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Headlines for Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Kansas Legislators Negotiating $15.5 Billion Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators are negotiating over the final version of a $15.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But lawmakers aren't sure when the House and Senate would vote on any agreement. Three senators and three House members had a second day of talks Tuesday without resolving any major spending issues. They planned to reconvene Wednesday. They're discussing dozens of items, but their key differences are on higher education spending and the budget for the state's court system. Lawmakers in both chambers want to spend up to $3 million to have outside consultants hunt for budget efficiencies. But negotiators said that if they strike a deal, the House and Senate still may not vote on the plan before lawmakers begin their annual spring break Saturday.

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KS Tax Collections $11M Below Projections in March 
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas says it collected $11 million less in taxes than anticipated this month.  The state Department of Revenue said in a preliminary report Tuesday that the state collected $391 million in taxes in March, when it expected to take in $402 million. The shortfall is 2.8 percent. Since the fiscal year began in July 2014, tax collections have been $48 million less than anticipated, or about 1.2 percent short of expectations. The state collected almost $4 billion in taxes during the past nine months. The lower-than-anticipated tax collections this month could complicate efforts by legislators to close a budget shortfall projected at nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the department noted that individual income tax collections are running ahead of expectations.

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Kansas Considers Changes in Local Elections, Presidential Primaries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators have settled their differences over proposals to change the date of local elections and cancel future presidential primaries. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that three senators and three House members reached agreement Tuesday on the final version of an elections bill. Both chambers must approve the measure to send it to Governor Sam Brownback. The measure would move city and local school board elections to the fall of even-numbered years from the spring of odd-numbered years. Local races would appear on the ballot first. Supporters say the change will boost turnout in local elections. Critics see no need for change. The measure also would end presidential primaries. Kansas law schedules them every four years, but lawmakers have canceled each one since 1992, usually because of the cost.

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Kansas Lawmakers Seek to Freeze State Universities' Tuition 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State universities in Kansas could not increase tuition for two years under a proposal drafted by legislators negotiating over budget issues. Three senators and three House members reached agreement Wednesday on a proposed $15.5 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Higher education spending was a major issue for the negotiators. Their budget agreement largely adopts Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to keep spending on the higher education system relatively flat, despite a projected budget shortfall of nearly $600 million. Negotiators agreed to avoid cuts in spending for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University but added a provision requiring universities to hold tuition at current levels through June 2017. GOP negotiators said they're concerned about how tuition increases would affect students and their families.

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Statistician Files Suit, Seeking to Audit Voting Machines
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita State University mathematician has filed an open records lawsuit seeking the paper tapes from electronic voting machines in Kansas hoping they will explain statistical anomalies in election returns. Beth Clarkson is chief statistician for the National Institute for Aviation Research and holds a Ph.D. in statistics. On Wednesday she sued Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Sedgwick County Elections Commissioner Tabitha Lehman seeking a court order allowing her to audit the machines. Clarkson has analyzed election returns in Kansas and elsewhere showing an unexplained pattern where the percentage of Republican votes increase the larger the size of the precinct. The pattern could be voter fraud or a demographic trend. She wants the hard-copy records to check the error rate on electronic voting machines. Kobach's office declined comment.

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KS Insurance Companies: Exchange Members Older and Sicker

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The two companies that sell health insurance on the Kansas exchange say people who signed up last year tended to be older and sicker than they had anticipated. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports representatives from insurance companies, hospitals and other groups connected to health care reform spoke Tuesday at Kansas Health Institute and agreed the laws implementation still has some flaws. Matt All, senior vice president and general counsel at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, says those who signed up last year filed more expensive claims than the average pool of customers. Coventry sales director Kevin Curry says it's too earlier to know whether younger and healthier people who weren't motivated to sign up during the first year have decided to do so in 2015.

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Kansas to Allow Concealed Carrying of Guns Without Permit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback plans to sign a bill allowing Kansas residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit. The Republican governor's office scheduled a signing ceremony for Thursday afternoon at the Statehouse. Legislators approved the measure last week. The new law takes effect July 1. The National Rifle Association says Kansas will become the fifth state to allow concealed carry without a permit everywhere within its borders. Kansas still will issue permits for gun owners who want to carry concealed firearms in other states that recognize Kansas permits. A person seeking a Kansas permit must undergo eight hours of firearms training. Supporters of the bill said gun owners have shown they can be trusted to carry concealed firearms. Critics of the measure say the state should require some training for concealed-carry.

