Kansas House Panel Passes Bill to Balance Next State Budget
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a bill that would eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The measure approved Thursday by the Appropriations Committee includes many of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for closing the gap by juggling funds and capturing unanticipated savings. But the committee also added $2.4 million to the next budget so the state can give uniformed corrections officers at state prisons a 2.5 percent pay raise. Several committee members said the state needs to boost pay for corrections officers because the turnover rate at state prisons is almost 30 percent. Their starting hourly pay is $13.61. The bill goes next to the House for debate as early as next week.
Kansas House Rejects Change in Selecting High Court Justices
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has rejected a proposal to give the governor and legislators more control over appointments to the state Supreme Court. The vote Thursday on a proposed amendment to the state constitution was 68-54. But supporters were 16 votes short of the two-thirds majority of 84 needed for passage in the 125-member chamber. The measure would allow the governor to nominate new justices while requiring the state Senate to approve the appointments. Currently, a nominating commission led by attorneys screens applicants for the court and names three finalists. The governor must appoint one, and legislators have no role. Governor Sam Brownback and other GOP conservatives argue that the process isn't democratic. But supporters of the current system accuse him and his allies of trying to control the state's courts.
Kansas House Panel Approves $2.4 Million to Boost Pay at State Prisons
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a proposal to give uniformed corrections officers in state prisons a 2.5 percent pay raise later this year. The Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to add $2.4 million for the pay raises to the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The vote came as the committee considered other proposals for closing a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the next state budget. Several committee members said the state needs to boost pay for corrections officers because the turnover rate at state prisons is almost 30 percent. Their starting hourly pay is $13.61. But other committee members said turnover is high at state mental hospitals and in other agencies. They said lawmakers need to eliminate inefficiencies in government to make broader raises possible.
US Official Adds Citizenship Proof Requirement for 3 States
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia are no longer able to register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship after a federal elections official added the requirement without public notice or review by the agency's commissioners. The move by Brian Newby, the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, has sparked a backlash from one of its commissioners, who is asking the changes be withdrawn. The American Civil Liberties Union says it's a brazen move that will create additional barriers. Newby defended his decision as a routine administrative action taken at the request of the states. He took over the agency's top job last November and came from Kansas, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach has pushed for such laws for years.
University's Bond Issue Prompts Budget Move in Kansas House
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new legislative budget measure would limit the University of Kansas's ability to spend unanticipated tuition dollars and extra special funds. The provision approved Thursday by the Kansas House Appropriations Committee is a response to an arrangement that allowed the university to obtain $327 million in bonds to finance construction projects without lawmakers' approval. It would require the university to get legislative approval to spend unanticipated funds if collections exceed budgeted amounts during the fiscal year beginning July 1. The university formed a nonprofit corporation which then had Wisconsin's Public Finance Authority issue the bonds. University officials contend they complied with Kansas law. But Republican legislative leaders are upset. The House committee's budget provision is written narrowly enough to apply only to the University of Kansas.
Kansas House Panel Adds $3M to Budget for Mental Hospitals
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The two state mental hospitals in Kansas would receive an additional $3 million total in their current budgets under a proposal approved by a legislative committee. The House Appropriations Committee added the money Thursday to budget legislation to help Larned and Osawtomie state hospitals fill staff vacancies and address other issues. A total of more than 350 positions are vacant at the two hospitals, or about 38 percent. Republican Representative Will Carpenter of El Dorado said his proposal would let the Department on Aging and Disability Services determine how the extra money would be spent at the hospitals. A critical survey of the Osawatomie hospital in November prompted the federal government to decertify it, costing the state between $500,000 and $1 million a month in federal funds.
Kansas School District Consolidation Draws Opposition
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Opponents of a measure that would consolidate school districts have expressed their opinions in a Kansas House committee meeting. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill would require 98 of Kansas's 105 counties to have one unified school district per county. Twenty-two counties already fit that requirement. The seven most populous counties in Kansas would be allowed to have multiple districts if each has more than 1,500 students. Tom Benoit, a member of a coalition of rural districts called Schools for Quality Education, said at a meeting Wednesday that any consolidation should be local patrons' decision. Democratic state Reprsentative John Bradford says Kansas residents are receiving incorrect information, making them believe the bill would close schools. Bradford defended his bill, saying it wouldn't lead to the effect patrons of rural and small districts fear.
