Kansas Senate Leaders Cancel Budget Debate
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican leaders have cancelled the Kansas Senate's debate on budget-balancing proposals because they could not sell GOP colleagues on education funding cuts. The Senate had planned to debate a bill today (THUR) that would cut aid to public schools by $128 million by June 30. They also had expected to take up another bill increasing income taxes to raise $660 million over two years, starting in July. But some GOP senators thought the cut in aid to public schools was too steep with only months left in the school year. Senate Republican leaders said the chamber would not consider any legislation until members agreed on proposals to balance the budget. The education cuts are intended to help get the state to July with a balanced budget. The state is facing a projected shortfall in its current budget of about $320 million and total budget gaps of nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.
Kansas Budget Dominates Legislative Action in Early Days of Session
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Latest on the Kansas budget debate (all times local):
Democrats in the Kansas Senate have outlined a plan to increase personal income taxes and generate $1.2 billion in additional revenues over two years. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka released details of the plan Thursday after Republican leaders in the chamber canceled a debate over a smaller GOP plan. Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. The Senate Democrats' plan eliminates an income tax exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. It boosts income taxes for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $35,000 a year and for married couples with incomes of more than $70,000. They would pay a top rate of 6.45 percent instead of the current 4.6 percent. But the plan also would expand deductions.
Republicans on a Kansas House committee are divided over the panel's plan for increasing personal income taxes to help balance the state budget. The Taxation Committee endorsed a bill Thursday that would raise at least $920 million in new revenues over two years, starting in July. The vote was 13-9.Several Republican committee members said the measure represents a good faith effort to address the state's projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. They also said lawmakers will have plenty of opportunities to make modifications. But several GOP lawmakers also said it goes too far. They were put off by a provision in the bill that raises the state's top income tax rate to 5.45 percent from 4.6 percent.
A Kansas House committee has endorsed a bill that would raise personal income taxes to generate at least $920 million over two years starting in July. The bill approved Thursday by the Taxation Committee would help close budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. The panel's 13-9 vote sends the bill to the House for debate. The measure would reverse key tax-cutting policies enacted by Republicans in 2012 and 2013 and championed by GOP Governor Sam Brownback. The bill ends an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. It raises income tax breaks and returns the state to having three tax brackets instead of the current two. The top tax rate would be 5.45 percent instead of the current 4.6 percent.
A conservative Kansas lawmaker says proposals this year to increase income taxes to help balance the state budget are part of a pattern. Hiawatha Republican Dennis Pyle noted Thursday that lawmakers also increased taxes in 2013 and 2015 to help erase budget shortfalls. Pyle told reporters: "And it's a bad pattern." Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. The state has struggled to balance the budget since GOP legislators slashed personal income taxes at Republican Governor Sam Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013. Previous moves to cover budget gaps include raising sales and cigarette taxes. Pyle said he would emphasize spending cuts first. He said, "We need to structurally change how we're doing business."
The Kansas Senate's top Democrat says the state shouldn't be cutting education funding to help balance its budget and is pushing for higher income taxes on the state's wealthiest families. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka told reporters Thursday that cutting aid to public schools would send the wrong signal to the Kansas Supreme Court. The court is considering a lawsuit filed in 2010 by four districts and whether the state's total spending on schools is adequate. Hensley also said Democrats want to reinstate a third personal income tax bracket for wealthy taxpayers. The state went from three brackets to two in 2012 as GOP lawmakers slashed income taxes at Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's urging. The state is facing projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.
The chairman of the Kansas House Taxation Committee says it will debate proposals for increasing personal income taxes to help balance the state's budget. Chairman and Assaria Republican Steven Johnson said a debate planned for Thursday afternoon would go forward as planned. In the Senate, GOP leaders canceled a debate they had planned for Thursday on proposals to increase income taxes and cut education funding. The House committee is considering proposals to increase income taxes to generate $917 million in new revenues over two years, starting in July. The proposals include eliminating an income tax exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners and the state's top income tax rate to 5.25 percent from 4.6 percent. The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.
A major rating agency has revised the outlook on its credit rating for Kansas to "negative" from "stable." The action announced Wednesday by S&P Global Ratings is not a credit downgrade. The state's credit rating remains at AA-, among the lowest for a state. S&P said in a report that the negative outlook reflects what it believes to be weak economic trends and "structural budget pressures." Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. The state has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at GOP Governor Sam Brownback's urging. The tax-cutting was what many voters now see as an unsuccessful attempt to stimulate the economy. S&P last downgraded its credit rating for Kansas in July 2016.
