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Headlines for Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas House Approves Plan for Balancing Next State Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a plan for eliminating a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state's next budget. The vote Wednesday was 68-53 on a compromise bill drafted by negotiators for the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the two chambers. The Senate expected to vote on the plan Wednesday evening, and its approval would send the measure to Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The plan makes dozens of changes in the state's $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It contains most of Brownback's proposals to help close the gap by juggling funds and capturing unanticipated savings. The measure includes a House proposal for a 2.5 percent pay raise for uniformed corrections officers at state prisons.


Kansas Senate Advances Proposal to Shorten Annual Sessions 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill designed to lessen the amount of time the Kansas Legislature is in session has advanced in the state Senate. Senators gave the measure first-round approval Wednesday on a voice vote. They expected to take final action Thursday, when approval would send the measure to the House. The bill would limit sessions to 100 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. The proposal came after the 2015 annual session lasted a record 114 days. The state constitution doesn't limit sessions in odd-numbered years, though the tradition is for leaders to schedule 90 days. Sessions in even-numbered years are limited to 90 days. Legislators still could vote to extend their sessions longer. Some senators thought the bill unnecessary, but supporters said it would promote efficiency.


Kansas Lawmakers Earmark $50K for Lawyers on School Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers are preparing to set aside $50,000 so the Kansas Legislature can hire attorneys to represent it on school funding issues. The addition of the spending to a budget-balancing plan prompted Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita to suggest Wednesday that GOP leaders are preparing to defy a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on education funding. Olathe Republican and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. said legislators need legal advice about how to respond to the order. The Supreme Court ruled that a GOP-backed school funding law enacted last year unfairly shorts poor school districts financially. The court ruled in a lawsuit pursued by four school districts, and the attorney general's office has hired a law firm to help represent the state. The Legislature is not a defendant.


Lawmakers Discuss Measure Allowing Towns to Deny Refugees 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A House bill under discussion would deny resettlement of refugees in Kansas communities that lack a sufficient amount of services or local law enforcement. Under the measure, the governor and local governments would determine whether a community has the resources to accommodate the arrival of refugees. A community also could request a moratorium on resettlement if it is unable to provide services to the incoming population. Christopher Holton, a lobbyist from Outreach Center for Security Policy, was one of two people who spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Kansas is one of 17 states that announced they would not be accepting Syrian refugees after attacks in Paris last November. Committee Chairman Jan Paul says the hearing will continue on Thursday.


Florist Who Refused Gay Couple Briefs Kansas Lawmakers 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Washington state florist who was sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding has testified before a Kansas House committee in support of additional legal protections for people like her. Barronelle Stutzman told the Federal and State Affairs Committee on Wednesday that she objected to providing the flowers because she believes "marriage is between a man and a woman." The committee isn't considering specific legislation but has debated religious objections measures previously. Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, says the national group that's focused on religious freedom issues is representing several defendants in similar lawsuits throughout the country. Thomas Witt of the gay rights group Equality Kansas argued after the briefing that it was a "one-sided attack" because opponents were not invited to speak.


Kansas House Panel Approves Bill for 'Opt-In' Sex Education 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas public schools would be required to get parents' permission before students could participate in sex education courses under a bill a state House committee has approved. Education Committee Chairman and Wamego Republican Ron Highland said Wednesday that the so-called "opt-in" sex education bill is designed to give parents more control. The measure was approved Tuesday and requires written consent from a child's parent or guardian. Most of the state's 286 local school districts have "opt-out" policies in which a child takes sex education unless a parent objects. Democratic Representative Ed Trimmer of Winfield said with opt-in policies, parents who aren't engaged inadvertently deny their children needed classes. The panel had hearings and passed the bill last year, but it stalled in the House and was returned to the committee.


Consultants Suggest Tapping School Districts' Cash Reserves

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A report from a consulting firm commissioned by the Legislature to review the state's budget says taking money from school districts' cash reserves could help pay for future education funding. The Kansas City consulting firm, Alvarez & Marsal, released a 292-page final report to lawmakers on Tuesday describing efficiencies the firm says could save the state $2 billion over the next five years. One of the recommendations is to require school districts to have a maximum cash balance of 15 percent of their operating budget in reserve. Any amount exceeding 15 percent would be deducted from future funding. Alvarez estimates the policy would save $193 million over five years and suggests lawmakers implement it for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. School district officials oppose the recommendation and say they need to keep more than 15 percent of their funds in reserve to deal with emergencies. The Legislature paid Alvarez & Marsal $2.6 million to conduct the study.


