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Headlines for Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Kansas Lawmakers Hear Testimony on Lowering Sales Tax on Groceries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Advocates for low-income families joined small-town grocers and others encouraging Kansas lawmakers to reduce the state's sales tax on groceries, while lobbyists for some organizations warned doing so might lead to efforts to reduce other types of taxes.  A hearing Monday before the House Taxation committee was the first testimony on a bill to reduce the 6.5 percent state tax rate on groceries by 1 percent. The reduction would lower state revenues by $60 million, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.  

Oberlin City Administrator Halley Roberson said her northwest Kansas town is losing tax revenue because residents drive to nearby Nebraska, which doesn't have a sales tax on groceries. She said her town could use the sales tax revenue for badly needed infrastructure repairs. 

Legislative Research data showed sales and excise tax accounts for 8 percent of family income for those in the bottom 20 percent of Kansas wage earners. The impact decreases as income rises, with the top 1 percent of wage earners using only 1 percent for sales tax.

State lawmakers raised the rate to 6.5 percent in 2015 when the state was facing continuing revenue shortfalls. Kansas residents pay one of the highest tax rates on groceries of any jurisdiction in the country when state and local taxes are combined.

Representative Tim Hodge, a North Newton Democrat who campaigned on lowering food sales taxes, criticized past lawmakers for raising the sales tax rather than repealing tax cuts during a budget crisis.  "For the last 10 years, we have used and abused the sales tax whenever there's any kind of recession or shortage at the state government level," he said.

John Donley of the Kansas Farm Bureau warned that reducing the sales tax on groceries could eventually lead to replacing the sales tax with a value-added tax system, which would apply to production of goods.  "I probably am being paranoid, but I'm here today to basically put the line in the sand, stake the flag, saying we do not support reducing the state sales tax because we do believe that the next step is, well, what about that livestock exemption?" Donley said.

Adrienne Olejnik of Kansas Action for Children said the state should reconsider a food sales tax rebate program that was eliminated in 2013, rather than lowering the sales tax on groceries. The program's refunds were available for households with less than $30,615 in annual income.  "There are a lot of unknowns and things that need to be resolved before we consider buying down the food sales tax rate," Olejnik said.

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Kansas to Receive About $922,000 in Walgreens Settlement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will receive about $922,000 as its part of a national settlement with Walgreens concerning over-dispensing of insulin pens to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office said in a news release the settlement resolves allegations that Walgreens repeatedly dispensed more insulin than had been prescribed to patients. The company was accused of submitting false claims for reimbursement to Medicare and Medicaid.  Schmidt said Walgreens agreed to pay the U.S. and states $209.2 million, with $89.1 million going to state Medicaid programs. Kansas will receive $922,126, which will be used to reimburse federal and state funds spent by the Kansas Medicaid program, and to recover the cost of the investigation that led to the settlement.

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Kansas Governor Names Topeka Attorney as New Revenue Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has named a Topeka attorney who has specialized in tax cases as her new acting secretary of revenue.  Kelly has picked Mark Burghart to lead the Department of Revenue.  Burghart previously worked as a legislative researcher and as the Department of Revenue's chief counsel for seven years, starting in 1987. His appointment as secretary will require state Senate confirmation.  He replaces interim Secretary Mark Beshears, who took over the agency temporarily when the new Democratic governor took office last month.  Kelly also announced that two interim Cabinet secretaries plan to stay in their jobs. They are Julie Lorenz at the Department of Transportation and Lee Norman at the Department of Health and Environment. The governor is asking the Senate to confirm their appointments.

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Topeka Hires Police Auditor to Investigate Misconduct

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The city of Topeka will hire an independent police auditor who will help investigate reports of police misconduct. City manager Brent Trout announced today (TUE) he had authorized creating the new position in his office. He said the person will be a civilian and report to him. The person will work with the police department's professional standards unit. The person will be paid $71,500 a year.  

