Kansas Lawmakers Set to Tackle Budget Shortfalls
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers must close shortfalls in the current and next state budgets totaling $290 million after returning from their annual spring break. The Legislature is reconvening this (WED) morning. It was only a week after state officials and university economists issued new, more pessimistic forecast that slashed revenue projections through June 2017. Republican Governor Sam Brownback plans to divert highway funds to general government programs and delay major road projects. He also expects to cut higher education spending. He's proposed selling off part of the state's annual payments from a national legal settlement with tobacco companies to generate a one-time infusion of cash. Lawmakers have been cold to the idea. As alternatives, he's suggested delaying contributions to public employee pensions or making $139 million in spending cuts.
Policy and Labor Groups Call for Repeal of Kansas Income Tax Cuts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several groups held a news conference at the Kansas Statehouse today (WED) to call for a repeal of Governor Sam Brownback's income tax cuts for 330,000 businesses and farms. Lawmakers are returning from their spring break today (WED) to look for ways to close $290 million in budget shortfalls for the current and next state budgets. The nonprofit Kansas Center for Economic Growth said its proposal could raise $1 billion a year in new revenue and permanently fix the state's budget problems. Officials from the center were joined during a news conference by labor organizations representing teachers, state government employees and construction contractors and the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children. The state has struggled to balance its budget since the income tax cuts were enacted in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an attempt to stimulate the economy. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley called the groups "desperate to grow the government."
Report: Kansas Regional VA Office in Manipulated Data on Appeals
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government review shows a Veterans Affairs regional office in Kansas listed erroneous medical conditions for three dozen patients who filed appeals after having their claims rejected. In a report released Tuesday, the VA's inspector general's office says management instructed staff at the Wichita facility to enter the same "placeholder" diagnostic code for a specific bone infection on 36 appeal claims. None of the patients had the listed condition. Investigators found that a backlog of mail may have contributed to the erroneous records. They found the claim assistants weren't trained on how to enter accurate patient conditions into the computer system. The VA did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. A veterans' advocacy group says data manipulation has been a national problem recently amid greater scrutiny of the VA.
Another Patient Accuses Former Kansas VA Employee of Sex Abuse
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Another patient has filed a lawsuit accusing a former physician assistant at a Veterans Administration hospital in Kansas of sexual abuse. The complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court of Kansas brings to at least four the number of civil lawsuits filed against Mark E. Wisner, and the federal government. Wisner also faces criminal charges of aggravated criminal sodomy, solicitation and sexual battery. Wisner did not return a phone message. The hospital in Leavenworth reiterated that once accusations were brought to the attention of its leadership Wisner was immediately removed from patient care and an investigation initiated. The Iraq war veteran alleges that Wisner conducted improper genital examinations and comments. He contends Wisner suggested he would withhold pain medications if the patient did not allow the examinations.
Governor: Kansas Won't Participate in Federal Refugee Program
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas is withdrawing from the federal government's refugee resettlement program because of safety concerns. Brownback announced Tuesday that he notified President Barack Obama's administration of his decision. Brownback's move means Kansas will reject federal funds to provide cash and health care coverage to any refugees who resettle in Kansas. The federal aid amounts to between $1.6 million and $1.8 million annually. But Executive Director Micah Kubic of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas says the move is largely symbolic because federal officials probably will find another group to run the program in Kansas. He said the state also can't prevent refugees from coming. Brownback said Tuesday that federal officials haven't given him adequate assurances that refugees are being screened thoroughly enough to protect communities.
Kansas Lawmakers Deny Audit into Same-Sex Discrimination Claims
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have again refused to audit the Department of Children and Families to determine if the agency discriminates against same-sex couples in adoption or foster care cases. The Legislative Post Audit Committee on Tuesday voted 5-4 along party lines not to approve the audit. Representative Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, sought the audit after several same-sex couple alleged last year that the agency had discriminated against them. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Wednesday's vote came after DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore issued a statement denying the discrimination allegations. She says the agency has no policies or documents related to same-sex or non-traditional families. Ward countered that substantial anecdotal evidence shows blatant discrimination against same-sex couples. He called Tuesday's vote "shameful."
