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Headlines for Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

U.S. Supreme Court Puts Obama's Clean Power Plan on Hold 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has agreed to halt enforcement of President Barack Obama's sweeping plan to address climate change until after legal challenges are resolved. The surprising move on Tuesday is a blow to the administration and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents that call the regulations "an unprecedented power grab." Kansas is among those states. By temporarily freezing the rule the high court's order signals that opponents have made a strong argument against the plan. A federal appeals court last month refused to put it on hold. The plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030. Appellate arguments are set to begin June 2.


Kansas Senate Panel Approves Bill to Balance State Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill that would balance the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The measure approved Monday by the Ways and Means Committee would eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the $16.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year. The committee's 9-2 vote sends the bill to the full Senate for debate. The bill includes many of Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to help close the budget gap by shuffling state funds. The committee also found an additional $32 million in savings in a program that provides death and disability benefits to the families of state workers.


Kansas Senate Advances Bill to Decrease Medicaid Drug Costs 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill designed to cut Kansas's costs in providing prescription drugs for poor and disabled residents has received first-round approval in the state Senate. Senators advanced the bill Tuesday on a voice vote. The proposal would allow the state's Medicaid program to use so-called step therapies for prescriptions that require patients to try less expensive drugs before obtaining more expensive ones. The Senate expects to take a final vote Wednesday to determine whether the measure passes and goes to the House. Republican Governor Sam Brownback included the measure in his plan for eliminating a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. His administration believes the state would save nearly $11 million annually. Critics worry that patients won't get needed medications.


Kansas Panel Adds $2.4M to Mental Hospital Budget for Staff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The state's largest mental hospital would receive an additional $2.4 million in its current budget to help boost its staffing under a proposal from a legislative committee. The Senate Ways and Means Committee added the money Monday for Osawatomie State Hospital as it debated other proposals for keeping the budget balanced through June 2017. The Department on Aging and Disability Services reported last month that 187 of the 483 positions at the hospital were vacant. The federal government decertified the northeast Kansas hospital in December after an inspection found that the hospital failed to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care or perform required safety checks.  The department says the decertification is costing the state between $500,000 and $1 million a month in federal funds. 


Governor Appeals Court Order to Release Candidate Materials 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas is appealing a judge's ruling that the state must release candidates' applications for two county commission openings filled by Governor Sam Brownback. The state has filed a notice of appeal in the lawsuit brought by The Salina Journal and The Associated Press seeking the disclosure of information on more than two dozen applicants for newly created Saline County Commission seats. Saline County residents voted in November 2014 to expand the commission from three to five members. The AP and the newspaper argued that applicants' names and other details are public information. Brownback's office argued they are personnel records exempt from the state's open records law. Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty ruled in December in favor of AP and the newspaper.


Private School Tuition Bill Passes Hurdle in Kansas House Committee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The House Education Committee approved bill Monday that would expand a new state tax-credit system to pay for scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill goes next for a vote by the full House. Currently, the program allows certain businesses to donate money for private school scholarships. In return, they can deduct part of the donation value from their tax bills. Proponents say the bill expands educational options. Opponents say it hurts the state's public schools and may be unconstitutional. Under the expansion, families could earn more and still qualify. It also would allow more taxpayers to receive the credit and increase the amount that could be deducted from tax bills.


University of Kansas Touts Projects, Defends Bonding Deal 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas officials say using $327 million in out of state bonds to finance construction projects allows them to meet crucial campus needs in a cost-effective way. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, other university officials and state Board of Regents members defended the school's so-called central district development project and its financing Tuesday during a House Appropriations Committee hearing. The university formed a nonprofit corporation which then had Wisconsin's Public Finance Authority issue the bonds last month without legislative approval. Special university counsel Jeff Gans said the university needed to move quickly to keep its borrowing costs low. Also, officials said the project includes a new student dormitory that would open in fall 2017 and prevent a housing shortage. The project also includes a new science building to replace outdated labs.


Kansas Lawmakers Give 'Revenge Porn' Bill a Second Look 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are weighing legislation that would make it illegal to post photos or videos of a nude person online without his or her consent. The Kansas City Star reports that Democratic Representative Sydney Carlin of Manhattan and Republican Representative Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park introduced bills last session to deter the online phenomenon of "revenge porn." Under the legislation, posting of nude materials without a person's consent could be prosecuted as a potential felony under the state's blackmail and breach of privacy laws. Republican Representative John Barker of Abilene is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He says that panel could vote on whether to advance the bill to the House floor as early as Thursday.


