal election law that requires only "minimal information"— such as an oath under penalty of perjury that the person is a citizen — to determine a voter's eligibility. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also has temporarily blocked the enforcement of the law for people who register to vote using the federal form in a separate legal challenge.
Kansas's New Party of the Center Joins with National Group
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Founders of a political group are trying to promote political candidates who believe in centrist positions, rather than being entrenched in the Republican or Democratic parties. The Party of the Center started in Lawrence with people frustrated by the two-primary political parties and independents. On Wednesday, the group announced it was joining with a Denver-based organization called Serve America Movement. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the two groups agreed to gather 18,000 signatures by June 1 to place third-party, centrist candidates on November ballots. Serve America Movement is launching a state-by-state campaign to promote centrist candidates. Sarah Lenti, CEO of Serve America Movement, said Kansas is the first of a handful of states the organization plans to work with this election year. Serve America Movement has no fundraising or spending limitations.
Wildfire Burning in Southwest Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A wildfire broke out in southwestern Kansas, burning 1,600 acres so far and forcing residents in the area to evacuate. Clark County Emergency Manager Millie Fudge says firefighters stopped the fire Monday about three miles south of Ashland, but it has broken off toward the east and the fire is not yet contained. Local, state and Oklahoma firefighters are responding to the blaze on the ground and with an air tanker. Fudge says the blaze began when a truck caught fire on Kansas 160 outside Ashland, and quickly spread with the help of 20-30 mph winds. By early afternoon the fire was 3 miles long. Fudge doesn't know if the fire destroyed any homes. She says the sparsely populated area outside of Ashland, which is most threatened, has been evacuated.
Kansas Wheat Condition Degrades Amid Ongoing Dry Weather
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government report shows the deteriorating condition of the Kansas winter wheat crop amid the ongoing parched weather. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 50 percent of the state's wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition. The remaining crop was rated as 37 percent fair, 12 percent good and 1 percent excellent. Topsoil moisture supplies are rated as short or very short across 76 percent of Kansas.
Police: 1 Dead in Late-Night Shooting in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say a person has died in a shooting in central Kansas City, Missouri. Police say in a news release that the shooting happened just after 10 pm Friday, when officers were called to the 5100 block of Paseo for a report of shots fired. Police say shortly afterward, a person with gunshot wounds was brought to an area hospital in a car. The person was later pronounced dead. Police had not released the victim's name or details of the shooting and had not announced any arrests by midday Saturday.
Officer Clinging to Car when Motorist Drives Away in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man has driven off with a Wichita police officer clinging to an open car door and hit two parked vehicles. Police said in a news release that the officer was able to pull himself into the car before the collision and sustained only minor injuries. Police say a "struggle ensued" Saturday after officers attempted to take the man into custody during a traffic stop. The release says one of the officers was clinging to the car when the driver got the car in gear and accelerated. Police say that after crashing into two vehicles in a driveway, the motorist fled through the car's sunroom and hasn't been found. A female passenger was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia and obstruction.
Former Kansas Governor Sebelius Endorses State Senator Kelly in Current Governor's Race
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has endorsed Democratic state Senator Laura Kelly in the Kansas governor's race. Kelly touted the backing of Sebelius as the Kansas Democratic Party began an annual two-day convention Friday in Kelly's hometown of Topeka. Sebelius served as Kansas governor from 2003 until she became former President Barack Obama's HHS secretary in April 2009. She remains influential in Democratic Party circles. Kelly is part of an already crowded race for the Democratic nomination. Rival Democratic candidate and former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty issued a statement saying it's not surprising that Sebelius would endorse Kelly because they were neighbors for years in Topeka. Svaty pointed to former Democratic Governor John Carlin's support for him. Carlin was governor from 1979 through 1986.
Judge Weighs Science Behind Monsanto Roundup Cancer Claim
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — International agencies, U.S. and foreign regulators and agribusiness giant Monsanto have already evaluated claims that the active ingredient in Monsanto's widely used weed killer Roundup can cause cancer. Now, a federal judge in San Francisco will conduct his own review during an unusual set of court hearings starting Monday. The case has big stakes for Monsanto and hundreds of farmers and others who have sued the company. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria will spend a week hearing from experts to help decide whether there is valid scientific evidence to support the claim that exposure to Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Chhabria is presiding over more than 300 lawsuits against Monsanto by cancer victims and their families who say the company knew about Roundup's cancer risk but failed to warn them.
