Kansas Legislature Passes State Budget Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have given final approval to a plan for eliminating a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state's next budget. The Senate vote Wednesday evening was 22-16 on a compromise bill to reconcile differences between the two chambers on spending issues. The House approved it earlier in the day, 68-53. The plan makes dozens of changes in the state's $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. It includes most of Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to help close the gap by juggling funds and capturing unanticipated savings. The measure also includes a House proposal for a 2.5 percent pay raise for corrections officers at state prisons. The measure goes next to Governor Brownback, who has the power to veto individual items.
Kansas Lawmakers Earmark $50K for Lawyers on School Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Republican lawmakers are preparing to set aside $50,000 so the Kansas Legislature can hire attorneys to represent it on school funding issues. The addition of the spending to the budget plan prompted Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita to suggest Wednesday that GOP leaders are preparing to defy a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on education funding. Olathe Republican and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. said legislators need legal advice about how to respond to the order. The Supreme Court ruled that a school funding law enacted last year unfairly shorts poor school districts financially. The court ruled in a lawsuit pursued by four school districts, and the attorney general's office has hired a law firm to help represent the state.
Kansas House Advances Proposal to Have Convention of States
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a resolution calling for a convention to propose changes in the U.S. Constitution to lessen the federal government's power. The vote Thursday was 77-44 on calling for a convention of the states. But conservative Republicans backing the idea will need a two-thirds majority of 84 votes in the 125-member chamber to prevail in a final vote Monday. The U.S. Constitution allows 34 states to call for such a convention, and supporters anticipate each state having one vote in it. Constitutional changes still would have to be ratified in 38 states for them to take effect. Supporters of the convention said the federal government is out of control. But Democratic Representative Ed Trimmer of Winfield said he sees "too much opportunity for mischief."
Kansas Senate Debates Welfare Rules, Help for Poor Mothers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-dominated Kansas Senate has rejected a Democratic proposal aimed at helping poor mothers of newborns as it debates tightening the state's welfare rules. The GOP-backed bill senators were debating Thursday would decrease the state's lifetime limit on cash benefits to 24 months from 36 months and require the state to look for lottery winners among welfare recipients. Senators expected to vote on the bill Thursday evening. Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka offered an amendment to exempt mothers of newborns who receive cash benefits from a work requirement for a year instead of the current two months. It failed on a voice vote. Hensley said his plan would help new mothers. Republicans said welfare recipients would receive more time off work than women with private-sector jobs receive.
Kansas Senate Advances Proposal to Shorten Annual Sessions
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill designed to shorten the amount of time the Kansas Legislature is in session has advanced in the state Senate. Senators gave the measure first-round approval Wednesday on a voice vote. They expected to take final action today (THUR). Approval would send the measure to the House. The bill would limit sessions to 100 days in odd-numbered years when the state’s biennial budget is debated and to 60 days in even-numbered years. The proposal came after the 2015 annual session lasted a record 114 days. The state constitution doesn't limit the amount of time allowed for legislative sessions but the tradition is for leaders to schedule 90 days. Legislators still could vote to extend their sessions. Supporters said the move would promote efficiency.
Bill to Expand Open Records Law Advances in Kansas Senate
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A bill expanding the number of government records that are publically accessible has advanced in the Kansas Senate. The bill set for a final vote today (THUR) would expand the Kansas Open Records Act to include documents and emails pertaining to public business, even if they're generated or stored on personal devices. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the bill came in response to a 2014 controversy involving Governor Sam Brownback's budget director, Shawn Sullivan. At issue was his use of his private email account to communicate with lobbyists about the governor's budget plan before submitting the plan to legislators. The bill applies to information stored on devices owned by any employee of a public agency.
