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Headlines for Friday, February 27, 2015

Kansas Tax Collections Exceed Expectations by More than $22M in February

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas collected $22 million more in taxes than expected this month. The Department of Revenue reported Friday that the state collected almost $310 million in taxes in February, when it anticipated taking in $287 million. The surplus is 7.7 percent. The numbers are good news for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators, but they don't solve the state's budget problems. Officials must close a budget shortfall that had been projected at nearly $600 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Tax collections for the current fiscal year, starting in July 2014, still remain behind expectations, after falling short in December and January. During those eight months, the state collected $3.55 billion in taxes, when it expected $3.6 billion. The difference is $37 million, about 1 percent.

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Kansas Supreme Court Suspends Sedgwick County Judge 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a 90-day, unpaid suspension for Sedgwick County District Judge Timothy H. Henderson for violating the code of judicial conduct. The ruling handed down Friday comes after a finding by the Judicial Qualifications Commission that Henderson had sexually harassed female attorneys and staff. The panel had also found that he tried to prejudice an attorney because of the judge's personal views and had tried to use his office to get his wife a job. The court also ordered Henderson to complete within a year a course in sexual harassment, and file a report with the court detailing his training. It further prohibited him from supervising any judicial branch employee other than his chambers staff for two years after that training.

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Kansas Senate Approves Bill to Change Local Elections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has passed a bill that would move city and local school board elections from the spring to the fall of odd-numbered years. The vote Thursday night was 21-18 and sends the measure to the House. Supporters of the measure argue that it will increase turnout in local elections because people are used to voting in November. City and school board elections currently are held in April, with primaries in late February or early March. Turnout is often low. But critics of the bill said there's no compelling reason for a change and that it will cause administrative problems for local officials. Also, city elections must be nonpartisan now, and the bill would allow cities to make them partisan.

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Kansas Senators Question Governor's Rural Opportunity Plan 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas senators have expressed skepticism over the usefulness of Governor Sam Brownback's Rural Opportunity Zones program.  Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are questioning whether the program, which is designed to attract people to the state's rural areas, will actually bolster rural economies. The program, which covers 77 counties that make up a large portion of western and southeastern Kansas, provides incentives like student loan forgiveness and waived income taxes to persuade people to move to rural areas.  The Department of Revenue estimates that 330 people will receive income tax waivers for 2014, which will cost the state about $800,000 in revenue.  Chris Harris of the Business and Community Development Division of the Kansas Department of Commerce said those individuals will have an economic impact of $44 million in the state.  

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Kansas House Passes Drunk Driving Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas House approved two bills changing the states' penalties for driving under the influence.  The full House voted on the bills Thursday. One measure would increase penalties for drunk drivers who cause bodily harm to others in accidents, and the other would allow convicted drunk drivers to have the offense expunged from their record earlier. Republican Representative John Rubin of Shawnee said he supported sending a strong message by stiffening penalties on drunken drivers who cause harm. Democratic Representative John Carmichael of Wichita said he supported allowing drunk drivers to expunge the offense from their record after five years because it would only apply to their first offense and prevent it from doing excessive harm to their employment opportunities. Both bills now will move to the Senate. 

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Kansas Senate Advances Plan to Issue $1B in Pension Bonds
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to a proposal described by supporters as refinancing part of the long-term debt facing the pension system for teachers and government workers. The bill advanced Thursday would authorize $1 billion in bonds to shore up the financial health of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Senators expected to take a final vote late in the day. The pension system projects a $9.8 billion shortfall in funding for retirees' benefits through June 2033. Lawmakers have moved in recent years to close the gap, but the bill would give KPERS an infusion of funds quickly. The measure anticipates the state taking 10 years longer, until 2043, to close the shortfall while reducing the state's annual costs. Critics questioned whether such a move is prudent.

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Kansas House Delays Vote on Bill Easing Marijuana Penalties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers are delaying action on a bill that would reduce sentences for the first two marijuana possession offenses. The House chose Thursday to return the measure to a panel for further discussion rather than vote on it or discard it. Most bills had to be passed by their chamber of origin by Friday or be tabled for the remainder of the session. The bill would eliminate the possibility that an offender would face prison time until their third marijuana conviction unless they had serious prior convictions. Republican Representative John Rubin of Shawnee said he was disappointed the measure did not pass because it would ease strain on Kansas's overfilling prisons.  Kansas prisons already are crowded and are expected to be 7 percent over capacity by 2024. 

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Kansas House, Senate Approve Teacher Bargaining Bills

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators appear to be embracing a compromise proposal for rewriting the rules for collective bargaining between teachers' unions and local school boards. The House and Senate passed separate bills Thursday that have the support of teachers' unions and school board and administrator associations. They reflect a compromise among the groups in January. The House voted 109-14 to pass its bill, while the Senate voted 40-0 for its measure. State law currently compels the two sides to bargain on 31 issues each negotiations cycle. The House bill would require them to discuss only salary and work hours, but would allow each side to make five other issues mandatory topics. The Senate bill would allow three mandatory topics in addition to salary and hours.

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Kansas Senate Wants to Allow Concealed Guns Without Permit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill to allow people to carry concealed guns without requiring them to get a state permit or take training classes. The vote Thursday was 31-7 and sends the measure to the House. The bill is sponsored by 26 of the chamber's 40 members, led by Majority Leader Terry Bruce. A state concealed carry permit costs $132.50, and a person must undergo eight hours of training to get one. Gun-rights groups note Kansas has long allowed the open carrying of weapons without a state permit. The bill's critics say training should be mandated for people carrying concealed weapons. The National Rifle Association says Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming don't require permits to carry concealed anywhere in the state.

