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Headlines for Friday, January 16, 2015

Reports: President Obama to Visit KS Following State of the Union Address 

The Topeka Capital-Journal is reporting that President Barack Obama will visit Kansas next week following his State of the Union address. Joan Wagnon, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, told the paper that the party had received notification of the visit from the White House, and that the visit is scheduled to take place next Thursday, January 22. Wagnon said the party has not been told of the time of day or even location of the visit. President Obama last visited Kansas in 2011, delivering a speech in Osawatomie. 

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Kansas Budget Plans Call for $15B-Plus in Annual Spending 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's budget proposals call for more than $15 billion in total spending for the current and each of the next two fiscal years. The governor outlined spending plans Friday that would rebuild the state's cash reserves. Brownback outlined a revised budget for the current fiscal year of $15.6 billion in spending from all sources, including federal funds and fees. The figure for the 2016 fiscal year would be $15.3 billion. Total spending for fiscal 2017 would be $15.7 billion. The state's main bank account would finance $6.3 billion in spending in the current fiscal year and about $6.2 billion in each of the next two fiscal years. Cash reserves would be $72 million as of July, $88 million in July 2016 and $253 million in July 2017.

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KC-Area Republicans Push Back on Consumption Tax Proposal 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Johnson Country Republicans are pushing back against Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes to balance the state budget. Overland Park Senator Jim Denning said he opposes the higher consumption taxes because they would disproportionately affect Kansas City-area communities. Denning is vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Leawood Senator Jeff Melcher said the tax increases would drive shoppers across the border to Missouri. The governor wants to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages to 12 percent from 8 percent. The tax is paid by consumers at liquor stores and by businesses purchasing beer, wine and liquor. The cigarette tax would jump to $2.29 a pack from 79 cents and the tax on other tobacco products would jump to 25 percent from 10 percent.

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Kansas Governor's Plans to Delay Future Highway Projects 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's latest budget-balancing proposals divert $385 million from state highway projects over three years, and transportation officials say some future projects will at least be delayed. Brownback released a plan Friday to divert $151 million from highway projects to general government programs in the current budget. That's $55 million more than the $96 million he proposed in December. He proposed diverting an additional $115 million during the 2016 fiscal year beginning in July and $115 million again during fiscal 2017. The state Department of Transportation said projects already scheduled under a 10-year, $8 billion highway program will not be affected. The program started in 2010. But department spokesman Steve Swartz said $297 million in projects will at least be delayed. The projects haven't been identified or scheduled.

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Kansas Governor's Proposals Cut Public Broadcasting Funds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's plan for balancing the state's budget includes a cut in funding for public radio and television stations. Public broadcasting funds would drop by nearly 17 percent from current levels under proposals outlined by the Republican governor Friday. Legislators last year included $600,000 in the current budget for grants to public broadcasting stations. Brownback wants to cut the figure to $588,000. He also is proposing to reduce the funding again to $500,000 for the 2016 fiscal year beginning July 1. It would remain at $500,000 for fiscal year 2017. The state provided $3.8 million as recently as 2008. When Brownback took office in January 2011, he sought unsuccessfully to eliminate all state public broadcasting funds and have stations make up the gap with private donations.

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Governor Seeks $1.5B in Bonds for Kansas Pension System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is proposing that Kansas issue $1.5 billion in bonds and lengthen its schedule for closing a long-term funding gap to lower annual costs tied to pensions for teachers and government workers. The Republican governor outlined the measures Friday. Brownback described escalating annual public pension costs as a long-term concern. The state has committed to additional spending to bolster the long-term financial health of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Benefits are only 60 percent funded through 2033, but the commitments would help close the $9.8 billion shortfall by then. Brownback proposed extending the payoff period to 2043. Issuing bonds is designed to shrink the long-term shortfall immediately. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said KPERS' investment earnings would rise more than enough to offset annual bond payments.