Kansas Senate President Says She Won't Reinstate Committee Chairwoman
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's Republican leader says she won't reinstate the former chairwoman of the chamber's health committee. Senate President Susan Wagle said Wednesday that she's comfortable with her decision to remove Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook as leader of the Public Health and Welfare Committee. Seventeen of the Senate's 32 Republicans and 26 of the House's 97 GOP members signed letters this week urging Wagle to reinstate Pilcher-Cook. Wagle removed Pilcher-Cook last week after she tried to force a Senate debate on expanding the state's Medicaid coverage for poor and disabled residents in line with the federal health care overhaul.
Kansas Lawmakers Discuss Juvenile Justice System Overhaul
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have agreed on a sweeping measure that would overhaul the juvenile justice system by offering community-based services to juvenile offenders. The Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice voted Wednesday to close group homes for juvenile offenders in July 2018. The bill also proposes to create a team to review cases with the input of families and educators. Republican committee Chairman Greg Smith from Overland Park says community-based programs that address such things as anger management for low and mid-level juvenile offenders would offer the greatest change to the system. Smith says the full Senate will vote on the bill by next week.
Kansas Senate Confirms Brownback's Administration Secretary
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has overwhelmingly confirmed Governor Sam Brownback's secretary of administration despite questions about a $20 million state construction project. The vote Wednesday on Secretary Sarah Shipman's appointment was 37-2. She was the Department of Administration's top lawyer and deputy secretary before she began serving as interim secretary in July 2015. The department faced questions over its plans to build a new power plant for the Statehouse and four nearby government office buildings. The agency is financing the project through a 15-year lease-purchase agreement signed in December with Bank of America. Democratic Senators Anthony Hensley and Laura Kelly voted against Shipman saying they believe Shipman misled legislators.
Legislative Effort on Common Core Could Doom AP, IB Programs
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An effort by Kansas lawmakers to repeal Common Core standards could also mean the end to Advanced Placement classes and International Baccalaureate programs. The Wichita Eagle reports that the House Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would compel Kansas school districts to develop new standards for reading, math, science and other subjects. Those standards would replace Common Core-inspired Kansas College and Career Ready Standards that have been in place since 2010. The vote came after committee members heard a presentation from Duke Pesta, a Wisconsin professor and outspoken critic of Common Core. The Kansas State Department of Education has estimated the development of new standards would take two years and cost $9 million.
Report: Kansas Had 600 Fewer Farms, Ranches in 2015
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report shows the number of farms and ranches fell last year in Kansas. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Thursday that the state had 60,400 farms in 2015, down 600 from the previous year. The number of farms with less than $100,000 in agricultural sales decreased by 800 farms, while the number of those with more than $100,000 in sales grew by 200 farms. Kansas has 46 million acres of land in farms and ranches, unchanged from a year earlier. The agency says the average size of farming operations is 762 acres, up 8 acres from 2014.
Official: Funding Boost for Kansas Mental Hospital in Works
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top Kansas social services official says Governor Sam Brownback will push for additional funding for the state's two mental hospitals. Secretary Tim Keck of the Department for Aging and Disability Services also says Brownback is considering proposing pay raises of up to 10 percent for workers who care for patients at the hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie. Legislators in both parties said Thursday they welcomed the news that the Republican governor is working on proposals to help the hospitals fill staff vacancies and deal other issues. But they also remained wary of his administration's interest in examining whether a private company should run the Osawatomie hospital. The federal government in December pulled funding from the Osawatomie hospital after finding problems. It's costing the state up to $1 million a month.
ACLU Sues Kansas over Citizenship Documents Law for Voting
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship when people register to vote at state motor vehicle offices. A federal lawsuit filed Thursday contends the documents requirement violates the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law that aims to increase voter participation by eligible citizens. That law is sometimes called the "Motor-Voter Law" because of a provision requiring states to provide voter registration services in conjunction with drivers' license applications. The ACLU lawsuit contends more than 35,000 Kansans have been blocked from voting since Kansas implemented the documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach did not immediately return phone and email messages.Dale Ho, the ACLU's director of voting rights project, contends Kansas has become the nation's "epicenter of voter suppression."
