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Headlines for Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Report: Lobbyists Had Email Look at Kansas Governor's Budget Plans 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A newspaper is reporting that a top aide to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback used a private email account to give two lobbyists a preview of budget proposals weeks before they were outlined for legislators. The Wichita Eagle reported Tuesday that Budget Director Shawn Sullivan sent the email December 23 with his Yahoo account. The newspaper said it obtained a copy from a source outside the governor's office. Lobbyists David Kensinger and Mark Dugan were among the recipients. Kensinger was the Republican governor's chief of staff from January 2011 until April 2012. Dugan was the manager of Brownback's successful re-election campaign last year. Sullivan says he used his private email account because he was home for the Christmas holiday and wasn't trying to skirt the Open Records Act.

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Kansas House Moves to Stop Late Night Sessions, Bill Bundling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members are moving to ban post-midnight sessions of their chamber and make it harder for their leaders to bundle multiple bills into a single piece of legislation. The House gave first-round approval Tuesday to rules for the chamber that say it can't be in session from midnight to 8 am, unless two-thirds of its members allow it. Also given first-round approval were rules governing interactions between the House and Senate. They would prevent negotiators for the two chambers from combining more than two bills into a single measure when trying to resolve their differences. Critics said both practices lead to sloppy legislating. The House plans to take final action on both sets of rules Wednesday. The Senate must approve the joint rules as well.

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Kansas House Committee Working on Plan to Expand Medicaid 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is working on a proposal to expand the state's Medicaid program to capture additional federal dollars promised by the federal health care overhaul. The Vision 2020 Committee heard testimony Monday in favor of expanding Medicaid from the Kansas Hospital Association and the state's largest health system, Via Christi. Committee Chairman and Lawrence Republican Tom Sloan said a bill should be drafted within a few weeks. The state's $3 billion-a-year Medicaid program provides health coverage for the needy and disabled, but it doesn't cover childless adults without disabilities. The 2010 federal health care law promises to pay all of the cost of expanding Medicaid through 2016 and at least 90 percent after that. But many Kansas Republicans remain skeptical the federal government will keep its promises.

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Former Executive Seeks to Toss Medicaid Suit Extortion Claims 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former executive of the firm managing part of the privatized Medicaid program in Kansas has asked a judge to toss out counterclaims accusing her of trying to extort $3 million. Sunflower State Health Plan Inc. and parent Centene Corporation made the extortion claims last month while responding to the federal lawsuit filed in October by former Sunflower Vice President Jacqueline Leary. Her lawsuit contends she was wrongfully fired after protesting potentially improper cost-cutting moves for the Kansas Medicaid program. On Monday, Leary asked the court to dismiss the counterclaims brought by her former employer — arguing those accusations were made as retaliation for her filing the lawsuit. Medicaid covers health services for the poor and disabled. Kansas has turned its administration over to Sunflower and two other private companies.

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Kansas Geologists Ask for More Funding Amid Earthquake Spike

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas geologists say they need more funding to investigate an unprecedented spike in earthquakes in the state.  Kansas Geological Survey Director Rex Buchanan told the House Energy and Environment Committee on Monday that about half a million dollars is needed to beef up seismic monitoring. The agency recorded 206 earthquakes in 2013, after detecting just three between 2004 and 2012.  Buchanan said the agency is still studying the problem, but they see a connection between the earthquakes and the practice of injecting wastewater into underground wells. This technique is used as a part of several mining processes, including the hydraulic fracking process.  Fracking is used to get at previously unreachable oil and natural gas deposits. However, some activists have criticized the practice as excessively harmful to the environment and the Kansas Sierra Club has called for a moratorium on fracking in the state.

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Kansas Measure Would Boost Penalties for Burglaries 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would increase penalties for home burglaries under a bill being considered in the state Senate. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the measure. The bill would increase penalties for any home burglary and increase sentences for the intent to steal a firearm. Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson testified that burglary victims are frustrated that perpetrators often get off with probation. The bill would make the potential prison sentence for any home burglary six months longer for a first-time offender, for a maximum of 19 months. Thompson said it's not clear how much the measure would increase prison populations but a proposed amendment hopes to alleviate that issue. The amendment would lessen penalties for repeat shoplifters, downgrading such offenses to a misdemeanor.

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Anti-Tax Activist Criticizes Brownback's Proposals 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - National anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is urging Kansas legislators to reject Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to increase the state's tobacco and alcohol taxes to help close state budget shortfalls. Norquist sent a letter Monday to legislators, saying the proposed tax increases would hurt poor and working-class taxpayers the most. Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and previously has praised Brownback for successfully persuading Kansas lawmakers to slash the state's personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013. The state is facing budget shortfalls totaling more than $710 million in its current budget and its budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. The Wichita Eagle reports that Brownback shrugged off the criticism, saying in a brief interview Monday that his proposals are only a starting point.