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Johnson County Man Will Stand Trial for Murder

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - A 48-year-old man who allegedly stabbed a woman to death and stuffed her body into a trash can has been ordered to stand trial for intentional second-degree murder.  Ronald Lee Kidwell is charged in the July 2018 death of 43-year-old MeShon Cooper, whose body was found at Kidwell's home.  According to testimony, Kidwell told police he killed Cooper in a rage after she threatened to tell people he was HIV positive.  Kidwell is white and Cooper was black. At the time of the killing, the FBI said it was investigating the case as a possible hate crime . An FBI spokeswoman told The Kansas City Star today (TUE) that she had no update on the hate crime investigation. There was no testimony about it Tuesday.  Kidwell is jailed on $1 million bond.

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Man Charged in Shooting Death in Southeast Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a 43-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder after a shooting death in southeast Kansas.  The KBI and the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office are investigating after a man was found dead Sunday night at a home in Sedan.  The KBI said in a news release Monday that deputies found 46-year-old Joe Corman, of Peru, suffering from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at the Sedan City Hospital.  Sheriff's deputies arrested Travis Dickson Sunday evening at his home in Niotaze. Dickson was charged Monday with first-degree murder.  No further information was immediately released.

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Representative Greg Lewis Resigns to Fight Brain Tumor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State Representative Greg Lewis says he will resign to concentrate on his battle with a cancerous brain tumor.  Lewis, a Republican from St. John, said Monday on the Kansas House floor it is becoming apparent to him that he can't represent his district to the level his constituents deserve.  His resignation will be effective Friday.  The fourth-generation cattle rancher was first elected to represent the 113th District in November 2016.  The Wichita Eagle reports Lewis said he learned of his cancer while visiting his son in Kansas City on Christmas Eve. He says he has had three surgeries and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.  Lewis thanked members of the House and visitors, and for many cards, emails, phone calls and prayers.

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Hutchinson Man Gets 2 Years in Killing of Cyclist

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A judge has sentenced a Hutchinson man to two years in prison for intentionally crashing into a bicyclist, who later died.  The Hutchinson News reports District Judge Trish Rose on Friday issued the sentence to 19-year-old Taylor Lukone. The sentence was a departure from a minimum eight-year sentence that prosecutors and defense lawyers had recommended.  Lukone ultimately acknowledged intentionally hitting 51-year-old Jose L. Lopez, as he was riding his bicycle on September 21, 2017. Lopez suffered numerous broken bones and a head injury, and he died 11 days later at a Wichita hospital.  A passenger says Lukone made a U-turn and accelerated as he swerved to hit Lopez.  The judge cited Lukone's age, lack of a prior criminal record and that he'd admitted to his actions.

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Payless Files for Bankruptcy, Closing North American Stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Payless ShoeSource has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is shuttering its remaining stores in North America.  The filing on Monday came a day after the shoe chain began holding going-out-of-business sales at its North American stores.  The company, formerly based in Topeka, updated the number of stores it is closing to 2,500, up from the 2,100 it cited on Friday when it confirmed it was planning to liquidate its business. It reiterated that stores will remain open until at least the end of March and the majority will remain open until May.  The liquidation doesn't affect its franchise operations or its Latin American stores, which remain open for business as usual, it said.  The debt-burdened chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a first time in April 2017, closing hundreds of stores as part of its reorganization.  "The challenges facing retailers today are well documented, and unfortunately, Payless emerged from its prior reorganization ill-equipped to survive in today's retail environment," said Stephen Marotta, Payless ShoeSource's chief restructuring officer.  He noted that the prior Chapter 11 proceedings left the company with too much debt and with too many stores.

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Ex-Convict Arrested in Connection with Wichita Killing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An ex-convict has been arrested in connection with a fatal shooting outside a Wichita motel.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the 31-year-old suspect was arrested Monday night. It wasn't immediately clear if he was formally charged.  The shooting happened Sunday night when a man in his 30s was shot behind the Citi Host Motel. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His name has not been released.  Police at the scene said the victim and shooter were acquainted.  The suspect was under state supervision for multiple crimes committed in Butler County, including aggravated arson, aggravated intimidation of a witness or victim, criminal use of explosives, criminal damage to property and a weapons violation. His sentence ended in November.

