Kansas House Approves Measure for Keeping State Courts Open
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill to keep the state's courts open following a legal dispute involving their budget. The measure was approved on a 119-0 vote Thursday and goes next to the Senate. It repeals a 2015 law threatening the court system's budget. The 2015 law said the judiciary's entire budget would be nullified if the courts struck down another law enacted in 2014. The 2014 law stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts and gave it to local judges instead. The high court invalidated the 2014 law last month. Lawmakers backing the 2014 law said they wanted to give local judges more say in how their courts are run, not shut down the judiciary.
Kansas Democrats Back Plan to Shorten Legislative Sessions
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats are backing a bill aimed at shortening the Kansas Legislature's annual sessions as part of a package of measures for making state government more open. Democratic lawmakers had a news conference Thursday to highlight what they're calling their good government proposals. The proposals include strengthening open meetings and records law and barring elected officials and Cabinet appointees from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office. Top Democrats are also endorsing a proposal from Democratic Senator Tom Holland of Baldwin City to cut legislators' pay off once they've spent 90 days in session in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. Holland said the goal is to force legislators to be more efficient in how they handle their work. Last year's session lasted a record 114 days.
Official: Kansas to Seek Recertification of Mental Hospital
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top social services official says Kansas will ask the federal government within six months to recertify one of its two mental hospitals. But interim Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck faced pointed questions Thursday from legislators about staffing at Osawatomie State Hospital. The House and Senate health committees had a joint hearing. The federal government decertified the hospital last month after a critical survey found that the hospital failed to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care or perform required safety checks. The survey also cited a report of an employee's rape in October. Keck said the department is hiring a consultant to help regain certification. Legislators from both parties said the hospital needs more staff and were frustrated with the lack of a specific proposal.
Kansas Legislators Pushing Proposals to Repeal Abortion Laws
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Pro-abortion rights Kansas House members plan to introduce three bills aimed at increasing access to reproductive health care. One measure outlined Thursday would repeal laws that prevent women from deducting abortion expenses from their state income taxes and restrict private health insurance coverage of abortions. A second bill would repeal a ban on so-called telemedicine abortions. A third measure promotes the use of reversible contraceptives that can prevent pregnancies for up to 10 years. Republican Representative Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills said the measures are a reaction to attacks on women's right to make health care choices. GOP Governor Sam Brownback and other abortion opponents have argued that Kansas is a leader in helping to create what they call a culture of life.
Kansas Lawmakers Hear Opponents of Medical Marijuana Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have heard testimony from opponents of a measure to mitigate penalties for marijuana possession, permit the use of hemp oil to treat seizures and allow industrial hemp research. Law enforcement representatives were among several opponents Thursday testifying about a bill to allow medical hemp preparations to treat people suffering from seizures. They testified before the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Ed Klumpp, a lobbyist from the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, said that the bill would lead to recreational marijuana use. Many other opponents voiced concerns that the proposed measure was not broad enough. Proponents of the bill spoke before the committee Wednesday. Committee Chairman and Republican Senator Greg Smith from Overland Park said that the committee would discuss the bill next week.
Legislators Blast $20 Million Deal for Power Plant in Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers from both parties are criticizing Governor Sam Brownback's administration for its handling of a contract for a new state power plant in Topeka. House and Senate members on Wednesday said a $20 million lease-purchase deal for the plant was done without legislative oversight and essentially ensures that the Docking State Office Building will be demolished, which some lawmakers oppose. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the cost of the 15-year contract is millions more than previously disclosed. And the first payment due in March wasn't included in the budget Brownback submitted this month. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley says the lease involved "off-budget appropriations" and the payments didn't need to be included in the budget proposal. The state's current power plant is in the basement of the Docking building.
Kansas Turnpike Increases Tolls to Fund Projects
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Drivers who pay tolls with cash on the Kansas Turnpike will have to pay more, beginning in May. The Kansas Turnpike Authority announced Wednesday that cash tolls will increase 10 percent. However, drivers who use the electronic K-Tag will get discounts ranging from 10 to 20 percent. The new revenue from tolls will help pay for a more than 40 projects on the turnpike in the next decade. The projects include spending $14 million annually on pavement, up to $20 million to improve service areas and $25 million on an interchange in Wichita. The Turnpike Authority receives no tax funding and supports its operations through user fees.
