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Headlines for Thursday, January 16, 2020

Kansas Governor Pushes for Highway Plan, Medicaid Expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is calling for a new program to improve the state's roads and bridges and has urged state lawmakers to approve a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan. In her annual State of the State address Wednesday, the Democratic governor warned the Republican-controlled Legislature that she is likely to veto the income tax cuts that GOP lawmakers are pursuing. Kelly promised her own tax cuts but signaled that they will be relatively modest initiatives dealing with the sales tax on groceries and property taxes. Kelly called for a new transportation program to follow one the state is winding down.  (Read more about this story.) 

Listen to the governor's entire State of the State speech, as well as the Republican response, delivered by House Speaker Ron Ryckman.

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Kansas Governor Seeks to Use Cash Reserves to Pay off Debt

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is proposing that Kansas burn through more than half of its cash reserves to pay off some debt early. The proposed budget she released Thursday would do that while taking longer to close a long-term funding gap for the state pension system for teachers and government workers. Kelly's budget director, Larry Campbell, outlined her spending blueprint during a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees. He called it a “plan to restore fiscal responsibility.” Her spending plan anticipates expanding Kansas' Medicaid program at a cost of $35 million a year to the state. 

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Kansas Abortion Measure's Fate May Rest on When Vote is Set

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The fate of a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution could depend more on when it would appear on the ballot than the language being considered by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Supporters of the proposal for overturning last year's Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights announced Thursday that they want to put their measure on the August primary ballot. They believe the measure has a better chance of passing in that lower-turnout election than in the November general election. But some moderate Republicans want the question decided in the higher-turnout election and worry about the measure helping conservative candidates in a primary.

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Democrats Add Kansas 2nd Congressional District Seat to List of Targets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An arm of the national Democratic Party has added Republican Rep. Steve Watkins's seat in Kansas to its list of targeted congressional races this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Thursday in a memo that the 2nd District of eastern Kansas “presents an opportunity.” The group's announcement came less than two weeks after Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla launched her campaign for the seat as a Democrat. Watkins is a former Army officer who won the seat by less than 1 percentage point in November 2018 after emerging from a crowded GOP primary with less than 27% of the vote. 

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Kansas Says It's Better Prepared Now for Aviation Layoffs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia says the state is better prepared today to respond to layoffs from the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max than it was during the Great Recession, when it had to borrow money to prop up its unemployment insurance trust fund. That fund now has about $1 billion in it — money that could be tapped now for its shared work program that helps pay worker salaries to keep them on the job. Spirit AeroSystems announced last week plans to layoff off 2,800 workers. Since then, 10 companies have inquired about the program. 

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Former Highway Patrol Superintendent Seeks Reinstatement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas Highway Patrol superintendent is asking the state Supreme Court to force Gov. Laura Kelly to reinstate him. Mark Bruce resigned under pressure in April after questions arose about an alleged domestic violence incident involving another official in the patrol. Bruce filed a petition Wednesday asking the state Supreme Court to order Kelly and the patrol to rehire him as a major. Bruce says he wants to clear his name. He says he's asked Kelly and the patrol to reinstate him several times but they have refused. Kelly spokeswoman Dena Sattler said the governor’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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Attorney: Kansas Researcher Denies Concealing Chinese Work

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for a Kansas researcher accused of concealing work he was doing for China while employed at the University of Kansas is hitting back against a new indictment against his client. Lawyer Peter Zeidenberg said Thursday that the case against Feng “Franklin” Tao has nothing to do with the Chinese government's alleged attempts to obtain U.S. intellectual property. A superseding indictment charged Tao with two counts of wire fraud and one count of program fraud for failing to disclose on conflict-of-interest forms the work he was doing for China while employed at the University of Kansas.

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Kansas AG Wants to Crack Down on Indoor Vaping

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's top prosecutor wants to crack down on indoor vaping. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday in a news release that he wants the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act to also cover vaping and has crafted legislation to make the change. The law prohibits smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, bars and restaurants. Schmidt says there is “no logical reason to protect indoor vaping in public places where indoor smoking is already prohibited by law.” Schmidt said that medical professionals suggest secondhand vape aerosol particles, like secondhand smoke, are harmful to people who inhale them.  

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Man Suing over Police Shooting Seeks Help Locating Officer

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A man wounded by a rookie Kansas police officer who mistakenly drew her gun instead of her Taser has been unable to find her to serve her with an excessive force lawsuit. Akira Lewis's attorney said in a court filing that she has sought assistance from law enforcement, a process service company and a private investigator to locate former Officer Brindley Blood, who shot Lewis in March 2018. But the filing said the efforts have been unsuccessful. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the court will decide whether to approve serving Blood through newspaper publication.

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Man Booked into Jail After Sister's Body Found in Kansas

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) —  A man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his sister in Overland Park. Twenty-seven-year-old Parker Mays of Lawrence, was charged Thursday in the death of 22-year-old Layne Mays. His is being held on $1 million bond. Police say Layne Mays's mother found her body Tuesday in her parents' Overland Park home. Police have not yet said how she died. A Kansas State University spokeswoman said Layne Mays was enrolled there through the fall 2019 semester but was not enrolled for the upcoming spring semester. She studied animal science and rode with the school's equestrian team.

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71-Year-Old Driver Charged with Hitting, Killing Kansas Girl

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) —  A 71-year-old man has been charged with striking and killing a 14-year-old girl as she walked home from her suburban Kansas City school last year. Sudhir Gandhi, of Lenexa, is jailed on $50,000 bond after he was charged Wednesday with reckless second-degree murder in the death of Alexandra Rumple. Gandhi initially told investigators that his brakes failed in April before his car careened onto an Overland Park sidewalk, where it struck Rumple and narrowly missed three other children. Rumple was an eighth-grader at a nearby middle school. Police say the car also hit a traffic light and wooden fencing.