Kansas Members Discuss Student Restraint and Seclusion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — School employees would receive more training on how to help disruptive students and avoid physically restraining them under a House bill being considered this week. The measure discussed Tuesday in the House Committee on Children and Seniors also would prohibit the use of medicine to subdue a student. In addition, it lifts the sunset on a 2015 law requiring parents to be notified on the day students are restrained or put in seclusion. Without the change, the law expires in June 2018. Topeka parent John Hurla says his children with behavioral issues are being placed in a solitary room at school less frequently because of changes that already have been made. The House committee is scheduled to debate the measure Thursday, but chairwoman Connie O'Brien says that might be delayed.


Governor Signs Measure Aimed at Keeping Kansas Courts Open

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill to keep Kansas courts open following a legal dispute involving their budget and the state Supreme Court's power. Brownback signed the bill Monday. The measure repeals a 2015 law threatening the court system's budget. That law said the judiciary's budget through June 2017 would be nullified if the courts struck down a 2014 law. The 2014 law stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts and gave it to local judges instead. The high court invalidated the 2014 law in December. GOP lawmakers who supported both laws have said they never intended to close the courts. Brownback said questions about judicial funding are now resolved. 


Kansas Legislators Endorse Public Safety Measures

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature are voicing their support for three bills designed to enhance public safety. One bill would use an additional fee on vehicle registrations to create a staffing fund for the Kansas Highway Patrol. KHP has about 80 fewer troopers than a decade ago. A second bill would require a minimum number of staff members at state agencies and facilities, and a third would prohibit selling or transferring firearms to anyone on the terrorist watch or no-fly list. Senator Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, says the proposed legislation would "immediately make Kansas families safer in their homes, on their roads and in their communities.'' 


Abortion Rights Advocates Hold Reproductive Health Care Rally

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Abortion rights organizations held a rally at the Statehouse Monday against legislation banning access to certain kinds of reproductive health care. Representatives from Planned Parenthood, Trust Women and United for Reproductive & Gender Equity are pushing a House bill that would repeal a ban on so-called telemedicine abortions. The measure would allow women to undergo medically-induced abortions without a physician being present. Proponents say the bill would help save time and money for women in remote, rural areas who travel several hours to reach a women's health care clinic. Monday's rally included representatives of the abortion rights groups, college students and Kansas House members.


Hospital Accepts Patients Again After 18 Suspected Cases of Norovirus

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - The University of Kansas Hospital's Marillac Campus in Overland Park has resumed taking new patients after it reported 18 cases of gastrointestinal illness last week with at least one of them preliminarily identified as norovirus. The hospital said last week that 10 patients and eight staff members became ill with symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In a statement released on Sunday, the hospital said that the campus underwent extensive cleaning to combat norovirus and patients and staff had been free of symptoms since Thursday. 


Former Oregon Refuge Protester Arrested on Kansas Warrant

The Oregonian newspaper reports that a protester formerly amongst a group that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was arrested Monday on a Kansas warrant. Brandon Dowd, 31, was being held in the Harney County (Oregon) Jail under a Riley County Police Department warrant in a theft case. A spokesman for law enforcement in Harney County told the paper that Dowd wasn't arrested for anything he might have done while on the refuge. Dowd was seen at the refuge some weeks ago carrying a rifle and guarding the main entrance, reportedly spending some additional time inside the refuge headquarters. Dowd is accused of stealing a firearm worth about $600 last May.


Appeals Court Upholds Tax Evasion Convictions of Diet Doctor 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the convictions of a Kansas obesity specialist who co-authored the "Atkins Diabetes Revolution." The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed all five counts of attempted tax evasion against Dr. Mary C. Vernon. The Lawrence woman was sentenced in 2014 to three years and five months and ordered to pay more than $311,000 in restitution. The "Atkins Diabetes Revolution" was published in 2004, a year after the death of weight loss expert Dr. Robert Atkins. The appellate panel rejected Vernon's claim that the trial judge miscalculated her sentence, based on a tax loss of $988,000 from 1991 to 2002. The lower court had also given Vernon more prison time because she created a sham corporation called Rockledge Medical Services to evade income taxes.


Kansas, Other States Consider Special Protections for Gun Industry

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -  A gun industry trade group is pushing legislation in Kansas and several other states to restrict what it says is discrimination by financial institutions. The National Shooting Sports Foundation initiated legislation in Kansas, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri after hearing from gun dealers who allege they've been unfairly denied financial services by banks and insurance companies. Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, called the effort a "solution in search of a problem." He says guns are big business in the U.S., and banks and insurance companies are going to compete for it. Other companies also are opposed, saying if such anti-discrimination laws are needed, they should extend to other legal businesses, not just to one industry.