Kansas Largely Escapes Storm Damage; Oklahoma Does Not
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Most of Kansas escaped serious damage as severe storms rolled across the state, but flooding continues to be a problem in many areas. Some damage to homes and businesses was reported in Crawford County, in southeast Kansas, particularly in the county seat of Girard. In that town,high winds tore the roofs off some homes and pushed trailer houses off their foundations. One business in Girard, Denco Aluminum, suffered extensive building damage. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, authorities are responding to reports of trees blown onto houses in the Tulsa area. The City of Tulsa said in a statement late Tuesday night that emergency crews are assessing the situation and no injuries have been reported. Trees and power lines were down across the city. A tornado watch is in effect for part of the area until midnight. Tornado warnings were in effect east of Tulsa until 11:45 pm. In Oklahoma City, the emergency management department said survey crews would assess damage this (WED) morning. Public Service Company of Oklahoma says about 6,800 customers across the state were without power.
Forecasters Warn of Flooding in Kansas After Storm
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities are warning of flooding after a spring storm dumped heavy rain across a large swath of eastern Kansas. The National Weather Service says flood warnings are in effect through this (WED) afternoon for more than a dozen counties. The counties include Douglas, Geary, Riley, Shawnee, Johnson, Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Atchison, Coffey, Franklin, Jackson, Lyon, Osage, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee. NWS Meteorologist Matt Wolters says fire crews helped a handful of Shawnee County families evacuate Wednesday morning after water surrounded their homes. Forecasters also are warning that the Marais Des Cygnes River at La Cygne and the Delaware River near Muscotah are at risk of flooding in coming days. Several areas received more than 4 inches of rain in Tuesday's storm.
USGS Records 4.1 Magnitude Earthquake in Central Oklahoma
LUTHER, Okla. (AP) — The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded at 4.1 magnitude earthquake in the Oklahoma City area. The quake struck at 10:44 am Wednesday near Luther, about 30 miles north of Oklahoma City. No injuries or damage have been reported, but the USGS website shows the earthquake was felt 135 miles away in Wichita. The USGS also recorded a 2.8 magnitude quake at 6:31 a.m. near Harrah, about 25 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. The number of magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes in Oklahoma has risen from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 900 last year. Scientists have linked the increase to underground disposal of wastewater from oil-and-gas production. State regulators are asking oil and gas companies to reduce their wastewater disposal wells.
FBI: Charred Body Found in Topeka Motel Identified as Fugitive
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The FBI says a man's body found in charred ruins of a Kansas motel room after a shootout that injured three federal agents is that of the robbery suspect they were trying to arrest. The FBI says the body was identified as 28-year-old Orlando Collins, and the coroner's preliminary conclusion is that Collins fatally shot himself. The Saturday night shootout at the Country Club Motel in Topeka injured two deputy federal marshals and an FBI agent who were part of a fugitive task force. The FBI says its agent remains hospitalized in good condition. Authorities trying to arrest Collins came under fire as they approached a motel room, from which a fire then erupted. Topeka's fire marshal says investigators believe the room's occupant set the blaze.
Lightning Investigated as Possible Cause of Kansas Home Fire
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating lighting as the possible cause of a suburban Kansas City house fire. The Overland Park Fire Department said in a news release that the fire started shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday. The release says neighbors reported that they believed the home was for sale and vacant. No one was hurt. Firefighters evacuated residents from neighboring homes while they worked to extinguish the blaze. The neighbors told firefighters that there were possible lighting strikes in the area before the fire.
H&R Block Cuts 250 KC Jobs, Citing Slow Tax Season
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - H&R Block says it's laying off 250 workers, citing a disappointing tax season. The Kansas City Star reports the downsizing announced Tuesday by the Kansas City, Missouri-based company amounts to 12.6 percent of its workforce. H&R Block said it handled roughly 19.6 million tax returns in the just-completed tax season. That's more than 4 percent less than last year. The company says it expects a revenue decline this year and will release a full report June 9. H&R Block's CEO, Bill Cobb, is vowing to be aggressive in attracting business next tax season.
Kansas State University Fraternities Seek Investigation of Off-Campus Rapes
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University fraternities are calling on the university to begin investigations of alleged sexual violence that occurs off campus. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the university's Interfraternity Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday seeking the university's involvement in off-campus incidents. The move comes less than a week after two students sued the university, alleging civil rights violations for not looking into two allegations of rape that occurred at off-campus events hosted by fraternities. The resolution says the university hasn't given victims assurance to continue their education free of sexual violence by assisting with finances or helping students change their residence, class schedule or campus job. University spokesman Jeff Morris says the university will consider the resolution. He says the university is currently working on rewording the language in its policy on investigating sexual assault allegations.
