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Headlines for Thursday, May 28, 2015

Kansas House Debate on Tax Plan Blocked, Slowing Budget Fix 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republicans have blocked a Kansas House debate on a bill raising sales, cigarette and business taxes to close a state budget shortfall. The measure on the House's agenda Thursday would have raised $400 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1. Republicans who control the chamber said most of the bill's contents weren't likely to survive a debate. But GOP leaders wanted to pass a stripped-down version to clear the way for negotiations between the House and Senate on the final version of a tax bill. The vote on allowing debate was 72-40, but GOP leaders needed a two-thirds majority of 84 votes in the 125-member chamber to go ahead. Conservatives said the process GOP leaders were engineering would prevent conservatives from having much influence.


Kansas Senate Rejects Budget Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has rejected a bill for raising taxes to close a projected state budget shortfall. Senate President Susan Wagle said after the chamber's action Wednesday that legislators will need to trim additional spending from the budget. The Senate voted 30-1 against giving the bill first-round approval after members spent hours whittling it down. The measure would have raised sales, tobacco and gasoline taxes. It also would have suspended a tax break enacted in 2012 for business owners and farmers as an economic stimulus. The bill initially would have raised $496 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1st, more than enough to erase the budget shortfall. 


Kansas Governor Open to Budget Cuts; Lawmaker Skeptical

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback says he's willing to consider new proposals to trim state spending to help balance the budget, but a GOP legislative leader is skeptical that such efforts would bear fruit. Brownback said during a Thursday news conference that it's time for legislators to resolve budget and tax issues. Their session was eight days past its traditional 90-day length. He and the Republican-dominated Legislature must close a projected $406 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. GOP legislators are split over raising new revenues. The Senate rejected a tax plan Wednesday. Senate President and Wichita Republican Susan Wagle said lawmakers need to trim spending. But Senate Majority Leader and Nickerson Republican Terry Bruce said Thursday that he doubts such efforts would have enough support to pass.


Kansas Legislature's Annual Session Likely to Hit 100 Days

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators are likely to have one of their longest annual sessions ever this year because they're still struggling to resolve budget and tax issues. Lawmakers were convening Thursday for the 98th day of their session, eight more than their leaders traditionally schedule. Each extra day in session costs the state more than $40,000. Republicans in the Legislature have yet to agree on proposals for raising taxes to close a projected $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Resolution of budget and tax issues isn't expected until at least the session's 100th day. Only five sessions have lasted 100 days or more, according to legislative researchers. The longest in state history was in 2002, at 107 days.


Brownback Considering State Employee Furloughs 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback's office is looking at perhaps furloughing state workers if the Legislature does not pass a balanced budget in the coming weeks. Brownback's spokeswoman, Sara Belfry, said Wednesday his office is working to determine when it would have to inform state workers they would be furloughed if a budget is not passed on time. Legislative researchers say that the state is legally obligated to approve a budget by June 7, but salary payments would not necessarily be disrupted if it comes later in the month.  The Legislature already is in overtime on its 90-day session. Today (THUR) is its 97th day. 


Kansas Senate Approves Multiple Tweaks to State Liquor Laws 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a measure that would allow alcohol at state events at the Capitol and adjusts a number of liquor permit processes. Republican Senator Vicki Schmidt of Topeka said she opposed the bill, which was approved Thursday on a 30-6 vote, because it vaguely defined when alcohol would be permitted in the Capitol. The bill also would allow patrons of art galleries to bring their own bottles of wine to painting sessions. Alcoholic beverages could also be consumed at farmer's markets, state fairs and catered events on public property, under the bill. It also would allow alcohol distributors to provide samples and let vineyards sell wine on their property.


Kansas Senate Approves Proposal to Lower Sales Tax on Food

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate has approved a proposal from its top Democrat to decrease the state's sales tax on food to 5.7 percent from 6.15 percent. Senate Minority Leader and Topeka Democrat Anthony Hensley offered the proposal Wednesday during a debate on a plan for raising taxes to close a projected $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Senate approved Hensley's amendment 27-10 before continuing debate on the plan, which would increase the sales tax on most items to 6.5 percent from 6.15 percent. Critics say the move would hurt poor families, so GOP senators proposed dropping the rate on food to 6 percent.  Hensley's deeper cut saves consumers an additional $27 million in the next fiscal year. 


