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Headlines for Thursday, May 01, 2014


Kansas Budget Negotiators Reach Tentative Deal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A tentative deal has been struck on lingering issues in the Kansas budget, moving legislators closer to concluding the 2014 session despite a spate of bad economic news. House and Senate negotiators finished work on the budget Thursday, including giving a pay raise for nearly 38,000 state employees and new officers at the Topeka Correctional Facility. The timing of a vote on the budget was uncertain. On Wednesday, the state Department of Revenue reported that tax collections for the month totaled $92 million less than expected. Officials cited changes in the federal tax code on capital gains and other income. Also on Wednesday, Moody's Investor Services downgraded the state's bond rating on concerns about long-term pension obligations and further reduction of state ending balances necessary to cover expenses.


Moody's Downgrades Kansas Bond Rating

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Moody's Investor Services is reducing the bond rating for the state ofKansas over concerns about the state's sluggish economic recovery compared with other states and issues with long-term financial obligations. The service announced Wednesday that the rating was cut from Aa1 to Aa2. The decision was made the same day Kansas officials announced April revenue collections were $92 million less than previous forecasts. Moody's cites the 2012 enactment of income tax cuts and the effect on state revenues as a factor in the downgrade, as well as long-term pension obligations and use of one-time sources of revenue to cover operations. Moody's says the rating could be upgraded if the state rebuilds its reserve balances and takes steps to address the pension obligations.


Report: 57,000 Kansans Found Exchange Health Plans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says more Kansas residents than the federal government had anticipated selected health insurance coverage through an online marketplace. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday that 57,000 Kansas residents signed up for coverage through April 19. HHS had predicted before the marketplace opened in October that 53,000 Kansas residents would find insurance. Republicans critical of the federal health overhaul control Kansas state government and kept the state from setting up its own marketplace or partnering with HHS. Sign-ups had been running behind expectations through February, following the marketplace's rocky rollout. But the HHS figures indicate that nearly 28,000 people obtained coverage starting in March. But the HHS report did not say how many of those 57,000 people had paid premiums.


Kansas Negotiators Preserve Public Broadcasting Funds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state grant of $600,000 for Kansas public TV and radio stations has been preserved in a budget agreement reached Thursday by House and Senate negotiators. The money is the same amount allotted in the current year, but down from the $3.8 million the state provided as recently as 2008. The funding bill for the fiscal year that starts July 1 now goes to the full House and Senate. The state provides only 1 percent of funding for public broadcasting stations in Kansas City and Lawrence. At High Plains Public Radio in Garden City, state funding of about $89,000 is about 9 percent of its $1 million budget. At Smoky Hills Public Television in Bunker Hill, about $209,000 — about 12 percent — of its $1.7 million budget comes from state grants.


Kansas House Blocks Death Penalty Appeals Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have blocked a procedural vote that would have cleared the way for final action on a bill streamlining appeals in death penalty cases. Thursday's House action casts doubt on whether supporters will be able to advance the measure. The bill would streamline appeals of death penalties by the Kansas Supreme Court. The measure would codify existing court guidelines on time limits and page limits, but allow the court to waive those limits. Another key provision would allow public access to law enforcement documents on arrests and searches, which are now closed records in Kansas. The proposal emerged from talks between the House and Senate. Legislators now plan to reopen negotiations to consider their options, including splitting the death penalty and documents provisions into separate bills.


Kansas Legislators Increase Murder Sentences

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Defendants convicted of premeditated first-degree murder in Kansas would face a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 50 years under a bill heading to Governor Sam Brownback. The House approved the measure Wednesday on a 123-0 vote. Senators approved the bill, 37-3, on April 5. The bill would double the mandatory time defendants must serve before being eligible for parole but allow judges to decide whether a lesser sentence is warranted. Currently, prosecutors can seek the so-called "Hard 50" sentence against first-degree murder defendants, but it can only be imposed by juries after weighing factors presented during a trial. The bill also would impose a minimum 25-year prison sentence for defendants convicted of attempted capital murder or committing murder during another felony.


Forecast: Smallest Kansas Wheat Crop Since 1996

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Participants in this year's winter wheat tour are estimating the 2014 Kansas wheat crop will be the smallest since 1996. The Wheat Quality Council Hard Winter Wheat Tour on Thursday forecast this year's production at 260 million bushels, with an average estimated yield of 33.2 bushels per acre. The industry group Kansas Wheat reports the estimates are calculated from 587 stops this week by scouts who fanned out across the state in 20 vans. The yield estimates look at the crop's current condition and assume decent moisture and average temperatures from now until harvest. Government statistics estimate Kansas farmers harvested 319.2 million bushels of winter wheat last year with average yields of 38 bushels an acre.


Kansas Lawmakers Mull New Prairie Chicken Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are close to agreement on a proposal to fine federal employees up to $1,000 if they attempt to enforce a federal listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. House and Senate negotiators worked Thursday on the final version of a bill declaring that the federal government has no authority to regulate prairie chickens in Kansas. An agreement could come later Thursday. The Senate had wanted to make it a felony for a federal employee to attempt to regulate the lesser prairie chicken or the larger and darker greater prairie chicken. The House wanted to allow the attorney general to file lawsuits to block enforcement actions. A steep decline in the lesser prairie chicken population led the federal government to list it as threatened in March.