2 Dodge City Men Charged with Hate Crimes Against Somalis
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two southwest Kansas men have been charged with federal hate crimes after prosecutors say they attacked three Somali men last year. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Wichita says 31-year-old Omar Cantero Martinez and 24-year-old Armando Sotelo, both of Dodge City, were charged Wednesday with three counts of causing bodily injury to a victim because of race and national origin. Prosecutors say Martinez and Sotelo attacked the three Somalis, who were in the country legally, in June 2015. Two of the victims were attacked with a broken bottle. U.S. Attorney Tom Beall of Kansas and Vanita Gupta, head of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, announced the charges. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. It was unclear if either suspect had obtained an attorney.
Kansas City Diocese Holds Service for Sexual Abuse Healing
LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — About 100 Kansas City-area worshippers have participated in a Catholic prayer service to seek spiritual healing over sexual abuse within the local archdiocese. The Kansas City Star reports that the service at St. James Catholic Church in Liberty was the eighth in a series called "Healing Our Parishes Through Empathy." Participants carried small stones in a somber procession to the altar, where they placed the pebbles at the base of a wooden cross to symbolize letting go of a burden they've carried. They then washed their hands in basins of water. The diocese says it was just a coincidence that the service was held exactly one year after Pope Francis accepted Bishop Robert W. Finn's resignation. The former leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese had failed to report a child sex abuse case involving a priest.
Man Pleads Guilty to Explosives Use Tied to Wichita Abortion Clinic
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A homeless man has pleaded guilty to criminal use of explosives after he went to apply for a job a Wichita abortion clinic with a small bottle of gunpowder and a wick in his backpack. The Wichita Eagle reports that 20-year-old Moises R. Trevizo Jr. admitted Monday to the charge and is scheduled to be sentenced June 24 in Sedgwick County District Court. Police have said he didn't mean any harm and carried everything he owned in the backpack when he showed up to the South Wind Women's Center in August. Police said the device was too small to damage the clinic. The clinic operates in the building once owned by slain abortion provider George Tiller.
Airlines Want New Single Terminal at Kansas City Airport
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Airlines serving Kansas City International Airport want to replace the facility's three existing terminals with a single terminal airport. The Kansas City Star reports that the airlines tried to convince local officials and residents Tuesday that both the timing and the cost is right for the project. Southwest Airlines' director of airport affairs Steve Sisneros told the City Council that the airlines have agreed to back the debt on a new terminal but they won't do the same with any other option for modernizing the airport. He said the airlines don't support renovations to the existing 43-year-old horseshoe terminals. The City Council didn't immediately act on the recommendation and seemed divided on how to proceed. A new terminal is expected to cost about $964 million.
Police: Fatal Salina Shooting Appears to Be Accidental
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina police say a fatal shooting appears to be accidental. The Salina Journal reports that police made the determination after completing their investigation into the death of 28-year-old Bryant Sanchez, of Salina. Police Capt. Chris Trocheck says Sanchez had recently purchased a .40-caliber handgun. Trocheck says the handgun discharged Sunday while Sanchez was showing it to a couple people in the driveway of a home he was visiting. Trocheck says a single bullet struck Sanchez in the head. He died within hours at a Salina hospital. Trocheck says there is no evidence that anyone intentionally pulled the trigger. He says Sanchez had been in possession of the weapon when it discharged.
Kansas City Man Charged in Death of Child, 2
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 24-year-old Kansas City man faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of his 2-year-old daughter who authorities said died from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office said Wednesday in a release that Courtenay S. Block is charged with second-degree murder, child abuse, and other charges accusing him of allowing his daughter access to a loaded weapon. He was charged last week with endangering the welfare of a child, armed criminal action and tampering. The release said the child "apparently shot herself in the head." Court records show Kansas City police officers arrived at the home last Thursday and found Block holding the unresponsive child suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Online court records don't list a lawyer for Block, who's in custody.
2 Arrested in Salina Homicide, Including 1 After a Chase
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — One of two suspects in a Salina homicide has been arrested after a police pursuit. Police Captain Chris Trocheck says the chase began Tuesday morning after 21-year-old Adonis Loudermilk, of Lincoln, Nebraska, was found fatally shot in a Salina motel parking lot. Trocheck says a passing train forced the suspect to turn around west of Salina. The truck then headed back into town, where the suspect hoped a curb and traveled about 200 yards in a railroad right-of-way. With two tires busted, the suspect and his passenger bailed and were arrested after a short foot chase. The driver and a woman are jailed on suspicion of felony murder and robbery, and the passenger on suspicion of obstruction. The woman was taken from the homicide scene for questioning and later arrested.