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Missouri Man Charged in Triple Shooting in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 22-year-old man is charged in a shooting near the University of Kansas campus that injured three people. The Lawrence Journal-World reports court records show Caleb Chrisman of Grain Valley, Missouri was charged Wednesday with aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary and three counts of aggravated kidnapping. The three men injured in the February 8 shooting have all been released from the hospital. Investigators have said at least two people fled from the scene after the shooting. Lawrence police spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley says the investigation into other possible suspects is continuing. Chrisman is being held in the Douglas County Jail on a $500,000 bond. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney to discuss the charges.

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Kansas Democratic Party Exec Director to Take Job in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Political veteran Jason Perkey, who served as executive director of the Democratic Party in Kansas for the past two years, is the new executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party. State Party Chair Jaime Harrison announced Perkey's hiring Friday. He's a graduate of Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina and has a law degree from Vermont Law School. Perkey has also worked on campaigns for federal, state and local offices in Kentucky, Illinois and Virginia. He is currently president of the Association of State Democratic Executive Directors.

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Sedgwick Sheriff Seeking Public's Help in Death Investigation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office is seeking the public's help in the investigation of an Oklahoma man's death. Sheriff's investigators are working with law enforcement agencies from both states to find those responsible for the death of 56-year-old Dale Childress of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Authorities are asking for information leading to the whereabouts of a dark-colored, four-door Buick LeSabre with a model year between 2001 and 2005. Childress was named in a search warrant in connection with the shooting deaths of 37-year-old Jennifer Sudar and 26-year-old Amanda Douglas outside a Tulsa apartment complex. Childress' body was found last week in the Wichita area with a gunshot wound.

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Pittsburg State, City of Pittsburg Swap Land Parcels 

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Pittsburg State University and the city of Pittsburg have agreed to swap land in a deal designed to help both entities expand. The trade was ratified Tuesday by the City Commission but must be approved by the Kansas Legislature. The Joplin Globe reports that the university agreed to give 72 acres to the city, which wants to use it for home building. In return, the city will give Pittsburg State one 25-acre site and another 5-acre site. City manager Daron Hall says the trade does not involve any money. Hall says the city badly needs new housing developments. University official Chris Kelly says the university has no immediate plans for its new land but it will be available for future development.

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Prosecutor: Fake, Rather Than Real Bomb, Irrelevant to Plot 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say charges against a man accused of trying to blow up the Wichita airport should not be thrown out, even though the explosives used in an undercover sting were fake. Terry Loewen was arrested in December 2013 when the former avionics technician tried to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport. Loewen has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in a suicide plot, and other charges. His attorneys contend that because the bomb would not explode, it did not meet the legal definition of a "destructive device." But the government countered Friday that it would "eviscerate" undercover operations if it could not probe the willingness of a self-described terrorist to detonate a bomb at an airport.

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Nebraska Judge Gives Kansas Man 9 Years for Scam Targeting Elderly

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Lincoln judge has sentenced a Kansas man to nine years in prison for a scam he conducted that targeted elderly people. U.S District Judge John Gerrard on Friday ordered 53-year-old Thomas Whitlow, of Kansas City, to pay $17,521 in restitution in addition to his prison sentence. Jurors found Whitlow guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in November. Prosecutors say Whitlow had his wife scour online obituaries and search for phone numbers of the relatives of the dead. Authorities say he then called, claiming to be a family member in need of cash, and had the money wired to him on at least 12 occasions. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that Whitlow has denied involvement in the scam. He says he plans to appeal the ruling.

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Report: Everest Most Popular Kansas Hard Red Wheat Variety

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government report shows that two varieties of winter wheat developed by Kansas State University are the leading varieties planted in the state. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that Everest is the top hard red winter wheat variety of all wheat seeded in Kansas. Everest accounts for 15.8 percent of planted acres for the 2015 crop, and it's the favorite in the eastern two-thirds of the state. It is followed in popularity by the TAM 111 variety with 9.1 percent of the acreage. Coming in third is T158, with 5.1 percent of the acreage. Among hard white wheat varieties, Danby was the Kansas favorite, accounting for just under half of the state's white wheat. Most of the state's white wheat is planted in southwestern Kansas.

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Police: 7 Fatally Shot, Gunman Dead in Southeastern Missouri

TYRONE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a man who may have been unhinged by the death of his ailing mother went on a house-to-house shooting rampage in a small town in the Missouri Ozarks, killing seven people before taking his own life. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says 36-year-old Joseph Jesse Aldridge of Tyrone, Missouri, carried out the killings with a handgun Thursday night or early Friday. The patrol says four of the dead were cousins of Aldridge, ranging in age from 47 to 52. Authorities say the names of three other victims and a person wounded were being withheld until relatives could be notified. Investigators say Aldridge's 74-year-old mother was found dead of apparently natural causes.

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Chiefs Waive Tight End Anthony Fasano 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs waived veteran tight end Anthony Fasano on Thursday, freeing up about $2 million in salary cap space that they could use to keep All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston. The Chiefs have been unable to come to a long-term deal with Houston, making it likely that they will place the franchise tag on him. But the deadline for that designation is Monday, and the Chiefs needed to free up salary cap space to do it. If franchised, Houston would play next season on a one-year deal worth about $13 million. Fasano, who turns 31 this year, caught 25 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns last season. He had two years left on his four-year contract.

 

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