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Headlines for Friday, May 15, 2015

Here's a summary of the day's AP news headlines for our area...mostly Kansas.

Kansas House Rejects Plan to Raise Sales Tax to Fix Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has rejected a bill to increase the state's sales tax to close a projected shortfall. House members refused Friday on a voice vote to give the measure first-round approval. The bill would have raised the sales tax to 6.85 percent from 6.15 percent. The measure also would have dropped the sales tax rate on food to 5.9 percent and eliminated most personal income tax exemptions. Democrats and some Republicans saw the sales tax increase as too high. And conservative Republican Representative Mike Kiegerl of Olathe said he couldn't vote for any tax increase until lawmakers do more to control state spending. The House's action is likely drag out the debate on closing a projected budget shortfall of $406 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.


Kansas Senate Still Has No Tax Plan to Close Budget Gap

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has been tinkering with a plan for raising taxes to close a budget shortfall but isn't ready to pass it.  Chairman Les Donovan adjourned the Assessment and Taxation Committee's meeting Thursday after about an hour of debate. He said the panel was moving toward a dead end.  The committee started with a plan from Donovan to raise $520 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. It would have increased the state's sales tax, as well as taxes on income, property, liquor, tobacco and gasoline.  The committee stripped out proposals to raise liquor taxes.  It also rejected proposals backed by Johnson County senators to impose a new $3-an-acre tax on land and repeal an exemption from the sales tax farmers receive when buying machinery.


Kansas Legislature to Vote Next Week on Uber Compromise Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature is expected to vote next week on a regulatory measure that ride-hailing company Uber says would allow it stay in the state. The House was expected to vote on the bill Friday, but the text of the legislation was not ready. Uber announced in early May that it had ceased operations in Kansas after the Legislature overrode the governor's veto on regulations the company opposed. Under the new measure, Uber and other ride-hailing companies could do private background checks on their subcontracted drivers. They could face lawsuits from the attorney general if drivers were found to be operating with a criminal background. Republican Representative Scott Schwab of Olathe said the bill also would fill gaps in insurance coverage for drivers.


Kansas School Superintendent Resigns to Save District Money

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — The superintendent of a south-central Kansas school district has resigned so the district won't have to pay his $81,000 salary. Superintendent Mike Sanders announced Wednesday that he would resign from the Skyline district in Pratt County at the end of the school year. Sanders says he and the school board had already decided he would be part-time and a consultant next year, but it was apparent the district couldn't afford his salary. The Lawrence Journal-World reports 18 people in the district have been reassigned, had their hours cut or are losing their jobs, saving about $477,000. Sanders says the district's financial problems began with the 2008-2009 recession but has not improved. He says the district is anticipating increased costs and further reductions in education funding.


Pilot of Helicopter in Nepal Loved Helping People, Flying 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The father of the pilot flying a helicopter that went down in Nepal says U.S. Marine officials have notified the family that the wreckage was found but they haven't confirmed the identities of any bodies. Ronald Norgren of Wichita said Friday that "it doesn't look good." His 31-year-old son, Captain Chris Norgren, was flying a helicopter that disappeared Tuesday while delivering disaster aid to earthquake victims. The helicopter was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers. Nepalese rescuers on Friday found three bodies near the helicopter's wreckage. Officials said it was unlikely anyone survived the crash. Norgren says his son loved helping people and he loved to fly. He said his son was doing everything that he loved and lived life to the fullest.


Kansas Supreme Court Reverses Capital Murder Conviction  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a 27-year-old man serving a life sentence for suffocating his former girlfriend and their baby after she demanded child support. The court ruled Friday that Luis Aguirre's confessions weren't admissible because he was questioned after invoking his constitutional right to remain silent. Luis Aguirre was convicted in June 2012 of capital murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple's 13-month-old son, Juan. A hunter found their bodies in a shallow grave near Ogden in October 2009. A month earlier, Maldonado told a case worker at a Chicago homeless shelter that she was leaving with her son's father. Aguirre was living in Austin, Texas, at the time but had previously lived in Ogden.


Kansas Governor Signs Bill Overhauling Civil Service System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is likely to reduce the number of state workers in its civil service system after Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation allowing his administration to do it.  Brownback signed the measure Thursday, and the new law will take effect July 1st. It embodies a proposal from the Department of Administration.  Newly hired state workers won't be covered by the civil service system and current employees will be allowed to voluntarily move into non-civil service jobs. More than 30 agencies will be allowed to convert vacant positions to non-civil service jobs.  Supporters say the changes will put state agencies more in line with private industry and make it easier to tailor jobs to staffing needs.  Critics say many of the state's 13,000 civil service employees will lose job protections.