Kansas Would Have Fewer School Districts Under New Proposal
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Republican legislator in Kansas has outlined a proposal to cut the number of local public school districts in the state by more than half. Representative John Bradford of Lansing said the plan he introduced Wednesday would leave the state with 132 school districts instead of the current 286. Ninety-nine of the state's 105 counties would have only one district. Bradford said the state can achieve significant savings by reorganizing school districts because there would be fewer administrators and administrative buildings. He said the plan would not close individual schools. Some fellow Republicans said they are interested in looking at how local school districts can operate more efficiently. But Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist Mark Tallman said there's no evidence that Kansas residents want to consolidate districts.
High Court Restores Death Penalty for Carr Brothers and Separate Convicted Murderer
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the death penalty sentences for three Kansas men sends their cases back to the state's highest court. The justices ruled Wednesday that the Kansas Supreme Court was wrong to overturn the death sentences of Jonathan and Reginald Carr, and Sidney Gleason in a separate case. The Carr brothers killed four people and wounded a fifth in 2000 in Wichita. Gleason killed two people in 2004 in Great Bend. The Kansas attorney general's office says the Kansas Supreme Court will determine whether additional proceedings are necessary. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says it would have been difficult for the victims' families to go through a new sentencing. But Gleason and Jonathan Carr's attorney, Sarah Johnson, says there are "definitely some issues" that remain to be addressed.
Architects Offer New Plan for Kansas City Airport Renovation
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City architecture firm is offering another option for renovating and expanding the Kansas City International Airport. City and aviation officials have been discussing a controversial plan to demolish the airport and replace it with a single terminal. Some citizens want to keep the current three-terminal design. The Kansas City Star reports that Crawford Architects of Kansas City worked with an aviation and design firm on a new plan. It would keep the existing layout but expand Terminal A to include better security checkpoints, three baggage reclaim areas and retail and concession areas. The estimated cost is $335.6 million. Terminal B would be renovated later. Consultants are reviewing the proposal and are expected to respond by early February. City Council members say they are open to exploring the idea.
Kansas Regents Still Seek Some Limits Regarding Guns on Campus
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Regents has adopted a new policy for concealed weapons on state university campuses that will continue some restrictions for gun owners. The board adopted the policy unanimously Wednesday. It will take effect in July 2017, when state law will no longer allow the universities to continue barring concealed weapons from buildings unless those buildings have security measures such as metal detectors. The new policy prohibits the open carrying of guns on state university campuses. It also says that when guns are kept in cars or dormitories, they must be secured. The policy requires each university to come up with detailed policies on the safe storage of weapons. The regents developed the policy amid strong criticism of the state law from many faculty, staff and students.
Kobach: No Plans to Ask Lawmakers for Dual-Registration Law
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he has no plans at this time to ask lawmakers to ban voters who use a federal form to register from casting ballots in state and local elections. Kobach said Wednesday that he believes a judge made legal errors when he ruled last week in favor of voters who challenged his office's "dual registration" system. He says he may appeal or ask the judge to reconsider. The court found last week that the right to vote under current Kansas law is not tied to the method of registration. The American Civil Liberties Union says the fact Kobach is unwilling to go to the Legislature shows just how arbitrarily his office has been behaving, and that they do not believe lawmakers would authorize it.
Index Plunges as Midwest, Plains Bankers Take Dire View of Rural Economy
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A survey shows some bankers had a dire view of the rural economy in their 10 Western and Plains states. A report released Thursday says January's Rural Mainstreet Index plunged to 34.8 from 41.5 in December. It's the lowest overall index figure since August 2009. 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 of rural bankers and says it's the fifth straight month for a decline. He again blames lower prices for agriculture and energy commodities and downturns in manufacturing. The farmland and ranchland price index dropped to 23.9 in January from December's 28.8. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
Kansas City Man Who Police Say Shot at Officers Charged
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man who police say shot at officers in Kansas City, Kansas, faces drug and gun charges. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 27-year-old Ashawntus McCambry is charged with one count each of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, unlawful possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and of unlawful possession of a firearm following a felony conviction. McCambry was initially charged for crimes that allegedly took place on December 22. Police say he fired shots in the direction of officers as they served a search warrant at his residence. McCambry surrendered, saying he didn't know they were police and that he thought he was being robbed. It wasn't immediately clear if McCambry has an attorney.