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Kansas Children and Families Department Names New Ombudsman

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Department for Children and Families has a new foster parent and youth ombudsman. Kendra Baker has taken over the post and will be working to address the needs and concerns of Kansas' estimated 2,500 foster families. Baker previously served as a social work specialist with the department investigating reports of child abuse and neglect. Baker replaces Niomi Burget who is now serving as director of constituent services for the Governor Sam Brownback. The post of ombudsman was created in May to help communicate with foster parents in the state on their rights and responsibilities. 

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Brownback Nominates Patrol Veteran for Superintendent Job 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is nominating the man serving as interim superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol to get the job permanently. The governor announced Tuesday that he is nominating Major Mark A. Bruce for the superintendent's job. The Kansas Senate must approve the appointment. Bruce is a 25-year veteran of the patrol and has been interim superintendent since January 6. Bruce earned his master's degree in criminal justice from Washburn University and his bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas. He previously served with the Kansas Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force.

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Wichita Council Puts Marijuana Issue on April Ballot 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita voters will get the opportunity to vote on easing marijuana penalties for first-time offenders. The Wichita City Council agreed 6-1 to place the measure to amend the city's ordinance on the April 7 ballot. But it remains unclear what will happen even if the issue passes because state law still makes marijuana possession illegal. Action came in the wake of a petition for it containing thousands of signatures. The proposal makes first-offense marijuana possession a criminal infraction with a $50 fine. It would be enforced with a summons or citation rather than an arrest. A conviction could be expunged after 12 months if the offender stays out of legal trouble. It would apply only to those 21 or older carrying 32 grams or less of marijuana.

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Koch-Backed Network Plans to Spend Almost $1 Billion for 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - The political action network backed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers is planning a budget for 2016's elections that will be almost $1 billion. That figure was included in a Monday briefing that the Koch-backed Freedom Partners offered its allies and donors in Palm Springs, California. Freedom Partners is the central hub for the Koch-backed network that includes groups like Americans for Prosperity. The Wichita-based brothers, Charles and David Koch do not pick up the tab alone, and more than 450 donors met in California for the first session of a twice-yearly update on the Koch plans. Two people familiar with the budget disclosed the sum on the condition of anonymity. The sum of $889 million is more than twice what the Republican National Committee spent on 2012's campaign.

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Lawrence Police Seek Public's Help in Stabbing Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Lawrence police are seeking the public's help with their investigation of a 19-year-old's stabbing over the weekend. Authorities say no arrests have been made as of Monday in the attack of the man, who remains hospitalized after suffering serious injuries, including at least one stab wound to his chest. Hospital officials say neither the victim's name nor an update of his condition could be released. The Lawrence Journal-World reports he was in stable condition Sunday. A police spokesman says the man was able to escape a vehicle he got into near a nightclub just before 2 a.m. Sunday. The spokesman says three people were inside of the dark-colored sedan and told the victim their intent to rob him. Anyone with information is asked to call police.

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2 Arrested After Man Found Dead in Liberal

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — Two men have been arrested in the death of a man who was found lying in a street in southwest Kansas. Authorities say 51-year-old Jose Ramos was pronounced dead after being found in the street on Saturday night. Liberal police say in a news release the Ramos had apparently been hit by a vehicle, which left the scene. The two suspects, both 29, were arrested without incident at a home in Liberal. Police say their vehicle was found across the state line in Beaver County, Oklahoma. The case has been presented to Seward County authorities for possible charges of involuntary manslaughter.

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Bill Would Ban Use of Carbon Monoxide for Animal Euthanasia

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is considering a bill that would ban the use of carbon monoxide to euthanize animals. The proposal would amend the Kansas Pet Animal Act to prohibit animal control officers and shelters from using carbon monoxide, in favor of a lethal injection, which is considered less painful. William Brown, animal health commissioner for the state Agriculture Department, says most gas chambers for animals in Kansas have already been shut down. He says his department is aware of only four in the state and none is being used. The Wichita Eagle reports that supporters of the bill want to ensure that no one ever uses the chambers again.

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26 Indicted in Alleged Mexico-to-Kansas City Drug Ring

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Federal prosecutors say 26 people have been indicted in an alleged $16 million drug-trafficking operation between Mexico and Kansas City. The U.S. Attorney's office said in a news release Monday the defendants distributed more than 700 pounds of methamphetamine, 250 kilograms of cocaine and large amounts of heroin in the Kansas City area from June 2013 to June 2014. Seventeen of those indicted live in the Kansas City area, with the others from California, Mexico and Central and South America. A grand jury returned an 11-count indictment in December, which was unsealed after arrests and initial court appearances of several defendants. Prosecutors say drugs and money were concealed in such items as computer towers, a microwave oven and a CD player.