Bill Would Allow Kansas Police Officers to Cross State Lines 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas police officers would be permitted to help officers across state lines during emergency situations under a bill approved by a House committee. Most law enforcement officers in Kansas now are allowed to only help other departments in the state. Officers in border counties, such as the Kansas City area, are also able to provide assistance across state lines during drug investigations or terrorist activities. The bill passed in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Tuesday would allow all Kansas law enforcement agencies to cross state lines to help police in neighboring states. A Kansas City area police association introduced a similar bill in the House committee last year but it was never passed. 


Kansas Senators Seek Chairwoman's Reinstatement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ More 40 Republican legislators are asking Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle to reinstate the former chairwoman of her chamber's health committee. Seventeen of the Senate's 32 Republicans signed a letter Tuesday. The list included Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Nickerson. Twenty-six GOP House members signed a similar letter. The lawmakers want Wagle to reinstate Republican Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee as chairwoman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee. Wagle, a Wichita Republican, removed Pilcher-Cook last week over an attempt by Pilcher-Cook to force a Senate debate on a proposal to expand the state's Medicaid program in line with the federal health overhaul. Pilcher-Cook says she wanted the proposal to fail and Wagle says that showed disrespect to the chamber.  

Lawmakers Consider Increasing Kansas Speed Limit to 80 MPH

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Legislative committees are considering bills that would allow the Kansas Department of Transportation to raise the state's highest speed limit on separated, multiple-lane highways from 75 to 80 miles per hour. The Wichita Eagle reports that lawmakers could decide next week if one of the bills will go to the full Kansas House of Representatives. The new limit would bring the state in line with several other sparsely populated, largely rural Western states. Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming all have a maximum speed limit of 80 miles per hour.  Republican state Representative John Bradford says the change would help regulations match reality, since many travelers drive faster in open country. The transportation department opposes the bill, and it's unclear whether it would raise the speed limit if the law changes.


Kansas Senate Committee Considers Trial Foster Care Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Senate committee is considering legislation that would establish an experimental foster care program in Kansas open only to adults in stable marriages of at least seven years and with at least one stay-at-home spouse. The Topeka Capital-Journal ( ) reports that the bill would grant foster parents in the statewide pilot program an exemption from standard licensing for child care facilities. Republican state Senator Forrest Knox proposed the trial program to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would require foster parents in the program to be high school graduates,  pass a background check and be active in their communities. The bill would also give foster parents sole discretion to determine schooling for the children in their care.


Children Found After Father Crashed Car into Wichita Hotel 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have found two girls whose father is accused of crashing a car into a Wichita hotel room and abducting them. The Wichita Eagle reports that the 5- and 2-year-old girls were located shortly before 11:30 am Wednesday at a Wichita home after an Amber Alert was issued. A Sedgwick County emergency dispatcher says that the vehicle used in the abduction was found abandoned around noon. Authorities continue searching for the father. Wichita police say the father crashed into a room at a Days Inn around 1 am Wednesday after arguing with his girlfriend on the phone. The girlfriend also had her 1-year-old daughter with her. They weren't hurt. Police crime tape was draped across the splintered exterior of the room and dry wall was littering the room's floor.


Unattended Cooking Blamed for Deadly Liberal Apartment Fire

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say one person has died in an apartment fire in southwest Kansas. The Hutchinson News reports that the fire started early Tuesday in Liberal in a four-unit building. Liberal Fire Department Chief Kelly Kirk says crews found a person sleeping inside a bedroom of a smoky apartment. The person suffered smoke inhalation and died about an hour later at a hospital. The name of the victim wasn't immediately released, pending notification of relatives. Kirk says unattended cooking started the fire. The blaze was contained to the apartment and was extinguished in the kitchen area. The damage is estimated at $30,000.


Kansas Parents Charged with Abusing Adopted Children 

NORTH NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — The head of a south-central Kansas home for the aging and his wife have been charged with abusing three children they adopted from Peru. Jim and Paige Nachtigal, of North Newton, were charged Wednesday in Harvey County with three counts each of child abuse. They are jailed on $300,000 bond. Harvey County attorney David Yoder says he doesn't know if the couple has an attorney in the criminal case. Their 11-year-old son and 11- and 15-year-old daughters were placed in protective custody last week. Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton says the two younger children were "severely malnourished," and had broken bones. North Newton police chief Randy Jordan says the children were punished whenever they had "sinned." He said their parents considered not doing homework or complimenting their mother's cooking sins.