Kansas Governor Signs Bill on Emissions Reduction Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill that would require legislators to sign off on any plan for reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Brownback signed the bill Thursday flanked by administration and legislation officials concerned with energy and environment. The bill is a response to a new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing power plants' greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. States that don't submit a plan to the EPA will have a federal one imposed upon them. The measure authorizes the state's health and environment secretary to draft a plan for reducing such emissions, and it could include voluntary agreements with utilities. But an 11-member legislative committee would have to approve the plan before the state could submit it to the EPA.


Kansas Governor Signs Deal on Renewable Energy Mandates 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a compromise between the wind energy industry and critics of the state's green energy mandate. The deal signed Thursday would remove a requirement that renewable resources account for 20 percent of utilities' capacity to generate electricity by 2020.  Green energy companies agreed to let the mandate become a nonbinding goal. Legislators in return dropped a proposal to impose a 4.33 percent tax on the electricity generated from renewable resources. The agreement also would give all new green energy projects tax-free status for their first 10 years and require them to pay commercial property taxes thereafter. Renewable power plants are currently given a lifetime exemption from property taxes.


Lawrence School Board Proposes $1.2M in Budget Cuts

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The Lawrence school board has approved a proposal to cut more than $1.2 million from the district's budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The Lawrence Journal World reports the proposal is in response to a new law that repealed the Kansas school finance formula that had been in place since 1993 and replaced it with a block grant system.  Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll said the system will decrease the amount of funding the district receives from the state over the next two years.


Officials Say Lawrence Pet Store Blaze Was Accidental 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Officials say a fire that killed several animals at a popular Lawrence pet store was accidental. Fire Department Division Chief Eve Tolefree said Thursday that the Memorial Day fire at Pet World was caused by an electrical problem in the main breaker panel. The fire caused about $500,000 in damages. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that co-owner Sherry Emerson said Tuesday all of the store's mammals and birds, and some reptiles and fish died in the fire. She would not give an exact number. However, firefighters were able to rescue several animals and some small animals stored in a separate structure were alive. Emerson and her husband, Tim, have said they will rebuild the store, which has operated in Lawrence for nearly 30 years.


Several Tornadoes Reported in Western Kansas; Flooding Possible in Eastern, Central Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The National Weather Service says a storm system that hit western Kansas Wednesday night produced several mostly short-lived tornadoes in Logan, Lane, Haskell, Finney and Hodgeman counties, causing damage to trees, power poles and outbuildings but no injuries. The storms also produced hail of an inch or larger in the region. The NWS says some flooding is possible across much of Kansas Thursday. The weather service issued a hazardous weather outlook for east central, north central and northeast Kansas, with heavy rains, hail and damaging winds expected. Flood warnings also are in effect for several counties in western Kansas after 5 to 6 inches of rain fell Wednesday and early Thursday. Many counties in south-central and central Kansas are under flood watches. 


Hail Storm Does Severe Damage to South-Central Kansas Town

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Residents and business owners are recovering after a brief hailstorm pounded a south-central Kansas town with golf ball- and baseball-sized hail. Butler County emergency management director Jim Schmidt said the hail lasted less than 15 minutes in El Dorado Tuesday but did several hundred thousand dollars damage to the city's downtown. He estimated total damage throughout the town could reach well over a million dollars. No injuries were reported. Schmidt says the storm destroyed skylights at the Wal-Mart and damaged roofs at Butler County Community College and the downtown courthouse complex. The hail broke windows, damaged roofs, pummeled cars and stripped trees across the town. The Wichita Eagle reports the general manager of the John K. Fisher car dealership said all the business' cars and its offices were damaged.


Police: KCK Man Dies After Stun Gun Confrontation

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, are investigating the death of a 34-year-old local man after an officer shocked him with a stun gun. Police said officers were summoned Wednesday after someone reported a man behaving strangely in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store. They say the man turned combative when paramedics tried to treat him and that an officer shocked him with a stun gun to subdue him. The man later died at a hospital. Police identified him Thursday as Randall C. Torrence. The police department's major case unit is investigating. An autopsy and toxicology tests are being conducted to determine what caused Torrence to die.