Man Charged in Woman's Overland Park Death
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man has been charged in a woman's death. The Kansas City Star reports that the premeditated first-degree murder charge was filed Wednesday against 37-year-old Christopher Wallace of Overland Park. Bond is set at $1 million. Defense attorney Carl Cornwell didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment. He is accused of killing 35-year-old Jennifer Lopez, whose body was found late Monday inside a Mission apartment. Court documents do not say how Lopez was killed. Wallace was detained at the scene and later arrested in connection with the homicide. Overland Park police described Wallace and Lopez as acquaintances.
Hutchinson Library Wants Ideas on What to Do with $1.4 Million Gift
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Hutchinson Public Library is asking for suggestions for what to do with a gift of about $1.4 million from a former school teacher. The Hutchinson News reports that Deborah Mosier, who died in 2013, bequeathed the money to the Hutchinson Public Library. The Hutchinson Community Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hutchinson also received the same amount. The beneficiaries were told in 2014 to expect an estimated $666,000, but the library announced this week that the actual amount was closer to $1.4 million. Library director Gregg Wamsley says the funds may potentially be used to expand the library.
Ex-Owner of Ziggies Restaurants Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — The former owner of Ziggies restaurants in Missouri and Kansas has pleaded guilty to failing to pay more than $1.3 million in payroll taxes. During a plea hearing Wednesday in federal court, Agim Zendeli of Springfield admitted he didn't forward payroll taxes collected from employees to the Internal Revenue Service from March 2004 to December 2014. He operated Ziggies restaurants in Springfield, Joplin, Carthage, Nevada, Republic, Willard, Marshfield, West Plains, Rolla and Poplar Bluff in Missouri, and in Pittsburg and Fort Scott in Kansas from 1998 to 2014. Prosecutors say Zendell used the money from the scheme to support a lavish lifestyle. To avoid paying past due taxes, Zendell formed 18 different companies to take over his restaurant operations using the names of family members, partners or employees.
Kansas City Area Union Leader Admits to Embezzlement
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The former president of a union that represents Jackson County (Missouri) Department of Corrections workers has admitted to embezzling more than $7,000. The U.S. attorney's office says 46-year-old Lowell Wreh, of Raytown, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a wire fraud scheme. Prosecutors say Wreh became the acting president of a local affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in October 2012 and the president in July 2013. He was suspended in April 2014 and officially dismissed that August. He admitted through his plea that he issued $7,642 in checks from the union's bank account to himself and others for his own benefit and personal use. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine. Through his plea, he also agreed to pay restitution.
Nebraska Irrigation District Sues over Water Restrictions
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An irrigation district has sued the Nebraska Natural Resources Department and three natural resources districts over river water for irrigation. The Red Cloud-based Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District lawsuit says groundwater pumping has depleted Republican River flows, leaving little or no water for Bostwick to store for its customers. The lawsuit filed January 11 also says state orders to restrict or completely curtail the use and storage of water in 2013 and 2014 unfairly deprived district customers. State officials have said they did so to meet obligations to Kansas and Colorado under the Republican River Compact. Jasper Fanning, of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District, denies that groundwater users in his district had an unfair advantage over the irrigation district customers. Nebraska Natural Resources Department officials declined to comment.
Southwest Kansas Man Claims $1 Million Powerball Cash Prize
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A southwest Kansas man has claimed a $1 million Powerball cash prize. KSNW-TV reports that the Garden City winner who is remaining anonymous collected the prize Wednesday morning. He matched the first five numbers, but not the Powerball to win the large cash prize in the January 13 Powerball drawing. The Garden City winner picked his own winning numbers on a $10 ticket. For selling the ticket, a Food Mart 3 store in Garden City is eligible to receive a $1,000 selling bonus. A Manhattan woman also has claimed a $50,000 cash prize from the January 13 Powerball drawing.
Oops! NFL Refs Forget Balls at Hotel Before Patriots Game
BOSTON (AP) — This ball controversy can't be blamed on the Patriots. Massachusetts State Police came to the rescue before Saturday's NFL playoff game between New England and the Kansas City Chiefs by delivering footballs that game officials left at their hotel. A state police spokesman said at about 2:30pm Saturday, league officials contacted the Hyatt at Logan Airport to say that some balls and air pressure gauges had been left behind. The balls were the ones used in the kicking game. Hotel workers entered the room and a state trooper drove the equipment to Gillette Stadium, arriving about an hour before kickoff. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 27-20. The officials' gaffe came about a year after the start of the "Deflategate" scandal, when the Patriots were accused of using under-inflated balls.