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Headlines for Monday, February 9, 2015

Kansas Lawmakers Consider $1.5B in Bonds for Pension System 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is reviewing Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to issue $1.5 billion in bonds to help lower the state's annual costs in funding pensions for teachers and government workers. The House Pensions and Benefits Committee's focus Monday is on a bill authorizing the bonds if the state would pay interest of 5 percent or less to bondholders. The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System has a projected long-term funding gap of $9.8 billion, and the state has committed to raising annual contributions to eliminate it by 2033. The bonds would give KPERS an infusion of cash, boost its investment earnings and allow the state to lower annual contributions of tax dollars. Brownback also has proposed taking 10 years longer to close the long-term funding gap, until 2043.

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Kansas House Committee Introduces Plan to Expand Medicaid 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has drafted a plan for expanding the state's Medicaid program for the poor and disabled in line with the federal health care overhaul. The bill introduced Monday in the House by the Vision 2020 Committee would impose a special tax on hospitals and other health care providers to raise any state matching funds required to tap extra federal dollars. It also would allow the state to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work. Committee Chairman and Lawrence Republican Tom Sloan said the proposal is designed to start a discussion about expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to as many as 169,000 people. But many Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature are still wary of getting the state involved with the 2010 federal health care law.

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House Discusses Back-to-School Tax Holiday

TOPEKA, Kan. — A state House committee will consider a bill this week that would give parents a tax break on back-to-school supplies. The proposal would create a 2-day sales tax holiday in August for back-to-school purchases. House Bill 2076 creates a weekend-long August sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases. Typical school supplies such as paper, pens, and art materials that are valued at $100 or less would be included. In addition, computers valued at $2,000 or less would also be tax-free. Republican Representative Virgil Peck of Tyro told the House Taxation Committee that the measure would help low income Kansas families as well as local businesses. The Kansas Association of School Boards opposes the bill because they say it would decrease state revenue. Legislative researchers estimate the sales tax holiday would decrease state revenues by about $6 million annually once it is implemented in fiscal year 2017. But Peck said the estimate doesn’t take into account the extra revenue generated by individuals who would now choose to shop for school supplies in Kansas rather than going across the border into Missouri.

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Kansas Lawmakers to Hold Hearings on Marriage and Divorce

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state legislature is starting the week with two days of committee hearings on marriage. Divorce is expected to be the focus of the hearings. Republican Representative Janice Pauls of Hutchinson says one of the key questions to be addressed is whether Kansas has made it too easy for couples to get divorced, especially in cases that don't involve domestic violence. Pauls says some have suggested it would be helpful to require counseling and extend the waiting periods before divorces are granted. Kansas is a "no fault" divorce state, which means that either party in a marriage can petition for divorce. The person seeking the divorce doesn't have to prove that there are legal grounds for it beyond "incompatibility."

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Amendment Would Guarantee Hunting and Fishing Rights

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two Republican state representatives are proposing a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to hunt, fish and trap in Kansas. Representative Adam Lusker, of Frontenac, says the amendment is a reaction to bans or restrictions pushed by animal rights supporters in other states. For example, trapping is banned in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington. The Joplin Globe reports 18 states have constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish. A similar effort failed in Missouri last year but a sponsor says he plans to pursue the idea again. Kristin Simon, who works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says the group opposes such amendments because they make it difficult to ban hunting and trapping methods the some people consider cruel

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Former KU Men’s Basketball Player and Legendary Coach Dean Smith Dies

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Former Kansas men’s basketball player and college coaching legend Dean Smith died Saturday at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Smith was 83 years old. A native of Emporia, Kansas, Smith graduated from Topeka High School then played for Kansas University from 1949-53. He was a part of the Jayhawks’ national championship team in 1952, under the guidance of head coach Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen. He later went on to win two NCAA national championships as head coach at North Carolina from 1961-97. When he retired, he was the winningest coach in college basketball with 879 victories. He won NCAA titles in 1982 and 1993, and coached such players as Michael Jordan and James Worthy. He reached 11 Final Fours, won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles and coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in 1976. UNC released a statement Sunday from Smith's family saying that the former coach had health issues in recent years and died at his home Saturday night. He was with his wife and five children.

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KBI Investigating Officer-Involved Shooting in Hugoton 

HUGOTON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is helping to investigate the shooting of a southwest Kansas man by police officers after he led them on three chases. The KBI said in a news release that the 36-year-old man was shot by Hugoton police and was in stable condition Monday. Hugoton police were called to a domestic disturbance on Saturday. They called off the first chase. The suspect returned to the scene twice and led officers on chases again. The KBI says during the third call, the suspect tried to hit one of the officers with his car. After the third chase, the suspect stopped about 2 miles southwest of Moscow, where he was shot. The KBI did not release any details about the shooting. The officers involved are on administrative leave.

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Congressman Huelskamp to Attend Fort Riley Town Hall Meeting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp and Brigadier General Roger L. Cloutier Jr. will speak with reporters ahead of a meeting on Fort Riley's future. The public meeting Monday was called to allow Army officials to hear from the community about how possible troop reductions at Fort Riley would affect them. Fort Riley employs more than 25,000 people in the Junction City area. In a news release, Fort Riley said as many as 16,000 could be dismissed or redeployed. The base is one of 30 military installations across the U.S. that could see troop reductions as a result of personnel reductions to the Army. Republican Governor Sam Brownback also plans to attend. The forum will be held at the Geary County Convention Center in Junction City.