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Kansas Democrats Say Little on Brownback's Budgetary Proposals 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Democrats in the Kansas Legislature have little to say so far about Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for balancing the state budget. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City said Friday they're reviewing Brownback's proposals. The governor's proposals include increases in tobacco and liquor taxes and a slower implementation of personal income tax cuts already promised for the future. The state is facing projected shortfalls totaling more than $710 million in the current budget and the one for the next fiscal year. Brownback's proposals would balance the budget through June 2017. Hensley and Burroughs said in a joint statement that they have concerns about several components but were not more specific. They said they'll comment further next week.

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Governor Says Kansas Will Continue Moving to Eliminate Income Tax

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican Governor Sam Brownback says budget problems won't prevent Kansas from continuing to move toward eliminating income taxes. In the annual State of the State address Thursday night, Brownback also called for overhauling the state's formula for distributing funding to public schools. But Brownback wasn't specific about how he plans to close projected shortfalls of more than $710 million in the state's current budget and the one for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. The governor said only that he will present proposals Friday to balance the budget through June 2017. The shortfalls occurred after legislators aggressively cut income taxes at Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. 

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Kansas Democrats Deliver Criticisms in Response to Governor's Address 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Democrats are accusing Republican Governor Sam Brownback of misleading voters about the state's financial condition and are labeling his tax-cutting policies a failure. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said in the Democratic rebuttal to Brownback's annual State of the State address Thursday night that personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013 caused state revenues to plummet. Hensley said the cuts failed to energize the state's economy. Brownback said in the address he prepared for delivery that the state is in good condition despite projected budget shortfalls and touted the tax cuts. Hensley also said that Democrats oppose shifting the burden for funding schools to local districts and diverting funds from highway projects to general government programs.

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Brownback Seeks Change in State Supreme Court Selection Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas needs a more democratic system for picking state Supreme Court justices. Brownback called for changing the selection process during the annual State of the State address Thursday night. An attorney-led nominating commission screens applicants for Supreme Court vacancies and names three finalists. The governor picks one, with no role for legislators. Brownback said either the governor should appoint each justice directly, subject to Senate confirmation, or justices should be elected, as they were before 1960. Either change would require amending the state constitution. Supporters say the current system minimizes partisan politics. Supreme Court members were present for Brownback's speech in the Kansas House chamber. They did not comment afterward, but Justice Eric Rosen flinched when Brownback suggested electing court members.

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State of the Judiciary Address Set for Next Week

Topeka, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss will deliver the State of the Judiciary address next Wednesday from the courtroom of the Supreme Court. The public can follow the address on the Kansas judiciary's website. Nuss said in a news release that he chose to webcast the address because of public interest into how the state budget shortfalls will affect the judiciary. Nuss will also provide a written report on the judiciary to the governor and state legislature as required by Kansas law.

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Children's Mercy Hospital Confirms 2 Flu-Related Deaths 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City hospital says it has confirmed two flu-related deaths that happened within the past two months, but a spokeswoman says rules prohibited her from providing additional information. Children's Mercy Hospital spokeswoman Jessica Salazar declined to provide ages or genders of the patients, but she said the hospital treats people between birth and 21 years old. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 45 children have died from the flu this season, including four in the region that includes Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. The CDC says 109 children in the U.S. died last year of the flu, which was a sharp decline from the 171 pediatric deaths reported in the 2013 flu season.

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Kobach Seeks Straight-Party Voting, Power to Prosecute Fraud 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is pushing bills to give himself prosecutorial power, to bring back straight-ticket voting and make death the only excuse for withdrawing a candidate's name from a ballot. Kobach told the House Elections Committee on Wednesday that double voting is happening with some frequency in Kansas and surrounding states, and that the only way to address it is by deterrence. When asked about the roughly 25,000 people who remain in voter limbo, he said they are able to vote because they can use smartphones to send in their birth certificates to prove their citizenship. He says straight-party voting would cut down on the number of people who come to the polls, vote in the major races and leave the rest of the ballot blank.

