Kansas Legislature Convenes: House Panel Meets to Discuss Tax Issues
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is drafting a bill to repeal an income tax cut for farmers and business owners championed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The Taxation Committee voted Monday to sponsor the measure. It acted less than three hours after the GOP-controlled Legislature convened its annual session. Some committee members also said they want lawmakers to pass the bill this month so that the changes could be applied retroactively to January 1. Doing so would allow the state to raise revenues earlier. Lawmakers must close projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. The targeted tax break was enacted in 2012 and is a personal income tax exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. Brownback has strongly defended it as a pro-growth policy.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has kicked off the Legislature's debate over rolling back personal income tax cuts championed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The GOP-controlled Taxation Committee met Monday less than two hours after the Legislature convened its annual session. Lawmakers must close a projected $342 million shortfall in the current budget and gaps in funding for existing programs totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since GOP legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging. Many voters now see the tax cutting as a failed economic stimulus effort. Lawmakers in both parties want to repeal or scale back an income tax break approved in 2012 for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners.
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle says her chamber is ready to find "permanent solutions" to the state's ongoing budget problems. The Wichita Republican said during session-opening remarks Monday that Kansas residents expect belt-tightening of their state government. Wagle later told reporters that she does not believe that her fellow senators want to resort to one-time accounting moves to close a projected $342 million shortfall in the state's current budget. The state could delay contributions to public employee pensions. Lawmakers also have talked about liquidating a state investment fund. House Majority Leader and Dighton Republican Don Hineman said he does not expect GOP Governor Sam Brownback to propose significant cuts to the current budget. Brownback said only that he will outline his budget proposals Wednesday.
Internal Probe of Kansas Guard Faults 'Toxic' Leadership
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An internal investigation of the Kansas National Guard has raised alarms about "toxic leadership." The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the investigation started in 2013 amid renewed allegations that Guard recruiters were pressured by superiors to forge documents to clear unqualified applicants or speed processing of paperwork. The inquiry was closed in 2015. The lieutenant colonel who started the inquiry concluded that five Guard members warranted dismissal from military service, demotion in rank or relief from assigned duties. Official reports of the probe emphasize that Major General Lee Tafanelli was urged to end a management culture that protects wrongdoers. Tafanelli declined to be interviewed but responded in an opinion page column submitted to The Capital-Journal that the Guard works to "thoroughly and impartially investigate" wrongdoing.
New Kansas House Panel to Handle School Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House leaders plan to have a new and unusually large budget subcommittee work on a new public school funding formula. House Speaker and Olathe Republican Ron Ryckman Jr. appointed a 17-member K-12 Education Budget Committee ahead of Monday's opening of the Legislature's annual session. GOP Governor Sam Brownback has said he wants lawmakers to approve a new formula this year. The House previously had five Appropriations subcommittees and one handled both public school and higher education spending. Ryckman split the education subcommittee into two panels. The other Appropriations subcommittees have nine members. House Majority Leader and Dighton Republican Don Hineman said Monday that the intent is to have one committee focus on public school funding. Senate Republican leaders have not decided how they'll handle school funding legislation.
Nuss: Cuts Could Force Kansas Court Closures
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Chief Justice Lawton Nuss is warning that the Kansas Supreme Court could be forced to close the state's courts extra days if lawmakers cut the judicial system's budget. Nuss said Monday that the Supreme Court's main option for reducing spending is to force court employees to take unpaid days off. Closing the courts an extra day saves $250,000. But he also told reporters that he's confident legislators want to avoid such a move. The court imposed unpaid days off in 2010 and 2012. The state faces a projected shortfall of $342 million in its current budget and gaps in spending for existing programs totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. The Supreme Court is not only seeking to preserve the judiciary's funding but also pay raises for court employees and judges.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Chief Justice Lawton Nuss says the Kansas Supreme Court hopes to have a decision on whether the state's spending on public schools is adequate. But Nuss wouldn't say Monday exactly when the high court expects rule in a lawsuit filed against the state in 2010 by four local school districts. The Legislature expects to work this year on a new formula for distributing $4.1 billion a year in aid to the state's 286 school districts. The court's decision could shape lawmakers' work. GOP legislators junked a per-student formula in 2015 in favor of stable "block grants" for districts but that law is set to expire June 30. The Supreme Court is considering whether the state spends enough money on its schools overall. It heard arguments from attorneys in September.