Kansas Senate Approves Bill Lessening Marijuana Penalties
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would lessen penalties for first and second-time marijuana possession. The vote Wednesday was 38-1. The measure would reduce the punishment for first-time misdemeanor possession to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, rather than the current year in jail and $2,500 fine. A second possession conviction would no longer be a felony, so an offender wouldn't be sent to prison. The measure goes next to the House, which passed a similar proposal last year. The lone vote against the bill came from Democratic Senator David Haley, of Kansas City. He proposed imposing only a $50 fine for the first, second and third time a person is caught possessing small amounts of marijuana. The Senate voted 31-5 against Haley's amendment.
Kansas Lawmakers Pledge Support for Transparency Legislation
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are pledging support for a bill that would open up private emails sent by public employees about government business. The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill would make information made by an employee of a public agency concerning business available to a Kansas Open Records Act request regardless of "form, characteristics or location." The addition of "location" comes after Governor Sam Brownback's budget director used a private account last year to email lobbyists a draft of the governor's proposed budget before lawmakers saw it. The new bill would apply to employees who conduct government business on private email accounts. The Kansas Association of Broadcasters and the Kansas Press Association voiced support for the bill. There was no opposition.
Proposed Bill Would Allow Prosecution of Kansas Teachers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow teachers and school administrators to be prosecuted for presented material perceived as harmful to minors. The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill passed the Senate last year and was considered in a House committee Tuesday. It stems from a 2014 controversy in the Shawnee Mission school district over a poster in a sex education classroom that listed oral sex and other acts as ways people express their sexual feelings. Currently, state law protects school officials against the misdemeanor charge of presenting harmful material to minors if it's part of a lesson. The proposed legislation would remove that protection for teachers at public, private and parochial schools. Teachers would face a fine or up to six months in jail if convicted.
Ex-Teacher Pleads Guilty in Unlawful Sexual Relations Case
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former Olathe high school teacher accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student has pleaded guilty in the case. The Kansas City Star reports that 33-year-old Jeana Marie Fleming pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual relations yesterday (WED) in Johnson County District Court. Prosecutors say Fleming and the student had sex in December 2014 while she was a teacher in the Olathe school district's alternative education program for high school students. Assistant District Attorney Keith Henderson said that the boy reported the relationship to school officials in May. Under Kansas law, it is illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student at the same school, even if the student is above the age of consent. In Kansas, the age of consent is 16. Fleming is scheduled to be sentenced April 12.
Former Manhattan Bank Manager Sentenced for Embezzling
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The former manager of a bank branch in Manhattan faces a little more than two years in prison for embezzling about $277,000 from the bank. The office of the federal prosecutor for Kansas says Melissa Vinsonhaler was sentenced Wednesday to 27 months in federal prison for embezzlement. She also has to repay $277,000. The prosecutor's office says Vinsonhaler pleaded guilty earlier to one count of embezzlement from a bank. Prosecutors say Vinsonhaler admitted embezzling the money from Kansas State Bank, where she was a branch manager, and making false ledger entries to cover up the crime.
Suspended KC Police Officers Reinstated, Reassigned
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Nine Kansas City police officers who were suspended during an internal investigation into the department's crimes against children unit will be reinstated and assigned to patrol bureau. The Kansas City Star reports two police sergeants and seven detectives are expected to return to work Sunday. The captain who supervised the unit also has been reassigned, though he was never suspended. The investigation began after police officials learned that cases were not being handled promptly enough. Police spokesman Captain Tye Grant says there were never any disciplinary issues involved, so there's nothing preventing the officers from serving in a different capacity. The crimes against children unit handled roughly 1,000 cases in 2015. It investigates abuse, neglect, endangerment, parental kidnappings and custody violations.
Mason Finds 88-Year-Old Note at K-State Stadium
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A mason working on a Kansas university building has found an 88-year-old handwritten note that gives a glimpse into the lives of laborers in 1928. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the mason found the note in a tobacco can he encountered in December while restoring and replacing stones at Kansas State University's East Memorial Stadium in Manhattan, nearly 60 miles west of Topeka. A Facebook post from the Kansas State Historical Preservation Office says the five authors dated the note February 2, 1928, and wrote that they hope the letter is found someday in the future, perhaps after they've died. University archivist Cliff Hight says the document will be sent to a conservator for cleaning and protective covering. Hight says there aren't plans to display the document currently.
