Kansas Governor's Warning on Bond Rating Stalls Senate Move
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has stalled an effort by Kansas legislators to override one of his vetoes by warning that it could hurt the state's credit ratings. The developments Thursday in the Senate involved a bill to protect the aging Docking State Office Building near the Statehouse from demolition. The demolition was part of a $20 million project to replace Docking's power plant for nearby government buildings with a new plant. Bipartisan opposition prompted Brownback to cancel it. The bill tied the project's cancellation to lawmakers' refusal to provide money for it. Brownback vetoed it last week, saying it was unnecessary. Supporters of the bill wanted to vote to override the veto Thursday, but Brownback's warning about the state's credit ratings caused them to drop the effort until next week.
Kansas Conservatives Advance Bill on Impeachment of Judges
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill declaring that Kansas Supreme Court justices can be impeached for meddling too much in the state Legislature's business has cleared its first big hurdle toward passage. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill Thursday on a voice vote. It goes next to the full Senate for debate. The state constitution says Supreme Court justices can be impeached for treason, bribery and "other high crimes or misdemeanors." The bill says the last phrase covers a list of offenses that includes attempting to "usurp the power" of legislators or executive branch. Conservative Republicans have criticized the Kansas high court over death penalty and education funding rulings. Kansas has been at the center of national efforts by conservatives to remake the courts.
Outcry from Educators over Finance Measure Stifles Meeting
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A scheduled hearing on a measure that would give the governor more control over school finance has been cancelled after educators across the state flooded lawmakers with emails opposing the bill. The Wichita Eagle reports Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, on Thursday blamed education interest groups for stirring controversy about the measure. Senate Bill 311 would take control of school finance away from the Kansas Department of Education and give it to the Department of Education. Masterson says the bill would increase transparency of the school finance process. Opponents such as Senator Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, call the bill an unconstitutional power grab. Masterson said he doesn't plan to revisit the issue this year.
Top Kansas Lawmakers Hire Lawyer for School Funding Lawsuit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Kansas lawmakers have hired a Kansas City-area attorney to represent the Legislature in a school funding lawsuit. The Republican-dominated Legislature's top seven leaders voted Thursday to hire Toby Crouse of Overland Park to help lawmakers collect evidence and build a record for the state Supreme Court. The court ruled last month that a 2015 school funding law shorts poor school districts on their state aid. The justices threatened to shut down public schools unless lawmakers fix the problems before July. Legislators approved spending $50,000 for an attorney, and Republicans began looking for a lawyer. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said legislative leaders needed to act quickly because lawmakers are already considering school funding proposals. But the Legislature's two Democratic leaders were wary of moving so quickly.
Kansas Lawmakers Push Efforts to Limit Refugees
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has voted to send back to committee a measure allowing the governor to place a moratorium on accepting refugees into communities that don't have enough health services or law enforcement to accommodate them. Representatives voted 72-39 on Thursday to have the House Federal and State Affairs Committee reconsider the bill. The vote came after House members introduced several amendments and raised questions about implications of the measure. Supporters say the bill would codify into state law certain federal requirements related to state agencies involved in the resettling of refugees. FSA Committee Chairwoman Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Republican, said the measure was important and that she would seek to schedule another hearing this session.
Kansas Lawmakers Consider Moving Up Property Tax Lid Inception Date
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee is considering a proposal to move up the effective date of a property tax lid from 2018 to later this year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the lid passed by lawmakers last year bars counties and cities from increasing property taxes above the rate of inflation without a vote. Local governments are expressing concern about the bill saying the cap on local taxes makes it difficult to update infrastructure, which hurts the local economy. Local governments also say the law hurts their ability to govern themselves, making it harder to raise money for needed services, like fire and police departments. Supporters of the measure say they want to speed up the implementation date of the property tax lid to curb any current plans for cities or counties to boost local property taxes.
