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Headlines for Thursday, April 30, 2015

Kansas Collects $4.4M Less in Taxes than Expected in April 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas says it collected $4.4 million less in taxes than anticipated this month. But the Department of Revenue said Thursday that the lower-than-expected collections may be due to how tax returns have been processed since the April 15 filing deadline. Spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said the agency can't predict which returns will be processed first. The state expected to collect nearly $516 million in taxes for the month. Instead, it collected $511.5 million. The shortfall was 0.9 percent. It was the first monthly report on tax collections since state officials issued a new, more pessimistic fiscal forecast earlier this month. Since the current fiscal year began in July, the state has collected about $4.5 billion in taxes. That's also $4.4 million less than expect, for a shortfall of 0.1 percent.

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Kansas Governor, Top GOP Lawmakers at Odds over Income Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback and top GOP legislators are at odds over reconsidering an income tax break for business owners enacted by lawmakers three years ago. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita and House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park said Wednesday that a reconsideration of the policy will get a serious look. Brownback and lawmakers must close a projected budget shortfall that legislative researchers peg at $422 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. The state slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. It exempted 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers from income taxes. Brownback said Wednesday that he wants to preserve the policy. He said among other alternatives, he'll push legislators to eliminate income tax deductions instead.

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Kansas Lawmakers Pass Bill to Overhaul Unemployment Program 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have approved a bill setting a new cap on benefits for unemployed workers and overhauling the collection of taxes from businesses to finance the aid. The Senate approved the bill on a 29-11 vote Thursday. The House approved it earlier this month, 85-36. The measure goes next to Governor Sam Brownback for his possible signature. The bill is designed to make the taxes paid by businesses more predictable by setting fixed rates in state law. The state currently set rates annually based on what it thinks will be needed to finance benefits. The maximum weekly benefit for workers would be 55 percent of the state's average wage. The cap is now 60 percent, but the bill says the new cap couldn't drop below the current figure of $474.

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Hundreds Rally at Kansas Statehouse to Support Services 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several hundred advocates and disabled Kansas residents have rallied at the Statehouse for preserving spending on social services as legislators deal with the state's budget problems. The rally Thursday came with the Republican-controlled Legislature in early discussions about proposals to raise taxes to close a shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislative researchers say the deficit is $422 million. The event was sponsored by InterHab. It represents providers of services to the developmentally disabled. Executive Director Tom Laing said the group has specific concerns such as funding for in-home services. But Laing said the larger concern is that lawmakers won't raise enough new revenues to prevent social services cuts. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. said legislators are committed to preserving programs.

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Kansas House Speaker's Chief of Staff Departing for New Job 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick's chief of staff is taking a new job with a health insurance company and will be replaced by a Kansas Chamber of Commerce official. The Stilwell Republican's office announced Thursday that Chief of Staff Wade Hapgood will step down when the Legislature finishes its annual session next month. Hapgood has been Merrick's top aide since June 2013. Hapgood will become vice president of state government affairs for UnitedHealth Group, which is the parent company for one of three firms managing the state's Medicaid program for the needy and disabled. He will be replaced by Christie Kriegshauser. She is the Kansas Chamber's vice president for political affairs but was Merrick's chief of staff before Hapgood. The chamber's CEO is former House Speaker Mike O'Neal.

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Ex-US Representative Seeks to Expand Lobbying Firm in Kansas 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The lobbying and consulting firm of a former U.S. Congressman has sent letters to several Kansas businesses offering to represent their interests before the state legislature. The Wichita Eagle reports that former U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt's firm, Tiahrt Enterprises LLC, sent the letters seeking new clients April 20. Tiahrt recently became senior vice president of O'Neill and Associates, which is a Washington, D.C. firm that provides lobbying and other services for businesses at the state and federal levels. He says Tiahrt Enterprises is a separate venture, and that he is a consultant, not a lobbyist, for the firms. Tiahrt Enterprises registered with the Kansas Secretary of State's Office in 2011, but Tiahrt said he did not hire a lobbyist until this fall. Tiahrt served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2011.

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Kansas Sex Predator Program Could Move Due to Labor Shortage 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Staffing problems at Larned State Hospital are driving up costs and leading some lawmakers to consider moving its sexual predator treatment program to a new location. House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs said Thursday that the Legislature needs to work on a "long-term, viable relocation" of the sexual predator program to an area that can support its workforce needs. The Kansas City Democrat declined to suggest a specific locale, saying any community potentially hosting it would need to be consulted first. Kansas currently commits sex offenders deemed to be sexual predators to the hospital, and a state audit report released Tuesday said the facility is already understaffed and its rural location 100 miles west of Wichita does not have enough potential workers to serve the program's increasing population.

