State of the State Address and Democratic Response Focus on Fiscal Issues
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he will propose "modest, targeted" tax increases to help address the state's serious budget problems. But during his annual State of the State address Tuesday evening, the Republican governor strongly defended an income tax break that some GOP lawmakers want to end. Brownback also told a joint session of the Republican-controlled Legislature that he will outline budget "efficiencies." And he cautioned lawmakers against expanding the state's Medicaid program in line with the 2010 federal health care overhaul. President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are planning to repeal the health care law. Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. The state has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's top Democrat says Republican Governor Sam Brownback remains "in denial" about the damage his fiscal policies have done to families and communities. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka described Brownback's economic policies Tuesday evening as "debilitating." Hensley was giving the official Democratic response to the governor's annual State of the State address. Brownback defended an income tax break enacted in 2012 that benefits more than 330,000 farmers and business owners as a pro-growth policy. Even some Republican legislators want to repeal it to help close the state's budget shortfalls. Hensley called for reversing that policy and other personal income tax cuts enacted by Republican legislators in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. The state has struggled to balance its budget since.
Kansas Lawmaker Sees Investment Fund as Option
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House Appropriations Committee's new chairman says tapping a $320 million state investment fund is an option worth considering amid the state's budget woes. Republican Representative Troy Waymaster of Bunker Hill said Tuesday the possibilities include making a loan or sweeping the fund to help finance general government programs. Kansas faces a projected $342 million shortfall in its current budget. Some lawmakers have said one-time accounting moves could close the gap to avoid immediate spending cuts. Legislators created the investment fund in 2000 to boost the state's interest earnings. State Treasurer Ron Estes has said it could realize about $40 million in investment gains if it liquidated the fund. Republican Governor Sam Brownback was giving the annual State of the State address Tuesday and outlining his budget proposals Wednesday.
Kansas House Panel May Move Quickly on Eliminating Tax Break
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee is drafting a bill to repeal an income tax cut for farmers and business owners promoted by Governor Sam Brownback. The Taxation Committee voted Monday to sponsor the measure. Some committee members also said they want lawmakers to pass the bill this month so that the changes could be applied retroactively to January 1. Doing so would allow the state to raise revenues earlier. Lawmakers must close projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. The targeted tax break was enacted in 2012 and is a personal income tax exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. Brownback has strongly defended it as an effective pro-growth policy. On the Senate side of the Capitol, Senate President Susan Wagle says her chamber is ready to find ``permanent solutions'' to the state's ongoing budget problems. The Wichita Republican said during session-opening remarks Monday that Kansas residents expect their state government to tighten its belt. Wagle said that she does not believe that her fellow senators want to resort to one-time accounting moves to close a projected $342 million shortfall in the state's current budget.
Chief Justice Says Cuts Could Force Kansas Court Closures
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Chief Justice Lawton Nuss is warning that the Kansas Supreme Court could be forced to close the state's courts for more days if lawmakers cut the judicial system's budget. Nuss said Monday that the Supreme Court's main option for reducing spending is to force court employees to take unpaid days off. Closing the courts an extra day saves $250,000. But Nuss also told reporters that he's confident legislators want to avoid such a move. The court imposed unpaid days off in 2010 and 2012. The Supreme Court is not only seeking to preserve the judiciary's funding but also pay raises for court employees and judges.
New Kansas House Panel to Handle School Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House leaders plan to have a new and unusually large subcommittee work on a new public school funding formula. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. appointed a 17-member K-12 Education Budget Committee ahead of Monday's opening of the Legislature's annual session. Governor Sam Brownback has said he wants lawmakers to approve a new formula this year. The House previously had five Appropriations subcommittees and one handled both public school and higher education spending. Ryckman split the education subcommittee into two panels. The other Appropriations subcommittees have nine members. House Majority Leader Don Hineman said Monday that the intent is to have one committee focus on public school funding. Senate Republican leaders have not decided how they'll handle school funding legislation.
Kansas Lawmaker Whose Son Died on Water Slide Urges Perspective
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas lawmaker whose 10-year-old son was killed on a water slide is urging his colleagues to remember there's more to life than what happens in the Capitol. Representative Scott Schwab was emotional after being sworn in Monday as a leader in the Kansas House. The Republican from Olathe told lawmakers to "let it go" when their bills die or amendments fail. He says, "Life isn't worth wasting too much emotional energy on such things." He added that "it could get worse." His son, Caleb Schwab, died in August on a water slide billed as the world's largest. It still isn't clear what happened to Caleb on the 168-foot-tall "Verruckt" at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas.