Police: Man Shot in Back at Wichita Apartment Complex

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 23-year-old man has been taken to the hospital after being shot in the back in east Wichita. Wichita police Lieutenant James Espinoza said that the man was emptying the trash at his home about 2:35 am Tuesday at Eastgate Apartments when he was shot once in the back. The man was taken to Wesley Medical Center with an injury that was not considered to be life-threatening. Espinoza says that there is no information about any suspects and that the man is not cooperating with police.


Man Sentenced in Fatal Winfield Bar Shooting

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — A man has been sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison in the shooting death of a Winfield man last year. KWCH-TV reports that Timothy Boyd was sentenced Tuesday in Cowley County District Court. Boyd was accused of killing Derrick Higgins at a Winfield bar on Jan. 1, 2015. Boyd pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in December.


Teamster Retirees Fight Pension Cuts at Kansas City Meeting 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hundreds of retired Teamsters have turned out in Kansas City to air concerns about proposed pension cuts. The Kansas City Star reports that the Central States Pension Fund's proposed cuts were the focus of a town hall meeting Tuesday. Well-known mediator Kenneth Feinberg is reviewing applications from pension plans under a law passed in 2014. The law would cut benefits as a last ditch means to stave off insolvency of troubled plans such as the huge Central State Fund. It covers 400,000 participants, 220,000 of them retired. Two much smaller pensions also have sought similar relief under the law, and still more pensions are significantly underfunded. Feinberg has held seven other public sessions, with Kansas City's being the last.


Blaze Damages Kansas City Building Featured in Movie 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Fire crews are fighting a blaze in a multi-story downtown Kansas City building where part of the movie "In Cold Blood" was filmed. The Kansas City Star reports that the fire started Wednesday morning at the former Pickwick Plaza complex, which was undergoing a $65 million renovation. The 85-year-old building includes an area that once was the Union Bus Terminal, while another part housed a hotel. The building is being turned into apartments and commercial space. The 1967 film that was partially filmed in its lobby is based on Truman Capote's acclaimed novel about the Holcomb, Kansas, killings of Herb and Bonnie Clutter and two of their children. Two parolees, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were eventually convicted of killing the Clutters and were executed in 1965.


Budget Chief: No Sales Taxes Will Be Lost in American Royal Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's budget director says the state will not lose existing sales tax revenues if it pursues a project aimed at luring the annual American Royal horse and livestock exhibition from Kansas City, Missouri to Wyandotte County, Kansas. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said Tuesday that any development for the American Royal will be a "stand alone" project that won't tap sales tax revenues generated in the nearby Legends shopping and entertainment district and Kansas Speedway. The development could include a new hotel, children's museum and 5,000-seat hockey arena. The American Royal issued a statement Tuesday saying that it has been exploring options for a future location.


Oklahoma Regulators Seek Changes in Injection Well Policy

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma oil-and-gas regulators are ordering operators of 250 wastewater injection wells in the state to reduce the amount of water pumped underground as the state confronts a sharp increase in the size and frequency of earthquakes. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission released a plan Tuesday calling for a reduction of more than 500,000 barrels of wastewater per day. The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has surged from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 900 last year. Many of the earthquakes were strong enough to rattle buildings in Kansas and other neighboring states. Geologists have linked the spike in quakes to the underground disposal of wastewater related to the fracking process used in oil and gas drilling. A 5.1-magnitude quake hit northern Oklahoma Saturday, the third largest in state history.


Royals Add Netting to Kauffman Stadium to Improve Safety 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals are installing additional netting at Kauffman Stadium that extends toward the outfield end of each team's dugout to improve the safety for fans sitting along the foul lines. Several clubs have considered ways to protect fans from foul balls hit into those seats, and some have suggested that similar netting should be mandatory in major league ballparks. Royals vice president Kevin Uhlich said Wednesday that the club considered several options before deciding on the new netting. The club hopes it strikes a balance between safety and allowing fans sitting in premium seats to have the same kind of ballpark experience as in years past. The World Series champion Royals play their home opener against the New York Mets on April 4.


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