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Sunflower Electric Abandons Proposed Kansas Coal Power Plant

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sunflower Electric Power Corp. has abandoned its proposed coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas after nearly 15 years of pushing for the project, handing a huge victory to environmentalists who opposed the plan from the start. The utility said in a news release Wednesday that it will allow the air permit for the Holcomb expansion project to expire on March 27. Sunflower Electric already operates one plant near Holcomb and had proposed building an adjacent $2.2 billion, 895-megawatt facility. Sunflower Electric and development partner, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, together invested more than $100 million in the now-abandoned project.

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Payless ShoeSource Emerges from Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

NEW YORK (AP) - Payless ShoeSource has emerged from bankruptcy for the second time, with a focus on international markets. The Topeka-based company says it wants to reinvigorate its largest business unit, Latin America. It also will relaunch its U.S. e-commerce site and open some stores in the U.S. but didn't offer details. Payless filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2019 and shuttered the remaining 2,000-plus stores in North America. The latest bankruptcy filing didn't affect its 710 franchises or stores in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The chain previously filed for Chapter 11 in April 2017.

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Jurors Acquit Teen Who Said He Didn't Know Gun Was Loaded

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas teen who said he didn't know a gun was loaded when he fatally shot a 14-year-old friend has been acquitted of second-degree murder. The Kansas City Star reports that the jury delivered its verdict Wednesday in the case against the Roeland Park teen, who was 13 years old in August when he shot and killed Zavier Mendoza in a home in nearby Olathe. The teen, who is now 14, was with with Mendoza and two other teens when the group found a handgun while stealing from cars and played with the gun. The defendant said he didn't realize it was loaded.

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Man Charged with Fatally Stabbing Sister's Ex-Boyfriend

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Pittsburg man has been charged with fatally stabbing his sister's ex-boyfriend during a Wichita fight. KFDI-FM reports that 24-year-old Morgan Prager made his first appearance Wednesday in Sedgwick County District Court on charges of second degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He is jailed on $250,000 bond. Wichita police say officers responded Saturday to an assault call and found 19-year-old Vincent Venturella suffering from a severe neck laceration. Police say the men had fought about Prager's sister. Venturella died Monday night. Prager was arrested in Pittsburg. 

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Survey of Plains, Western Bankers Says Rural Economy Growing

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers suggests the economy is growing in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. The survey released Thursday showed that the overall index for rural parts of the region improved to 55.9 in January from December's 50.2. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says hiring remains strong across the region. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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Upgraded Charges Expected After Wichita Baby Dies

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 9-month-old Wichita girl who was seriously injured earlier this week has died. Police say Maela Flores died Wednesday after being in critical condition since Friday. Her mother's boyfriend, 25-year-old Brietan Ron Rader, was charged Tuesday with two counts of child abuse and two drug charges after the girl was injured. Wichita office Charley Davidson said he expects Rader will be charged with first-degree murder in Maela's death. Police said earlier that Rader was arrested after officers found the girl critically injured in an apartment that had a marijuana-growing operation. Investigators determined the girl's injuries happened while Rader was caring for her.

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Actress Charged in Mom's Stabbing Death Claims Self-Defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Court records say an actress accused of killing her mom in suburban Kansas City told 911 operators and police that she was acting in self-defense. But medical examiners found no signs to support her claims. Thirty-eight-year-old Mollie Fitzgerald had a small role in the movie "Captain America: The First Avenger." She's charged with second-degree murder in the death last month of 68-year-old Patricia Fitzgerald. Court records show she told police her mom tried to stab her and she managed to take away the knife. The records were released Tuesday, the same day that a judge ordered that Mollie Fitzgerald undergo a mental competency evaluation.

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Person of Interest in Custody in Kansas Homicide Inquiry

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have taken a person of interest into custody after a mother found her adult daughter dead in a suburban Kansas City home. The Kansas City Star reports that police were called around 1:30 pm Tuesday to the Overland Park subdivision where the body of the woman who was in her 20s was found. Police haven't released the woman's identify or her cause of death. But police spokesman Officer John Lacy says it appears to be "domestic in nature."  

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Missouri Congressman's Opponent Apologizes for Cosby-Related Tweet

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Democrat running against Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver in this year's primary has apologized after incorrectly accusing the incumbent of having a picture of convicted sex offender Bill Cosby under his desk. Maite Salazar, of Kansas City, retweeted a suggestion this month that the photo showed Cosby. The picture actually shows the late singer Al Jarreau. Salazar posted a video apology on Facebook Monday. Salazar is a progressive candidate running a low-budget campaign. Cleaver's political director, Phil Scaglia, says it is “unfortunate” that Salazar chose to attack Cleaver in such a disrespectful manner.  

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New Law on Polling Places Likely Won't be Ready this Year

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary of State Scott Schwab says it is unlikely a new law that allows Kansans to vote at the polling station most convenient to them will be in place for this year's election.  Schwab told the state Senate election committee Tuesday that technical considerations made drafting regulations for the law difficult, meaning the program won't be ready until next year. He says if his office tried to rush the process for this year, mistakes would be made. The change was part of a voting reform bill signed last year by Gov. Laura Kelly.

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Company Closes Boonville Hospital with Short Notice

BOONVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas hospital company abruptly closed a central Missouri hospital because of regulatory issues. Pinnacle Regional Hospital announced Wednesday that its Boonville hospital would close by the end of the day. The hospital said in a statement that conversations with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services led officials to decide it would be too costly to bring the hospital into compliance and make necessary repairs. Boonville, a town of about 8,400 people, will also lose a clinic and a rehab facility. Emergency department staff will remain at the hospital for two weeks to help walk-in patients. Pinnacle is based in Overland Park.

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