Fiscal Issues to Drive Kansas Legislative Session
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers have a plateful of potentially ugly decisions ahead to close state budget shortfalls. But some lawmakers and Republican Governor Sam Brownback have bigger ambitions for the annual legislative session opening January 12th. Senate President Susan Wagle said the budget problems are an opportunity to restructure state government. The Wichita Republican's list of big projects includes overhauling public school funding and the pension system for teachers and government workers. Brownback said this month that he'll have school funding proposals, and two top aides proposed the state study privatizing the pension system. The governor also is pursuing a 50-year water preservation plan.
Kansas Governor's Chief of Staff Stepping Down
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's chief of staff is stepping down next week to take a job with an auto industry group in Washington. Brownback's office announced Landon Fulmer's departure Monday. Fulmer has been the Republican governor's chief of staff since April 2012. Fulmer will become vice president of state affairs with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The group represents 12 companies accounting for 77 percent of U.S. car and light truck sales. Brownback said he is promoting Jon Hummell from policy director to chief of staff. Hummell will keep his duties as policy director until the position can be filled. The governor's office also said that Chuck Knapp will serve as chief of staff to Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer while remaining as operations director at the Department for Children and Families.
Response to Kansas Medicaid Suit Alleges Extortion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A firm managing part of the Medicaid program in Kansas and its parent company allege in court documents that a former executive tried to "extort" $3 million from them after being fired. Sunflower State Health Plan and parent Centene Corporation made the allegations Monday in response to a federal lawsuit filed in October by former Sunflower Vice President Jacqueline Leary. Leary alleges in her lawsuit that she was wrongfully fired in January after protesting potentially improper cost-cutting moves for the Kansas Medicaid program. Sunflower and Centene said Leary demanded $3 million from them in February. Leary attorney Lewis Galloway did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Medicaid covers health services for the poor and disabled. Kansas has turned its administration over to three private companies, including Sunflower.
Koch CEO Vows to Take on Criminal Justice System
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Billionaire Koch Industries leader Charles Koch is vowing to step up his effort to reform the legal system over the next year. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Wichita-based company's chairman and CEO says the nation's criminal justice system needs to be fairer and the sentences "more appropriate." He began giving money ten years ago to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers. He says he's going to give more to that effort. Koch's chief counsel, Mark Holden, says legislators in recent decades drifted into a habit of adding more laws every year and taking stands to show themselves as "getting tough on crime." He says it has gone too far and that the weight has fallen most heavily on minorities.
Kansas Sees Lowest Tornado Total in 25 Years
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas officials say the state saw the lowest number of tornadoes this year in 25 years. Only 40 tornadoes were recorded so far in 2014. It's less than half of the state's 30-year average of 81. This year's figure also is the fourth-lowest total since tornado statistics began being kept in 1950. It's also the third consecutive year of below-normal tornado totals in Kansas. But weather officials say the decline is a mixed blessing. While fewer tornadoes means fewer opportunities for deaths, injuries and property damage, they say it also increases the chances of complacency in residents' preparation for severe weather safety.
Kansas Church Reports Major Theft After Christmas
BUCYRUS, Kan. (AP) — A small Catholic parish in eastern Kansas is suffering a blow to its Christmas spirit. The pastor of the Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Bucyrus told his congregation Sunday that someone had cleaned out the church's safe sometime after Christmas. KSHB-TV reports the Reverend Larry Albertson told his congregation to cancel any checks they wrote to the church. He said someone who knew where things were located in the church opened the safe and walked off with contributions made during five Christmas Masses. The thief then returned the key to the safe. Albertson estimates the loss is close to $15,000. Bucyrus, an unincorporated town of about 200 people, is about 30 miles south of Kansas City, Missouri.
Fagron Sterile Plans Expansion in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Fagron Sterile Services, which manufactures sterile products for medical use, is planning an expansion in Wichita. The Netherlands-based company, which acquired Wichita's JCB Laboratories in January, says the expansion could bring 100 new jobs to Wichita in the next three years at its new 49,000-square-foot plant. JCB president Brian Williamson will provide the same products that JCB does but the new plant will have cutting-edge, automated technology. He says JCB and Fagron needed to have two plants in case a disaster damages one of the facilities. He expects to have an occupancy certificate for the new plant by July 1. The Wichita Eagle reports the new space will have a maximum capacity of about 100 employees, who will be hired in the next three years.
Wichita Group to Submit New Pot Decriminalization Petitions
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A group that wants to lower fines for marijuana possession in Wichita says it has collected enough signatures on petitions to put the issue to a public vote in April. Esau Freeman, leader of Kansans for Change, says the group plans to present the petitions to election officials next week. The same group was a few signatures short on its first effort to get the issue on the ballot in November. The Wichita Eagle reports that if the signatures are approved, Wichita residents would vote April 7 on a proposal to impose a $50 maximum fine for first-offense marijuana possession. It would be enforced with a summons or citation rather than an arrest. The conviction would be expunged if an offender has no further legal problems for a year.