EPA to Remove Chemicals from Lenexa Site

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency says it's working to remove hazardous chemicals from a laboratory facility in suburban Kansas City. The EPA's regional office says in a release that it will begin work next week at the abandoned Beta Chem Laboratory facility in Lenexa, Kansas. The federal agency says work at the site will take about a month. Beta Chem used the facility for medical research involving radioactive carbon. The EPA says the company failed to follow directions from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to attain compliance with its Radioactive Materials License. KDHE seized the facility in 2013 and referred the facility to the EPA.

Lawrence Seeking Donations for Recreation Equipment

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence officials are spending more than $22 million for the new Rock Chalk Park Sports complex in northwest Lawrence while also seeking donations at recreation centers in other parts of town to help maintain current equipment. Tim Laurent, Lawrence recreation operations manager, says donation boxes at recreation centers aren't a sign the city is struggling to fund the maintenance of existing facilities and equipment now that money is being devoted to Rock Chalk Park. He says residents who take Parks and Recreation classes pay a fee, while people who use the fitness rooms aren't required to pay fees. But Lawrence resident Anne Schulman told The Lawrence Journal-World that the donation boxes are "a slap in the face to residents who live in other parts of town."

New Federal Judge Confirmed for Kansas

WASHINGTON (AP) — An attorney from Kansas City, Kansas, has been confirmed as a judge of the U.S. District Court in Kansas. Senator Jerry Moran said the Senate approved the appointment of Daniel Crabtree on Wednesday. He was nominated by President Barack Obama last August to succeed U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum, who took senior status. Crabtree is a partner in the Kansas City law firm of Stinson Morrison Hecker. He joined the firm as an associate after receiving his law degree from the University of Kansas School in 1981. He also holds a bachelor's degree from Ottawa University in Kansas. Crabtree's legal practice has included representation of businesses and government entities in complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He's also the general counsel for the Kansas City Royals baseball team.

Judge Sets Hearing in KS Suicide Bomb Plot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge scheduled another hearing for a man accused of plotting a suicide bombing at Wichita's airport. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Wednesday set a July 21 date for a status conference in the case of Terry Loewen, an avionics technician facing terrorism-related charges. Such proceedings are routinely used to keep the court informed on progress. Belot held the last such hearing on Monday. Loewen was arrested December 13 after allegedly trying to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at the airport, where he worked. The arrest followed a months-long federal sting operation. He has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device to damage property and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.


Man Accused of Highway Shootings Appears in Court

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 27-year-old Missouri man accused of shooting at vehicles along Kansas City highways and wounding three drivers appears in court long enough to have his next trial date set. Mohammed Whitaker of Grandview was in Jackson County (Missouri) court Thursday for his preliminary hearing on 18 felony counts stemming from highway shootings that started in early March. He is being held on $1 million bond. Police say they had Whitaker under surveillance for a week before arresting him April 18 in Grandview, only a few miles from an area where many of the shootings occurred. Whitaker entered the courtroom wearing a blue shirt and suit coat and khaki pants. He was silent as the judge bound his case over for arraignment on May 19. His public defender, Joshuah Peter, declined to comment.


Kansas City Zoo Changes Free Days Policy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After a program to offer free admission to the Kansas City Zoo drew such big crowds that fights broke out zoo officials are offering a new plan designed to disperse the customers. Zoo officials plan to mail a postcard to every household in Jackson and Clay counties that will allow residents to choose one free day to visit the zoo in July, September or November this year. The Kansas City Star reports that the free days will be randomly assigned on Monday through Thursday. Residents in the two counties were promised four free admission days after they approved a one-eighth cent sales tax to support the zoo in 2011. The promotion proved too popular. On March 18, fights and gunfire broke out when about 19,000 people showed up.

Senior Citizens Can Use Mulvane School Track

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) — Despite some parents' concern about their children's safety, a Kansas school district will continue to allow senior citizens to use an indoor walking track during school hours. The Mulvane school board voted this week to allow anyone over 55 to use the indoor track at Mulvane Grade School. The Wichita Eagle reports that some parents had raised concerns about allowing the public access to the track while school is in session. Mulvane district spokesman Tom Keil says the board voted unanimously Monday night to authorize its attorney to negotiate an agreement with the city's recreation commission over public use of the track and two new fitness studios.

Maize Tables Proposal for Aquatic Center

MAIZE, Kan. (AP) — The Maize school district has tabled a proposal for a $10 million aquatic center. The decision comes in part because nearby Goddard voted last week to approve the first phase of a $130 million swimming complex/retail project. The Wichita Eagle reports that earlier this year, a group of advisers named an aquatic center as a top athletic priority for the Maize district. Maize superintendent Doug Powers says shrinking budgets, combined with the Goddard project, prompted the Maize board to put the proposed pool complex on hold. He says Maize could perhaps eventually use the Goddard complex.

