Anti-Gay Pastor Fred Phelps Sr. Dies at 84
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Reverend Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of a Kansas church known for anti-gay protests and pickets at military funerals, has died. He was 84. Daughter Margie Phelps says Fred Phelps died shortly after midnight Thursday. She didn't give the cause of death or the condition that recently put him in hospice care. Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, though most of the small church's members are part of his extended family. Their activities inspired a federal law on funeral picketing and laws in more than 40 states. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the church and its members couldn't be sued for damages. Phelps's church preached that deaths of U.S. military personnel were God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
Panel Votes to Repeal KS Endangered Species Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has voted to repeal the state's 39-year-old endangered species law. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the vote came Thursday as the Senate Natural Resources Committee was considering a bill to remove two snakes from state protection. The committee's Republican chairman, Larry Powell of Garden City, inserted an amendment repealing the entire 1975 Kansas law, then placed the language into a unrelated bill already approved by the state House. Powell says the endangered species law has cost the state economic development opportunities. The law puts the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in charge of identifying and undertaking appropriate conservation measures for endangered species. The Audubon Society of Kansas criticized Powell's move as a "stealth attack" on conservation of state-designated threatened and endangered species.
Debate on Federal Health Law Postponed
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has postponed a debate on whether the state should join a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from the federal health care law. The bill originally on Thursday's agenda in the House would also let participating states remove themselves from other federal health regulations if Congress consents. But some Republicans had concerns about how entering into a compact would affect Medicare, the federally funded program for seniors. Leaders of the GOP majority put off the debate at least a day to give lawmakers a chance to draft amendments to address Medicare. Many Republican lawmakers strongly oppose the federal health care law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama. Critics of the bill see the measure as symbolic and say Congress wouldn't approve such a compact.
Brownback: Fully Fund Aid to Poor Kansas Schools
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says legislators should fully fund aid to poor school districts and significantly increase state spending on public education. Brownback issued a statement Wednesday outlining his principles for a response to a recent Kansas Supreme Court decision in an education funding lawsuit. The high court ruled earlier this month that past cuts in aid to poor districts left unconstitutional gaps between them and wealthier districts. The Department of Education has estimated that fully reversing those cuts would cost $129 million a year. The governor's statement did not include a figure for new spending but said only that solving school funding issues will require "significant" new spending. But he also said the aid cited by the court as problematic should be fully funded.
Committees to Begin Work on Kansas School Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislative budget committees are preparing to draft their responses to a state Supreme Court ruling that found portions of the state's school funding formula unconstitutional. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committees were set to begin discussions Thursday on where to find additional money for poorer school districts. The court ruled March 7 that two funds that help equalize resources among the state's 286 districts were unconstitutional because of spending decisions by the Legislature since state revenue declined in 2008. State education officials estimate legislators may have to increase funding by $129 million to comply with the ruling, although Attorney General Derek Schmidt has said lawmakers have several options to consider.
KS Senate Votes to Repeal Mortgage Registration Fees
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas senators have approved a bill repealing mortgage registration fees, a move that county leaders say will cost them millions of dollars. The Wichita Eagle reports that Senate Bill 298 would phase out over five years the fees lenders pay to county governments based on the cost of a mortgage for a residential or commercial property. The bill offsets some of the lost revenue with an increased document filing fee for deeds and mortgages. The fees brought in $7.4 million in revenue for Sedgwick County in 2012. County spokeswoman Kristi Zukovich says the county estimates it will lose as much as $800,000 in 2015 and $3.4 million by 2019. Senator Jeff Melcher, a Leawood Republican, says if counties need to make up the lost revenue they can raise property taxes.
Governor Declares Kansas 'Cradle of Basketball'
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has issued a proclamation describing Kansas as the "Cradle of Basketball" and praising the three teams from the state playing in the NCAA men's tournament. Brownback signed the proclamation Thursday, a day before the University of Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State all play their opening games in St. Louis. The proclamation designates Friday as "Cradle of Basketball" Day. Many Kansans like to think of basketball as being perfected in their state. James Naismith invented the game in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, but arrived at the University of Kansas in 1898 to teach physical education and serve as the university's first basketball coach. Brownback said he issued the proclamation to remind people of the state's rich basketball history.
Survey Suggests Slight Growth for Midwest Economy
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An economist says a survey of bankers in 10 Midwest and Plains states suggests the regional economy is experiencing slow to no growth. The Rural Mainstreet Index rose slightly above growth neutral in March, to 50.1, compared with 48.4 in February. The survey indexes range from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. A score above 50 suggests growth in that factor in the months ahead. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says the region will need to see more increases in farm commodity prices to push the agriculture-based economy back into healthy growth territory. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
Man Wants to Withdraw Plea in Jogger's Slaying
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man who pleaded guilty in the May 2012 murder of an 18-year-old jogger is seeking to withdraw that plea and says his defense attorney "fear mongered" him into pleading guilty to avoid a death sentence. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 22-year-old Dustin Leftwich acted as his own attorney late last month when he filed a motion seeking permission to withdraw the plea and go to trial. He was sentenced in January 2013 to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to seven charges tied to the slaying of Brenna Morgart. Prosecutors say Morgart was jogging the morning of May 25, 2012, when Leftwich struck her with his car, forced her into his truck and tried to rape her before throwing her into a creek.