Brownback Outlines Initiatives to Improve Rural Health
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Sam Brownback has outlined two long-term initiatives designed to bring more doctors to rural Kansas. Brownback has outlined a proposal to set aside $5 million in state funds to provide seed money for new doctor-training programs at Kansas hospitals. He and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer said the goal is to attract more federal and private dollars. The governor also announced during a Statehouse news conference that he's forming a task force to draft a plan for establishing a privately funded school to train osteopaths in Kansas. Osteopaths are doctors who generally focus on providing primary care and preventative medicine. Brownback noted that Kansas has had a shortage of medical personnel in rural areas for decades and that 92 of the state's 105 counties are considered medically underserved.
Mother, Son Die After Being Pulled From Icy Kansas Pond
MOUNDRIDGE, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a California mother and her 8-year-old son visiting Kansas relatives died after being pulled from an icy pond. KAKE-TV reports that investigators have not publicly identified the victims of the drowning Friday afternoon at Pack Park in Moundridge. The woman's 43-year-old husband managed to stay above the water and ice and was rescued. He was treated at a hospital. Ron Blaylock, Moundridge's fire chief, said rescue efforts were slowed because the volunteer fire department didn't have a boat and had to summon one. Details of why the victims were on the pond were not immediately disclosed.
Rare Foot Disease May Be Infecting Kansas Deer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Wildlife experts are trying to determine whether Kansas's deer population is contracting an unusual type of contagious foot disease at a higher than average rate. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is working with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study lab at the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine. The question is whether the condition is foot rot and why it appears to be more prevalent. Counties with reports include Butler, Lyon, Woodson, Neosho, Phillips, Cowley, Wilson, Bourbon, Anderson, Geary, Dickinson, Elk, Osage and Decatur. Hunters and other members of the public are asked to report any potential cases of foot rot to the wildlife disease coordinator for the state.
Kansas Native Starts Tour Guide Company to Showcase State
EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas native is starting an Emporia-based sightseeing tour company to showcase the state, its heritage and culture. The Wichita Eagle reports that Casey Cagle decided late last year to create Prairie Earth Tours after spending several years working as a cross-country tour guide. Cagle says he rarely ventured into his home state while working as a guide. Cagle's new company will offer guided tours of Kansas, specializing in trips through the Flint Hills. Tour groups would be limited to about 14 people so customers can experience the state like locals would. Until the Flint Hills trips begin this spring, Cagle is offering Kansas brewery tours.
Kansas Man Admits Role in $3.5 Million Identity Theft Scheme
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas man faces up to two years in federal prison after having admitted his role in what authorities say was a $3.5-million identity theft scheme involving credit cards. Justin Alan Vanley of Rose Hill pleaded guilty Friday in Wichita to one count of aggravated identity theft. His sentencing is scheduled for March 24. As part of his plea, Vanley admitted that one of roughly a dozen co-defendants gave him a U.S. Postal Service roster with personal information for two postal service employees. Authorities say Vanley used the identity of one of the workers to apply for a credit card with a $32,000 credit limit, waited for the card to arrive and intercepted it before it reached the victim.
Officials: Riley County's Radio System Past Due for Replacement
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Officials say Riley County needs to replace the radio system for its emergency management services because it's outdated and unreliable. The Manhattan Mercury reports that dropped calls and too much static are interfering with communication. The result is that emergency responders are having trouble reaching central dispatch, requesting help and asking for backup. Dispatchers sometimes have to call emergency responders on their cell phone to properly communicate. The county has gotten two bidders for a new 800 megahertz radio system, one at $6-7 million and another at $10-12 million. The Riley County Emergency Management director is expected to present the bids to commissioners this month. Emergency management officials first requested an upgrade in 2005.
Former Haskell Student Accused of Rape Gets 60 Day Sentence
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A former Haskell Indian Nations University student originally charged with raping a fellow student will serve 60 days in county jail and two years of probation after a plea deal that drew strong objections from the accuser and her family. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Jared Wheeler was sentenced after pleading no contest in November to aggravated battery. He originally faced two counts of rape and one count of aggravated battery. A trial last summer ended in a mistrial. The woman told the judge Friday that she believes Wheeler should have faced more charges. Wheeler told the court that the case motivated him to make positive changes in his life. A second man, Galen Satoe, is awaiting trial on two counts of rape and one count of aiding and abetting attempted rape.