Kansas Senate Leader Working on Plan to Shift Schools' Aid
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The chairman of the Kansas Senate's budget committee says he's working on an education funding plan that will shift existing dollars among school districts to help the poorer ones. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson said Wednesday that he hopes to have plan drafted yet this week. The Andover Republican says it will be an attempt to meet a Kansas Supreme Court order within the state's existing resources. The high court ruled last month that a 2015 school funding law violated the state constitution because it shorted poor districts on aid. The court threatened to close all public schools unless lawmakers fixed the problems before July 1. Masterson said he believes about 100 districts would gain funding and 186 would lose state money under his proposal.
Lawmaker Wants to Exempt Kansas from Daylight Saving Time
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would stop observing daylight saving time after this year under a bill being pushed by a prominent Republican legislator. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee heard testimony Thursday from Republican Senator Ty Masterson of Andover in favor of his bill. Masterson said there's little evidence that moving clocks forward an hour each spring saves energy or increases productivity, and it interrupts people's sleep cycles and could cause health problems. Lawmakers in other states also are considering proposals to move away from the twice-a-year ritual of changing clocks. Daylight saving time begins this weekend. Masterson is chairman of the powerful budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee. But he was the only person to testify in Thursday's hearing, and the panel doesn't yet plan to take up his bill.
Lawmakers Vote to Ban Kansas Minors from Indoor Tanning
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a measure that would prohibit minors from using tanning devices such as sun lamps and tanning beds. Representatives voted 77-44 Thursday in favor of the bill, sending it to the Senate for further consideration. Salon owners could be fined up to $250 and incur disciplinary action for allowing people under 18 to use tanning devices. Supporters of the measure say it would protect young people from ultraviolet lights that can cause the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. The American Academy of Dermatology says people under 35 who use tanning devices are nearly 60 percent more likely to develop melanoma. Critics argue the bill prevents parents from deciding what is best for their children.
Westar Seeks to Hike Residential Customer Costs
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy is seeking to hike rates for residential customers and schools while cutting rates for most businesses. The Wichita Eagle reports that a rate request filed with the Kansas commission that regulates utilities seeks to increase the transmission rate on residential customers' bills by about 31 percent. The changes pending before the Kansas Corporation Commission would add about $4 a month to the average customer's bill. Meanwhile, the average small-business would pay about $31 less. Midsize businesses would see about a 1 percent increase in their transmission rate, while the largest commercial and industrial customers would get a 4 percent cut. Schools are proposed to get a 29-percent increase.
Planned Parenthood Still Gets Medicaid Funds Despite Kansas Governor's Threats
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Planned Parenthood official says Kansas hasn't cut off Medicaid reimbursements even though Governor Sam Brownback declared two months ago that he would quickly end the funding. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade said Wednesday that her organization is still providing services to Medicaid participants — and getting state reimbursements — at five clinics in Kansas and western Missouri. The vocal anti-abortion governor declared in January during his annual State of the State speech that Kansas would deny the funding to Planned Parenthood. In a letter, he directed state health officials to "take all necessary steps" to end the funding. Brownback's spokeswoman said she was looking into the situation Wednesday. Other states have faced court fights over the issue.
Topeka Authorities Investigate Mail Theft
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Topeka have been investigating mail thefts that included more than $90,000 in stolen checks. The Topeka Police Department's community policing unit has been working with local U.S. postal inspectors in the effort. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that officers on Thursday recovered a U.S. Postal Service bin with more than 150 pieces of stolen mail and packages containing checks totaling more than $90,000. Investigators also found medical supplies. Marijuana, methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and a stolen license plate were also found. Authorities arrested a woman at the residence on charges of drug possession and possessing stolen property.
KU Student Senate Approves Creation of Multicultural Government Body
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas students have approved a request to establish a multicultural student government at the university. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the university's student senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of a recommended student fee to create the multicultural student government after a prolonged debate Wednesday night. A $2 fee will be added to a list of required student fees for the upcoming school year. The fee will be disseminated through the university multicultural affairs office. Student senate finance committee chairman Tyler Childress says that the current student government's bylaws will need to be edited to allow for the new body to have representation. Although many senators agreed with the concept, others said they were concerned that more detailed logistics weren't shared or established.
