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Headlines for Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kansas Legislators Start Work on Plan for Raising Taxes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas homeowners would pay higher property taxes to help close a projected state budget shortfall under a proposal endorsed by a legislative committee. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee began work Tuesday on a plan to increase taxes, but members immediately tabled Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes. Members voted instead to increase property taxes for most homeowners by $46 a year. They also backed a plan to overhaul property taxes on vehicles. The Senate committee plans to fold all of its measures into a single bill. The first pieces would raise about $50 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1. The GOP-dominated Legislature's research staff says lawmakers must close a $422 million shortfall in the budget for the next fiscal year.

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Kansas Lawmakers Override Veto of Rules for Firms Like Uber 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ride-hailing company Uber says it is pulling out of Kansas after the state Legislature overrode Governor Sam Brownback's veto of new regulations. The company said in a statement shortly after Tuesday's House vote that it was ceasing operations in the state. Both legislative chambers comfortably surpassed the two-thirds majority votes needed for the override. Uber's statement said it was saddened by the loss of jobs and transportation choice for consumers. The measure requires drivers for ride-hailing companies to undergo state background checks and hold additional auto insurance coverage. Uber connects drivers to riders through a mobile app, and was operating in Wichita and Kansas City. The Uber app displayed a message saying "KANSAS JUST SHUT DOWN UBER" to Kansas users after the Senate vote.

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Kansas Lawmakers Close to Approving Civil Service Changes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are close to approving a bill backed by Republicans to make it easier for state agencies to move jobs out of the civil service system. The Senate gave the measure first-round approval Tuesday on a voice vote. Senators expected to take a final vote later Tuesday, and the measure was expected to pass because of the chamber's GOP majority. The House approved the bill in March, and Senate approval would send it to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Supporters of the bill say it would give agencies more flexibility and allow them to better reward high-performing workers. Democrats argued that state workers would be stripped of needed job protections. Civil service workers have more job security than non-civil service workers. The state has about 13,000 civil service employees.

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Brownback, Legislators Give 5 School Districts More Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders have agreed to give five school districts roughly half a million dollars in additional funding. The State Finance Council, which is comprised of the Republican governor and leaders from each chamber, voted Monday to give more money to districts hit hard by recent policy changes and unforeseen expenses. Eight districts requested about $1.1 million from the $4 million extraordinary needs fund. The panel voted to partially fund five of those requests. Superintendents testified that they had been squeezed due to enrollment changes, rising costs and Brownback's "block grant" school funding law, which cut $51 million in funding districts expected for the current fiscal year. The governor's office denied in a statement that the block grant reform was to blame for shortfalls.

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Kansas House Panel Endorses Election Fraud Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would have the power to prosecute election fraud under a bill endorsed by a House panel.  The House Judiciary Committee voted 14-8 Monday to advance the bill to the House floor. The measure would elevate many election fraud penalties from misdemeanor to felony charges, and add the secretary of state to the list of officials allowed to bring criminal prosecutions for those offenses.  Democratic Representative John Carmichael from Wichita attempted to attach three amendments to the bill reducing its scope, but all failed. He said he believed the law could be used to initiate felony prosecutions against people who did not intentionally break the law. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been pushing for the expanded power saying that local prosecutors have not been aggressive in pursuing election fraud cases. 

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Topeka Man Charged with Conspiracy in Fort Riley Bomb Plot 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An unsealed document charges a Topeka man with conspiracy in a plot to bomb the Fort Riley military base. The court document unsealed Tuesday charges Alexander Blair with conspiring with John T. Booker, Jr., in the planned attack. Previously Blair had only been charged with failing to tell authorities about the plans. The more serious conspiracy charge comes in the newly unsealed criminal information. Such documents are filed with the consent of the defendant and typically signal a plea deal is in the works. The document had been under seal since April 23. It accuses Blair of giving Booker money on March 17 to rent a storage unit in Topeka to store components he believed would be used to build an explosive device for the attack at Fort Riley.

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Anti-Smoking Advocates Voice Support for Cigarette Tax Hike

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Health advocates say they support a proposed state tax hike to cigarettes.  The group, Kansans for a Healthy Future, says that increasing cigarette taxes would bring in revenue and save the state money in health care costs as it reduces smoking. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has proposed increasing the cigarette tax to $2.29 a pack from 79 cents. He has also recommended raising the tax on other tobacco products to 25 percent from 10 percent as the state looks for ways to fill a budget shortfall of roughly $422 million. Tobacco retailers in the Kansas City area lobbied against the measure saying it will drive their customers across the state line into Missouri which has a much lower tax on cigarettes.
  
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New Plan Would End Kansas Green Energy Mandate for Utilities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has announced a proposal for ending a renewable energy requirement for Kansas utilities.  The proposal he outlined Monday embodies an agreement between wind energy companies and critics of the green energy rule. The plan is designed to end an ongoing debate over a 2009 law that requires wind or other renewable sources to account for 20 percent of a utility's capacity for generating electricity by 2020. The proposal converts the mandate into a voluntary goal.  But legislators agreed that they would not pursue a new tax on electricity generated from renewable resources. Lawmakers also would rewrite laws dealing with property taxes on renewable energy projects.  Brownback and groups on both sides said the compromise would bring stability to the business climate for wind energy companies. 

