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Headlines for Monday, May 18, 2015

Kansas Governor Says Using Private Email, Cell is Simpler 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback says he has been using private email and cell phones for official business since he was a U.S. Senator. Brownback said during a news conference Monday that he began the practice while serving in the U.S. Senate from 1996 through 2010. He said there were situations where it was unclear whether the communication was private or official. He said he can also be reached through his state email. The disclosure that the governor uses private phones and email has raised concerns because documents related to them aren't accessible under the Kansas Open Records Act. Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt recommended recently that lawmakers fix the private email loophole in the records law. Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita called the practice indefensible.


New Proposal to Narrow Kansas Business Tax Break Emerges 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new proposal for narrowing a tax break for business owners and farmers has emerged in the Kansas House. The House Taxation Committee introduced the measure Monday and scheduled a Tuesday hearing on it. Chairman and Republican Representative Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park said the proposal could raise between $45 million and $55 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislators must close a budget shortfall projected at $406 million for the next fiscal year. The gap arose after lawmakers cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Governor Sam Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. One policy exempted the profits of 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers from income taxes. The bill introduced Monday would exempt only the first $150,000 of their profits for this year.


Report: Kansas Employment Growth Lags

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A new report says employment growth in Kansas has been lagging behind the rest of the nation. Wichita State University's Center for Economic Development and Business Research updated its employment forecast today (MON). It shows that while employment grew by 2.1 percent nationally in the last 12 months, in Kansas it grew by just 1.1 percent. The center's updated employment also anticipates Kansas employers will add 18,868 jobs this year. That represents a job growth of 1.4 percent this year in Kansas. The updated 2015 forecast anticipates service sectors in the state will have the most growth, led by the professional and business sectors and the leisure and hospitality industry. Federal and state government jobs are expected to decline.


Kansas Governor Signs Bill Overhauling Unemployment Program 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is setting a new cap on benefits for unemployed workers and overhauling the collection of taxes from businesses to finance the aid. Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill making the changes during a Statehouse ceremony Monday. Lawmakers approved the measure late last month, and the new law will take effect July 1. The maximum weekly benefit for workers will be 55 percent of the state's average wage. The cap was 60 percent, but the new law says the new cap couldn't drop below the current figure of $474. The new law also is designed to make the taxes paid by businesses more predictable by setting fixed rates. The state previously set rates annually based on what it thought was needed to finance benefits.


Kansas Governor Says Lawmakers Working Well on Tax Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback says the GOP-dominated Kansas Legislature is taking a "workman-like" approach to sifting through options for raising taxes to close a state budget shortfall. Brownback began a news conference Monday by praising legislators for what he said was their hard work so far this year. He said later that drafting a tax package will take time because the discussions involve many people and many different proposals. Legislators must close a projected budget shortfall of $406 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. They were meeting for the 92nd day — past the traditionally scheduled 90 days. The House Taxation Committee was convening Monday to consider additional proposals after a measure that would have increased the state's sales tax was voted down in the chamber.


Kansas Senate Bill Seen as Threat to Biosciences Agency 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas agency that nurtures biosciences companies would be abolished under a bill being considered by a legislative panel. The Senate Ways and Means Committee had a hearing Monday on a bill to transfer the Kansas Bioscience Authority's functions to the state Department of Commerce. The authority distributes research grants and invests in Kansas-based life startup companies. The governor has recommended providing $13 million for the bioscience agency and other related research initiatives for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Former state Budget Director Steve Anderson testified in favor of the bill and said the state should not compete with private investors. The executives of several companies that have received funding from the authority testified against the bill. They said it would force some tech startups to leave the state.


Kansas Lawmakers Work with Reduced Staff in Overtime Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators will be working with a reduced staff of secretaries and assistants now that their annual session is in overtime. Legislative leaders traditionally schedule sessions for 90 days, but that day came Saturday and lawmakers are still working to craft a state budget. A typical day in session costs the state about $60,000. But starting Monday, the cost is expected to drop to about $43,000 a day. The Legislature ended seasonal jobs Friday for about 150 workers, leaving about 60 employees, including the full-time staffs in each chamber. At least 11 of 125 House members and three of 40 senators have given up their $89-a-day salaries for the remainder of the overtime session.