Missouri AG: Man Accused of Killing 5 Will Be Tried 1st in Missouri
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's attorney general says a Mexican national accused of killing one man in that state and four others in Kansas will be prosecuted first in Missouri. Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday that his office has been asked by Montgomery County's district attorney to assist in Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino's prosecution on a first-degree murder count related to the killing Tuesday of 49-year-old Randy Nordman. Serrano-Vitorino is also charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the Monday killing of his neighbor and three other men at his neighbor's home in Kansas City, Kansas. A spokesman for that county's prosecutor says he's unaware of any arrangement between the two states involving Serrano-Vitorino's prosecution. But a Koster spokeswoman, Nanci Goder, tells The Associated Press that "we intend to keep him in the state of Missouri through the trial."
Authorities: Man Accused of Killing 5 Cut Self in Apparent Suicide Attempt
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a jailed Mexican national accused of killing five men earlier this week cut himself with a safety razor in an apparent attempt to take his own life. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Department says in a statement that 40-year-old Pablo Antonio Serrano-Viterino was found to have cut himself Thursday morning in his cell and was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in stable condition. Serrano-Viterino was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the previous day's shooting death of 49-year-old Randy Nordman near New Florence, Missouri. Serrano-Viterino also is charged in Kansas with four counts of first-degree murder linked to the shooting deaths Monday of his neighbor and three other men at the neighbor's home.
Judge Rejects Plea Deal for 80-Year-Old Marijuana Dealer
BOSTON (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a plea agreement that called for a five- to seven-year prison sentence for an 80-year-old man who ran a multistate marijuana-dealing operation. Marshall Dion was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court. But the hearing was canceled after Judge Denise Casper rejected the plea agreement and the joint sentencing recommendation by Dion's lawyers and prosecutors. Casper had postponed the hearing last month after she questioned both sides about why the proposed sentence was so much lower than the 30-year sentence called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Authorities said Dion ran a sprawling marijuana enterprise for decades. When police stopped him for speeding in 2013, in Junction City, Kansas, they found about $828,000 in cash in his beat-up pickup truck. A federal investigation led authorities to Massachusetts and Arizona, where they found about $15 million in cash, nearly 400 pounds of marijuana and ledgers detailing drug deals going back to 1992. Casper gave Dion's lawyers until March 18 to inform the court whether he will withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial or whether he will agree to be sentenced without a plea agreement. She scheduled a status conference for March 22.
Timeline, 911 Tapes Chronicle Quick Response Amid Rampage
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A police chief who rushed without backup into a Kansas lawnmower factory amid a shooting rampage fatally shot the gunman about five minutes after he arrived. That's according to a timeline and recordings of 911 calls that authorities released Thursday from the February 25 shootings at Excel Industries in Hesston. The information was released in response to open records requests. The timeline shows Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder was on the scene 20 seconds after the first call went out. About 300 people were working second shift at the Hesston plant when Cedric L. Ford barged in armed with an assault-type rifle and a pistol and opened fire. Ford shot two people en route to the factory and 15 at the plant, three of whom died.
Hutchinson Teens Charged with Threatening Staff, School
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors have filed juvenile charges against two teens accused of plotting to attack a Kansas high school. The Hutchinson News reports that the 15-year-old and 14-year-old Hutchinson students were taken into custody Tuesday. They were charged Wednesday as juveniles with conspiracy to commit capital murder against more than one person at Hutchinson High School. Police say the suspected plot included plans for a pipe bomb and named specific faculty members as the first targets. Details in the complaint allege the pair wrote plans for the bombs, disassembled fireworks to obtain gunpowder and made blasting caps to trigger them. Police say a student informed Hutchinson High School administration of the alleged plot, and the high school contacted police.
Judge Denies Request to Stop Elephants' Transport to US Zoos
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has denied an animal rights group's request to stop an import of elephants from Swaziland to three American zoos, including the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports that the group, Friends of Animals, filed a federal lawsuit to stop the importation of 18 African elephants. The group opposes keeping elephants in zoos because they are migratory and social animals. As the court trial date approached this week, the three zoos moved to anesthetize and load the elephants for a flight to the U.S. The animal-rights group found out and asked for a restraining order to halt the transfer. A U.S. District Court judge denied the order, saying that sedating elephants again for a later transfer would be unsafe.
Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Giving Guns to Hesston Shooter
HESSTON, Kan. (AP) - A woman has pleaded not guilty to giving her former boyfriend the guns used in last month's mass shooting at a Kansas lawn equipment factory. The Wichita Eagle reports that 28-year-old Sarah Jo Hopkins, of Newton, faces one count of transferring weapons to a prohibited person. Court records show she waived a formal reading of the charge and denied the allegations at her arraignment Wednesday afternoon in federal court. Prosecutors say she gave Cedric Ford an AK-47-type semi-automatic rifle and a .40-caliber handgun that he used in the attack at Excel Industries in Hesston. Four people, including Ford, were killed and 14 others were injured. Hopkins has told investigators that she gave the guns to Ford because he had threatened her.
Adult Charges Sought Against Teen in Grandmother's Death
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking to try a 17-year-old boy as an adult in the stabbing death of his grandmother. When the teen appeared in court Wednesday, a judge scheduled a hearing for March 22 to consider the issue. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the teen was 16 in December when police found his 67-year-old grandmother, Deborah Bretthauer, dead in the apartment they shared. The teen has been charged with first-degree murder in juvenile court. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is in juvenile custody in Douglas County. If Long is convicted of the juvenile first-degree murder charge, he could face up to 60 months in prison, or to the age of 22. In adult court, he could face more than 40 years in prison.
Wichita Man Acquitted of Murder to Be Sentenced for Abuse
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who was convicted of child abuse but acquitted of murder in the death of his live-in girlfriend's toddler is scheduled to be sentenced next month. The Wichita Eagle reports that 34-year-old Sly Maples faces up 11 years and four months in prison. Sedgwick County jurors returned their verdict Monday. Two-year-old Avry Darnell died on January 21, 2015, after she was removed from life support. One day earlier, Maples and Avry's mother took the toddler to a hospital after she fell unconscious while playing with Maples at a park. Medical staff determined she had current and prior brain bleeds and bruising around her neck Maples claimed the girl struck her head on a playground slide. But hospital staff determined her injuries weren't consistent with the story.
Man Charged with Possession of More Than 15 Pounds of Meth
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A California truck driver accused of traveling to Wichita with more than 15 pounds of methamphetamine in his truck has been indicted. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a news release Wednesday that that 33-year-old Arnoldo Perez-Ortega of Fontana, California, was charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Grissom said Wichita police stopped Perez-Ortega's truck on Sunday and discovered 15.75 pounds of the drug. If convicted, Perez-Ortega faces a penalty of not less than 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. It was not immediately clear if he has an attorney.
KC Chiefs Announce Signings of Howard, Hali in Free Agency
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have begun to announce their wave of free-agent signings, starting with veteran linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive tackle Jaye Howard. Hali agreed to a three-year deal to remain with Kansas City on Tuesday, while Howard reached a two-year deal to stay with the Chiefs on Wednesday. Both were valuable pieces to a defense that last season led the Chiefs to their first playoff victory in more than two decades. Kansas City also agreed to a three-year deal with veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson, a five-year contract with former Browns offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz and contracts with backup linebackers Frank Zombo and Jonathan Massaquoi during the first day of free agency. Those contracts are expected to be announced once they are signed.
K-State Beats Oklahoma State, 75-71, Faces KU in Big 12 Tournament
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas State freshman forward Dean Wade scored a career-high 20 points and Justin Edwards added 17 as Kansas State beat Oklahoma State 75-71 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. The eighth-seeded Wildcats (17-15) built a big lead on the No. 9 seeded Cowboys (12-20) in the opening minutes before holding them off down the stretch. Kansas State advanced to play No. 1 seed Kansas in today's (THUR) quarterfinals. The Jayhawks have won the last two games this season against their intrastate rivals. The match begins this afternoon (THUR) at 1:30 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.