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Headlines for Tuesday, February 3, 2015

UPDATE: Legislative Researchers Say Bill to Balance Budget Misses Mark  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New figures from the Kansas Legislature's research staff show that the shortfall in the current state budget wouldn't fully be covered under a plan being advanced by lawmakers. Legislative researchers reported Tuesday that tax collections from July 2014 through January were almost $66 million short of expectations. The report came after the Kansas House gave first-round approval to a bill aimed at eliminating a projected $344 million shortfall in the current budget. Legislative researchers had estimated the plan would leave the state with cash reserves of almost $65 million on June 30, but that was calculated before the final report on tax collections. Factoring in the new tax collection numbers, the bill would leave the state with an $800,000 deficit.

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Kansas House Advances Bill to Balance State's Current Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a bill eliminating a projected shortfall of more than $330 million in the state's current budget after members complained about some of the maneuvers for closing the gap. The Republican-controlled House advanced the bill Tuesday on a voice vote and expects to take final action Wednesday. The measure has the backing of GOP leaders and is expected to pass. The bill mostly diverts money from highway projects and special funds into the state's main bank account to cover funding for general government programs. Lawmakers from both parties criticized the bill's diversion of $158 million in highway funds, saying roads and bridges could deteriorate. But some lawmakers said they had little choice to ensure the state pays its bills on time.

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Kansas Lawmakers Concerned About Diverting Highway Funds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members from both parties are concerned about diverting funds from highway projects to general government operations to help close a shortfall in the state's current budget. The lawmakers said Tuesday during debate on a budget-balancing bill that they worry the state's roads and bridges will deteriorate. The bill contains a proposal from Brownback to divert $158 million from highway projects. Transportation officials acknowledge some projects could be delayed. Protesting the move were Republican Representatives Don Hill of Emporia and Tom Phillips of Manhattan and Democratic Representative Adam Lusker of Frontenac. The state faces a shortfall of more than $330 million in its current budget. Republican leaders believe lawmakers need to approve a bill making adjustments by February 13 to ensure the state pays its bills on time.

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Kansas School Officials: Funding Bill Would Cut Programs 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Education officials say a school funding bill in the Kansas Legislature would force immediate cuts to programs in some districts. The Senate Ways and Means Committee discussed a bill on Tuesday that would cut $39 million in supplemental funding for schools in the current fiscal year, which ends July 1. Committee chairman Senator Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said the funding is currently distributed unfairly and schools should be able to adjust. But Topeka schools Superintendent Julie Ford told committee the cuts likely would force the district to cancel summer school programs and lay off custodial staff. Other officials said it could force some schools to close early or cancel free lunches for at-risk students.

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Brownback Addresses Small Business Day Event

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback is encouraging state businesses to grow and expand. Brownback met with entrepreneurs from around the state at the annual Small Business Day event on Tuesday organized by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a national association that includes 4,000 Kansas companies. Brownback says the state's economy is still recovering from downturns in small aircraft manufacturing but is on a strong footing for growth. The governor has been lauded by some pro-business groups for urging the Legislature to drastically lower state income taxes and eliminate the small-business tax in 2012 and 2013. However, the current legislative session has been dominated by work to fill a budget shortfall of more than $330 million in the current fiscal year, which arose after the state's massive tax cuts.

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Kansas Official's Private Email on Budget Sparks Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas House rejected a proposal Monday to expand the state Open Records Act so that it would cover private emails by state officials about government business. The House voted 86 to 30 against a proposal from Wichita Democrat Jim Ward. His measure followed a report in the Wichita Eagle that Governor Sam Brownback's budget director used a private email account in December to give two lobbyists a preview of Brownback's budget proposals weeks before the proposal was formally unveiled to lawmakers. Brownback's office declined to comment on Ward's proposal. But several GOP lawmakers criticized Ward for not bringing his proposal to a committee for a thorough vetting.

