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Headlines for Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kansas Senate Panel Approves Proposed $15.5B State Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a proposed $15.5 billion state budget that would not balance without tax increases. The Ways and Means Committee's 9-2 vote Thursday was part of a crowded legislative agenda. The Senate Commerce Committee also approved a bill limiting collective bargaining between state agencies and public employee unions. The budget plan and the bargaining bill go next to the Senate. Lawmakers must close a projected budget shortfall of nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that arose after they cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. The proposed budget trims overall spending slightly for the fiscal year beginning July 1 but still would require tax increases of more than $200 million.

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Kansas Senate Advances Open Records, Meetings Proposals 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to two bills designed to make government more transparent. Senators advanced the bills Thursday. They would limit government fees for producing records and make legislative meetings more accessible. Under the records bill, agencies would not be able to charge more than 25 cents per page for records. But the chamber rejected an amendment from Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka to require state agencies to disclose officials' emails about government business on private accounts or networks. Hensley said that rejecting the amendment was hypocritical, given Republican criticism of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of private email for official business. The other measure would require the Legislature to provide live Internet audio of some committee meetings, starting in 2016.

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Kansas House Panel Endorses Change for Civil Service System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee has endorsed a bill making it easier for state agencies to move jobs out of the civil service. The 9-7 vote Wednesday by the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee sends the bill to the House for debate. The measure incorporates a proposal from Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration. Civil service workers have more job security than non-civil service workers. The state has about 13,000 civil service employees. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said in an email that the bill gives agencies more flexibility in hiring. He said even if the measure is enacted, many jobs will stay in the civil service. Critics are skeptical that the civil service system will remain intact and say favoritism will play a bigger role in employment decisions. 

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Kansas Senate Panel Approves Bill on Public Sector Union Dues, Collective Bargaining

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill to limit bargaining between state agencies and public employee unions and to prevent such unions from collecting dues through paycheck deductions. The bill endorsed by the Commerce Committee on a voice vote Thursday also would keep state agencies and school districts from making many other paycheck deductions. The list includes contributions to charities such as the United Way. The proposal originally would have barred only deductions for union dues, but committee members said it's fairer not to single out unions. The bill would limit collective bargaining between state agencies and employees to minimum wages. Supporters say the bill protects taxpayers. Critics see it as an attack on unions. The bill goes next to the full Senate for debate.

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Kansas House Panel Endorses Bill to Change US Constitution 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House panel has endorsed a resolution that would begin a process for amending the U.S. Constitution. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee approved the resolution Thursday. It calls on the U.S. Congress to organize a convention of states that would consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Thirty-three other state legislatures would have to pass similar legislation for Congress to act. The resolution says it aims to restrict federal fiscal policy, limit the federal government's powers and shorten terms of office for federal officials. It must be passed by a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the state legislature. Republican Representative Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park said she is interested in requiring the federal government to pass balanced budgets but worries that the movement could lose focus.

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Kansas House Panel Tables Repeal of Immigrant Tuition Policy 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has tabled a bill that would end a tuition break at state colleges for some young immigrants living in the state illegally. The Education Committee's 10-8 vote Thursday showed that Republicans who control the panel are split on immigration issues. The bill appears unlikely to advance this year. A 2004 law allows high school graduates who came to the U.S. illegally to pay the lower tuition rates at state universities, community colleges and technical colleges normally reserved for legal residents. About 650 higher education students enrolled in fall 2014 under the law. Committee members amended the bill to apply starting with 2018 high school graduates. Supporters of the law say the young students are an asset. Critics of the law say it encourages illegal immigration.

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Kansas: Plan to Divert Missouri River Water Not Feasible

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A controversial plan to divert Missouri River water from northeast Kansas to western Kansas is unlikely to happen. Tracy Streeter, executive director of the Kansas Water Office, says the proposed aqueduct from Doniphan County to Utica in western Kansas isn't feasible because of the estimated $18 billion cost to build it and another $1 billion to operate it every year. Streeter told The Hutchinson News Monday that the water office has no plans to take the proposal further. The proposal met strong resistance from northeast Kansas and Missouri officials. However, aqueduct supporters in water-starved southwest Kansas aren't giving up on some type of water transfer. The Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3 has commissioned a $20,000 study of the economic impact if the aqueduct isn't built.

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Kansas House Panel Approves Process for Emissions Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House panel has approved a process for establishing a greenhouse gas reduction plan. The House Energy and Environment Committee approved the measure Thursday. The Environmental Protection Agency has directed all states to develop stricter emissions standards by June 2016. States without a suitable plan will have federal regulations imposed upon them. The EPA estimates Kansas would have to cut emissions 23 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment would have the power to develop an emissions plan under the bill and the Legislature's energy committees would be required to approve or reject it. Environmental advocacy lobbyist Rabbi Moti Rieber said he generally supports the measure because alternative proposals might have caused Kansas to miss the deadline and face a federal plan.

