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Headlines for Monday, February 6, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas House Looks to Be Aggressive on Tax Hikes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  A Kansas House committee is preparing to be aggressive in drafting a plan to increase personal income taxes to address the state's ongoing budget problems. A majority of Taxation Committee members indicated during an informal discussion Monday that they're ready to propose raising taxes between $900 million and $1.2 billion over two years. The state is facing projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since Republican lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at GOP Governor Sam Brownback's urging. Senate Republican leaders have drafted a plan for income tax increases that would raise $660 million through June 2019. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee expects to debate it Tuesday.


Kansas Senate's GOP Leaders Have Plan to Boost Income Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans in the Kansas Senate have outlined a plan to backtrack on personal income tax cuts championed by GOP Governor Sam Brownback. A bill before the Senate tax committee Monday would raise $660 million over two years. The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. Senate Majority Leader and Overland Park Republican Jim Denning said the plan is a starting point for debating tax increases. But Democratic Senator Laura Kelly of Topeka said the plan is "not good enough" to balance the budget. Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in hopes of stimulating the economy. The bill would raise rates for all income taxpayers and end an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners.


Kansas Regents Chief Presses for Restored Education Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The head of the Kansas Board of Regents says restoring state funding for higher education is the best way to keep college costs down for students. Board of Regents President Blake Flanders told the Topeka Capital-Journal that regents-governed colleges and universities have lost $75 million in funding over the past three years. Last spring, Governor Sam Brownback cut 4 percent from public higher education to help balance the budget, saving about $30 million. The regents say that state general funding for universities as a percentage of total funding has been declining since 1999 — from slightly more than 40 percent to just over 20 percent. At the same time, tuition as a percentage of funding rose from about 15 percent to nearly 30 percent. 


2 Kansas Men Spared Prison in Prosecution over State Gun Law 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has spared from prison two Kansas men convicted of federal firearms violations after taking into account their mistaken belief that a Kansas law can shield from federal prosecution anyone owning firearms made, sold and kept in the state. The sentence handed down Monday by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten still leaves intact the federal felony convictions against Shane Cox and Jeremy Kettler. Jurors in November found Cox guilty of making and marketing unregistered firearms, and found Ketter guilty of having an unregistered gun silencer. Both men thanked the judge in courtroom statements for not sending them to prison. The Kansas Second Amendment Protection Act says firearms, accessories and ammunition manufactured and kept within the borders of Kansas are exempt from federal gun control laws.


Kansas Railways to Expect Construction 

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The BNSF Railway Company has announced plans to invest $125 million in Kansas this year to improve its railways in the state. The Emporia Gazette reports the investment is part of the company's $3.4 billion capital expenditure plan in 2017. Burlington Northern Santa Fe plans to expand a Kansas City, Kansas, auto facility and track maintenance work. The plan includes new rail ties and replacement of track portions between Wellington and Kansas City, and Emporia to Garden City. BNSF Railway Public Affairs Director Andy Williams says the maintenance on the section from Emporia to Newton will start later in February. According to Williams, the project should not drastically affect trains using the rails because BNSF has enough rails to re-direct trains in order to avoid delays.


Officials: NBAF Construction Proceeding on Time 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Officials say construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan is going well and is on time. The $1.25 billion research facility, or NBAF, will study diseases that can be spread from animals to humans. The Manhattan Mercury reports that construction began in 2013 with the Central Utility Center, which is complete but won't be used until the laboratories are finished. Construction originally was scheduled to be completed last year but was delayed. The lab is now on track to be fully operational in December 2022. Martha Vanier, of the Department of Homeland Security says $266 million in construction has been completed so far. She says about 200 workers who are currently working on the construction but that number will grow to as many as 1,000.


No Answers Found in Kansas Skydiver's Death in Oklahoma

CUSHING, Okla. (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration has been unable to determine why a Kansas woman became disconnected from her parachute and fell to her death in northern Oklahoma. Twenty-six-year-old Sheralynn Neff of North Newton, Kansas, had jumped with an instructor from 10,000 feet on July 24 and deployed her parachute at about 6,000 feet. Her parachute was later found in a tree and her body was found the next day near Cushing, about five miles away. FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said that the parachute appeared to have been packed properly and there was no obvious failure. He said an investigator "was unable to conclusively determine" how Neff separated from the parachute.


Patrol: Man Jailed After Intentionally Sending Bus Off Turnpike

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says a man is being held in the Lyon County jail after he reportedly grabbed the wheel of a charter bus and caused it to veer off the Kansas Turnpike. No injuries were reported after the incident Sunday about 11 miles northeast of Emporia. A suspect fled on foot but was captured after a nearby resident reported a stranger banging on the door of a house. Patrol Lieutenant Mark Christensen praised the bus driver for controlling the vehicle after the wheel was grabbed. Christensen says the suspect told officers that he thought people on the bus were going to hurt him. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that 11 other people, including the driver, were on the bus, which was driving from Chicago to Dallas.


Man Killed in Wichita Shooting; Girlfriend Questioned 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a woman is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder after her boyfriend was shot to death while they argued in a vehicle. Police Lieutenant Jeff Gilmore says 40-year-old Richard J. Hamm Jr. was shot inside a car being driven by his girlfriend on Sunday just west of downtown Wichita. Gilmore says the couple had an ongoing argument for several days when they left their home Sunday and began driving. He says at some point the girlfriend shot Hamm. She then called police and was sitting near the car when officers arrived. Hamm's death is Wichita's second homicide of 2017.