Internal Probe of Kansas Guard Faults 'Toxic' Leadership
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An internal investigation of the Kansas National Guard has raised alarms about "toxic leadership." The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the investigation started in 2013 amid renewed allegations that Guard recruiters were pressured by superiors to forge documents to clear unqualified applicants. The inquiry was closed in 2015. The lieutenant colonel who started the inquiry concluded that five Guard members warranted dismissal from military service, demotion in rank or relief from assigned duties. Official reports of the probe emphasize that Major General Lee Tafanelli was urged to end a management culture that protects wrongdoers. Tafanelli responded in an opinion page column in the Capital-Journal that the Guard works to "thoroughly and impartially investigate" wrongdoing.
Wichita Lawyer Plans to Run for 4th District Seat
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita lawyer says he wants to run in a potential special election to replace Representative Mike Pompeo. George Bruce announced his candidacy for the 4th Congressional District seat on Tuesday at the Petroleum Club of Wichita. He has worked as an attorney at Martin Pringle Attorneys at Law since 1989. This is Bruce's first run for public office. Bruce says he wants to help reduce the federal government's "cumbersome rules, overly complex regulations and burdensome taxes." The special election is needed because Pompeo has been chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the CIA. If Pompeo is confirmed for the post, Governor Sam Brownback will have five days to call a special election. Both parties would then have 25 days to select a nominee.
Shawnee County DA's Office Discrimination Trial Begins
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two former employees of the Shawnee County prosecutor's office are making their case to jurors that they were wrongfully terminated because of racial and gender discrimination. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that opening statements were made Monday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. The attorney for Lisa Anne Moore, of Lawrence, and Krystal Boxum-Debolt, of Rancho Rio, New Mexico, said former Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor "harbored a deep animus against women in the work place" and used "derogatory, sexist statements." But the defense says Taylor fired the two victim-witness specialists in 2010 because a third employee told him the two were plotting to get their supervisor fired. Taylor didn't run for re-election in November. The jury trial is expected to take five days.
Serial Killer Gets Lawyer to Assist in Death Sentence Appeal
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A convicted serial killer who left some of his victims' bodies in barrels will get some help from an appointed attorney as he appeals his conviction and death sentence. The Kansas City Star reports that attorney Mark Manna, of the Kansas public defender system, entered his appearance Monday on behalf of John E. Robinson Sr. The 73-year-old appealed in November in Johnson County District Court. Robinson, of Olathe, was charged in 2000 after police found the bodies of two women in barrels on property he owned in Linn County. The bodies of three more women were later found in barrels in a storage unit he rented in Cass County, Missouri. The ensuing investigation also linked Robinson to three women who hadn't been seen since they disappeared in the 1980s.
Ex-Kansas Banker Sentenced in Money Laundering Case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas banker at the Plains State Bank has been sentenced to probation for not reporting suspicious activity in a customer's bank account. The Wichita Eagle reports 53-year-old James Friend, who was the president of the bank, received one year of probation Monday. He had pleaded guilty to one count of failing to file a Suspicious Activity Report of George and Agatha Enns, who were indicted on charges on money laundering proceeds from drug trafficking. The Ennses pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy. The bank became aware of the suspicious activity through software that regularly flagged the Enns' account.
Man Sentenced to Life in Prison in Pittsburg Student's Death
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old man will serve at least 25 years in prison for his role in the death of a Pittsburg State University student. Brian Bridges was sentenced Monday to life without possibility of parole for 25 years in the 2014 death of Taylor Thomas during a home invasion in Pittsburg. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports Bridges pleaded no contest in November to first-degree murder. Prosecutors say Taylor was shot and killed when Bridges and two other men broke into his home to rob his roommate. Bridges was later captured in Mexico. During the hearing, Bridges said in a written statement that he was responsible for Taylor's death and apologized for his role in it.
No Charges Against Overland Park Officer in Shooting
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — An Overland Park police officer will not face charges after shooting at a man who allegedly rammed a truck into the officer's vehicle and then turned the truck in the officer's direction. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said Monday the officer was justified in firing shots at the man last month. The Kansas City Star reports the man was not injured in the December 21 confrontation. Casey Lee Smith is charged in Johnson County District Court with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and felony theft.
Suspect in Death, Baby's Abduction Gets Extradition Papers
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a woman accused of killing a Wichita woman and abducting her newborn daughter has been served papers that would extradite her from Texas to Kansas. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Tuesday that 34-year-old Yesenia Sesmas, who is being held in the Dallas County Jail, was served papers Friday. Sesmas is accused of killing Laura Abarca-Nogueda at a west Wichita apartment in November. She then allegedly took Abarca-Nogueda's newborn daughter, Sofia, who was six days old at the time. After a nationwide search, a tip led investigators to Dallas. Authorities found Sofia safe at a home and returned her to her relatives. Bennett said he expects another update from Texas officials next week. The extradition process is likely to take up to three months.
