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Headlines for Wednesday, January 15, 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.

(You can hear Governor Kelly's complete 2020 State of the State address and the Republican response by clicking here.)

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DHS Briefs Kansas Lawmakers on Business, Agriculture Threats

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators say they have been told in secret briefings that foreign governments are trying to get proprietary information about business and agricultural assets in the state. Participants in the first briefing Tuesday said the extraordinary events involved a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official. Lawmakers also said they were warned to be careful about opening emails from foreign sources. But they also said they did not hear about immediate threats. Legislators saw the briefings as highly unusual because they were conducted on a former Air Force base south of Topeka. Reporters and legislative staffers were not allowed to attend.

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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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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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Russell Stover to Cut Jobs in Some Areas, Add Jobs Elsewhere

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Russell Stover Chocolates plans to close some facilities and cut 400 jobs, which will be offset by new hires in some states. The company announced Tuesday it will close plants in Butler, Missouri, and Cookeville, Tennessee. The lost jobs will be offset by about 300 new jobs created by expansions in Abilene and Iola, Kansas, and Corsicana, Texas. Russell Stover also will close its Montrose, Colorado, location in 2021 and several low-traffic stores during the next year. The longtime Kansas City company was purchased by Switzerland-based Lindt & Sprungli in 2014. The company says the changes are part of a consolidation process began in 2018.  

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"A Place for Mom" to Hire More than 600 Employees in Kansas

A Place for Mom, a senior care referral service, plans to hire more than 600 employees and open a new Overland Park office. The Seattle-based company says hiring is already underway and will occur over five years. It plans to open a temporary office next week and then build a new office in Overland Park. The firm will receive about $12 million in state incentives. The Kansas Department of Commerce awarded the economic development incentives through seven state programs. A Place for Mom helps families find nursing homes and senior care services for elderly family members.

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Kansas 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, Kansas. 

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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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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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UPDATE: 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.

(–earlier reporting–)

Man Charged with Critically Injuring Girlfriend's Baby

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors allege in court documents that a Kansas man shook his girlfriend's 9-month-old daughter and either tortured or “cruelly beat" her before she was found with critical injuries amid a marijuana-growing operation. The Wichita Eagle reports that 25-year-old Brietan Ron Rader was charged Tuesday in Sedgwick County District Court with two counts of child abuse and one count each of marijuana cultivation and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was arrested Friday at an apartment where investigators determined that the girl was injured while in his care. He is jailed on $250,000 bond.

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Truck Hauling Cattle Overturns in Thick Kansas Fog

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a truck hauling cattle has overturned in thick fog in Kansas. The crash happened around 3:20 a.m. Tuesday on U.S. 54 less than 10 miles (16.09 kilometers) east of El Dorado. The Butler County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post that loose cattle are being corralled and taken offsite. Other than cattle, there are no known injuries.

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Rival GOP Hopefuls in Kansas Senate Race Both Talk to Trump

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Rival Kansas Senate candidates Kris Kobach and Rep. Roger Marshall have talked to President Donald Trump as some Republicans hope Marshall can keep the polarizing conservative Kobach from winning the GOP nomination. Marshall's campaign confirmed that the western Kansas congressman met Monday with Trump in the Oval Office. His campaign said in a statement Tuesday only that, "It was a positive meeting." Kobach said Tuesday that Trump called him Monday from Air Force One to talk to him about the Senate race and immigration issues. Kobach has advised Trump regularly about immigration issues since Trump's campaign for president in 2016.

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Indictment: Kansas Researcher Secretly Worked for China

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A revised indictment alleges a Kansas associate professor with concealed work he was doing for China while employed at the University of Kansas and tried to recruit other researchers and students for the Chinese government. A superseding indictment filed Wednesday charges 47-year-old Feng “Franklin” Tao of Lawrence, Kansas, with two counts of wire fraud and one count of program fraud for failing to disclose  the work he was doing for China while employed at the university in Kansas. Prosecutors say some of the Tao's research  was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. His defense attorney did not immediately return after-hours phone and email messages.

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Man Suspected in Wichita Death of Man Whose Body is Missing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 53-year-old Wichita man is jailed on suspicion of second-degree murder even as police continue to search for the alleged victim's body. Wichita police Capt. Brent Allred says Jeffrey Hill was arrested Monday. He says a man reported that Hill was involved in a homicide in December and the victim's body was buried somewhere outside Wichita. Allred says investigators determined the victim was 50-year-old Jeffrey Jones of Hutchinson, an acquaintance of Hill's. KAKE-TV reports evidence and witness statements led police to Hill. Allred says police are trying to determine a motive for Jones' death.

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Moody's Downgrades Debt Rating for Largest Boeing Supplier

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the debt rating for Spirit AeroSystems to junk-bond status after the major supplier of fuselages for Boeing's troubled 737 Max announced massive layoffs last week. Monday's downgrade comes after Spirit announced on Friday that it was laying off 2,800 workers in Wichita and that it planned smaller workforce reductions later this month at its plants in Tulsa and McAlester, Oklahoma. Spirit produced about 70% of the 737 Max, including the fuselage and other major components. Contracts with Boeing for the Max represents more than half of Spirit's annual income.

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Prosecutors: Olathe Police Officers Who Shot at Teens Were Justified

OLATHE, Kan. - A prosecutor has ruled that two suburban Kansas City police officers were justified in shooting at a pair of teenagers and wounding one of them. The Kansas City Star reports that Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said this week in announcing his finding, that the Olathe officers had fired in self defense in November. A news release said an officer encountered two 16-year-olds while investigating possible car burglaries. Both teens face charges in the struggle.

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Woman Admits Bringing 60 Pounds of Meth Through Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 46-year-old California woman has admitted to bringing 60 pounds (27 kilograms) of methamphetamine through Kansas. Federal prosecutors say Maria Alvarez-Buenrostro pleaded guilty Monday to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Kansas troopers stopped her car Feb. 12, 2019, in Ellis County for a lane violation. A trooper found the drugs in 33 heat-sealed bags hidden in rear quarter panels and in both rear doors. According to the plea agreement, Alvarez-Buenrostro admitted she was taking the drugs to a dealer to sell. She will be sentenced April 16. She is facing at least 10 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $10 million.

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Man Asks Judge's Leave for Sword Battle with Ex-Wife, Lawyer

HARLAN, Iowa (AP) — A Kansas man has asked an Iowa judge to let him engage in a sword fight with his ex-wife and her attorney so that he can "rend their souls" from their bodies. David Ostrom, of Paola, Kansas, said in a Jan. 3 court filing that his former wife and her attorney had destroyed him legally. The Ostroms have been embroiled in various disputes. His filing says the U.S. has never explicitly banned trial by combat. Her attorney asked the judge to reject the request. The judge says he won't be issuing any decisions soon, citing irregularities with both sides' motions and responses.

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New Plates in Kansas Will Emphasize Renewable Energy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will begin issuing new personalized license plates Wednesday that emphasize the state's growth in using renewable energy. The plates will feature wind turbines profiled against a sunrise. Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Mark Burghart says Kansas has become a leader in alternative energy. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a report last year said Kansas was the nation's top producer of wind energy, with more than 36% of total electricity coming from wind power. Residents can order the "Powering the Future" plates through their county treasurer's office for $45.50, plus normal registration fees and taxes.

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