Kansas Lawmakers Ratify Deal to Repeal Green Energy Rule

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have approved a bill to repeal a renewable energy requirement for the state's utilities as part of a deal with wind energy companies to avoid a new tax.  The House passed the measure Thursday on a 105-16 vote, and Senate approved it, 35-3.  It goes next to Governor Sam Brownback. He advocated such a deal and is expected to sign the bill.  The bill repeals a 2009 law requiring wind or other renewable resources to account by 2020 for 20 percent of each private utility's capacity to generate electricity. The mandate would be replaced by a goal that utilities hit the mark next year.  Critics of the mandate agreed to drop a legislative proposal to impose a 4.33 percent tax on the electricity produced with renewable resources.


Kansas Lawmakers Approve Bill on Power Plant Emissions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have approved a bill to require them to sign off on a state plan for complying with a federal rule designed to lower carbon emissions from power plants.  The House approved the measure Thursday on a 121-1 vote, a day after the Senate passed it, 35-1. The bill goes to Governor Sam Brownback for his possible signature.  The measure authorizes the state's health and environment secretary to draft a plan for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases linked by scientists to climate change. The plan could include agreements with utilities to lower emissions.  But an 11-member legislative committee would have to approve the plan before the state could submit it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  States without a plan will have a federal plan imposed on them.


Feds Accuse Lawrence Man of Credit Card Fraud Totalling $143,000

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a Kansas man illegally obtained credit card rewards to collect more than $143,000.  U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom's office says 31-year-old Jawad Obaid of Lawrence has been charged with 10 counts of wire fraud. The indictment says Obaid obtained credit cards with Capital One, Chase and U.S. Bank and used their rewards program websites to make purchases from businesses on those sites.  Prosecutors say Obaid generated tens of thousands of reward points from credit card companies by making several big purchases and cancelling them within 24 hours. He is accused of redeeming the reward points to redeem cash awards in checks and direct deposits to his accounts.  Online court documents did not indicate whether he was in custody or had obtained an attorney.


Still No Answers on How 28-Year-Old Topeka Prison Inmate Died

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas prison officials have not said how a 28-year-old woman died at a Topeka prison two months ago.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that  Michele Lee Suppes died March 22 when she was an inmate at Topeka Correctional Facility.  She had been at the prison since October 2014 after she was convicted of involuntary reckless manslaughter in the death of her 18-month-old daughter in Ellsworth in 2010. Suppes was sentenced to 32 months in prison after the child ingested morphine.  Officials at the Topeka facility directed questions about Suppes to the state. But officials from the Kansas Department of Corrections won't comment on Suppes' death or say how she died. Viola Riggin, corrections department director of health care services, said she couldn't comment on Suppes' case because of privacy laws.


Kansas House Delays Vote on Bill Moving Local Elections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has postponed a vote on a measure that would move local elections to the fall of odd-numbered years.  The House had expected to consider the measure Thursday but delayed action until next week.  The Senate approved it Wednesday on a 22-13 vote.  The measure also would cancel the state's presidential primaries. Legislators have canceled the past five primaries because of their cost, opting for caucuses funded by the Republican and Democratic parties.  The bill also would bar general election candidates from dropping out of a race unless experiencing "severe medical hardship."  Supports say the bill will boost turnout in local races. Critics have said it might force elected school board members to take office in the middle of fiscal years, which could disrupt the budgeting process.


Kansas Senate Approves Bill Reviving KCK's Woodlands Race Park

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill designed to revive a Kansas City-area dog and horse racing park with slot machines.  The Senate's 24-12 vote Thursday means the measure goes next to the House for approval.  The bill would help The Woodlands racing park in Kansas City, Kansas. It closed in 2008.  A 2007 law allowed slot machines at tracks but turned over 40 percent of the net machine revenues to the state. Track owners have said that's too high for slots to be profitable.  The bill would decrease the state's share to 22 percent for The Woodlands.  Republican Senator Steve Fitzgerald from Leavenworth said he ran for election in 2012 on the promise of reviving the park and argued the bill would help the state's horse-breeding industry.