Kansas Woman Sentenced to Prison for $10M Embezzlement
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a Kansas woman has been sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars from the credit union where she worked. The U.S. attorney's office said in a news release that Nita Rae Nirschl of Parsons was ordered Monday to pay more than $10 million in restitution. The 66-year-old woman was an officer and employee at the Parsons Pittsburg Credit Union. She pleaded guilty in December to one count each of embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. Prosecutors say she used the stolen money to buy a car, house and other items. After an audit found the credit union was insolvent, it was placed in conservatorship and ultimately liquidated in March 2014. Nirshal began working for the credit union in 2000 and was fired in 2014.
Johnson County Jail Inmate Found Unresponsive in Cell, Dies
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Officials say a prisoner has died after being found unresponsive in her cell at the Johnson County Detention Center in Olathe. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office says in a news release that 59-year-old Wanda Denise Kendrick was found unconscious in her cell Friday morning while jail staff were conducting a welfare check. Staff attempted to resuscitate her, and she was taken to a nearby hospital. She was declared dead later that afternoon. Officials say Kendrick was alone in the cell. She had been jailed since February 23 on two counts of misdemeanor theft and one count of obstructing legal process. Officials say they don't know how she died, and an investigation is being conducted.
First Responder Accused of Spitting on Child and Using Slur
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police say charges are pending against a person identified as a first responder who allegedly spit on and called a child by a racial slur in a suburban Kansas City restaurant. The incident happened Monday night at a Hooters restaurant in Overland Park. Police Sgt. John Lacy told The Kansas City Star that the suspect is a first responder, but didn't say for which agency. Lacy says the person doesn't work in Kansas. Police told KCTV that possible charges could include battery and making a criminal threat. Police haven't released the person's name. Witnesses and family members of the child told police the suspect called the child, who is black, a slur while saying someone should get the child "up off the floor." Police say the boy's family was at the restaurant celebrating a birthday.
Lawrence Wants High Schoolers to Get More Zzzzs
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence is making plans for its high schools to start 25 minutes later in August 2019 because research shows teens need the sleep. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that school board member Rick Ingram has long called for later start times. He cites research that indicates it improves academic performance, attendance and graduation rates while reducing tardiness, teen vehicle accident rates and sports injuries. This past week, the board directed staff to begin planning to start high school classes at 8:30 am during the 2019-2020 school year. Planning for the change will include forums with students, parents and staff. The district will also meet with its busing contractor. It's estimated that the change will add $100,000 per year to district transportation costs.
Ex-Olathe South Teacher Sentenced for Sex with Student
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former Olathe South High School teacher who engaged in a sexual relationship with a student has been sentenced to three years of probation. As part of a plea deal, 43-year-old Michael Jasiczek will serve 10 days of "shock time" in jail and will have to register as a sex offender. The Kansas City Star reports the former sociology teacher said he began treatment after he was charged in June. Jasiczek was an assistant football coach at Olathe South High School until May, when he was placed on administrative leave. He pleaded guilty in January to engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse and lewd touching with a student over the age of 16. A third fondling charge was dropped.
Deadly Shooting Under Investigation in Kansas City, Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a deadly shooting in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say a man in his 40s died at the scene Saturday night. WDAF-TV reported that a few hundred people gathered at the location when the shooting happened. No other details were immediately released, including the name of the man.
Suspect Arrested in Woman's Fatal Shooting in Dodge City
DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Ford County authorities charged an 18-year-old man with first-degree murder after a woman was shot to death in Dodge City. The Dodge City Globe reports Boston Cole Boswell was charged Monday in the death of 27-year-old Shantel Rose Winkler of Howell. The Ford County Sheriff's office received a report of a shooting Sunday morning at Dodge City motel. They found Winkler dead of a single gunshot wound to the head. Boswell made his first appearance Monday. He is being held on $500,000 cash bond.