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Headlines for Sunday, February 14, 2016

Budget Patches Have Lawmakers Seeing Broader Problems

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are preparing to close a deficit largely with budget juggling, and a growing number are seeing broad problems with how the state is managing its finances. Conservative Republican Governor Sam Brownback's critics blame his aggressive tax-cutting policies for crises across state government. The problems include inadequate pay at state prisons and short staffing in state mental hospitals. Lawmakers in both parties also argued in recent debates that the fixes proposed by Brownback paper over the state's budget gap rather than close it. Brownback's spokeswoman dismissed what she called "the sky is falling" criticism. But even some allies acknowledged they'll be largely doing a quick patch with budget-balancing legislation. The projected deficit is nearly $200 million in the state's $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st.


Kansas Senators Seek to Pause Bond Program

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas senators are working to keep Gov. Sam Brownback's administration from approving new economic development projects that cost the state sales tax revenue. Senators approved a budget bill Thursday with an amendment preventing the Department of Commerce from approving new STAR bonds projects this and next fiscal year. The program has been used to finance construction of projects and allows municipalities to use sales tax revenue to pay off the bonds. Some lawmakers say the STAR bonds program should be halted temporarily because of the state's dire financial situation. The Wichita Eagle reports the Department of Commerce says the program is used to develop regional attractions that will spur a significant economic impact. It would not release a list of current projects Friday.


Kansas Senate President Ousts Health Committee Chair

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican president of the Kansas Senate has ousted Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook from leadership of the Senate's health committee. Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said in an emailed statement Friday that Senate President Susan Wagle removed her from her post as chair of the Senate's Public Health and Welfare Committee. Pilcher-Cook said she was removed because of her attempt to offer a Medicaid expansion proposal on the Senate floor Tuesday for the purpose of voting it down. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Wagle responded Saturday by saying Pilcher-Cook had shown "complete disrespect" for the Senate and its rules by bringing the amendment the way she did. Wagle has tapped Senator Michael O'Donnell, a Wichita Republican, to head the committee on an interim basis.


Abortion Issue Sparks First Tie Vote for State Appeals Court 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A split vote last month on an abortion issue is the first time in Kansas Court of Appeals' history that it has reached a deadlock. The 14-member court was evenly divided in a January 22 vote on whether the Kansas Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion. The main reasons there have been no previous ties is that that initially the court had seven members, and normally decisions are made by three-judge panels. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the January session was the first time the court had met as a whole, or en banc, since 1983. The tie meant a Shawnee County District Court ruling that prevented a ban on a second-trimester abortion procedure from taking effect was affirmed.


Kansas Lawmakers Want to Limit Release of Police Video 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers want to restrict public access to law enforcement body camera footage in an effort to protect the privacy of people caught on camera. A bill introduced by the House judiciary committee last week would limit release of the video to the people in the footage, their attorneys and their parents if they are minors. The public would have access to footage only through a court order. Under the current law, most of the footage is a public record available to anyone who asks for it. Proponents say regulation would protect the public's privacy. A critic said the bill doesn't go far enough to balance privacy rights and the value of the cameras as an accountability tool.


First Trial Date Set in Killing of Salina Teenager 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The first trial date is scheduled for one of five people accused in the killing of a Salina teenager. A Saline County judge on Friday scheduled an April 11 trial date for 19-year-old Stephen Gentry in the death of Allie Saum in May 2015. Prosecutors say she was shot as she rode in a pickup truck that drove past a group of men who mistakenly thought the truck driver had been involved in an earlier confrontation. The Salina Journal reports that the five suspects are facing a charge of with first-degree murder along with three other charges. Gentry's attorney argued Friday that his trial should be continued until the person who actually shot Saum is tried. Prosecutors said they had no preference which of the defendants is tried first.


2 Killed in NE Kansas Accident

BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — Two Oklahoma men have died in a single-vehicle crash in northeast Kansas. Police said the accident occurred late Thursday in Bonner Springs when the pickup they were in veered off a road and struck several trees. The Kansas City Star reports that police identified the two men killed in the crash as 35-year-old William Joshua Henderson, of Yukon, and 29-year-old Michael Was Jr., of Oklahoma City.
Police say the men were relatives.


Topeka Police Investigating Baby's Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police are investigating the death of a 2-month-old baby. Police Captain Ash Kaboudan said officers were called Friday evening to a home on a report of a pediatric emergency, and crews took the girl by ambulance to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that police haven't released the child's name. No arrests had been made. No other details about the death were immediately available.


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