Overland Park Man Gets 5 Years in Prison for Embezzling More than $6 Million

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for embezzling more than $6 million.  The U.S. attorney's office says 46-year-old Kenneth Voboril, of Overland Park, was sentenced Monday for wire fraud and filing a false tax return. He pleaded guilty previously.  The Commodity Specialists Company in Overland Park hired him in 2005 to run its subsidiary, TransMaxx, which brokers trucking deliveries.  Voboril admitted through his plea to creating fake companies and billing CSC for deliveries that never occurred.


Controller at Kansas Company Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The former controller of a Kansas company could be facing up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $135,000 from his employer.  U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 43-year-old Alan Wenk pleaded guilty on Monday to two counts of bank fraud. He admitted the crimes happened while he was working as regional controller and corporate accounts payable manager for Performance Contracting Group Inc. in Lenexa.  Prosecutors say Wenk caused the company to issue 20 fraudulent checks to him and business entities he controlled. PCG has 50 offices throughout the U.S.  Wenk is scheduled to be sentenced May 16. In addition to a possible prison sentence, he faces a fine of up to $1 million on each count.


Kansas Saw 5 Percent Growth in Number of Businesses in 2015 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas secretary of state's office says the number of businesses in the state grew by 5 percent last year. Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office reported Monday that Kansas had about 179,000 businesses at the end of 2015. That's about 8,600 more than at the end of 2014. Kobach's office noted that a record of nearly 17,300 businesses formed in Kansas last year. Governor Sam Brownback has pointed to annual records for new business formations each year since 2011 as a sign that his tax-cutting policies are boosting the economy. But the secretary of state's report also showed that a large number of Kansas businesses also dissolved, withdrew or forfeited their right to remain active in the state. More than 15,600 went out of business last year, up slightly from 2014.


Festival Celebrating Kansas Travel to Road Trip in 2018 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A spring festival in Kansas is planning to take its fun on the road starting in 2018. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Sampler Festival of the state's products, music and food will travel from city to city in 2018. Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation said that the festival's purpose is to inspire travel in Kansas, so the festival should actually do the traveling. Penner said that if it's a success, the idea could spread to a road trip two or three times a year. The Kansas Sampler Festival will be in the same format it has used in for nearly three decades in Winfield this May and in 2017.


Murder Charge Filed in 60-Year-Old Jogger's Shooting Death 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 24-year-old Kansas City man is charged in the 2012 slaying of a 60-year-old man who was shot while jogging. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Tuesday she had charged Craig L. Brown with second-degree murder in the May 13, 2012, death of Harry Stone of Raytown. Stone was shot and later died in surgery. Baker says Brown was in an automobile accident on February 1, 2015, and police found a black Glock semi-automatic pistol in the glove box. The gun was test fired in June and matched the gun used to kill Stone. The gun was tracked to a federal prison inmate, who said he sold it to Brown before Stone's shooting. Brown is being held on $200,000 bond and does not yet have an attorney.


Police: Fatality Reported in Vehicle Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 35-year-old man has died after being run over by a vehicle that crashed into a building in downtown Wichita. Wichita police Lieutenant Jason Stephens said Monday that officers were called to a security alarm going off at a building around 4 a.m. Sunday and discovered that the alarm had been triggered by a vehicle that had driven through the front of the business. Stephens said that the vehicle's occupants had fled the scene, but officers found a pedestrian who had been run over and "pushed into the business." The pedestrian, Mandrell Washington, was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Police say it is unclear if Washington was struck intentionally. Stephens said that police have identified the vehicle's occupants, and that they are 18 and 19 years old. An investigation is ongoing.


England Town Reclaims Pancake Day Race Title from Kansas 

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — Residents of Olney, England, have reclaimed the championship title of International Pancake Day Race in a long-running competition with Liberal, Kansas, that involves sprinting, aprons and pancake flipping. Tuesday's race marked the 67th year of the offbeat tradition between the two towns. Olney resident Lianne Fisher won with a finishing time of 55.02 seconds, beating Liberal's Summer Parsons, who finished in 62.6 seconds. During the race, entrants wear aprons and scarves while running a 415-yard course with a pancake in a pan, flipping the pancake at the beginning and end of the race. Both towns run the race at 11:55 am local time on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent. Entrants are generally women, but this year's Olney group included Barney Harwood, representing the BBC children's show, "Blue Peter."


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