Kemme Installed as Bishop of Wichita Diocese

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita has been installed at a Mass that drew about 950 people. The Wichita Eagle reports that Bishop Carl Kemme had lunch at the Lord's Diner, which feeds the hungry, before Thursday's ordination and installation at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The 53-year-old clergyman was vicar general of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois when Pope Francis appointed him to the Kansas post in February. He replaces former Bishop Michael O. Jackels, who was appointed archbishop in Dubuque, Iowa, last year. More than 20 other bishops attended Thursday's installation, along with representatives from all parishes of the Wichita Diocese throughout southeast and south-central Kansas. Kemme has given students and staff at Catholic schools Friday off for a day of praise and thanksgiving.

2nd Victim Dies in KCK Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 29-year-old mother of five has died two days after being shot in Kansas City, Kansas by her boyfriend, who took his own life. The Star reports Adoria Verser was taken off life support Wednesday. Police said 27-year-old Shefrin Smith shot Verser multiple times around 7:30 am Monday in the parking lot of a Kansas City, Kansas church. He then shot himself and died at the scene. Smith was the father of Verser's four youngest children. The shooting was witnessed by several people, including two of Verser's children. Friends said Verser worked in customer service at a bank and didn't seem to have problems in her domestic life.

Drive-By Shooting Reported in Arkansas City

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 21-year-old man is in jail after a drive-by shooting into an Arkansas City home occupied by a couple and their young child. Arkansas City police say in a news release that several shots from a car hit a house late Tuesday. The bullets went into a room in which the couple and their 3-month-old child were sleeping but no one was injured. The Arkansas City Traveler reports that the residents were moving out of the house Wednesday. One resident, Garret Watkins, says he thought the suspect was high on drugs during the shooting. He says he also might have shot at the house because he owed money to a friend of Watkins. No charges have been filed.

Midwest Economic Survey Index Hits 3-Year High

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A monthly economic index for nine Midwestern and Plains states hit a three-year high in April, suggesting more economic growth over the next three to six months. A report issued Thursday says the overall Mid-America Business Conditions Index rose to 60.4 from 58.2 in March. Looking six months ahead, the business confidence portion of the overall index jumped to 64.2 in April from 59.0 in March. The survey results from supply managers are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth, while a score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Barton College to Rebuild Camp Aldrich Hall

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Barton Community College plans to rebuild a dining hall at Camp Aldrich that was an important gathering spot before it was destroyed by fire in April. The college trustees voted Wednesday to work with the college's insurance company to replace the facility. The college hopes to have the hall reopened by April of next year. The Great Bend Tribune reports that trustees knew the camp was important to area residents but said they were surprised by the worried response they received after fire destroyed the hall April 12. Dean of Administration Mark Dean says the new dining hall will have to meet state and federal guidelines, meaning the rustic look from its original timber construction likely will not be replicated because it will have to be non-combustible.

Kansas City Police Investigating Woman's Death

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police are questioning a man who witnesses say was found naked and covered in blood after a woman was fatally wounded at a north Kansas City apartment complex. Witnesses called police early Wednesday to say the man was running through the complex screaming. The woman was still alive when police arrived at the Northpointe apartment complex but she died a short time later. KMBC-TV says the man was seen about 20 minutes later in another neighborhood, where he was going door-to-door saying someone had killed his girlfriend and they were coming for him. Parkville police later took the man into custody after a car crash. No charges have been announced in the case.

Name of Man Who Died in Fatal Emporia Fire Released

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Fire officials continue to investigate the cause of a fire that killed a man at his home in Emporia. Officials on Wednesday identified the victim as 64-year-old David Warnke. His body was found inside his home after the fire was extinguished Tuesday afternoon. Authorities say they are investigating if Warnke was killed by the fire or if other factors were involved.

Man Pleads Guilty in Theft of Independence Statue

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — An Independence man has pleaded guilty for his role in the theft of a 6-foot bronze statue from a museum. Thirty-seven-year-old Jeremy Ratliff will be sentenced June 13 after pleading guilty this month to felony stealing. He was one of three men charged in the June 2013 theft of the Pioneer Woman statue from the National Frontier Trails Museum. One of the men has been sentenced to seven years in prison and the other has not yet pleaded. The life-sized statue of a woman with a baby in one arm and a bucket in the other weighed 1,000 pounds. The Independence Examiner reports that Ratliff and another defendant tried to sell the bronze from the statue at a Kansas City recycling center but workers there refused to take it.


AP Source: KU Guard Tharpe Expected to Leave

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe, who started 30 games during last year's Big 12 title run, is expected to transfer, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because the school had not announced his decision. It is unknown where he plans to transfer. Tharpe was suspended for last season's opener after playing in an unauthorized summer league game. He also was seen in a lewd photograph that circulated on social media that prompted coach Bill Self to say he was "extremely disappointed." The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 assists while helping the Jayhawks to a 25-10 record as a junior last season. They lost to Stanford in the third round of the NCAA tournament.



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