Kansas Receives New, More Pessimistic Fiscal Forecast
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas faces a $349 million shortfall in its current budget and more gaps in the near future after officials issued a new, more pessimistic fiscal forecast for the state. The forecasters on Thursday slashed the state's previous projections for tax collections through June 2017 by 5.9 percent, or $355 million. They also issued the first projections for the two fiscal years beginning in July 2017. Those projections were conservative. Legislative researchers projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. The previous fiscal forecast was issued in April. The state has missed monthly revenue targets six of the seven months since. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since slashing taxes in 2012 and 2013. The new forecast also reflects pessimism about agriculture and energy production.
No Votes Lost in Johnson County System Crash
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Johnson County officials say a voting machine paper trail allowed election officials to reconstruct digital ballots after its vote tally software system crashed on election night. Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said the important thing is that the count is accurate and that nobody lost a vote. Technicians are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of the failure that occurred as an onslaught of late mail ballots were being scanned, overwhelming the system. Officials say they had to go to the last uncorrupted backup and rebuild the digital file. The vote count was completed around 1 pm Wednesday. Johnson County commissioners last year had planned to spend $13.1 million to replace aging voting machines.
Kansas Secretary of State Serving on Trump Transition Team
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he's serving on President-elect Donald Trump's transition team. Kobach, a conservative Republican, says he has no expectation of a role in Trump's eventual administration. But he says he's open to working for Trump, if a position is offered. As part of his unpaid role with the transition team, Kobach will help advise Trump on policy matters leading up to his January inauguration. Kobach previously advised Trump on immigration policy during the campaign, successfully adding Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S.'s southern border with Mexico to the Republican Party's platform. Kobach also has served as counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft during President George W. Bush's administration.
Brownback: Economy Hurt GOP Re-Election Chances
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback says a sluggish economy made it more difficult to re-elect Republicans to the Legislature during the election but the GOP still emerged with strong majorities in both chambers. The Republican governor disputes the idea that the election represented a referendum on him or his fiscal policies. Democrats had a net gain of 12 seats in the House and unseated 11 Republican incumbents. They also picked up an open seat in the Senate. Brownback noted that Republicans still appear to be headed toward majorities of 85-40 in the House and 31-9 in the Senate. Voters also retained four Kansas Supreme Court justices targeted by abortion opponents and GOP conservatives for ouster.
Westar Plans for Solar Installation in Reno County in 2017
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy says it is quickly filling subscriptions for a new 1 megawatt "community solar installation" west of Hutchinson. The utility says in a news release that construction on the installation will begin in December and the plant is expected to be in service early next year. The plant will include 3,400 panels. Westar officials say in a news release that 90 percent of the available subscriptions to use the plant have been filled. Plans for the plant were announced early this year. Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said about 900 customers had signed up as of early Thursday. Participants can choose to lock in their energy price for five to 20 years.
Teacher Defeats Incumbent in Kansas 29th District
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Johnson County teacher defeated a Republican member of the Kansas House in Tuesday's election. Democrat Brett Parker of Overland Park unseated GOP state Representative James Eric Todd in the 29th District. Many voters said they were upset with Governor Sam Brownback and fellow Republicans because of the state's ongoing budget problems. Todd is an attorney first elected to the House in 2012. Parker is an English language teacher at Countryside Elementary School and Pioneer Trail Middle School in the Olathe school district. He is an active member of the Kansas National Education Association, and both he and the teachers' union have strongly criticized Brownback. Parker had the endorsement of local education groups and several former moderate GOP legislators.
Republican Representative Loses to Challenger in Kansas 16th District
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A conservative Republican legislator in Johnson County lost her seat to a Democratic challenger who described GOP Governor Sam Brownback's policies as a "disaster." Republican state Representative Amanda Grosserode was defeated Tuesday in the 16th District by Democrat Cindy Holscher of Overland Park. Holscher had the backing of local teachers' unions and education groups. She worked 12 years for Sprint Yellow Pages in budgeting, marketing and management. Grosserode was first elected to the House in 2010 and is chairwoman of a House budget subcommittee on education spending.
Group Disappointed by Kansas Supreme Court Votes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A group that sought to remove four Kansas Supreme Court justices is calling voters' decision to keep them on the bench "a win for criminals and a loss for victims." Kansans for Justice said it is disappointed that voters, in its words, "left bad justices in place." The group formed two years ago by victims' family members after the court overturned the death sentences for Jonathan and Reginald Carr. The brothers faced execution for killing four people in Wichita in December 2000 after sexually torturing and robbing them. It campaigned to oust Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Marla Luckert. Justices face a statewide, yes-or-no vote every six years on whether they're retained. The court's defenders said it has been fair and impartial and described efforts to remove the justices as an attempt to give the executive branch more control over the judicial system.
Voters Retain All Kansas Court of Appeals Judges
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A campaign by abortion opponents has failed to remove four Kansas Court of Appeals judges. The secretary of state's office reported Wednesday that voters chose to retain Judges Karen Arnold-Burger, G. Gordon Atcheson, Steve Leben and G. Joseph Pierron Jr. for another four years. Abortion opponents were upset over a ruling in January on temporarily blocking enforcement of a law banning a common second trimester abortion method. The Court of Appeals split 7-7, and the law isn't being enforced while the Kansas Supreme Court considers the issue. The four targeted judges would have blocked enforcement. Also on the ballot were two appeals judges who would have allowed the law to be enforced. David Bruns and Kathryn Gardner were retained by significantly larger margins than the other four judges.
