Kansas Legislature Selects New Leadership
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Latest on Kansas legislators and legislators-elect choosing new leaders (all times local):
Democrats in the Kansas House have ousted their leader in a move signaling that they'll be more aggressive in criticizing Governor Sam Brownback and his fellow Republicans. Democrats on Monday removed Representative Tom Burroughs of Kansas City as House minority leader even though had a net gain of 12 seats in last month's election. They'll have 40 seats in the 125-member House next year to 85 for Republicans. Democratic representatives and representatives-elect initially split 20-20 between Burroughs and Representative Jim Ward of Wichita. But on a second, secret ballot, the vote was 21-19 for Ward. Ward has been vocal in criticizing Brownback and other Republicans and at times has been more visible than Burroughs. In the Senate, Minority Leader Anthony Hensley faced no opposition to keeping his leadership job.
Republicans are giving Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle a second four-year term in the leadership post. The Wichita Republican easily overcame a challenge Monday from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson of Andover. The vote was 23-7 among GOP senators and senators-elect, with one of the 31 abstaining. Both Wagle and Masterson are conservatives. But Wagle has been willing to break with Republican Governor Sam Brownback on tax and budget policy, while Masterson has been a reliable Brownback ally. The full Senate must ratify the GOP's decision when lawmakers open their next session in January. GOP senators and senators-elect also named Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park as their new majority leader. Denning has been a vocal critic of Brownback's fiscal policies. Denning had no challenger.
Republicans in the Kansas House have elected one of the chamber's most visible GOP moderates as their new majority leader after naming a conservative as their new speaker. Representative Don Hineman of Dighton prevailed over more conservative Representative John Barker of Abilene in a 44-41 vote Monday among GOP representatives and representatives-elect. Hineman was first elected to the House in 2008, and he's been a vocal critic of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's tax policies. The state has struggled to balance its budget since GOP lawmakers slashed income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. But the vote for Hineman came after House Republicans designated conservative Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe as the speaker for the next two years. Ryckman is Appropriations Committee chairman.
Republicans in the Kansas House have picked conservative Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe as speaker for the next two years. Ryckman prevailed Monday over moderate Representative Russ Jennings of Lakin in a 57-28 vote among GOP representatives and representatives-elect. Ryckman is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The vote suggested that conservatives still control the Republican majority in the House despite losses in this year's elections. Democrats will hold 40 seats in the 125-member House when lawmakers open their next session in January, and the vote suggests moderates could form coalitions with moderate Republicans. But Ryckman's supporters described him as a pragmatist who can work with lawmakers of all philosophies. Ryckman helped broker a bipartisan deal on school funding legislation during a special session in June.
Brownback Names Kansas Revenue Secretary to Economic Council
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has named Kansas's top revenue official to an economic advisory post and replaced him with a retired executive of a marketing and advertising agency. Brownback announced former state lawmaker Nick Jordan's appointment Monday to the lead role with the Governor's Economic Advisory Council with the Kansas Department of Commerce. Jordan will start that job December 12. Jordan has been the state's revenue secretary since Brownback took office in 2011. Brownback named Sam Williams to be Jordan's successor. Williams is a former Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce chairman and board member, as well as a retired chief financial officer and managing partner at Sullivan, Higdon and Sink. Williams's appointment will require confirmation by the state senate.
Economists: Kansas to Have Higher Unemployment Rate than US Overall
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas economists predict the state will have a higher unemployment rate than the nation beginning in 2018. The Wichita Eagle reports that in October, Kansas' unemployment rate rose to 4.4 percent, slightly lower than the national average. Kansas Department of Labor economist Tyler Tenbrink says the state's unemployment rate held steady around 4 percent for most of 2015 but rose during the second half of 2016. Tenbrink says the state expects the Kansas unemployment rate to rise to about 4.7 percent in 2018 based on current data. He says the Federal Reserve predicts a national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent for that year. He says the Federal Reserve and the state use different methodologies to make these predictions. Kansas has historically had a lower unemployment rate than the nation.
KCC Will Hold Public Hearing on Westar-KCPL Merger
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — he only planned public hearing on the largest utility merger in Kansas history will be in held this evening at a high school in suburban Topeka. The Kansas Corporation Commission will hold the hearing on the proposed $12.2 billion acquisition of Westar by Great Plains Energy, the parent company of KCP&L. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the hearing is scheduled for this (MON) evening at Shawnee Heights High School in Tecumseh, just east of Topeka. Customers in other parts of the state will be able to watch the hearing live on the KCC website and submit comments in writing or online. If the KCC approves the merger, Westar and KCPL will become a single electric company straddling the Kansas/Missouri border, with 1.5 million customers. Terry Bassham, CEO of Kansas City Power and Light, says the merged entity will continue to have an office in Topeka.
ACLU Lobbying Obama to Commute Sentence for Chelsea Manning
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union and gay-rights groups are lobbying President Barack Obama to commute the prison sentence of a transgender soldier who leaked classified government and military documents. The ACLU said the letter Monday co-signed by more than a dozen civil rights groups considers Chelsea Manning's 35-year sentence unprecedented. Attorneys on behalf of Manning, imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, made a similar pitch last month for commutation. Manning was arrested in 2010 and convicted in 2013 in military court of charges related to her leaking of more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks. At that time she was known as Bradley Manning. She later filed a transgender prisoner rights lawsuit and has tried to commit suicide at least twice, citing her behind-bars treatment.