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Group Rescues 43 Dogs from Hoarding Situation in Kansas

CHETOPA, Kan. (AP) — An animal rescue group says it is housing 43 dogs that were found in three different properties in southeast Kansas.  KAKE-TV reports that Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption says the animals were found Friday near Chetopa in deplorable conditions without drinkable water, medical attention or shelter in freezing temperatures.  Chetopa Police Chief Scott Faegen said the owner surrendered the animals after a new ordinance limited the number of domesticated animals someone can keep to six.  Faegen said the animals weren't malnourished or sick but were being kept in a hoarding situation.  All of the dogs were taken to a shelter in Mission of the dogs tested positive for heartworms.  The rescue group says it needs more foster homes to help care for the animals.

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Missouri Student on Columbia Campus has Active Tuberculosis

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — University of Missouri officials say a student on the Columbia campus has active tuberculosis and may have infected other people.  The school announced Monday that the Boone County health department is working with university health officials to determine whether other students and staff need testing.  Privacy laws prohibit the release of any information about the student.  The ill student left campus voluntarily. Only students with active infections can spread the disease to other through close contact.  So far this year, six cases of active tuberculosis have been reported in Missouri.

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Washburn Professor Alleges School Retaliated Against Her

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Washburn professor says in a lawsuit that the university retaliated against her after she filed a sex discrimination complaint.  Leslie Reynard, who teaches in the communication department, said in her lawsuit the retaliation began after she told her department chair in April 2018 that she intended to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Reynard said the university tried to place her on a performance improvement plan in September. She refused because she said the plan was used to find small mistakes that would allow the school to fire Reynard.  In November, she filed a claim of retaliation. The lawsuit seeks back pay and damages.  School spokesman Patrick Early said Tuesday the university's counsel wasn't aware of the lawsuit and wouldn't comment.

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Store Employee No Longer Has Job After "MAGA" Hat Dispute

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — An employee of a clothing and shoe store in a suburban Kansas City shopping mall no longer has a job after a confrontation with a teen wearing a "Make America Great Again" baseball cap.  A video that shows part of Saturday's encounter at a Vans Off the Wall store in Overland Park was posted by a Twitter account called Red Nation Rising. It shows the teen's mom telling another store employee that her 14-year-old son was asked to take off his hat as he entered the store. She said that when her son didn't respond, the employee swore at him.  Asked whether the employee was fired, Vans Global Brand Communications spokeswoman Laura Doherty said in an email that she could confirm only that "the employee is no longer with the company." She says the employee's actions were "in contrast with our company's values and belief in personal expression."

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Fifth Former Employee Sues Newman University

WICHTA, Kan. (AP) — A former Newman University volleyball coach has become the fifth ex-employee to sue the school in recent months.  Destiny Clark claimed in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the private, Catholic college retaliated against her and paid her less than promised when she was hired. She also contends the school routinely made her volleyball team a lower priority than other teams.  The Wichita Eagle reports all five of the former employees allege unfair termination or treatment. Three, including Clark, mention Title IX complaints and claimed the school retaliated during the investigations.  School spokesman Clark Schafer said in a statement that Clark's claims were without merit. He said the school has complied with all applicable state and federal laws.

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Kansas Taking Further Steps to Start Industrial Hemp Crop

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The deadline is approaching for applications to grow the state's new industrial hemp research crop.  The Kansas Department of Agriculture will take applications for growers who want to be part of the state's research program until March 1.  The Hutchinson News reports state lawmakers created the research program last April. The federal government also has declassified industrial hemp as a controlled substance as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.  State agriculture department spokeswoman Heather Lansdowne says Kansas law still allows only research on the crop.  Previous to the federal farm bill, Kansas could only establish a research program for hemp growing in order to comply with federal laws. Now, the state is open to establishing commercial hemp growing if the legislature approves it.

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