Kansas High School Grapples with Debate over Confederate Flag
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas student's display of a Confederate flag from the back of his pickup truck has sparked debate about race at a high school named Free State in a nod to Kansas's anti-slavery history. The student displayed the flag last month on the grounds of the largely white school in the university city of Lawrence. Administrators told him to remove it, and they've banned such flags from the grounds as disruptions. The district says the student won't be disciplined, and that the situation is being used as a learning moment. But some students have launched an effort to persuade the school board to expand the prohibition districtwide. Confederate symbols across the country have faced increased scrutiny since last June's shooting deaths of nine black congregants at a South Carolina church.
Wichita Man Pleads Guilty in 2014 Triple Fatality Crash
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has pleaded guilty in a drunken driving crash that killed three people and injured two others. The Wichita Eagle reports that 32-year-old Juan Pablo Gandara-Rodela was three days away from going on trial when he pleaded guilty last week to second-degree reckless murder in the July 2014 deaths. The hit-and-run crash killed Zachary Taylor and Jake Hallacy, both 26 and of Valley Center, and 21-year-old Emily Phillips of McPherson. Gandara-Rodela also admitted to leaving the scene of an accident and aggravated battery. Police have said Gandara-Rodela had been at a bar before running a red light in a sport utility vehicle and slamming into the side of a car. He has a history of DUI and traffic convictions. Sentencing is set for March 23.
Bob Dole Donates $20,000 to Cancer Camp in Central Kansas
CLAFLIN, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas Senator Bob Dole has donated $20,000 to help pay for a camp for children with cancer in central Kansas. The Great Bend Tribune reports that the weeklong getaway, called Camp Hope, has traditionally been held at a camp near Claflin that was damaged in an April 2014 fire. Some of the items that are used during Camp Hope were burned during the fire at Camp Aldrich. Nancy Wiebe, of the Barton Foundation, says the money will help pay to replace the destroyed items and to add new enhancements to serve the children. The Camp Aldrich Dining and Events Center is scheduled to be reopened to the public this April. Improvements include medical facilities for Camp Hope participants.
Open House Planned for New Topeka Wellness Center
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An open house for Topeka residents has been planned for the new Health and Wellness Center that the city has opened for its employees and retirees. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the open house is scheduled for Monday. The center, which is on the west end of the city's Holliday Building, opened January 8. A news release from city manager Jim Colson said that the city government formed a health care advisory committee made up of members from all city unions and employee groups. The committee recommended the city offer the center in an effort to improve employees' health. The center is staffed with a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant. City employees are paying for the center through part of their monthly premiums.
State High Court to Convene Next Month at Topeka High School
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court will be conducting a special evening session at Topeka High School next month as part of its ongoing outreach efforts to familiarize state residents with the court. The session on March 9 will run from 6:30pm to 8pm in the school auditorium. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss says the Supreme Court has conducted special sessions in communities across Kansas, but it's the first time for an evening session in Topeka. The public is invited to attend the session as the court hears oral arguments in cases that haven't been announced yet. The justices will meet with the public at an informal reception in the school's cafeteria after the hearing.
Police Chase Leads to Deadly Downtown Topeka Crash
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A police pursuit has ended in a deadly three-vehicle crash in downtown Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the crash was reported around 5:10 am Thursday. Police Lieutenant Colleen Stuart says the victim was a passenger in a vehicle that the fleeing vehicle struck. The name of the victim wasn't immediately released. Three others suffered non-life threatening injuries, including the driver of the vehicle that was being pursued. Police said the pursuit started when the driver refused to pull over. Topeka police Lieutenant Jennifer Cross said tire deflation devices were successfully deployed but the driver kept going. Authorities said the chase was moving at only 18 mph at times. The crash, which involved a pickup truck and two cars, shut down a busy intersection for most of the morning.
2 Men Charged in Double Homicide in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two Kansas City men have been charged with fatally shooting two men and wounding a third. Twenty-one-year-old Jimmie Verge was charged Wednesday and 20-year-old Anthony Murphy last week with two counts of second-degree murder in the shootings of Fanandous Groves and Gerrod Woods. The victims both were 23 and from Kansas City. Bail is set at $750,000 for Verge and $500,000 for Murphy. No attorneys are listed for them in online court records. Court records say the victims were attacked December 14 after being lured to a supposed marijuana deal. Woods died at the scene and Groves at a hospital. A third man was shot in the face but survived. Verge and Murphy also are charged with robbery, assault and armed criminal action.