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Kansas Bill Changes Custody Sites for Some Juvenile Offenders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have given final approval to a bill allowing the state to hold juvenile offenders who have been charged in criminal cases as adults in juvenile facilities. House members agreed Tuesday to accept Senate amendments to the measure, sending it to Governor Sam Brownback. The House vote was 111-5. The Senate approved the bill last week on a 40-0 vote. Department of Corrections officials said state law currently prevents juveniles charged as adults from being housed with other juvenile offenders. But federal law doesn't allow juvenile offenders to be held in adult prisons unless they're separated from adult inmates. The Department of Corrections said it now is forced to pay other states to house juvenile offenders charged as adults in facilities outside Kansas.

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Kansas Lawmakers Agree on Plan to Issue $1B in Pension Bonds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Legislative negotiators in Kansas have agreed on a proposal to authorize $1 billion in bonds to bolster the short-term financial health of the state's pension system for teachers and government workers. Three senators and three House members settled their differences Tuesday. Both chambers could vote on the plan this week. The proposal is less aggressive than one from Republican Governor Sam Brownback to issue $1.5 billion in bonds. Supporters of issuing bonds argue that it will give the pension system an infusion of cash and immediately narrow a long-term gap in funding for pension benefits. They believe the pension's system's investment earnings on the funds will exceed bond payments. Critics see the move as risky.

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Kansas Senate Panel Approves Civil Service Overhaul 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill that could shrink the state's civil service system and lessen job protections for government employees. The Commerce Committee's endorsement of the measure Tuesday sent it to the Senate for debate. The House passed the bill last week.  The proposal comes from Governor Sam Brownback would allow state agencies to remove jobs from the civil service when filling vacancies or when employees accept promotions or transfers. Supporters say state agencies could operate more like private businesses and have more flexibility in rewarding employees who perform well. Public employee groups say the bill would weaken protections from arbitrary firings and demotions. The Senate committee's vote was part of a busy day for lawmakers that included budget negotiations between the two chambers. 

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Kansas House Panel Opens Inquiry into Democrat's Remarks 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democratic lawmaker is under investigation after nine GOP lawmakers complained about comments she made during a committee hearing. The panel of three Republicans and three Democrats selected to look into the complaint held their opening hearing Wednesday. It will meet again to begin the investigation April 30. The complaint concerns comments Winn made during a House Education Committee meeting March 19. Winn criticized a bill to repeal a law giving a tuition break at public universities and colleges to young students living in the U.S. illegally. Winn is black and called the proposal racist. Winn declined to comment after the panel's meeting. House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs said in a statement that the investigation is Republican attempt to silence a minority voice speaking out against discrimination.

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KDHE: Increased Use of Abortion Procedure in Kansas Last Year 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas saw an increase last year in the number of abortions using a procedure banned under a policy that is expected to take effect in July. The state Department of Health and Environment released statistics Wednesday showing that the dilation and evacuation method was used in 637 abortions in 2014. That was 8.8 percent of the 7,263 pregnancies terminated in Kansas. Legislators passed a bill last week to redefine the procedure as "dismemberment abortion" and outlaw it. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has promised to sign it. The health department reported 584 abortions using the method in 2013, accounting for 7.8 percent of the 7,485 abortions that year. The increase in such abortions was 53, or 9.1 percent. The decrease in total abortions last year was 222, or 3 percent.

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Central Kansas Man Shot and Wounded by Deputies 

CANTON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting of a central Kansas man by two sheriff's deputies. The McPherson County sheriff's office says in a news release that the man was shot Tuesday night at his home near Canton. Deputies who had gone to his house to follow up on an earlier incident saw the man standing near a garage pointing a shotgun at them. The statement says the deputies shot once after he refused several orders to drop the shotgun and pointed it at one of the deputies. The man was taken to a hospital. His name and condition were not available Wednesday. Neither deputy was injured.

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Couple Suspected in 1992 Kansas Death Waive Extradition

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a couple charged with a 1992 death in Kansas have waived extradition from Georgia and are expected back in the state in the next few weeks. Kelly J. Jones and Roger Jones Sr. were arrested last week in Forsyth, Georgia, after evading capture for decades. They are charged with first-degree murder in the death of 25-year-old Patrick Howe, who was found beaten and strangled at a motel in Dodge City. The Hutchinson News reports arrest warrants were issued for the couple in 1996 but the two fled before deputies could take them into custody. Ford County investigator George Brown says officers never gave up on the case. Brown found the couple living under aliases at a campground in Georgia after authorities received a tip.