Man Arrested After Chase, Injuries to Two Lawrence Officers
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Lawrence police say two officers were injured during a confrontation with a suspected drunk driver who led them on a chase. Police arrested the 50-year-old suspect after a pursuit early Saturday. Police said two officers were conducting a traffic stop when a man driving in a pickup truck hit a patrol car from behind, injuring an officer in that cruiser before speeding away. Police chased the truck into Franklin County before the driver lost control. The driver allegedly resisted arrest, causing minor injuries to the officer in the process.
No Charges Against Overland Park Officer in Shooting
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — An Overland Park police officer will not face charges after shooting at a man who allegedly rammed a truck into the officer's vehicle and then turned the vehicle in the officer's director. Johnson County Attorney Steve Howe said Monday the officer was justified in firing shots at the man last month. The Kansas City Star reports that the man was not injured in the December 21 confrontation. Casey Lee Smith is charged in Johnson County District Court with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and felony theft.
Man Given Life in Prison in Pittsburg Student's Homicide
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old man will serve at least 25 years in prison for his role in the death of a Pittsburg State University student. Brian Bridges was sentenced Monday to life without possibility of parole for 25 years in the 2014 death of Taylor Thomas during a home invasion in Pittsburg. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that Bridges pleaded no contest in November to first-degree murder. Prosecutors say Taylor was shot and killed when Bridges and two other men broke into his home to rob his roommate. Bridges was later captured in Mexico. During the hearing, Bridges said in a written statement that he was responsible for Taylor's death and apologized for his role in it. Thomas's father, Tom Thomas, Jr., also spoke and called his son's killing "cowardly."
Ex-Teacher Sentenced in Kansas Sexual Exploitation Case
ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — A former Atchison teacher was sentenced to more than five years in prison for trading sexually suggestive text messages with a 14-year-old boy. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that 39-year-old Robert Bulk, who taught at Atchison Middle School, was sentenced Monday on two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Atchison police arrested Bulk in July after the victim's family alerted them to text messages the child exchanged with Bulk during June. The crime did not involve any physical contact. Bulk said in a letter to the court that he was addicted to pornography. He apologized to the boy and several others. He worked for the Atchison district for more than a decade before resigning after his arrest.
Kansas Judge Delays Competency Ruling in Woman-on-Fire Case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A southern Kansas judge is giving attorneys for a man accused of sexually attacking a woman before setting her on fire more time to have him mentally evaluated. KAKE-TV reports 28-year-old Cornell McNeal of Wichita already has been evaluated twice, with the last one recommending that he be found competent to stand trial. Sedwick County Judge Warren Wilbert reviewed those findings but deferred ruling Friday on McNeal's mental fitness. McNeal is charged with capital murder in the November 2014 death of 36-year-old Letitia "Tish" Davis, who was a mother of four. Davis was found at Fairmount Park near Wichita State University by a neighbor who heard her screaming and discovered her on fire. Davis sustained burns on more than half of her body and died eight days later.
Kansas Researchers to Try to Make Better Barley for Beer
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Research money has been dedicated to growing better barley for beer in Kansas. The Brewers Association awarded a group of brewers, researchers and agricultural experts a $35,000 grant to develop winter malting barley to be grown and harvested in the Great Plains. The project is eligible to receive annual funding for five years, depending on research progress. Kansas is mostly known as a wheat-growing state, and much of its barley is grown as a high-protein grain for livestock feed. Barley grown for beer must be a lower-protein grain.
Chiefs Will Face Steelers in AFC Division Playoff Sunday
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In the the NFL divisional playoffs next weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs will face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC championship. The Steelers ended the Miami Dolphin's brief postseason with a 30-12 win on Sunday in Miami's first playoff game since 2008. The Dolphins have not won a playoff game since 2000. In their last meeting, Pittsburgh beat Kansas City 43-14 in Pittsburgh. Next weekend, the Steelers and the Chiefs will play at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City with the kick-off set for 12:05.