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1 Person Dies from Whooping Cough in Central Kansas

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) - Health officials say an outbreak of whooping cough in Barton County has killed one person and left five people ill in the last month. Health Director Shelly Schneider says all the cases were Great Bend, with patients ranging from 4 months to middle age. Information about the patient who died was not released. State health officials say whooping cough cases have also been reported in Johnson County, McPherson County and Wichita. The Great Bend Tribune reports that county health workers have been following up with anyone who was in contact with suspected cases because the diseases is highly contagious. The health department is urging Great Bend residents to make sure their whooping cough vaccines are up to date, or get a booster if recommended.

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Kansas City Area to Get 1,000 Electric Car Chargers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City Power & Light says it's planning to spend about $20 million to install 1,000 public electric car chargers will make the Kansas City region one of the best places in the country to drive an electric car. The utility announced Monday that it will install the chargers in the Kansas City metropolitan area, as well as Clinton, St. Joseph, Sedalia and other communities where KCP&L has customers. The plan is for the network to be ready by summer. The Kansas City Star reports that the only other state to have more than 1,000 chargers is California. KCP&L says it will ask state regulators for a rate increase to recover the costs, with residential customers likely to pay an extra $1 to $2 a year.

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Feds in Kansas File Kidnapping Charge Against Texas Man 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a man with abducting a Texas woman at gunpoint before blindfolding and handcuffing her to bring her to Kansas. A criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas alleges 24-year-old Joseph Andrew DeRusse of Austin intended to try to convince the 24-year-old woman to marry him and had bought an engagement ring. He prepaid for three weeks at a bed and breakfast in the north-central Kansas town of Narka. Instead he was arrested early Friday near Newton, Kansas, less than two hours after the woman was reported missing by her father. Authorities tracked the GPS signal on her car. An affidavit indicates the couple had been in a relationship before breaking up in December. Court records do not show a defense attorney.

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Man Dies After Being Hit by Bus on Kansas City Highway 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say a 59-year-old man died when he was hit by a city bus on a highway in central Kansas City. The victim, Kenneth Cowans, was hit Monday evening on northbound Highway 71. Police say two buses were driving in tandem on the highway when the accident occurred. No passengers were on either bus and both drivers stopped to talk to police. Police say in a news release that Cowans was either trying to cross the busy highway or walking along it when he was hit. The accident occurred near where people had pulled down fencing to make it easier to walk across the highway.

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Lenders Expect Higher Farmland Prices and More Delinquent Loans

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A new survey shows agricultural lenders are expecting lower farmland prices and more loan delinquencies from growers. The Kansas State University Agricultural Lender Survey released Monday shows less optimism among lenders for the outlook for growers because of lower commodity prices that may mean more loan delinquencies. However, the study noted that farm loan delinquencies are now at historically low levels. Associate professor Brian Briggeman says farm lenders also expect interest rates to increase for all types of loans. But they also figured that would occur in two to five years, not in the coming year.

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Royals Invite 23 Prospective Players to Spring Training

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals have invited 23 non-roster players to spring training in Arizona. They include former fifth overall draft pick Bubba Starling and promising young players Miguel Almonte and Raul Mondesi. Starling, who grew up near Kansas City, has struggled in the minor leagues but will get a taste of big league camp. Almonte, a right-hander, and Mondesi, an infielder, are non-drafted free agents who have become two of the club's top prospects. Other notable players headed to camp are infielder Hunter Dozier, the eighth overall draft pick in 2013; pitcher Sean Manea, the 34th overall choice the same year; and outfielder Brett Eibner, a second-round choice in 2010. Pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Arizona, for the start of spring training on February 19. The Royals' first full-squad workout is scheduled for February 25.

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Royals, Dyson Agree at $1,225,000 and Avoid Arbitration 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals and outfielder Jarrod Dyson have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract for $1,225,000. Dyson, who is expected to be the Royals' fourth outfielder, can also make $25,000 for reaching 350 plate appearances and $50,000 if he's chosen for the All-Star game. Dyson earned $530,000 last season, $30,000 over the major league minimum. He had asked for $1.6 million this season and the Royals had countered at $900,000. The former 50th-round amateur draft pick hit .269 with one homer and 24 RBIs in 290 plate appearances last season. But his real value came on the base paths, where he had a career-high 36 steals. The deal Tuesday leaves outfielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and pitchers Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Danny Duffy as Kansas City's remaining players in arbitration.

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