High Winds and Heavy Rains Blast Parts of Eastern Kansas 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Forecasters have determined that wind gusts of 75 to 85 mph pushed 34 stopped railcars off their tracks in Lyon County. The National Weather Service announced Sunday that the winds that hit Saturday night also damaged trees and outbuilding in the area. Additionally, an EF-1 tornado with peak wind speeds of 94 mph damaged a Lyon County farmstead. Forecasters say 1 to 4 inches of rain fell Saturday and early Sunday across much of eastern Kansas, causing flash flooding in low-lying areas of Coffeyville, Wichita and the Kansas City metropolitan area. Some stretches of the Chikaskia, Marais Des Cygnes, Neosho and the Cottonwood rivers are or soon will be overflowing their banks, causing minor to moderate flooding.


KS Among States Getting New Drought Aid for Farms, Ranches 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Farmers and ranchers in the West's worst-hit drought regions will receive an additional $21 million to help them save water and soil despite the long dry spell. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the aid Monday. The assistance will go to areas of the West that are rated in the highest categories of drought. That includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah. The aid is meant to help farms and grazing pastures cope with drought through better irrigation, cover crops and other measures. The money comes from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. The conservation agency says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on water-conservation measures for agriculture since 2012.


Wichita Woman Dies After Hit-and-Run at Party

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 31-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder after an argument at a party ended with the death of the hostess. The Wichita Eagle reports Lydia Treto, also 31, was killed after being hit by a vehicle Sunday evening in the backyard of her Wichita home. Lieutenant Todd Ojile says witnesses told investigators Treto was hosting a party when she and the suspect got into a violent argument. Witnesses say the suspect and her two children got into an SUV after the woman was asked to leave, and that the suspect drove the vehicle into the backyard of the home and struck Treto, killing her. The Wichita Eagle reports that police later arrested the suspect in the Planeview neighborhood. She was being held in Sedgwick County Jail.


Magnitude 3.3 Earthquake Shakes Northern Oklahoma

TONKAWA, Okla. (AP) — Parts of northern Oklahoma were shaken by an earthquake over the weekend. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude 3.3 quake was recorded Sunday morning in Kay County near the Kansas state line.  No damage or injuries were reported. Geologists say earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 to 3.0 are generally the smallest that are felt by humans and that damage is not likely from earthquakes below magnitude 4.0. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has said it is "very likely" that earthquakes are being triggered by the injection of wastewater from oil and natural gas drilling operations across the state.


$4.7M Bulk Solids Research Plant Opens in Salina

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A new research center in Salina will help industry leaders figure out the best ways to handle bulk solids such as sugar, salt, chemicals and plastics. The $4.7 million, 13,000-square-foot Kansas State Bulk Solids Innovation Center includes six laboratories and a a 60-foot silo with sensors and removable sections to study storing and moving solid bulk items. The Salina Journal reports it is the only such research center in the Western Hemisphere, with similar centers in Scotland, England and Australia. Supporters say the center has already attracted interest from industry leaders. The center is expected to bring about 40 jobs to Salina and provide educational opportunities for students.


Youth Group Pushing State Fair to Ban Smoking

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas State Fair is being asked to consider banning smoking throughout the fair grounds. A Reno County youth group called Communities That Care has discussed its ideas on a smoking ban with the state fair board, which will consider the request Tuesday. The Hutchinson News reports smoking is currently not allowed in the fair buildings or in the grandstand seating area. The youth group wants the fair board to expand that ban to the entire grounds, saying it would create a healthier environment for fairgoers. Fair manager Denny Stoecklein says the board has to consider that about 20 percent - or 78,000 fairgoers each year - are smokers. He says other issues are accommodating vendors who smoke and how to enforce the ban.


Dodge City Police Get Grant for Drug Collection Program

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) - The Dodge City Police Department has received a grant that will allow it to have a drug collection unit on hand. The police department was awarded a grant by CVS Pharmacy so that Dodge City residents would be able to properly dispose of expired or unused medications at a unit inside the department's lobby. According to Dodge City Police Chief Craig Mellecker, the Drug Enforcement Agency recently discontinued its Take-Back Program, so the department looked for other options to handle medications and eventually applied for the grant. Mellecker says the unit will be checked weekly, and prescriptions will be taken to an incinerator to be destroyed. Medications can be dropped off at the unit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no questions asked.