3.9 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Northern Oklahoma
PAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — The U.S. Geological Survey reports a 3.9 magnitude earthquake struck northern Oklahoma last (SUN) night. There were no immediate reports of injuries or property damage. The USGS says the epicenter of the earthquake was about 9 miles east of Pawnee, about 60 miles south of the Kansas state line and 50 miles west of Tulsa. Tremors from the quake were felt as far north southern Kansas and as far south as Oklahoma City. The recent spike in earthquakes in nothern Oklahoma and southern Kansas has been linked to oil and gas production. State regulators have shut down or imposed new restrictions on underground wells that are used for wastewater disposal.
Kansas Farmer Sues to Stop Wind Farm to Protect Cranes
PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas farmer has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop a new wind farm from operating out of concern for the endangered whooping crane. Edwin Petrowsky of Pratt County filed the lawsuit last month seeking injunctions against NextEra Energy Resources, whose Ninnescah Wind Farm is scheduled to start operating next week. Petrowsky contends the wind farm is in a major flyway for whooping cranes. There are about 330 wild cranes in that migrating flock. The Hutchinson News reports that Petrowsky contends the company has failed to obtain an "incidental taking permit" that would allow the incidental killing of some birds. NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel says the company has worked with state and federal authorities, and that the siting of the turbines took the birds' migratory patterns into account.
KSU Offers Aid as Farmers Face Another Challenging Year
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas State University is helping farmers and ranchers weather the struggling agricultural economy. It's been another tough year for farm income and the commodity outlook for 2017 is pessimistic as well. Operating loans for this past season are coming due soon with fall harvest over, and experts say many growers can't make the payments. A series of workshops that aim to help farmers navigate the downtown are planned across the state, starting next week and continuing into February. The university has also expanded its farm analyst program to provide one-on-one assistance. Its agricultural economics department says the goal is to help producers avoid bankruptcy and make adjustments in their operations while they still can.
Program Helps Youths Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Young adults who have aged out of foster care are getting some Christmas cheer through a statewide program. Department for Children and Families spokeswoman Theresa Freed says about 600 young people are signed up this year for the Hope for the Holidays program. Donors contribute gift cards and personal notes. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the effort started in 2006 when a staff member wanted to help out former foster children. While they didn't have much, they also didn't qualify for assistance. The program has since gone statewide, with 313 youths reached through the campaign last year. Hope for the Holidays program consultant Deborah O'Neil said last year, organizers received many thank you notes saying that the program's gift was the only one they got for Christmas.
Horse-Drawn Carriage Accident Injures 3 in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A horse drawn carriage was involved in an accident on Kansas City, Missouri’s Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district. The accident injured three people and a horse. The Kansas City Star reports that the accident occurred Saturday night and witnesses said the horse appeared spooked as it ran loose into oncoming traffic before crashing the carriage into a wall. None of the injuries appeared life-threatening. The carriage and horse are owned by Kansas City Carriages. The carriages are not controlled by the owners of the Plaza but are regulated by the city.
Botched Balloting Keeps Tiny Kansas Town Intact
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The central Kansas town of Frederick has dwindled over the decades to just 10 people. Its only real expense is a $55-a-month electric bill for a half-dozen or so street lights that illuminate the unpaved streets. Some residents want to dissolve their city, but that hasn't been easy. For a community with nine registered voters, the tally at the ballot box last month was 13-7 in favor of keeping Frederick a third-class city. Workers at the polling place 5 miles to the west handed out the wrong ballots to some voters who live outside of Frederick. Local and state are letting the results stand. Frederick is just off a state highway about 75 miles northwest of Wichita.
Plaque Tells Little-Known History of KU's Oldest Building
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A bronze plaque tells the story of a small stone stable that is the oldest building on the University of Kansas campus and the fiery abolitionist who built it. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the building was constructed in 1862 on property owned by James Lane, a prominent abolitionist and one of Kansas' first senators after statehood. The building is now part of KU's Max Kade Center for German-American Studies, which is located in the former Sudler House adjacent to the annex. The plaque's inscription includes this little-known quote by Lane. While rallying a group of Free-State men in 1857, he said, "Jayhawks remember, 'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,' but we are His agents!" It was paid for with about $3,000 in donations but hasn't yet been hung.
Kansas Woman Gets 3 Years for Embezzling $570K from Employer
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A southern Kansas woman who admittedly stole more than $570,000 from her former employer has been ordered to spend three years in prison. A Sedgwick County judge on Monday sentenced 46-year-old Jeannette Block of Wichita. She had pleaded guilty in October to one count of felony theft. Authorities say Block worked for Pizza Hut of Southeast Kansas Inc. as an accountant and controller for 15 years. Prosecutors say Block's thefts took place over the last five years of her employment, ending in 2014. The district attorney's office says in a statement that Block asked the judge to grant her probation so she could pay back the rest of the money, insisting she already had sold her home and returned $200,000 of the stolen money.
Chiefs Defeat Falcons, 29-28
ATLANTA (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs' Eric Berry returned an interception for a touchdown, and then brought back another pick for a 2-point conversion to give the Chiefs a 29-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Falcons, rallying from a 27-16 deficit, went ahead 28-27 on Matt Ryan's 5-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson with 4:32 remaining. Atlanta decided to go for 2, looking to stretch the margin to a field goal. But Berry stepped in front of Ryan's pass and ran 99 yards the other way to give the Chiefs (9-3) their winning margin. Berry had another huge play with less than a minute to go in the first half, picking off Ryan's pass over the middle and bringing it back 37 yards for a touchdown. After reaching the end zone, the suburban Atlanta native handed the ball to his mother sitting in the stands at the Georgia Dome. The Chiefs' Alex Smith completed 21 of 25 passes for 270 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown to Spencer Ware. Travis Kelce was Kansas City's top receiver, hauling in eight passes for 140 yards.