V-A: Employee Emailed Veterans' Personal Data to Himself
DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is warning more than 2,100 veterans in eastern Colorado and parts of Kansas that their personal information may have been compromised. The department said Wednesday an employee emailed unencrypted documents including personal information to the employee's personal email account. The VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System says the information included the veterans' full names, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and medical diagnoses. The agency is sending letters to everyone who might be affected. The VA says it's investigating and taking steps to prevent future incidents.
Former St. Joseph School Superintendent Sentenced for Wire Fraud
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A former St. Joseph school district superintendent who was overpaid more than $660,000 in pension payments has been sentenced to one year and one day in prison. The sentence imposed today (THUR) stems from retirement benefits that 70-year-old Dan Colgan, of St. Joseph, received from the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri. Through his plea, Colgan admitted that his salary was improperly inflated to increase his retirement benefits. He served as superintendent from 1992 to 2005, and then on the school board from 2010 until March 2015. His tenure on the board ended about one month after the district received a highly critical state audit. As part of his wire fraud sentence, he also paid restitution.
Feds: No Criminal Charges in Kansas Grain Elevator Explosion
ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say there is not sufficient evidence to charge the owner of a northeast Kansas grain elevator where a 2011 explosion killed six people and injured two others. U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said in a statement Thursday that his office has closed its inquiry into the October 29, 2011, explosion at the Bartlett Grain Co. elevator in Atchison, about 50 miles northwest of Kansas City. Kansas investigators previously determined the grain dust explosion was accidental. The announcement does not dismiss pending enforcement actions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has said the deaths could have been prevented had operators addressed known industry hazards. The explosion killed Bartlett employees John Burke, Ryan Federinko, Curtis Field, and Chad Roberts, as well as grain inspectors Travis Keil and Darrek Klahr.
Farm Income Continues to Shrink: Loan Demand Growing
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Reserve says demand for farm loans is still growing because cattle and crop prices are lower than they were a year ago and farm profits are shrinking. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, said Thursday that over 87 percent of bankers in the region reported a decline in farm income in the third quarter. The changing conditions have bankers expecting loan demand to continue growing while repayment rates decline. The 10th Federal Reserve District covers Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri. The value of irrigated farmland in the region fell 7 percent while non-irrigated land declined 6.1 percent and pastures declined 6.5 percent.
Kansas Man to Be Paroled for Seventh Time
WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted of a 1981 Douglas County killing is set to be released from prison for the seventh time. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Kansas Prisoner Review Board recently decided to parole 57-year-old L.V. Luarks once the Kansas Department of Corrections approves a plan. He remained in the Winfield Correctional Facility as of Wednesday. Luarks was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Terry Brown. The Topeka woman's body was found on a Douglas County road six miles northwest of Lawrence. Prison records show Luarks was released six times between 1992 and 2009. Four of those times were on parole, and the two others were for post-release supervision. Luarks was returned to custody each time for violating mandatory rules.
Man Falls Asleep Behind Wheel, Arrested for Gun Possession
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a convicted felon has been arrested after he was found asleep behind the wheel of a running car in Kansas City with a handgun on the seat next to him. The Kansas City Star reports that the 35-year-old man was arrested on Saturday. Court documents say police were called to the area, removed the handgun and turned off the vehicle before waking the man up. According to the court documents, the man tried to run but did not get far before being apprehended. The suspect is facing a charge of a felon in possession of a firearm.
Prosecutor Charges 5 in Connection with Missing Kansas Man
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Five people were charged in connection with the disappearance of a Wichita man believed dead following a disturbance Sunday at a home in Valley Center. Three men and a woman were charged Thursday with first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and aggravated battery. Two of those defendants were additionally charged with the rape of another victim. A second woman was also charged in a separate related case with kidnapping and aggravated robbery. Authorities are looking for any evidence or witnesses that might help them find the body of 33-year-old Scottie W. Goodpaster, Jr. They are asking hunters walking fields in Harvey County this weekend to be on the lookout for anything suspicious. Authorities are also searching for a white pickup spotted in Harvey County the day of the crimes.
Kansas Education Official Says Assessment Test Results Flat
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A top Kansas education official says results of the 2016 state assessment tests were essentially flat, but he expects to see improvements in the future. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Education Commissioner Randy Watson reported on the results to members of the Kansas State Board of Education on Wednesday. Those numbers show that 41.33 percent of Kansas students in third through 10th grades met or exceeded grade-level reading expectations in the spring, down from 42.02 percent in 2015. The data also show that 34.44 percent of those students met grade-level math expectations for college and career readiness, up from 33.04 percent in 2015. More students performed at the highest level in reading and math than in 2015, but there also were more students performing at the lowest level.
Missouri Man Sentenced for Underpaying Workers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A commercial janitorial service's owner who admitted underpaying employees has been ordered to spend five years on probation and pay nearly $200,000 in restitution. Fifty-one-year-old Gary Walker of Lee's Summit, Missouri was sentenced Wednesday in Kansas City. He had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Authorities say workers for Walker's Magic Touch Cleaning Inc. were entitled to a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and overtime pay at a rate of at least one and half times the regular pay rate. But from 2010 to August 2013, the company underpaid its employees by more than $98,000. The amount of court-ordered restitution represents double the unpaid wages and overtime.
Chiefs' Ware Passes Concussion Test, Houston Could Be Back
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware passed the NFL's concussion protocol and returned to practice Wednesday. Chiefs' officials say he should be available for Sunday's game at Carolina. Ware was hurt in Indianapolis and missed last week's game against Jacksonville. Chiefs' linebacker Justin Houston is also expected to be added to the roster, though coach Andy Reid said the move had not yet been made. Houston has been out after having surgery on a bothersome ACL in his left knee in February. Reid has been hopeful that Houston will return for the stretch run, but he has not given a timetable for him to get on the field. Houston has been practicing for about three weeks.