Kansas Senate Blocks Sales of Strong Beer in Supermarkets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a measure to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer.  The chamber voted 26-11 Thursday against adding the proposal to a bill on alcohol regulations. The Senate later approved the bill on a 31-5 vote. It goes to the House.  Supermarkets and convenience stores in Kansas now can sell only beer with 3.2 percent alcohol. Stronger alcoholic drinks can only be sold at  individually-owned liquor stores.  The state has about 750 of them.  The issue of expanding alcohol sales has generated fierce lobbying efforts on both sides.  The bill would allow alcohol to be consumed at official events at the Statehouse. It would also create a permit process for alcohol to be sold and consumed at venues like fairs, farmer's markets and art galleries.


Woman, Son Plead 'No Contest' to Killing His Adoptive Parents 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A California woman and her biological son pleaded no contest Friday to the slayings of his adoptive parents in Kansas, after making deals with prosecutors sparing them the death penalty. Kisha Schaberg entered the plea Friday morning to capital murder and two counts of aggravated robbery. Hours later, 20-year-old Anthony Bluml pleaded no contest to capital murder in the November 2013 deaths of his adoptive parents, Roger and Melissa Bluml. Two of his friends are also charged in the killings. The couple were shot in the head as they sat in a truck outside their home in rural Valley Center. Fifty-three-year-old Melissa Bluml died at a Wichita hospital the next day. Forty-eight-year-old Roger Bluml died five weeks later. Schaberg's sentencing is set for June 24. Anthony Bluml will be sentenced June 16.


Garmin Official Donates $1M to Kansas State 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Garmin International official has donated $1 million to the Kansas State College of Engineering. The university announced Friday that the gift from Min Kao, co-founder and executive chairman of Garmin Ltd., based in Olathe. The money will be used for four new laboratories at a building addition at the university's engineering college. Kao has previously donated more than $1 million to the College of Engineering to support electrical engineering and computer science scholarships and improvements to the engineering buildings on campus. He is a member of the Kansas State University Foundation's Presidents Club and the College of Engineering's Seaton Society.


Competitors Gather for Annual Rodeo in Abbyville 

ABBYVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Competitors will round up once again to participate in a rodeo held since the 1960s in a small central Kansas town. The Hutchinson News ( ) reports the 53rd annual Abbyville Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo will open Friday night. The demise of the rodeo and Abbyville — which has a population of around 80 — has been predicted several times in the past. Residents say the rodeo is proof of their determination for their community to survive. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people are expected to attend the competition each night this weekend. The Abbyville Rodeo is a fully sanctioned competition under the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. A pavilion that will be used in the rodeo was dedicated during an informal rope-cutting ceremony Thursday.


Kansas Woman Found Competent to Stand Trial in Son's Death

WELLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a Kansas woman accused of stabbing her 10-year-old son to death is competent to stand trial.  Sumner County Attorney Kerwin Spencer says a judge has ruled that 33-year-old Lindsey Nicole Blansett was able to assist in her trial on murder and aggravated assault charges. She underwent competency tests at Larned State Hospital in Early April. Blansett on Thursday also waived her preliminary hearing.  Blansett is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the December 2014 death of her son, Caleb, at their Wellington home.  The Wichita Eagle reports that a criminal complaint in the case alleges Blansett decided Caleb's life would be full of suffering and it would be better for him to go to heaven. She called 911 to report the stabbing.


Judge Tosses Out Investor Lawsuit against Spirit AeroSystems

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out the class-action lawsuit brought by investors of aircraft parts maker Spirit AeroSystems.  U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren on Thursday dismissed the 2013 lawsuit alleging the firm and four of its officers made misleading statements that artificially inflated the stock price before the company recorded a $590 million loss on six contracts in October 2012.  Spirit AeroSystems' stock price dropped 30 percent following that announcement.  Melgren ruled shareholders failed to show misleading statements were material to an investor deciding whether to buy or sell stock.  The judge also noted it's unclear whether the company and officers had anything to gain by delaying announcement of the loss.  CEO Jeffrey Turner announced his resignation shortly after the announcement.


Jackson County Jury Assesses $82M Verdict Against Firm 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Jackson County (Missouri) jury has assessed about $82 million in damages against a debt collection firm that demanded payment from the wrong woman. The jury awarded $251,000 in damages to Maria Guadalupe Mejia Alcantara and assessed $82 million in punitive damages against Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, a debt collection firm. The Kansas City Star reports the case began two years ago when Alcantara learned she was being sued by the company for not paying a credit card debt of about $1,130 that wasn't her debt. Her lawyers filed a counter-claim, alleging violation of a federal fair debt collection act. The jury returned the award Monday. Company spokesman Michael McKeon says PRA will ask the judge to set aside what McKeon calls an "outlandish" verdict that "defies all common sense."



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