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle says she and fellow Republican leaders thought they had an agreement among GOP senators on budget-balancing proposals. But she told reporters Thursday, "Things fell apart last night." Republican leaders in the Senate cancelled a debate on education funding cuts and income tax increases planned for Thursday after it became clear they didn't have enough support for the cuts. One bill before the Senate would cut aid to public schools by $128 million before June 30. Wagle said any package to balance the state budget through June 2019 will include spending cuts, tax increases and internal government borrowing. The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.
Kansas Health Committee to Vote on Medicaid Expansion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas House Health Committee will vote next week on whether to expand the state's privatized Medicaid program, called KanCare. Lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday from cities, businesses, doctors and patients, urging them to expand KanCare. The expansion would provide insurance to an estimated 150,000 Kansans who currently make too much money to qualify for KanCare but not enough to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Proponents say the expansion would be at least budget-neutral and might save the state money, partly by reducing emergency care for people who lack access to preventative care. The state budget office estimates that the plan would still cost more than $150,000,000 in the first two fiscal years. Governor Sam Brownback said in a statement the state shouldn't expand KanCare because the Trump administration will likely repeal the Affordable Care Act. Opponents of the bill are expected to testify today (THUR).
New Kansas School Health Plan Could Prove Complex
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative audit has found that Kansas school districts could save millions of dollars by consolidating health insurance plans, but the change would shift costs to teachers and other staff. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the audit released Wednesday said using a single statewide health insurance plan could save the reviewed districts a total of $63 million a year. But some lawmakers say $24 million of that amount would come from transferring insurance costs from districts to workers. The audit said consolidation would also reduce insurance coverage in 98 of the 101 districts sampled in the report. The audit report also says the aggressive consolidation timeline called for in Governor Sam Brownback's budget plan would make the change difficult. The report says more time is needed to potentially search for vendors and wait for current insurance contracts to expire.
Kansas Lawmakers Consider Closing Police Commission Records
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would exempt from the open records law a list of licensed law enforcement officers, information about officer terminations and complaints filed about officers maintained by a state commission. That information held by the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training would be considered closed personnel and investigatory records. Lawmakers say law enforcement agencies that report terminations to the commission could release the records if they wanted to. Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Blaine Finch says the bill will treat police officers like other employees who have an interest in keeping their personnel information private. Critics say it makes policing less transparent.
Kansas Bill Requires More Details About Abortion Providers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposed law in Kansas would require that women seeking an abortion be given details about the abortion provider's medical credentials, malpractice insurance and any past disciplinary action. The proposal also requires that the information be printed in a specific 12-point Times New Roman font. Kansas law already requires that women receive their abortion provider's name, details about the procedure and its risks, and other information. The legislation would require more details about abortion providers, including when they received their medical degrees and started working, and any past disciplinary action. Supporters say the additional information would provide necessary transparency. Opponents say the bill is designed to undermine confidence in the physicians.
Kansas Plan Would Halve Staffing at New Lansing Prison
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Department of Corrections is telling legislators it could cut staffing at its largest prison by having a private company build a new facility and lease it to the state. Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood told a House budget subcommittee Wednesday that the Lansing prison's staffing could drop to 392 employees from the current 686. His presentation projected annual staffing costs would drop to less than $21 million from nearly $35 million. Norwood announced last week that the department will seek proposals from private companies to build a new prison. The state would mothball but preserve the oldest parts of the prison that date to the 1860s but tear down the rest. The department has described a lease-purchase deal as one possible option.
Republicans Set to Pick Nominee for Pompeo's US House Seat
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans pick their nominee Thursday for the south central Kansas congressional seat formerly held by CIA Director Mike Pompeo to represent a district the GOP has held for more than two decades. GOP leaders are not taking the seat for granted amid the unpredictability of special elections and political unrest since the election of President Donald Trump. The April 11 vote will be the nation's first congressional election since Trump's win. Democrats are hoping to channel voter discontent into an upset in the heavily Republican district. Republicans have held the seat since Todd Tiahrt unseated veteran Democratic Rep. Dan Glickman in 1994. Pompeo won the state's 4th District seat in 2010, when Tiahrt gave it up to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Seven Republicans are seeking the nomination.
Bill Could Allow Vote on Slot Machines at Wichita Racetrack
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House bill could allow voters in Sedgwick County to vote again on whether to allow slot machines at the closed Wichita Greyhound Park. The Wichita Eagle reports the bill is another effort to reopen the racetrack that the track's owner shut down after voters narrowly rejected slot machines in the county in 2007. According to the bill, residents can only put the issue on the ballot if they gather at least 5,000 signatures. Supporters say racing would benefit the area economically. Republican Representative Larry Hibbard says the bill's goal is to reopen multiple closed horse and dog tracks in the state to create more jobs. Opponents say the vote would breach the Kansas Lottery's contract with Kansas Star Casino, which pays a fee to be the only gaming facility in south-central Kansas.