Report: Widespread Rains Boost Kansas Wheat Crops 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government snapshot of Kansas crops shows an improving winter wheat crop amid widespread rains. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 30 percent of the crop was still in poor to very poor condition, a slight improvement compared to a week ago. About 41 percent of the wheat is reported in fair condition, with 27 percent rated as good and 2 percent as excellent. About 86 percent of the state's winter wheat crop has headed and 5 percent has colored. Kansas growers have now planted about 78 percent of their corn crops and 17 percent of their soybeans. Sorghum planting trails at 6 percent. About 1 percent of the sunflowers have also been planted.


Man Arrested on Suspicion of Threatening Woman with Knife

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An Arkansas City man has been arrested on suspicion of threatening a woman with a knife and chasing her down the street. A woman told police that a 32-year-old man pulled a knife after they had an argument Sunday night. She told police that the suspect refused to let her go. The victim said she was able to escape to a neighbor's house after being chased down a sidewalk. She was not injured. According to authorities, the suspect damaged the neighbor's home, and marijuana was found in the home where the incident began. KWCH-TV reports the man faces charges of aggravated assault, criminal restraint, criminal damage to property, domestic battery, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.


Audit Finds Problems at Jackson County MO Circuit Court

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A state audit has found that problems persist in Jackson County (Missouri) Circuit Court after its former administrator pleaded guilty to embezzlement. Auditor Nicole Galloway gave the court an overall fair rating in the audit released Monday. Galloway said in a news release that the public must be kept informed of ongoing issues as corrections are made. The findings included unbalanced ledgers and the failure to reschedule court appearances. Auditors also noted that the court maintains more than $6 million in investments that aren't compliant with state law and its own guidelines. The analysis comes less than a year after Teresa York, of Blue Springs, was sentenced to two years in prison for embezzling nearly $80,000 and funneling more than $64,000 to her boyfriend for consulting work that was never done.


Judge Sets Hearing in Boeing Retirement Settlement Case 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has set a hearing over a proposed $90 million settlement in the lawsuit by former Boeing workers over retirement plan benefits after the sale of the company's Wichita operations. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Monday scheduled the fairness hearing for August 19 in federal court in Wichita. The class-action lawsuit covers former Boeing workers who were participants in the company's retirement plan in June 2005. The settlement covers Boeing workers who had at least 10 years of vesting service and were between the ages of 49 and 55 at the time they went to work at Spirit AeroSystems or its predecessor Mid-Western Aircraft systems. Belot preliminarily approved the settlement last week. The hearing in August will help determine whether the court gives it final approval.


Kansas City Man Convicted of Stabbing Grandmother to Death 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has found 19-year-old Kansas City man guilty of stabbing his grandmother to death a day after she celebrated her 70th birthday. Corey Barrett was convicted Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and two counts of armed criminal action. Prosecutors say he killed Marise Barrett in March 2013. A deputy Jackson County medical examiner testified during the bench trial that the victim was stabbed 32 times. The Kansas City Star reports that Barrett initially was charged as a juvenile because he was 16 at the time, but he was later certified to stand trial as an adult. A 20-year-old co-defendant has pleaded guilty and is being sentenced Friday.


River Recedes at Mosby, MO; 12 Homes Badly Damaged 

MOSBY, Mo. (AP) — Most of the residents of the northwestern Missouri town of Mosby are back home after a sudden flood caused by heavy rain. The National Weather Service says that areas near Kansas City received up to 6 inches of rain late Saturday and early Sunday, causing flooding along portions of some rivers, including the Missouri and the Grand. But the worst of it appeared to be at Mosby, a town of about 190 residents near Kansas City. Clay County public information officer Nicole Brown said Monday that most residents voluntarily evacuated Sunday but most have since returned home. Twelve homes were badly damaged. No one was hurt but four people had to be rescued by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.  Officials have not yet determined the financial value of the damage.


Royals Roll Past Yankees on Sunday, 6-0

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Edinson Volquez threw three-hit ball for seven innings, Salvador Perez homered and drove in two runs as the Kansas City Royals ended a three-game weekend series with a 6-0 victory over the New York Yankees on Sunday. Volquez (3-3) struck out five without issuing a walk in an effortless performance. He never allowed a leadoff man on base, and just one Yankee reached second all afternoon. The Yankees' Chris Capuano (0-1) made his season debut after rehabbing an injury sustained in spring training. The veteran left-hander gave up four runs on four hits and two walks and left New York in a big hole when he was pulled in the third inning. The Royals took the series winning two games out of three.


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