Kansas, Missouri Question Safety of Guardrails
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri and Kansas transportation officials have suspended installations of a guardrail system over concerns about its safety. Critics of the ET-Plus guardrail systems contend its design allows sections of metal to break off and run through vehicles that collide with the rails. The system is manufactured by Trinity Industries in Dallas. The Kansas City Star reports a Trinity spokesman defended the guardrails and predicted new federally required crash tests underway in San Antonio will show the product is safe. A recent study found that ET-Plus is almost four times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than an earlier guardrail system. Missouri suspended installations after survivors of a northwest Missouri man sued over an accident involving the ET-Plus system.
Police Suspect Suicide in Death of Fort Riley Soldier
OGDEN, Kan. (AP) _ Police suspect suicide in the death of a Fort Riley soldier at a shooting range near the Army base. A report from the Riley County Police Department says the 20-year-old man died of a gunshot wound December 20th at Ogden's Best Gun Range. Police say they do not believe his death was accidental. The man had rented a shooting lane at the range before he died. Officials have requested an autopsy.
Boy Dies After Hutchinson House Fire
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ An 8-year-old boy has died after suffering severe burns in a Hutchinson fire. A supervisor at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita said Saturday that Caiden Adams died Friday night. He was among seven people hospitalized after an electrical problem caused a fire Wednesday morning. The two-story house had been divided into apartments. Battalion Fire Chief Darin Gehring said Caiden lived in a ground-floor apartment with three other people, including his mother and sister. He escaped and was found lying in a neighbor's yard. Gehring said the mother was not at home when the fire started in the living room. The fire caused $100,000 in estimated damage to the house and its contents. It's considered a total loss.
Friends University Plans New Tuition Strategy
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Friends University in Wichita is planning a new tuition strategy that it hopes will encourage more students to graduate in four years. The private college announced that it will lock in undergraduate tuition for four years beginning with undergraduates entering the college in the fall of 2015. Students who spend more than four years at the college will pay the same tuition as the incoming freshmen of each year. Current students will pay the same tuition for the 2015-16 school year as they paid for the 2014-15 year. Friends also announced a pilot program for summer classes, which will run for two years.
Manhattan Staging New Year's Eve Ball Drop
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - An estimated 10,000 New Year's Eve revelers are expected to turn out in the Kansas town known as the Little Apple for a ball-drop event modeled after the one in New York's Times Square. Manhattan is staging its annual New Year's Eve celebration in the Aggieville bar and entertainment district. Wednesday's festivities begin at 10 p.m. and include a laser light show. The event culminates at midnight with the lowering of a ball from atop Varney's bookstore reminiscent of the ball drop in the Big Apple, a Times Square tradition for more than a century. The event will feature former Miss Kansas Theresa Vail.
Colyer Spends Holidays on Medical Relief Mission
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer is spending the holidays providing medical relief in the Middle East. Colyer estimates he's been on more than two dozen missions during almost 30 years of volunteering with International Medical Corps. The non-governmental relief agency is made up of doctors, surgeons and other health workers. As a plastic surgeon, most of the medical work Colyer does involves treating people with gunshot wounds, severe burns and shrapnel injuries from bombings. Security concerns prevent him from saying exactly where he'll be this holiday season. But in the past, he was part of a relief mission when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He also helped the victims of genocide in Rwanda and went to Iraq in 2003 after the U.S. invasion.
Chiefs Beat Chargers But Both Teams Miss Playoffs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs beat San Diego 19-7 on Sunday to eliminate the Chargers from playoff contention, moments before the Chiefs were eliminated themselves by games happening elsewhere. The Chiefs needed Cleveland to beat Baltimore and Jacksonville to beat Houston, and neither of those outcomes transpired. The Ravens wound up with the AFC's final playoff spot. San Diego (9-7) needed merely to beat Kansas City (9-7) to reach the postseason. Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston piled up four sacks to finish with 22 on the season, breaking Derrick Thomas's franchise record, and Cairo Santos had four field goals. The Chargers' Philip Rivers threw for 291 yards, but was picked off twice.
Buzzer-Beater Lifts Texas Southern over Kansas State
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Jason Carter hit a jumper as time expired to give Texas Southern a 58-56 win over Kansas State on Sunday. Kansas State (8-4) had a 54-48 lead with 1:45 remaining. Chris Thomas made a layup to pull Texas Southern (3-9) within four then a free throw by Nino Williams pushed the Kansas State lead back to four. Jevon Thomas threw the inbounds pass away, Texas Southern got the ball out of bounds, setting up Carter's winner.