Lawmakers Discuss Measure Allowing Towns to Deny Refugees
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House is discussing legislation that would deny resettlement of refugees in Kansas communities if they lack a sufficient amount of services or local law enforcement. Under the measure, the governor would work with local governments to determine whether a community has the resources to accommodate refugees. Christopher Holton, a lobbyist from Outreach Center for Security Policy, was one of two people who spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Kansas is one of 17 states that is refusing to accept Syrian refugees after attacks in Paris last November.
Kansas House Panel Approves Bill for 'Opt-In' Sex Education
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state House committee has approved a bill requiring public schools to get permission from parents before students could participate in sex education courses. Education Committee Chairman and Wamego Republican Ron Highland said Wednesday that the so-called "opt-in" sex education bill is designed to give parents more control. The measure requires written consent from a child's parent or guardian. Most of the state's 286 local school districts have "opt-out" policies in which a child takes sex education unless a parent objects. Democratic Representative Ed Trimmer of Winfield said, with opt-in policies, parents could deny their children needed classes. The panel had hearings and passed the bill last year, but it stalled in the House and was returned to the committee.
Former Osawatomie Police Chief Arrested in Iowa
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) — The former police chief for an eastern Kansas town has been arrested on charges including witness intimidation. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says in a release that Robert Butters, former Osawatomie police chief, was arrested Thursday and is being held on $250,000 bond in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Jail records, however, show Butters being held without bond. He's due in court Friday. The KBI says Butters was arrested on charges of aggravated intimidation of a witness, attempted interference with a law enforcement officer and possession of a firearm while under the influence. The KBI says the charges stem from a recent incident in the Osawatomie area. Jail records don't list a lawyer for Butters, who resigned earlier this year as police chief. The KBI says no other information would be released Thursday.
Florist Who Refused Gay Couple Briefs Kansas Lawmakers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Washington state florist who was sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding testified before a Kansas House committee Wednesday in support of additional legal protections for people who choose not to serve same-sex clients because of religious belief. Barronelle Stutzman told the Federal and State Affairs Committee that she objected to providing the flowers because she believes "marriage is between a man and a woman." The committee has previously debated, so-called, religious objection measures. Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, says the national group is focused on religious freedom issues and is representing several defendants in similar lawsuits throughout the country. Thomas Witt of the gay rights group Equality Kansas argued after the briefing that it was a "one-sided attack" because opponents were not invited to speak.
Teams From KU, K-State and MU Win EPA Grants
LENEXA, Kan. (AP) - Teams from universities in Kansas and Missouri have won federal grants to develop sustainable products. The regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that student teams from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and the University of Missouri are among the 38 college teams to receive $15,000 grants from an EPA environmental research program. The EPA says the University of Kansas team will focus on harvesting wasted heat from LED lights, the Kansas State team is working on air filtration, and the University of Missouri's project involves monitoring water quality at hydraulic fracturing sites. The projects will be demonstrated this spring, and teams will then compete for additional awards to bring their products to the marketplace.
Memorial Will Being Created for Jewish Sites Shooting Victims
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - A memorial will be dedicated in April to three people who were shot to death at two Jewish sites in Kansas. The Jewish Community Center in Overland Park has announced that donations received after the April 2014 shootings at the center and nearby Village Shalom partially financed the memorial to Dr. William Lewis Corporon; his grandson, Reat Underwood, and Teresa LeManno. The memorial sculpture will be on the west side of the Jewish Community Center Campus. The memorial will be open to the public after a private dedication in mid-April. Avowed white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., of Aurora, Missouri, was sentenced to death in November for the shootings. Miller said he shot the victims because he wanted to kill Jews. None of the three victims were Jewish.
Costa Rican President to Give Landon Lecture at Kansas State
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Costa Rica's president is scheduled to give a Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. Luis Guillermo Solis will speak May 19 at the Manhattan campus. The university says he will be the second Costa Rican president to give a Landon Lecture, joining Oscar Arias Sanchez who spoke in 1987. Solis also has served in other political posts and published more than 10 books. The lecture series is named for former Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who was the 1936 Republican nominee for president. The series was established in 1966 to present speakers to discuss issues facing business, politics and international relations.