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Kansas Activists Push to Ban Abortion Procedure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas abortion rights activists say a proposal to ban a specific abortion procedure could end up establishing broader restrictions.  The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee conducted a hearing Monday on a bill that would ban the procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Kansas already bans most abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy. The new measure could prevent some pregnancies from being terminated earlier.  Kathy Ostrowski of Kansans for Life told the committee the procedure was cruel to the fetus and should be banned.  Julie Burkhart of the Trust Women Foundation said the ban would endanger women's health and lead to additional costs due to legal challenges.  Governor Sam Brownback has said that he would sign the bill if it passed. 

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Proposal Would Include Home-Schooled Students in Public School Activities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill before the Kansas Senate would allow home-schooled students to participate in public school sports and activities. The measure would allow any student living in a school district to participate in any activity offered by the district for four consecutive school years, even if the student graduates before the fourth year. The bill, which is awaiting a hearing in the Education Committee, is opposed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Gary Musselman, executive director of the association, says public school students have to earn eligibility and are held to strict standards before they can participate. Supporters say the bill could benefit small, rural schools that often don't have enough students for an activity. The Wichita Eagle reports the Senate Education Committee will consider the bill.

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Man Critically Injured in Fall at Cheney Reservoir 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials say a city employee is in critical condition after being injured at the city's pumping station at Cheney Reservoir. The 59-year-old man was found unconscious about 2 am Tuesday by another employee who was checking on him. Public Works director Alan King says it's possible the man fell between 20 and 30 feet and could have been lying there for hours before he was found. The incident is under investigation. The man's name has not been released. The city is working to repair a leak in the water treatment plant but it's not clear if the injured person was involved in that project.

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Defense Asks Court to Dismiss Charges In Wichita Bomb Plot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Attorneys for a man accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack at a Wichita airport claim the undercover government agent who befriended him radicalized him to induce him to commit the crimes.  The legal maneuvers Monday come in the case of Terry Loewen, a former avionics technician who was arrested in an undercover sting when he allegedly tried in December 2013 to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport.  His attorneys argued their client was entrapped. They also asked the court to suppress evidence seized from the van. Loewen has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and related charges.  The U.S. attorney's office says it will review the defense filings and respond to the court. 

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Report: Modest Economic Growth Likely in Midwest, Plains 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A monthly business survey suggests only modest economic growth is likely in nine Midwestern and Plains states this spring because the agriculture and energy sectors are slowing. The report released Monday says the overall economic index for the region improved slightly to 54.8 in January from December's 54.4. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says growth for companies outside of energy and agriculture should offset the declines in those sectors. 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 economic growth, while a score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

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Lenexa Man Will Stand Trial in Double Homicide

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) - A Lenexa man will stand trial on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of a man and his stepfather. Alex Brune was bound over for trial Monday after a preliminary hearing into the deaths of 47-year-old Brian Baskind and his 79-year-old stepfather, Clifford Preston. Brune's attorney entered not guilty pleas for him. The men were stabbed in their Lenexa home last summer. Bruce was found shortly after the shooting with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He told investigators that he was kidnapped and was shot after stabbing both men while trying to escape. Prosecutors allege the men were killed during a burglary and attempted robbery. Brune is also charged with aggravated burglary and two counts of attempted aggravated robbery.

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Wichita Man Accused of DUI with 9 Children in Car

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A 32-year-old Kansas man is suspected of drunken driving after being found passed out in the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant with nine children in his vehicle. The man was arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of driving under the influence and child endangerment. Wichita police say officers responded at 12:30 a.m. Sunday to a McDonald's restaurant where they found the driver. The Wichita Eagle reports the driver refused to submit to a test for substances and was arrested. The children in the SUV ranged in age from 5 months to 12 years old. Wichita police say the driver was father of six of the children and uncle of the other three.