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Kansas Supreme Court to Consider Prairie Village Councilman's Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas Supreme Court is taking up the case next week of a suburban Kansas City official who was kicked out of office for allowing a homeless friend to sleep in City Hall.Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe's office sought the review after the Kansas Court of Appeals found in October that the ouster of Prairie Village Councilman David Morrison was improper. Morrison came under fire after he allowed his longtime friend to stay at City Hall over a four-day period in 2012. A Johnson County jury found Morrison willfully engaged in misconduct after a civil trial. But the appeals court found Morrison's actions didn't meet the legal requirements for the "drastic" step of ouster. The appeals court said a "simple error of judgment" is not sufficient.

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Kansas House Leader: No Debate on Religious Objections Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick says he's not planning to have his chamber debate a bill aimed at protecting college religious groups that want to limit their membership. Merrick said Wednesday that the House must concentrate on closing a budget shortfall and drafting a plan to raise new revenues. The Stilwell Republican's comments came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said during a news conference that the bill would force state colleges to financially support discrimination. The bill would prohibit state colleges from refusing to provide resources to groups for requiring members to profess certain religious beliefs or adhere to a faith-based code of conduct. Supporters say the measure ensures that groups can operate in line with their beliefs. The Senate passed it last month.

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Hutchinson Teens Arrested in Alleged Threats Against School 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson police say five teenagers were arrested on suspicion of making threats against Hutchinson High School. District Attorney Keith Schroeder Keith Schroeder told The Hutchinson News Wednesday that the five suspects encouraged each other to commit murder at the high school. The investigation began Monday after the school reported threats made by the juveniles on Facebook. The threats were general and did not target specific individuals. Two of the juveniles are students at the school. Four are 16 and one is 17. Schroeder said he didn't know how real the danger was but the threats had to be taken seriously. He said there was no need for further concern after the arrests. The suspects are in the Reno County Youth Services Detention Facility pending appearances in juvenile court.

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KU Fraternity Expels 4 Members for Mocking Muslims 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A fraternity at the University of Kansas has kicked out four members after a video posted on social media showed someone mocking Muslims. Zeta Beta Tau chapter president Jason Finkelstein said Wednesday that the traditionally Jewish fraternity learned of the video April 10 and expelled the members the next day. He said it appears the clip was posted April 9 via the app Yeti. In a written statement released over the weekend to the school's student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, the fraternity said it takes a "strong stance against bigotry and intolerance in all forms." The student paper obtained the clip, which shows a man wrapped in a blanket with his face and head covered. He can be heard saying "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great."

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Judge Blocks Release of Couple in Drug Money Laundering Case 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has blocked a Texas magistrate judge's order allowing the release of a couple accused of laundering cartel drug money at a small southwest Kansas bank. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten on Thursday revoked the release order for George and Agatha Enns of Meade. Prosecutors say the Kansas couple conspired with the former bank president of Plains State Bank to launder drug money for a Mexican cartel. Marten also ordered the couple be returned to Kansas, where the issue of their detention pending trial could be resolved. Prosecutors had vehemently opposed Tuesday's decision by a magistrate judge in El Paso, Texas, where they were arrested, allowing the couple to be released on bond.

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Truck Driver Charged in 100-Pound Meth Bust in Kansas 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A California truck driver accused of transporting about 100 pounds of methamphetamine through Kansas faces federal charges. The U.S. attorney's office says the Kansas Highway Patrol found the meth Tuesday after stopping 41-year-old Domingo Uriarte in Kansas City, Kansas, for a traffic violation. He is charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute. His public defender didn't immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. Prosecutors said 15 tightly-wrapped bundles of meth were found in a large wooden crate containing a metal lathe. Prosecutors said Uriarte tried to flee during the search but was recaptured. The charge carries a penalty of not less than 10 years and a fine of up to $10 million.

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Ex-Police Chief Accused in Gun Sale Conspiracy Speaks 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The attorney for a former police chief indicted in a gun sale conspiracy at the Bel Aire Police Department says his client never intended to violate any law. Ex-chief John R. Daily acknowledged in a statement Thursday he signed paperwork to purchase the tax-exempt firearms, and said he accepts his responsibility. He says he put his trust in his staff. His attorney says hundreds of documents routinely came to the chief for his signature. He contends his client should have read every one more carefully, but he did not intend to defraud anyone. Daily was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of wire fraud and mail fraud. Prosecutors allege he and three other officers falsely represented the weapons were police department property to take advantage of special pricing and tax exemptions.