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Federal Indictment Accuses 6 of Money Laundering 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence contractor and five other people have been indicted in a $13 million scheme to unlawfully pay drywall workers who are in the country illegally. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announced the indictments during a news conference Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas. The indictment names 55-year-old Keith L. Countess; 26-year-old Luis Felipe Guerrero-Guerrero, 39-year-old Jose Felipe Hernandez-Calvillo, 34-year-old Mauro Papalotzi, 44-year-old Marcos Lane Stubbs, and 35-year-old Isaac Gallegos. Grissom spokesman Jim Cross said the defendants don't yet have attorneys. Grissom said Countess, who owns Plaster Masters, funneled money through a man who operated a shell drywall business. Cash was paid to crew managers, including Guerrero-Guerrero, Hernandez-Calvillo and Papalotzi. Stubbs and Gallegos are accused of devising the scheme.

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Wichita Arena Won't Have Watch Party for Shockers NCAA Game

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State fans hoping to watch the Shockers' NCAA tournament game Sunday at a Wichita arena should make other plans. Officials with Intrust Bank Arena announced Wednesday that NCAA rules prevent them from holding the planned watch party. Many fans are hoping for a Sunday matchup between the Shockers and the University of Kansas Jayhawks, if both teams win their first-round games Friday. The NCAA prohibits the sale of food and beverages at public events planned primarily to watch NCAA Division I men's basketball games. Arena officials say it wouldn't be able to provide a positive experience for fans without food and beverages. The Wichita Eagle reports an NCAA official said organizations sponsoring large watch parties must first obtain a public performance license because the NCAA's broadcast is copyrighted material.

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27 More Test Positive for TB at Olathe High School 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Twenty-seven more people have tested positive for tuberculosis at an eastern Kansas high school. State and county health officials made the announcement Wednesday after tests were conducted on more than 300 Olathe Northwest High School students and staff members who came into contact with an infected student. The Kansas City Star reports that officials began calling people who test positive on Monday. People with no sign of infection will receive letters. Tuberculosis can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include a bad cough for three weeks or longer, chest pain, weakness or fatigue, and coughing up blood. People with the disease are most likely to spread it to others with whom they have prolonged contact.

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Kansas House Committee Cancels Meeting on Green Energy Mandate 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House panel has canceled a debate a bill to freeze renewable energy mandates for utility companies. The House Energy and Environment Committee had been scheduled to vote on the measure Wednesday. The panel did not say why it canceled its meeting. Kansas law requires that 10 percent of the electricity generated by utilities come from renewable energy sources, such as wind. That figure is set to rise to 15 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2020. The bill would eliminate those future requirements. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and conservative think tanks contend the government should not set such mandates on businesses. The Kansas Farm Bureau and renewable energy groups argue that the bill would remove an incentive for further investments in renewable energy.

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Kansas Panel Considers Divesting Pension Funds from Companies in Iran 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas pension system would be forced to divest from any companies operating in Iran under a bill considered by a House panel. The House Pensions and Benefits Committee discussed a bill Wednesday that would require the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to sell stock in any companies that had invested $20 million or more in Iran since 1996. The bill would immediately impact the pension system's investments in Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Toyota. KPERS currently holds stock worth about $68.5 million in those companies. Republican Representative Scott Schwab, of Olathe, said the bill would send a signal to Washington about where Kansas stands on the country's relationship to Israel and Iran. But other lawmakers worried that the cost would be high and politicize the pension system.

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Jamaica Places Import Restrictions on US, Canadian Poultry 

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaica has imposed import restrictions on poultry products from various spots in North America in the wake of a big outbreak of bird flu that has infected stocks. The island's agriculture ministry says fresh and frozen poultry, hatching eggs and various by-products from U.S. states including Kansas, Minnesota and Missouri are restricted until further notice. Poultry imports from Canada's British Columbia were also restricted Thursday. The government says the measures "are intended to safeguard the country's poultry and public health" from the H5N2 bird flu strain. Numerous other countries have banned poultry imports from impacted areas. China stopped importing all U.S. poultry earlier this year. The World Health Organization says avian influenza viruses can survive in contaminated raw poultry, so it's possible to spread them via fresh or frozen products.

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Journal Expresses Concern About Study Ranking UMKC No. 1 in Biz Research

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An academic journal is distancing itself from an article that named the University of Missouri-Kansas City No. 1 in the emerging field of business research. The Kansas City Star reports that the Journal of Product Innovation Management issued an "expression of concern" about the article it published in 2012. The journal also criticized the school for the way it used the finding to promote its programs. Auditors for PricewaterhouseCoopers found in a January report that the work was not subject to the same rigid standards as top academic papers. The auditors also found that the college's business school knowingly submitted false date in applying for rankings and awards. UMKC officials said in a statement that they "respect the publication's point of view" but consider the matter in the past.

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Kansas State Researchers Explore Agricultural Use of Drones 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Kansas State University is researching how to use drones to detect invasive insects and emerging diseases in wheat fields. The $1.74 million three-year project will initially target the Russian wheat aphid and wheat stripe rust, also commonly referred to as "yellow rust." The research partners are Australia's Queensland University of Technology, the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries, and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Kansas State says flights will be conducted in fields around Kansas. Researchers in Australia are conducting complementary flights to collect supporting data.