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Scrap Theft Bill Approved by Kansas House Panel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Scrap thieves who do more than $5,000 worth of damage while stealing precious metals would face jail time under a bill endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee Monday. Supporters of the bill say that tougher penalties are needed because scrap thieves often do thousands of dollars in damage to worksites and agricultural equipment.  Current state laws give such offenders probation if they do not have serious criminal records. The measure would put most behind bars.  Some lawmakers expressed concern with the bill, however, because, they say, it would increase population in the state's already overcrowded prison system.   

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General Motors to Invest $174M in KCK Plant

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — General Motors officials visited the Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kansas, to celebrate a production milestone and announce new investments to support production of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. They announced Monday the company will invest $174 million in the plant for new equipment and technology for production of the midsize sedan, which will begin later this year. GM CEO Mary Barra and GM North American President Alan Batey also celebrated as the company marked production of 500 million vehicles in its 100-year history. About 12 million of those vehicles were produced at the Fairfax plant. Barra says the company plans to build 10 million vehicles this year. 

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State Receives 100,000th Application for New Concealed Carry Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the state has received 100,000 applications for its new concealed carry program. Schmidt says there are currently 89,399 active licenses issued in Kansas. Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill earlier this year eliminating the licensing requirement for citizens who want to carry a concealed firearm. That law takes effect July 1. Although a license will not be required after July 1, Kansans with a license will be able carry a concealed handgun in the 36 states with concealed carry laws.

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Kansas Still Processing Thousands of Income Tax Returns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Department of Revenue says it has yet to process between 70,000 to 80,000 state income tax returns this year. Department of Revenue spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said Monday that the processing of the remaining returns should be completed by the end of the week. The Wichita Eagle reports that employees of the Department for Children and Families helped with the processing last week. Koranda said it's not unusual for the processing of returns to last into May. But legislative researchers said Monday in a report on state revenues that the processing of returns is at least a week behind last year's pace. The report said the department had fewer temporary workers available this year.

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Sprint Losses Widen Despite Increase in Subscribers 

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Sprint added more than a million new subscribers in the fourth quarter but at a cost as aggressive pricing and promotions widened its losses. The Overland Park-based company reports that it lost $224 million for the period ended March 31st. A year earlier it lost $151 million.

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K-State Researcher Finds Exercise Helps in Cancer Recovery

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas State University researcher has found that fast-walking or light jogging on a regular basis can improve cancer treatment outcomes. The university announced Monday that Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology Brad Behnke found a link between moderate exercise and better recoveries in cancer patients. Behnke and his co-researchers had a $750,000 American Cancer Society grant and found that moderate exercise improves blood flow to tumors and enhances the effectiveness of radiation treatments. Existing research has found that moderate exercise can also help cancer patients counteract some negative side effects of treatment like fatigue, low blood count and muscle atrophy. But Behnke warns that too much exercise can be counter-productive. Behnke and his fellow researchers have published their findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Shooting in Winfield Leaves 1 Dead, 1 Injured

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Winfield police say one person is dead and another critically injured after a shooting at a home. KAKE-TV reports that Chief Danny Parker says he does not think the shooting was a domestic incident. He says witnesses told police someone walked into a home, fired shots and left about 9 pm Monday. Parker says he does not think the shooting was random. The names of the victims have not been released. The suspect fled on foot. He's described as white, 5-feet-7-inches, wearing a black hoodie and cargo pants.

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American Royal Barbecue Moving to Truman Sports Complex 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The American Royal national barbecue competition is moving to the Truman Sports Complex this year. The move was announced Tuesday by the American Royal, which has sponsored the World Series of Barbecue in the West Bottoms of Kansas City near Kemper Arena for more than three decades. Royal officials say the competition has outgrown the grounds around the American Royal complex and the move will allow the competition to expand. The event draws nearly 50,000 people every year. It had 560 barbecue teams last year but 40 had to be turned away because of lack of space. This year's competition is scheduled for October 1-4. The livestock show and other American Royal events will continue to be held in the West Bottoms.

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Kansas State Building New Soccer Facility

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State is building a $2.1 million soccer facility that will host most of the new women's soccer games. The school said Monday the fields will be next to the baseball stadium and will be funded entirely by revenue generated by the athletic department. Football and soccer will both use the two new fields for practice. Work began on the project April 27 and a groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday. The project is expected to be completed by July. Kansas State created its women's soccer team last year after deciding to drop equestrian. It will play its first game in the fall of 2016.

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Petty Hires Kevin Manion to Head Sam Hornish Jr. Pit Crew 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Richard Petty Motorsports has hired Kevin "Bono" Manion to act as crew chief for Sam Hornish Jr. beginning this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Manion replaces Drew Blickensderfer, who has been offered another position in the organization. Manion was the crew chief for Jamie McMurray in 2010 when the duo won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Manion has five wins as a crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series and 15 wins in the Xfinity Series. Manion won two Xfinity Series championships with Martin Truex Jr. Hornish is in his first season with RPM, and had his best finish Sunday at Talladega, where he finished sixth. His previous best with the organization was 12th in the Daytona 500.

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