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Bombardier Announces Job Cuts in Mexico, Kansas 

MONTREAL (AP) — Bombardier says it's going to cut about 1,000 employees from its Learjet business in 2015, affecting sites in Mexico and the United States. The Montreal-based company said Thursday the cuts are due to weak demand for the Learjet 85 business jet. Bombardier will also write down the value of its Learjet 85 program, resulting in a pretax charge of about US$1.4 billion. The world's third-largest maker of commercial aircraft will also record US$25 million for severance in its first quarter of 2015. Bombardier says its operations in Wichita and in Queretaro, Mexico, remain important to the company for both the Learjet and other types of aircraft that it makes. The Wichita operation does final assembly for Learjet 70 and Learjet 75 aircraft and has a flight test and service center.

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Suspect Arrested in Mississippi in Lawrence Killing

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - An 18-year-old has been arrested in Mississippi in the killing of a Lawrence woman. Lawrence Police Sergeant Trent McKinley says the suspect was taken into custody Thursday morning in Greenville, Mississippi on suspicion of first-degree murder in the death of Justina Mosso. Police found her body November 9 at the Cedarwood Apartments while conducting a welfare check. Court documents also show that the suspect is also accused of committing aggravated burglary by entering Mosso's apartment.

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Kansas City Man Gets 4 Life Sentences in Murders

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas City man was sentenced to four concurrent life sentences for the murder of two men and the wounding of a woman. Twenty-two-year-old Bronson Joyce was sentenced Thursday in the 2011 deaths of 42-year-old Alphonso Nicholson and 61-year-old Claude L. Carson. He was given concurrent life sentences for two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action, along with two concurrent 15-year sentences for assault and armed criminal action. The Kansas City Star reports the shooting occurred during a drug deal because Joyce believed a woman with Nicholson was a snitch and shot them. Court records indicate he then shot Carson because he was a witness and a crack user. Joyce also told police that he had planned the killings for more than a month.

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Agriculture Department Funds Kansas Conservation Projects

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas has been awarded $13 million from the Agriculture Department for a multi-state project designed to improve water quality through the use of forestry practices. The award is among 100 projects across the nation funded through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program in the Farm Bill. The Natural Resources Conservation Service says in a news release that the project aims to sustain reservoir storage and wildlife habitat, improve drinking water supply and boost recreational uses. Kansas also received $2.4 million slated for irrigation water management on the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas. That project includes moisture probes and water metering that will give producers and crop consultants real-time monitoring. Another $800,000 is going to a Kansas project to improve management of pheasant habitat.

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Report: Kansas Student Financial Aid Not Covering Costs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says more Kansas college students are receiving Pell Grants but the money isn't covering the rising cost of attending a four-year college. The report delivered Thursday to the Kansas Board of Regents says more than 37 percent of four-year students in Kansas received Pell Grants last year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports more than 37 percent of students attending four-year universities in Kansas last year received Pell Grants. But the grants covered only 63 percent of tuition and fees, compared with 99 percent a decade ago. The information was part of a report about the Regents' long-range strategic plan, which includes the goal of increasing the higher education level in the state.

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Prison Lockdown Partially Lifted Following Attack on Officers

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson Correctional Facility officials have partially lifted a lockdown that was imposed after three corrections officers were injured in separate attacks. The lockdown was imposed at the prison's Central Unit after separate attacks on the officers Tuesday night. It was partially lifted early Thursday. Prison spokesman Dirk Moss says inmates were able to resume movement except in the cell house where the attacks occurred. Moss says C Cell House, with about 200 inmates, will remain on lockdown indefinitely. The Hutchinson News reports the officers were attacked only minutes apart when inmates were being released to the prison's pharmacy on Tuesday. No weapons were used in the attacks. Moss says the three officers were treated and released at a Hutchinson hospital. Two inmates were placed in segregation.

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Customer Arranges to Help Wichita Waiter Get Dental Work

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita waiter with a reputation for bringing smiles to his customers has a reason to smile himself these days. Brian Maixner cheerfully serves customers at Doo-Dah-Diner in downtown Wichita. But he is reluctant to smile because of missing teeth and painful infections. Last Saturday, one of his customers was Oklahoma lawyer Fred Boettcher, who has shared his good fortune by helping many people pay for dental work. The Wichita Eagle reports Boettcher was so impressed by Maixner's attitude that he offered to help him fix his smile. Boettcher made arrangements with his dentist and now all Maixner needs to do to achieve the perfect smile is make an appointment. Maixner says he's surprised by the offer but can't wait to show off his ear-to-ear grin.