Groundbreaking Held for NBAF at Kansas State

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Nearly seven years after Manhattan, Kansas, was chosen as the site for a national research center focusing on deadly animal diseases, federal and state officials helped break ground Wednesday on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. The price tag for the plant on the Kansas State University campus initially was estimated to be $451 million when it was awarded to Manhattan in late 2008. It has since ballooned to $1.2 billion, which federal officials have attributed to changes in the lab's design to mitigate the possibility of a release of deadly pathogen. The center also weathered a financial crisis in which opponents called for funding to be cut after a federal report questioned the wisdom of constructing such a laboratory in an area that's vulnerable to severe weather and tornado strikes.


Suspect Arrested in Lawrence Stabbing Death 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Lawrence police say a 33-year-old man has been jailed as a suspect in a Memorial Day stabbing death in Lawrence. Police on Wednesday identified the victim as 45-year-old Tracy Dean Lautenschlager of Lawrence. Police say he was found bleeding outside a McDonald's in Lawrence Monday morning and died later at a hospital. Lawrence police spokeswoman Kim Murphree says the suspect was arrested Wednesday after running from a home in Jefferson County and leading officers from several jurisdictions on a chase in a stolen vehicle. He eventually stopped outside Basehor and was arrested. Lawrence police say the suspect was booked into the Douglas County jail on suspicion of second-degree murder and felony theft.


Man Indicted in Connection with 2013 Kansas Bank Holdup

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted a 45-year-old Wichita man in connection with a 2013 bank holdup in his hometown. Frederick Aaron Cunningham is charged with one felony count of bank robbery. Authorities allege Cunningham robbed the Intrust Bank branch inside a Dillons supermarket on October 28, 2013. Federal prosecutors say Cunningham was in custody Wednesday on unrelated charges. The charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000. Online court records do not show whether Cunningham has an attorney to speak on his behalf in the robbery case.


Southeastern Kansas County Museum Closes; Curator Resigns

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A southeastern Kansas county museum that faced tight budgets closed this week with the resignation of its only staffer, who was unpaid. The Joplin Globe reports that director and curator Mark Dulek, who has worked on a volunteer-basis since 2012 for the Crawford County Museum, officially submitted his resignation Wednesday. Dulek says he was the lone remaining member of the 75-year-old Crawford County Historical Society. It owns the bulk of the contents in the museum. The building and land is owned by the Crawford County Commission and was leased to the society on a 99-year contract. Visitors to the museum have declined in recent years. Dulek says he believes that's because it only was open on the weekends and on Fridays, when he could find someone else to volunteer.


Down to the Finish: Olathe Girl Reaches National Spelling Bee Finals

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Ten of the nation's most poised young spellers have made it to the finals of the 88th Scripps National Spelling Bee. The finalists include several veterans of the competition. Thirteen-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, is competing for the fifth time. It's her second time in the finals. Her sister, Kavya, won in 2009. If Vanya were to win, they would be the first siblings to accomplish that feat. Fourteen-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, finished third last year, just behind the two co-champions. Twelve-year-old Tejas Muthusamy of Glen Allen, Virginia, is another returning finalist. Two other siblings of past champions were eliminated in the semifinals. The spellers will compete Thursday night for more than $37,000 in cash and prizes.


Royals Swept for 3-Game Loss in New York

NEW YORK (AP) — Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer to break Lou Gehrig's American League record for RBIs as the New York Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Wednesday. Yankees' pitcher Michael Pineda (6-2) rebounded from consecutive losses as the Yankees outscored the AL champion Royals 23- 4 for the series in Kansas City's first loss in a three game sweep this season. Coming into the series, New York had lost six in a row and 10 of the last 11 games. The Royals' Chris Young (4-1) gave up two Yankee home runs and the Royals dropped four straight for the first time since August 31. They are traveling today (THUR) then face the Cubs in Chicago over the weekend. 


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