Riley County Officials Say Emergency Radio System Outdated
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Officials say Riley County needs to replace its emergency management services radio system because it's outdated and unreliable. The Manhattan Mercury reports that dropped calls and too much static are interfering with communication. The result is that emergency responders are having trouble reaching central dispatch to request help and ask for backup. Dispatchers sometimes have to call emergency responders on their cell phones to properly communicate. The county has gotten two bidders for a new 800 megahertz radio system. The estimated cost ranges from $6 million to $12 million. The Riley County Emergency Management director is expected to present the bids to county commissioners this month.
KU Assistant Professor Alleges Anti-German Discrimination
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas assistant professor is claiming in a federal lawsuit that she faced anti-German discrimination and a hostile work environment at the school. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Catherine Joritz filed the federal lawsuit Friday after filing a similar lawsuit in Douglas County Court last summer. Joritz is an American but taught in Germany for 30 years before returning to the U.S. Her lawsuit says her students in the Department of Film and Media wrote anonymous critical evaluations that included anti-German comments, including accusing her of being a Nazi sympathizer. She says those comments became part of her record and eventually led to her being told she would not be retained after this school year. The newspaper said university spokesman Joe Monaco declined to comment on pending litigation.
Chanute Man Sentenced in Washburn Art Teacher's Bicycle Death
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A southeast Kansas man has been sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years of probation for striking and killing a Washburn University art teacher and administrator as she rode her bicycle. 38-year-old Todd Kidwell, of Chanute, was sentenced Monday for involuntary manslaughter and unlawful passing of a bicyclist in the June 2015 death of 60-year-old Glenda Taylor. She was hit while participating in a time trial before a bicycle race on a rural Crawford County road. Kidwell's attorneys had contended that the accident occurred when Kidwell swerved to the left to avoid a head-on collision with another truck at the same time that Taylor veered to her left.
Documentary Filmed in Sedgwick County Jail Set to Air
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A prison documentary filmed at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita in 2015 is set to begin airing on MSNBC. The Wichita Eagle reports "Lockup" is a documentary show that profiles life in prison by following the stories of inmates and prison staff. The first episode is set to air Saturday. This will be the final season of the show. Filming at the Sedgwick County Jail occurred from September to October of 2015. Lawyers with the public defender's office tried to have the crews prohibited from filming in the jail, but a judge denied the request.
Ex-Teacher Sentenced in Kansas Sexual Exploitation Case
ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) _ A former Atchison teacher was sentenced to more than five years in prison for trading sexually suggestive text messages with a 14-year-old boy. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that 39-year-old Robert Bulk, who taught at Atchison Middle School, was sentenced Monday on two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Atchison police arrested Bulk in July after the victim's family alerted them to text messages the child exchanged with Bulk during June. The crime did not involve any physical contact. Bulk said in a letter to the court that he was addicted to pornography. He worked for the Atchison district for more than a decade before resigning after his arrest.
British Boy Returns to Kansas City for Cancer Surgery
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A British 9-year-old has returned to Kansas City for the first of three surgeries for bone cancer after spending a fun-filled week in Florida. The Kansas City Star reports Alexander Goodwin is scheduled to have the first surgery Wednesday to remove and replace his right femur and knee with prosthetics at the University of Kansas Hospital. The Make-A-Wish Foundation helped send Alexander and his family to Walt Disney World and Sea World before having to deal with surgeries and recovery. Alexander's father, Jeff Goodwin, says cancer has taken away a lot of his son's childhood and it was nice to see him enjoy himself. Alexander received a huge welcome from the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department at the Kansas City International Airport when he first arrived from the United Kingdom in December. His father is a police officer in the UK.
1 Dead, 1 Wounded in Wichita Shooting
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say one person is dead and another is in critical condition after shots were fired at their vehicle at a Wichita intersection. The shooting was reported just before 4 p.m. Monday. Wichita police Sergeant Ed Brower says the passengers in one vehicle opened fired at the intersection, killing the driver of another vehicle and wounding his passenger. The name of the victim wasn't immediately released. Police are searching for a red Chevy Avalanche in connection with the shooting.
February Trial Set for Woman in Death of Father, Father's Girlfriend
CAMDENTON, Mo. (AP) — After several delays, a suburban Kansas City woman who is accused of killing her father and his girlfriend is scheduled to go on trial in February. Susan Van Note, of Lee's Summit, faces trial on first-degree murder charges in the 2010 deaths of 67-year-old William Van Note and 59-year-old Sharon Dickson. Dickinson died at a lakefront home in Sunrise Beach. Prosecutors allege William Van Note survived that attack but died when his daughter forged documents to have him taken off life support. The Camdenton Lake Sun Leader reports that the trial is now scheduled to begin February 6, with two weeks set aside to hear the case in Laclede County. The trial has been delayed several times, including a mistrial in June 2015 because of misconduct by potential jurors.