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Jury Selection Resumes in Kansas Commune Murder Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Jury selection resumes today (TUE) in the trial of the leader of a Kansas commune accused in the 2003 drowning of a woman whose death he had foretold weeks earlier. Fifty-five-year-old Daniel U. Perez returns to court Tuesday for his trial for first-degree premeditated murder of Patricia Hughes at the group's compound in the Wichita suburb of Valley Center. Prosecutors say the group lived off life insurance payouts from its dead members. Witnesses have testified Perez called himself a seer and portrayed him as a domineering leader who kept a tight rein on his young, mostly female followers. Perez also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat, making false statements on auto credit applications and sexual exploitation of a child.

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Airbrushed 1860s Illustration Removed from Capitol

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Kansas Historical Society has removed an 1860s illustration depicting an election in the state's territorial period after receiving complaints that the image had been airbrushed to remove references to voter fraud. The original illustration, "Voting in Kickapoo," shows men waiting to vote and then lining up for whiskey afterward. But the word "whiskey" and a poster that reads "Down with the Abolitionists" have been removed in an altered version that appeared in the Capitol visitor's center. The image came down Monday. The move comes after Senator Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, asked Friday on Twitter why it had been altered. The Topeka Capital-Journal then wrote about the flap. Historical Society spokeswoman Lisa Hecker says the drawing was "busy" and was altered to put the focus on voting.

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Princeton Review Strips UMKC of Top 25 Ranking

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Princeton Review for the first time has stripped a college of its rankings after learning that the University of Missouri-Kansas City knowingly submitted false data. The company announced Monday that it was pulling the school's top-25 ranking for graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs for 2014. The company later announced it also would strip the rankings for 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the university's request. Robert Franek, a senior vice president for The Princeton Review, said in a written statement that the company was "extremely disappointed" to learn about the problems. UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton said the school has made changes and was "committed to ensuring that the academic integrity of this institution is maintained and strengthened." The move came after a report highlighting the problems was released Friday.

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Sister, Brother Plead Guilty to Missouri Bank Robbery

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A brother and sister from Kansas City, Kansas, have pleaded guilty to armed robbery at a bank in a small northwest Missouri town. Federal prosecutors say 29-year-old Virginia Lynn Spencer, and her 25-year-old brother, Charles Ralph Spencer, each pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to aiding and abetting armed bank robbery and aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm in a crime of violence. A co-defendant, 23-year-old Steven Dale Robinson, also of Kansas City, Kansas, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting an armed bank robbery. The three admitted stealing $11,833 from a Bank Midwest branch in Excelsior Springs on November 13. The Spencers entered the bank while Robinson drove the getaway car. Their car was involved in a chase with Clay County sheriff's deputies before crashing in Liberty.

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Kansas Jayhawks Sail Past Iowa State, 89-76

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Wayne Selden Jr. scored 19 points in a hot-shooting second half to spark No. 8 Kansas past No. 11 Iowa State 89-76 on Monday night. The Jayhawks (19-3, 8-1 Big 12) padded their lead in the Big 12 race to 1½ games. Iowa State (16-5, 6-3) dropped out of a second-place tie with West Virginia. Leading 35-28 after the first half, Kansas reeled off a 14-6 run the first 5 minutes after intermission, with Selden scoring eight points. Iowa State called time out and tried to regroup after Kansas pulled ahead 49-34 but never got the lead below nine points.

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Mike Moustakas, Royals Agree to $2.64 Million Deal 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Third baseman Mike Moustakas and the Kansas City Royals have agreed to a $2.64 million, one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. Moustakas would earn a $10,000 bonus under Tuesday's deal if he has 550 or more plate appearances. The 26-year-old hit .212 with 21 doubles and 54 RBIs last year, when he made $549,000. He had asked for $3.1 million in arbitration and had been offered $1.85 million. Five Royals remain in arbitration: pitchers Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland; first baseman Eric Hosmer; and outfielder Lorenzo Cain.

 

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