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Kansas Ethanol Producers Protest Proposed Excise Tax

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Ethanol producers say a proposed excise tax in Kansas would harm the industry and put some plants out of business. The House Taxation Committee held a hearing on a bill Wednesday that would impose a 4.33 percent tax on ethanol products and electricity from renewable sources. Farmers, ethanol producers and representatives of the renewable energy industry testified to the committee that the tax would hurt rural economies and cause plant closures. Only conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute testified in favor of the bill, saying in written testimony the move would eliminate unneeded protections from the industry. The Kansas Legislature also is considering measures to remove the property tax exemption for renewable power plants and freeze mandates requiring utilities to include increasing portions of renewable energy in the electrical grid.

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Tribe Pulls Out of Proposed Casino in Southeast Kansas

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) - An American Indian tribe based in Oklahoma is pulling out of a partnership to build a casino in southeast Kansas. John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe, announced Wednesday that the tribe will not partner with developer Phil Ruffin to build a casino north of Pittsburg. The proposal is one of three plans being considered for a state-owned casino in southeast Kansas. Berrey said the decision came after a lawsuit filed by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to block the tribe from expanding its Downstream Casino, which is in Oklahoma, across the state border into Kansas. Berrey says the tribe believes Kansas leaders are hostile to its participation in the proposal. The Joplin Globe reports that the developer says he will proceed with licensing efforts for the proposed casino.

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Salina College Gets $1M Donation for Nursing Program

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Wesleyan University says it has received a $1 million donation to enhance the school's nursing program. The Salina Journal reports the college announced the contribution from Salina Regional Health Foundation on Wednesday. The money will establish the Salina Regional Health Center Chair in Nursing Education at the college. University president and CEO Matt Thompson said school officials are appreciative and excited about the donation. Executive director Tom Martin of the Salina Regional Health Foundation says he views the gift as an investment in the community and regional medical education.

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Trial Ends in Lawsuit Targeting Nebraska Funeral Protest Law 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The federal trial has ended in a lawsuit challenging Nebraska's law requiring picketers to stay at least 500 feet from funerals. The trial ended Thursday after attorneys for Topeka-Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church and the state, Omaha Police Department and Douglas County District Attorney's Office rested. U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp dismissed the Douglas County prosecutor's office from the lawsuit following testimony. The church protests at funerals throughout the country using anti-gay chants and signs because it believes God is punishing U.S. military members and others for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality. The church reasons that the Nebraska law is selectively enforced and is unconstitutionally infringes on its free-speech rights. Smith Camp will decide the case sometime after both sides submit closing briefs over the next three months.

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Shark Attacks Kansas Man Snorkeling in Hawaii 

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — A visitor from Kansas is in the hospital after a 10-to-12-foot tiger shark bit his left forearm while he was snorkeling off the Big Island of Hawaii. West Hawaii Today reports the man was flown to The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu in stable condition on Wednesday. Police said the 58-year-old had been snorkeling with his family at Hapuna Beach when the shark attacked. Numerous snorkelers were in the water about 20 yards offshore at the time. Several bystanders helped drag him in. Police say he suffered severe cuts to his forearm and lacerations to his left thigh. His identity has not been released. He is from Overland Park. Hawaii County Fire Department officials saw the shark from a helicopter. Authorities have closed beaches from Waialea to Mauna Kea.

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AP Source: Cleveland Browns, Dwayne Bowe Agree to Terms 

CLEVELAND (AP) — A person familiar with the negotiations says free agent wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has agreed to contract terms with the Cleveland Browns. Bowe, who spent the past eight seasons with Kansas City, is expected to sign the deal on Thursday, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not confirmed the agreement. With Cleveland, Bowe will become a No. 1 receiver and fill the void created when former Pro Bowler Josh Gordon was suspended for one year for multiple violations of the NFL's drug policy. A big, athletic receiver, Bowe had 60 catches for 754 yards last season but no touchdowns. Bowe led the league with 15 TDs in 2010 and has averaged 66 catches per season. The Chiefs released the 30-year-old Bowe last week. NFL Network first reported Bowe's deal.

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Second-Seeded Jayhawks Feel Like Underdogs in NCAA Tourney 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — For the first time in a while, the University of Kansas is entering the NCAA Tournament as an afterthought. The second-seeded Jayhawks open against No. 15 seed New Mexico State on Friday in Omaha. But all the attention in the Midwest Region so far has been on third-seeded Notre Dame, the ACC Tournament champ, and overall No. 1 seed Kentucky. In other words, the Jayhawks (26-8) are flying a bit under the radar. New Mexico State (23-10), meanwhile, is also playing the underdog card as the Aggies make their fourth straight trip to the dance. They've won 13 consecutive games, sweeping the Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles. The winner gets seventh-seeded Wichita State or No. 10 seed Indiana in the round of 32.
 

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