KU Basketball Player Takes Diversion: Bragg Can't Break Law for 6 Months 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas forward Carlton Bragg's drug charge will be dismissed in six months if he doesn't commit any other crimes. Bragg was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia last week. He was also suspended from the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks. Bragg was quickly granted and signed a diversion agreement. The agreement says he can't violate any laws during the six-month diversion period. At the end, his charges will be dismissed. If he breaks the agreement, the city will start prosecution for the drug charge. Five of Bragg's teammates are listed as witnesses in the investigation of an alleged rape in the players' dorm in December. Bragg is listed as a witness in a runaway case in the dorm on the same night.


Topeka Man Sentenced for Role in Sex Trafficking Conspiracy 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for conspiring to operate an interstate sex trafficking business. U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said in a news release that 40-year-old Barry M. Johnson was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy. He admitted in his plea deal that he conspired with others to run a prostitution business based in Topeka that would operate in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. At times, as many as 20 females were prostitutes in the organization. Johnson admitted he recruited and groomed potential sex workers for the organization. Four other conspirators are awaiting sentencing and a fifth is set for trial in March.


Wichita Parents, Teachers Concerned About Longer School Days 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Parents and teachers say they're facing challenges with children after Wichita Public Schools trimmed 15 days from the academic calendar and added 30 minutes to each school day. The Wichita Eagle reports that the new schedule comes after last year's $3 million budget cut. With Kansas facing a potential $900 million budget shortfall over the next 18 months, the district is unsure if the school budget can improve. Parents and faculty say students are more tired, family time is rare and after-school activities are increasingly difficult to arrange. A focus group of high schools students said in October that the schedule has resulted in extra homework and a more frantic speed in classes. The district says it's collecting data on the effect longer days have on students and that it also plans to survey families about the new schedule.


Missouri Man Gets Probation in 8-Year-Old Driver's Death

TROY, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri man whose 8-year-old granddaughter died in a car wreck when he let her drive him home from church has been sentenced to one year of probation. Dennis Meers, of St. Joseph, was sentenced Monday after pleading no contest in December to child endangerment. Investigators say Meers's granddaughter, Cadence Orcutt, of Troy, Kansas, died in November 2015 when the car she was driving went down an embankment and overturned in Doniphan County, Kansas. The St. Joseph News-Press reports Meers will serve 11 months in prison if he fails his probation. Meers previously was sentenced to two years in the Missouri Department of Corrections for felony driving on a revoked license. In 1996 and 2001, Meers was convicted in Missouri of being a persistent offender for driving while intoxicated.


Man Convicted of Misconduct with Kansas Girl at Youth Center

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A former worker at a youth center at Fort Leavenworth faces sentencing next month after being convicted of sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old girl. A Leavenworth County jury on Friday found 24-year-old Nicholas Clark guilty of two counts each of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated indecent solicitation with a child. Authorities said Clark solicited the child at the center in August 2014, and that the girl's mother reported it the matter to police after finding conversations between Clark and the girl on the girl's cell phone.


Kansas Man Accused in Deadly Shooting

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man is accused of fatally shooting a man and wounding a woman in a Johnson County apartment. KMBC-TV reports that prosecutors have charged 47-year-old Michael Collins Smith of Prairie Village with first-degree murder, attempted murder and child endangerment. Authorities say officers responding to a reported armed disturbance in Overland Park found 28-year-old Anthony Shuster shot to death in an apartment. Investigators say an unidentified woman sustained injuries not considered life-threatening during the alleged attack. 


Missouri Woman Died After Being Found on Interstate with Gunshot Wound

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Authorities are trying to determine who fatally shot a woman that a Missouri State Trooper found lying near a vehicle on the side of Interstate 29. The trooper stopped at the 56th Street exit on I-29 in Kansas City when he saw what appeared to be a stranded motorist around 10 p.m. But the trooper couldn't find anyone inside the vehicle. After looking around, he saw the wounded woman lying on the ground. The woman died later at a local hospital.


Trial Set for Missouri Woman in Millionaire Father's Death

LEBANON, Mo. (AP) - A suburban Kansas City attorney is going on trial for murder in the 2010 deaths of her millionaire father and his girlfriend. The Kansas City Star reports that jury selection is expected to begin today (MON) in southern Missouri's Laclede County in the trial of 48-year-old Susan Van Note of Lee's Summit. Van Note is accused of attacking her father, 67-year-old William Van Note and 59-year-old Sharon Dickson in October 2010 at the couple's Lake of the Ozarks home. Prosecutors say Susan Van Note forged her father's signature to a document to have his hospital ventilator shut off four days after the attack. Authorities also allege Susan Van Note wanted her father's money and was angry that he had named his girlfriend, Dickson, to get the bulk of his estate.


Topeka Man Seeks New Mental Testing in Deadly Scooter Wreck

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for a Kansas man accused of causing the death of an 8-year-old passenger on his motorized scooter is seeking another examination to determine his competency to stand trial. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 36-year-old Marvin Tibbs III of Topeka said during a court hearing Friday that he'll seek funding for a specialist to examine his client. Tibbs is charged with alternate counts of reckless second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter in the death of Trenton Feliciano. Tibbs also is charged with aggravated child endangerment, reckless driving, failure to stop at a stop sign and failure to wear protective gear. Authorities say Tibbs was giving Feliciano a ride on his motorized scooter in October 2014 when it crashed, fatally injuring the boy.


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