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Lawrence Police Seek 2 in Sunday Shooting 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Lawrence police are searching for two men after a shooting injured three people near the University of Kansas campus. Police spokesman Sergeant Trent McKinley says police think the suspects and victims in Sunday's shooting know each other but a motive for the shooting has not been released. McKinley says the search for the shooters was continuing Monday morning. The victims were taken to Kansas City area hospitals with injuries that were considered life threatening. Their identities weren't released. The shooting occurred in a residence just south of the University of Kansas campus and a few blocks from Schwegler Elementary School. The college issued an alert late in the afternoon after authorities said one of the suspects was seen running toward the campus.

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Kansas Judiciary Shows Little Racial Diversity

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas judiciary has a far smaller percentage of minorities than the overall state population. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Office of Judicial Administration says that throughout the state judicial system, racial minorities make up just 3 percent of the 287 judges at the district, appellate and Supreme Court levels. There are four African-American judges, five Hispanics, and one Asian-American. But the most recent census estimates that 23 percent of the state's population isn't white. Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission chairwoman Anne Burke calls it a "terrible situation." The commission receives applications for appointments to the state's highest court and provides three names to the governor, who makes the final appointment. Burke says part of the problem is that very few minority lawyers apply.

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Jackson Named Special Agent in Charge of KC FBI Field Office 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 50-year-old former FBI terrorism supervisor has been named to lead the bureau's operations in Kansas City. Erik K. Jackson was announced on Monday as the special agent in charge of the Kansas City field office, which covers the western half of Missouri and all of Kansas. Most recently he served as acting deputy assistant director and section chief of the FBI's Cyber Division in Washington, D.C. Jackson joined the FBI in 1997 and was assigned to the Tampa field office to investigate international terrorism, organized and violent crime, drug and health care fraud cases. Jackson previously served as assistant special agent in charge of the National Security Branch in the Kansas City field office, which includes the international and domestic terrorism, counterintelligence, cyber and weapons of mass destructions programs.

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Salina Prepares for Free Dental Clinic

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Volunteers are gearing up for a free two-day dental clinic in Salina. The Salina Journal reports that the Kansas Mission of Mercy clinic will be open Friday and Saturday at the Salina Bicentennial Center. More than 115 dentists, 50 hygienists and 250 dental assistants are expected to volunteer. Salina dentist Cindy Reed says volunteers get more out of the experience than they give. She says the patients are "really thankful" and that many have been suffering from dental pain. Since its first project in February 2003 in Garden City, the Kansas Mission of Mercy has provided nearly $13 million in dental care to more than 24,000 patients. The events are known for attracting patients from hundreds of miles away. Some camp out so they can receive the free services.

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Lawrence Man Sentenced for Embezzlement 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man was sentenced to two years in federal prison for embezzling more than a half-million dollars from his company and business partners. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 55-year-old Mark Elzea was sentenced Monday and ordered to pay $619,000 for embezzling from Pur-O-Zone. He pleaded guilty in September to one count of interstate transportation of stolen funds. Elzea was controller and part owner of Pur-O-Zone, a Lawrence janitorial and cleaning equipment business. Prosecutors say he began embezzling in 2004. The scheme was discovered in May 2014 after a vendor complained about not receiving a check. The partners discovered that Elzea had signed several unauthorized checks made payable to Cardmember Service Chase Bank in Illinois.

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Kansas Officials Concerned About Long-Eared Bat Listing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Developers and local officials are concerned about how a pending federal decision on the status of a small bat could affect construction projects in eastern Kansas. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is expected to decide in April whether the northern long-eared bat should be listed as an endangered or threatened species. The Wichita Eagle reports Kansas is on the periphery of the bat's range. But last week, Wichita city engineer Gary Janzen told the city council not to delay any decisions on an interchange project for too long because the decision on the bat could affect tree removal at the site. The bat lives mostly in the eastern U.S. but 66 Kansas counties could be affected if the animal is listed.

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Man Stiffs Taxi Driver for $600 Fare After 220-Mile Trip 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A man who took a 220-mile taxi ride to Omaha has been accused of refusing to pay the driver the nearly $600 fare. The Omaha World-Herald reports that a 58-year-old Yellow Cab driver submitted a report to the Omaha Police Department saying the 30-year-old man didn't pay his $599.97 fare after the trip from Kansas City, Missouri, to Omaha. Their names haven't been released. The driver tells police the man submitted credit card information when the ride was booked online, but the transaction failed. He says the passenger just laughed when he called him seeking more information. The driver says during the trip, the passenger claimed to be hiding from Kansas City gang members. He says the passenger mentioned intentions to go to Seattle and continue on to Alaska.

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James Shields and San Diego Padres Agree to 4-Year Contract 

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Right-handed pitcher James Shields, who helped Kansas City reach the World Series last season, has agreed to a four-year contract with the San Diego Padres. Shields is the latest addition by first-year general manager A.J. Preller, who in December added sluggers Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, as well as Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Shields was traded from Tampa Bay to Kansas City two years ago in a deal in which Myers, then the Royals' top prospect, was acquired by the Rays. Shields was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA last season and declined a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Royals. He lost both of his World Series starts, outdueled each time by Madison Bumgarner.
 

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