Kansas, Missouri Men Killed in K-10 Crossover Collision
DESOTO, Kan. (AP) — Two people are dead after an early morning crash on Kansas Highway 10 after the driver of a pickup truck crossed the median and plowed into an oncoming car. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the pickup driver was a 45-year-old Kansas City, Missouri man who lost control of his westbound vehicle around 1:20 am Thursday and collided with an eastbound Toyota Camry driven by a 20-year-old Kansas City, Kansas man. Both were pronounced dead at the scene. Trooper Howard Dickinson says the pickup driver was ejected from his vehicle, while the Camry driver was wearing a seatbelt and had to be cut out. Dickinson says the crash was not survivable because of the force of two vehicles traveling at 70 mph and crashing into each other.
Lawrence Woman Resisting Developer's Buyout Offer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 91-year-old Lawrence woman says she has been offered $600,000 by a Chicago developer for her modest home near the edge of the University of Kansas campus, but she isn't sure she wants to move. Georgia Bell has lived there nearly 70 years after she and her husband paid $850 for the home in 1946. She raised six children in the one-bedroom, 840-square-foot house, and feels like she is being forced out. The Kansas City Star reports that Lawrence officials and the developer insist she can stay in the home, even as a U-shaped, five-story residential and retail complex goes up around her. Bell says it might be nice to have some extra cash for the first time, but at her age she's not sure where she would go.
Kansas City Man Sentenced in FedEx Truck Theft
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri man who stole a FedEx truck and led police on a two-state, low-speed chase has been sentenced in Kansas to a year in jail. WDAF-TV reports that 19-year-old Caleb Ownby will also spend two years on probation under the sentence he received Thursday in Johnson County District Court. Charges against the Kansas City, Missouri man are also pending in two Missouri counties where the theft originated and part of the chase occurred. Ownby was arrested the evening of December 4 in Prairie Village, Kansas, about seven hours after a FedEx driver left her keys in a delivery truck at a Kansas City gas station. Police spotted the truck that afternoon and followed it slowly through the city into Kansas, eventually puncturing the tires with stop sticks.
KC Leaders Say Tax Ads Rekindling Border War
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City leaders say a retired Missouri investment mogul is trying to bankrupt their city and rekindling a business border war with Kansas over income taxes. Two nonprofit groups with ties to anti-tax crusader Rex Sinquefield of St. Louis are spending a combined $200,000 during the tax filing season on cable television ads promoting lower taxes in Kansas and promoting Kansas City as a high-tax place to live and do business. The Kansas City Star reports one of the ads airs only in Kansas and explicitly urges Missouri businesses to establish their companies in Kansas to take advantage of recently lowered state tax rates. A second ad airing in Missouri takes aim at Kansas City's 1 percent earnings tax on income and profits.
Army Fugitive Back in KS Prison After 37 Years
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — An Army spokesman says an escaped inmate who eluded capture for 37 years is back behind bars at the military's maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Spokesman George Marcec confirmed Thursday that convicted killer James Robert Jones returned to military custody this week from Florida and is being housed at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. It is unclear if Jones has been charged with additional crimes related to his escape. The 59-year-old Jones was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Florida after authorities used facial recognition technology to identify Jones, who was living under the name Bruce Walter Keith. He was convicted of murder and assault in the 1974 killing of a fellow soldier at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Jones was serving a 23-year sentence when he escaped.
Kansas Project Shows Extent of Cigarette Litter
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Smoking is banned in the Kansas Statehouse, but a cleanup project by volunteers shows plenty of people are lighting up outside and littering the grounds with cigarette butts. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a group of volunteers including high school students collected 650 discarded cigarettes outside the Statehouse in just 15 minutes Wednesday. The cleanup in Topeka and other Kansas communities was part of a national campaign to illustrate the problem of non-biodegradable cigarette filters left outside buildings, in parks and elsewhere. In Hutchinson, volunteers picked up more than 2,600 discarded cigarette butts in one hour Tuesday on the grounds of Hutchinson Community College. Organizers say cigarette butts are dangerous to animals that ingest them, because tobacco is poisonous for some animals and because of the synthetic materials in filters.
Oil Pipeline Completion Expected by Mid-2014
FLANAGAN, Ill. (AP) — A 600-mile pipeline extending from Illinois to Oklahoma could be ready by this summer. That's according to a report by WNIJ Radio. The pipeline belonging to Enbridge Inc. of Calgary, Alberta will carry tar sands from Flanagan, Ill. near Pontiac to Enbridge's terminal in Cushing, Okla. It also travels through Missouri and Kansas. From Oklahoma, the oil could be moved through existing lines to Gulf Coast refineries. The Flanagan South pipeline runs parallel to another Enbridge route that's already in place. Construction began in August 2013. A spokeswoman for Enbridge says work is Illinois is mostly complete. But this winter's bitter temperatures slowed down work putting topsoil back over the pipeline in some areas. Still the project is set to be done in mid-2014.
Former NBA Player Sam Lacey Dies at 66
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sam Lacey, a former NBA All-Star center who spent most of his 13-year career with the Kansas City Kings, has died. He was 66. The Sacramento Kings, where the franchise relocated in 1985, said they did not know the cause of death. In a statement released through the team Wednesday, Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro called Lacey "one of the finest and longest-tenured players to ever don a Kings uniform." Lacey was drafted fifth overall by the Cincinnati Royals in 1970 after a stellar career at New Mexico State. The franchise became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972 to 1973, and later just the Kansas City Kings before the 1975 to 1976 season. Lacey made his only All-Star appearance in 1975.