Kansas Man Ordered to Stand Trial in Fatal Stabbing Case
MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man accused in connection with the fatal stabbing of a former Oregon resident has been ordered to stand trial. The Salina Journal reports that 46-year-old Samuel Darrah was ordered Wednesday to stand trial. He is charged with first-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the 2014 death of 39-year-old James Croft. It is unclear if Darrah has an attorney. Authorities say Croft's body was found in a car in a ditch near Galva, 10 miles east of McPherson. Croft lived in Portland, Oregon, before moving to Kansas. Thirty-two-year-old Clinton Bascue was sentenced to life in prison after pleading no contest to first-degree murder in the case. Another defendant was charged last year with felony murder in connection to Croft's death.
Kansas Man Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 30-year-old Hugoton man has pleaded guilty to producing and distributing child pornography. According to a news release from U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, Andrew McDaniels pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of producing child pornography and one count of distributing child pornography. Prosecutors say McDaniels solicited a 15-year-old from South Carolina online to send him pornographic photos. Prosecutors also say that McDaniels used a file-sharing network to possess and distribute a movie file of two minor females engaged in sexual activities. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for May 4.
Stolen Antique Guns Were from NRA Exhibit That Drew Protests
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Three antique guns stolen from a Pennsylvania Civil War museum were part of a National Rifle Association-sponsored exhibit that had drawn protests. National Civil War Museum CEO Wayne Motts tells Pennlive.com one of the weapons was a Henry repeating rifle once owned by Simon Cameron, Secretary of War during the Civil War. The other stolen guns were revolvers said to have been presented by Samuel Colt to Cameron in 1861. Harrisburg Police Capt. Gabriel Olivera said Wednesday the guns were in a display case that was smashed. He says the alarm system malfunctioned during the break-in Sunday morning. Surveillance video shows one male suspect. The NRA exhibit drew protests last week over the display of Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill's gun. He led the massacre of 180 men and boys in Lawrence, Kansas.
Missouri Cop on Unpaid Leave for Role in Racially Charged Video
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A white Missouri police officer has been placed on unpaid leave after he appeared in a racially charged music video wearing his uniform and carrying a sign reading "cop lives matter." St. Joseph patrolman Zackary Craft also is seen reaching for his gun in the video for "Before This Bomb Blows Up (Racism Goes Both Ways)" by Josh Smith, a white suburban Kansas City rapper who performs as J.Smitty. Smith says he took down the video when Craft was suspended last week but reposted it Thursday with Craft's face blurred. Craft's attorney, Morgan Roach, says Craft allowed himself to be filmed "without knowing the words, content, or context" and was "appalled" when he saw the video. Police spokesman Captain Jeff Wilson says the department "in no way condones the video."
Survey: Slight Improvement in Bankers' View of Rural Economy
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey suggests there's been a little improvement in some bankers' views of the rural economy in their 10 Western and Plains states. A report released Thursday says February's Rural Mainstreet Index rose to 37.0 from 34.8 in January. Survey officials say any score below 50 on any of the survey's indexes suggests that factor will decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the monthly survey, and he says it's the sixth straight month that the index has registered below growth neutral. The report says 8.7 percent of bank CEOs who responded say their local economy was expanding while 36.9 percent say their local economy was in a recession. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
Royals Extend Contracts of GM Dayton Moore, Manager Ned Yost
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals have signed general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost to contract extensions, ensuring the leadership of the World Series champions will remain intact. Yost was also entering the final year of his contract. He had floated the possibility of retiring at some point in the near future but said Thursday at the club's spring training home in Arizona "it's hard to leave when you still have the ability to win." Terms of Moore's contract were not disclosed. The general manager since 2006, Moore had signed an extension in November 2013 that would have expired after this year. The Royals have been to back-to-back World Series, beating the New York Mets last year for their first championship since 1985.