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Family of Girl Fatally Shocked in Salina Settles Lawsuit

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The family of a girl who was fatally shocked in Salina has settled a lawsuit against two companies but their lawsuit against the city continues. The family of Jayden Hicks sued Devonheir, doing business as Hope Electrical Products, and Consolidated Electrical Distributors, doing business as American Electric Co., after the 11-year-old girl was shocked while playing in the rain in Salina in 2011. She died in 2012. The two companies manufactured and sold an electrical junction box that was installed near Salina's downtown plaza. Jayden was shocked when she came into contact with the metal cover of the box. A settlement hearing Tuesday was closed to the public and settlement details were not released. The Salina Journal reports the family's lawsuit against the city is still scheduled for trial.

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Colorado Man Dies at Kansas Rest Stop 

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Colorado man who was moving to Florida was found dead at a Kansas rest stop. The Geary County Sheriff's office says 47-year-old Keith Morrison of Aurora, Colorado, was found dead Tuesday in the parking area of a rest stop on Interstate 70 east of Junction City. He was found next to a moving van, and relatives told authorities that Morrison was moving from Colorado to Florida. Authorities say an autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday but they believe Morrison died of natural causes.

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Kansas State, Iowa State Research Child Obesity Program

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Researchers from Kansas State University and Iowa State University are using a $2.8 million grant to research a school-based program that combats childhood obesity. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last month that the grant had been awarded to evaluate a program called SWITCH. It focuses on decreasing children's screen time, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and increasing physical activity. The motto is that children need to "switch what they do, view and chew." Efforts involve helping to create healthier school environment

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Economic Report Predicts Slow Growth in Midwest States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A new report suggests slow economic growth is ahead for nine Midwestern and Plains states. The survey report issued Wednesday says the overall Mid-America Business Conditions Index dropped to 51.4 in March from 57 in February. The January figure was 54.8. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says manufacturers of nondurable goods reported that sales, production and employment have weakened over the past several months. 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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Monsanto Donates $4M to Effort to Save Monarch Butterflies

 ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Agribusiness giant Monsanto says it will commit $4 million to help stem the decline of monarch butterflies. The St. Louis-based company says a $3.6 million donation will be made to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. One-third of the money matches what a federal wildlife agency is contributing, with the remaining funds set aside to mirror what other federal agencies offer over the next three years. Monsanto also is offering $400,000 to aid experts and groups working on the butterfly's behalf.  Environmentalists and scientists say the species has experienced a 90 percent decline in population. Most of the decline is blamed on habitat destruction due in part to weed killers and herbicide-resistant plants like those Monsanto and other agribusinesses offer. 

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2 Killed in Linn County Plane Crash

PLEASANTON, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Highway Patrol says two Kansas City-area men were killed in a small plane crash in Linn County. The Federal Aviation Administration says the plane took off from a private airstrip, struck a tree and crashed Tuesday afternoon northwest of Pleasanton in eastern Kansas. The National Transportation Safety Board says the aircraft is a Zodiac CH601XL. The patrol identified the dead as 67-year-old Herbert Lewis Siegel of Stillwell, who was flying the plane, and 57-year-old Brian Clark Decker of Independence, Missouri. Federal authorities are investigating the crash.

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Murals Showing History of Written Word Installed at Library

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The history of the written word is being showcased at Topeka High School's library through four murals thanks to an anonymous graduate who commissioned the artwork. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the paintings by Kansas artist Mark Flickinger are valued at $96,000. The murals begin with the ancient scripts, including Sumerian figures carving cuneiform and ancient Egyptians making hieroglyphics. The second panel shows medieval scribes and the transition from scribes to the printing press. The third depicts the written word through the ages of enlightenment, industry and progress in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The final panel illustrates the digital age, with a girl's face illuminated by a technological device. The art will be unveiled to the public on Wednesday night.

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KU Freshman Kelly Oubre Jr Headed for NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ University of Kansas swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. announced Wednesday he is leaving for the NBA draft, skipping his final three seasons of eligibility after an up-and-down freshman year. Oubre revealed his intentions in a statement released by the school. The 6-foot-7 guard started 27 games this past season, helping the Jayhawks win their 11th straight Big 12 title. He averaged 9.3 points and five rebounds. His decision to leave for the NBA is based more on potential than productivity. Oubre often disappeared in games last season, but scouts fell in love with his athleticism, defense and touch. Oubre is expected to be among the first 20 players chosen in the June draft. KU had two of the top three picks last year in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

 

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