Great Plains-Westar Acquisition Decision Expected April 24
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission is expected to decide by April 24 whether it will approve Great Plains Energy's acquisition of Westar Energy. The commission heard six days of testimony on the proposed $12.2 billion acquisition. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that attorneys will present written briefs to the commission before commissioners make their decision. Stockholders for both Missouri-based Great Plains and Topeka-based Westar overwhelmingly approved the deal in September, saying it would lead to lower electric rates. But the commission's staff, consumer advocates and others opposed the deal, contending it would cause closed plants and job losses. If approved, the new company would serve 1.5 million customers from central Kansas to central Missouri. Great Plains is the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light Co.
Kansas Bills Would Crack Down on Cellphone Use While Driving
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two bills introduced in the Kansas Senate are aimed at reducing distracted driving caused by using cellphones while driving. One bill would prohibit drivers from holding a phone or other wireless device up to their ear. The Kansas Department of Transportation supports the bill. The department says about 92 people died each year from distracted driving between 2009 and 2014. A second bill would outlaw using a wireless device in a school zone or construction zone. It makes an exception for using hands-free devices. Supporters say both bills would reduce distracted driving. Kansas already prohibits texting or sending e-mails while driving.
Kansas Board Suspends College Athletic Trainer's License
HAYS, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Healing Arts has indefinitely suspended the license of an athletic trainer accused of drinking on the job at Fort Hays State University. The Wichita Eagle reports that the board took action this week against Brady Ternes. A human resources representative says Ternes was an employee at Fort Hays until December 2015. Ternes self-reported that he had worked under the influence of alcohol when providing treatment to a student and supervising staff athletic trainers in 2015. Documents filed in the case say the assistant athletic trainer at Fort Hays reported in October 2015 that he persuaded Ternes to go home after realizing Ternes was impaired and that Ternes's coffee mug smelled like alcohol. Ternes turned in his resignation to the university shortly afterward.
Conservation Service Offering Financial Help After Wildfire
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Natural Resources Conservation Service is taking applications for financial assistance for those affected by a wildfire in March of 2016 that burned more than 400,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma. The service says it will offer $2 million total in assistance over four years to help with conservation practices such as brush management, firebreaks, prescribed grazing and prescribed burning. The agency's offices are taking applications for this year's funds until March 17. Monty Breneman, with the Kansas agency, says if the demand exceeds the initial allocation, the state conservationist will ask for more funding. The fire damaged more than 40 structures, miles of fencing and killed hundreds of cattle.
Wichita Police: Injured Officer in Critical, but Stable Condition
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a Wichita police officer is in critical but stable condition after being run over by a fleeing suspect. Wichita police officials say the officer is doing a lot better. The officer underwent surgery Tuesday and remains hospitalized. The injured officer, a 25-year veteran of the police force, was struck Tuesday while monitoring a house in south Wichita where a stolen vehicle and suspect were seen. The fleeing suspect was arrested after a short police chase. Police spokeswoman Nikki Woodrow said in a tweet that a 31-year-old man with an extensive criminal background has been booked on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder.
Man Ordered to Stand Trial in Topeka Beating Death
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has found sufficient evidence for a 36-year-old man to be tried in a Topeka killing. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Arthur Lee Ford IV was bound over for trial Wednesday in Shawnee County on an intentional second-degree murder charge in the death of 52-year-old Mark Everett Johnson. His body was found in December in a downtown apartment. During the preliminary hearing, a witness recalled seeing Ford carrying a baseball bat dripping with blood. The coroner testified that Johnson was struck in the head at least a dozen times and stabbed three times. Topeka Police Detective Jason Judd testified that money was withdrawn with Johnson's debit card five times in the week after his death. Judd identified Ford as the person seen using the card on surveillance footage.
Superfortress Plane Caretakers Hope for Permanent Hangar
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A nonprofit that owns a restored Wichita-built Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber hopes to have a permanent home for the plane by next year. The Wichita Eagle reports the World War II-era warbird known as "Doc" is currently housed at Air Capital Flight Line in Wichita. Doc's permanent hangar will likely be at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport. Josh Wells is the spokesman for the nonprofit Doc's Friends. He says all of the airplane's maintenance will be done at the airport, which also has runways and public access that would allow visitors to see the plane when it's not flying. The exact location of Doc's permanent home is expected to be announced in the next few months. The plane was flown in July for the first time in 60 years, following a 16-year restoration effort in Wichita.