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Teen Wounded in Shooting Near Kansas High School 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Olathe police say an 18-year-old man has been wounded in a shooting near a high school. The shooting was reported around 12:15 pm Thursday near Olathe Northwest High School. Police said that the victim was taken to a hospital in critical condition but was expected to survive. Police arrested a 17-year-old several hours later near the scene of the shooting. Police said they don't believe the shooting had anything to do with the high school. But students at the school and several others in the area were kept inside as a precaution during the search for the suspect.

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Trial Date Set for Suspect in Lawrence Homicide

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A 30-year-old Lawrence man charged with first-degree murder rejected a plea deal and will go on trial next month. Dustin Walker is accused of shooting 39-year-old Patrick Roberts to death on March 8 at Roberts' apartment. Walker rejected a plea deal on Thursday and chose to face a jury trial starting February 9.  Walker was acquitted in 2011 of attempted second-degree murder in a shooting during a party in Lawrence. Prosecutors said witnesses would not cooperate in the case. And In 2008, prosecutors dismissed charges against Walker in another shooting and robbery at a Lawrence apartment after the victim and a witness said they couldn't remember the shooting. Walker remains in jail on a $1 million bond.

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Report: Kansas Student Financial Aid Not Covering Costs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A new report says more Kansas college students are receiving Pell Grants but the money isn't covering the rising cost of attending a four-year college. The report delivered Thursday to the Kansas Board of Regents says more than 37 percent of four-year students in Kansas received Pell Grants last year. But the grants covered only 63 percent of tuition and fees, compared with 99 percent a decade ago. The information was part of a report about the Regents' long-range strategic plan, which includes the goal of increasing the higher education level in the state.

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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation Plan Receives Windfall 

Topeka, Kan. (AP) — Kansas fish and wildlife officials are saying that the plan to protect the endangered lesser prairie-chicken has raised nearly double the expected revenue in its first year. The plan collects funds from fees on new developments in the bird's natural habitat and dedicates that revenue to conservation efforts. Fish and wildlife officials told lawmakers Thursday that the effort has collected $36.8 million since last year, far exceeding the plan's goal of $20 million. According to a spring 2014 estimate, just 22,415 lesser prairie chickens remain in their natural habitat across parts of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The five-state plan aims to triple the bird's population to 67,000.

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Survey: Economy Remains Weak in Rural Parts of 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ A monthly survey of bankers suggests the economy will remain weak in rural parts of 10 Midwestern and Western states because of low grain and oil prices. The region's overall economic index improved slightly to 50.9 in January from December's neutral score of 50. The index ranges from 0 to 100. Any score above 50 suggests growth while a score below 50 suggests decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says growth is being restrained in rural areas because of low corn and fuel prices. But bankers say ethanol plants haven't slowed production much.  Despite the concerns, rural businesses have adding some jobs. The January hiring index was 52.8, down from December's 55.2. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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Train Derailment Closes Highway, Injures 3 

BENEDICT, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say three people were hurt and taken to a hospital after a train hit a truck hauling gravel in southeast Kansas. Wilson County officials said in a news release that the collision Thursday near Benedict also caused the train to derail, shutting down Kansas 39. Wilson County Emergency Manager Terry Lyons says eight empty train cars and two engines jumped the tracks. The condition of the injured people wasn't immediately known.

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Chiefs' Training Camp Stays at Missouri Western 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs will continue to spend training camp on the campus of Missouri Western after the school's board of governors approved a three-year contract extension Friday. The decision will keep the Chiefs at the facility north of Kansas City through 2017. The Chiefs used to hold training camp in Wisconsin in part because of the cooler late summer weather. But they moved closer to home in 2010, striking a deal with the Division II school in St. Joseph that included help with major facility upgrades. The location also makes it possible for more fans to attend workouts. This past season, the local visitor's bureau estimated 40,000 fans attended the practices.

 

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