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Search Committee for Emporia State's Next President Forms 

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Regents has appointed a search committee to help find the next president of Emporia State University. The Board announced Wednesday that the committee is comprised of Emporia State students, staff and faculty. It will include faculty representatives from all of its colleges as well as the university's foundation and alumni boards, the Board of Regents and the Emporia community. Current President Michael Shonrock announced in early April that he would be leaving to take over as president of Linwood University starting June 1. Shonrock previously served at Texas Tech University as senior vice president and associate professor. Emporia State also is seeking a new president for its foundation after Dena Sue Potestio announced earlier this month she also is leaving.

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K-State Awards $500K in Grants for Global Food Research 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University has awarded $500,000 in grants to faculty members who are researching way to boost food production as the world population grows.The university says the Kansas Department of Commerce provided the grant money, which will be divided among nine projects. One of the projects is a three-day symposium to increase education and food production in urban settings. Other projects will look into irrigation and improving the beef transport system. An 11-member panel of faculty members and students evaluated the grant requests. The effort is part of the school's Global Food Systems Initiative.

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Local Food and Farm Task Force Plans Meeting 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas group tasked with preparing a plan to increase locally grown food production plans to get together this week. The Kansas Department of Agriculture says in a press release that the Local Food and Farm Task Force it has scheduled a public meeting at 9 am on May 8. It is meeting at the Kansas State Capitol in Room 142S. The group was established in the 2014 session of the Kansas Legislature. Its purpose is to prepare a plan containing policy and funding recommendations to boost local foods.

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Kansas Toddler Hospitalized Following Lawn Mower Accident  

BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — A 15-month-old has been flown to a hospital after being struck by a lawn mower in Leavenworth County. Authorities say the toddler suffered injuries to the lower body in the Wednesday night incident. According to the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office, the victim, who was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital, lives at the home where the incident occurred. Further details were not released.

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Man Pleads Guilty in Death of Topeka Motorcyclist 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man who was driving about 100 mph when he hit and killed a motorcyclist and fled the scene has pleaded guilty to two felonies. Thirty-one-year-old David Michael Bowers pleaded guilty Wednesday to reckless involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident in the October 2014 death of 53-year-old Michael Munoz of Topeka. In exchange for the plea, five other charges, including driving under the influence, were dropped. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Bowers will be sentenced June 5. Bowers remains in Shawnee County Jail in lieu of bond.

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Former School Safety Director to Stand Trial on Sex Charges 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Wichita school safety supervisor who also is an ex-police sergeant will go to trial on eight charges accusing him of sex crimes against three boys. The Wichita Eagle reports that 52-year-old Alex Robinson was in court Wednesday, where a judge determined there is enough evidence to order him to stand trial. Robinson's attorney asked that that not-guilty plea be entered for his client, who showed no emotion and looked straight at the three witnesses during the hour-long preliminary hearing. The witnesses — a 13-year-old, 17-year-old and 26-year-old — testified that Robinson groped or sodomized them when they were younger. Robinson spent 22 years with the Wichita Police Department before going to work with the school district in 2006.

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Senator Pat Roberts Elected to Lead Eisenhower Memorial Project

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Senator Pat Roberts has been elected chairman of the commission working to build a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower near the National Mall. Roberts, a Republican from Eisenhower's home state, was elected Wednesday during a meeting of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission at the Capitol. California Democratic Representative Mike Thompson was elected vice chairman. Former chairman Rocco Siciliano led the effort for 15 years and oversaw hiring Frank Gehry as the designer. Now it falls to Roberts to build support to complete the memorial. The project has been delayed for years over objections to the design by Eisenhower's family and some groups. Roberts says it hasn't been easy to advance the project. But he says Eisenhower never stopped in the face of adversity and the commission won't either.

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Teenager Drowns in River in Eastern Kansas

BURLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 13-year-old boy has drowned in a river in eastern Kansas. The Coffey County Sheriff's Office says in a news release that Matthew Edwards of Burlington drowned Tuesday evening in the Neosho River in Burlington. Numerous agencies responded to the river and worked for about an hour to recover the teenager from the water. Details about what led to the boy's drowning were not released.
 

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