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Headlines for Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Senate's GOP Leaders Defend Budget Fixes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans in the Kansas Senate are defending their proposal to cut aid to public schools as part of a larger plan to balance the state budget through June 2019. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, Vice President Jeff Longbine of Emporia and Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park said Tuesday that they're trying to find a permanent solution to the state's budget woes. Senate committees endorsed two separate bills Tuesday. One increases personal income taxes to raise $660 million over two years. Another cuts aid to public schools $128 million by July. The education cuts help head off a shortfall in the current budget while lawmakers consider tax increases to plug future budget gaps. Wagle said, "We're under water, and I can't backdate a tax plan."


Kansas Governor Willing to Mull Education Cuts 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -  Governor Sam Brownback says he's willing to consider budget-balancing proposals advanced by a Senate committee to cut spending on public schools and higher education. The Senate Ways and Means Committee endorsed a bill Tuesday that would cut state aid to public schools by $128 million and funding for state universities by $23 million before June 30. It's part of a plan by the committee to erase a projected $320 million shortfall in the state's current budget. Brownback outlined accounting moves and internal government borrowing that would have avoided such immediate cuts. But Brownback told The Associated Press: "We'll look at it." The full Senate plans to debate the spending cuts Thursday along with proposals to increase personal income taxes to help keep the budget balanced after June 30.


Attorney for Kansas Districts Criticizes Aid Cut

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A lawyer representing four Kansas school districts suing the state has criticized a legislative proposal to cut education funding by this summer. Attorney John Robb said Tuesday that the measure endorsed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee is "tremendously ill-advised." It would reduce aid to the state's 286 school districts by $128 million, or $279 per student. Robb said: "That's moving the ball the wrong way down the field." The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts sued the state in 2010. The Kansas Supreme Court is expect to rule soon on whether the state's total spending fulfills lawmakers' duty under the state constitution to finance a suitable education for every child. The state is spending about $4.1 billion a year, or $8,900 per student. 


Report: Kansas Voter ID Law May Be Discriminatory

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A civil rights advisory panel says a Kansas law requiring people to show photo ID at the polls and provide proof-of-citizenship documents to register to vote may discriminate against minorities. It also urges the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to investigate whether the Kansas law violates federal voting laws. The Kansas City Star first reported on the draft report from the Kansas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights. The Safe and Fair Elections Act passed in 2011 has been championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as a way to prevent voter fraud. Kobach calls concerns that the state law was written and implemented with discriminatory intent an outrageous accusation. A Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill on Monday to repeal it based on the report.


Kansas Health Committee to Vote on Medicaid Expansion 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House health committee will vote next week on whether to expand the state's privatized Medicaid program, called KanCare. Lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday from cities, businesses, doctors and patients, urging them to expand KanCare. The expansion would provide insurance to an estimated 150,000 Kansans who currently make too much money to qualify for KanCare but not enough to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Proponents say the expansion would be at least budget-neutral and might save the state money, partly by reducing emergency care for people who lack access to preventative care. The state budget office estimates that the plan would still cost more than $150,000,000 in the first two fiscal years. Governor Sam Brownback said in a statement that the state shouldn't expand KanCare because the Trump administration will likely repeal the Affordable Care Act. Opponents of the bill will testify Thursday.


Kansas Bill Requires More Details About Abortion Providers 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposed law in Kansas would require that women seeking an abortion be given details about the abortion provider's medical credentials, malpractice insurance and any past disciplinary action...and that it be printed in a specific 12-point font. Kansas law already requires that women receive their abortion provider's name, details about the procedure and its risks, and other information. The Wichita Eagle reports that the legislation would require more details about abortion providers, including when they received their medical degrees and started working, and any past disciplinary action. The bill also requires that the information to be printed in black ink, in 12-point Times New Roman font. Supporters say the additional information would provide necessary transparency. Opponents say the bill is designed to undermine confidence in the physicians.


Kansas Bills Would Crack Down on Cellphone Use While Driving 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two bills introduced in the Kansas Senate are aimed at reducing distracted driving caused by using cellphones while driving. One bill would prohibit drivers from holding a phone or other wireless device up to their ear. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Department of Transportation supports the bill. The department says about 92 people died each year from distracted driving between 2009 and 2014. A second bill would outlaw using a wireless device in a school zone or construction zone. It makes an exception for using hands-free devices. Supporters say both bills would reduce distracted driving. Kansas already prohibits texting or sending e-mails while driving.


Kansas Plan Would Halve Staffing at New Lansing Prison 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Corrections is telling legislators it could cut staffing at its largest prison by having a private company build a new facility and lease it to the state. Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood said in a presentation for a Wednesday meeting of a House budget subcommittee that the Lansing prison's staffing could drop to 392 employees from the current 686. His presentation projected annual staffing costs would drop to less than $21 million from nearly $35 million. Norwood announced last week that the department will seek proposals from private companies to build a new prison. The state would mothball but preserve the oldest parts of the prison that date to the 1860s but tear down the rest. The department has described a lease-purchase deal as one possible option.


Great Plains-Westar Acquisition Decision Expected April 24 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission is expected to decide by April 24 whether it will approve Great Plains Energy's acquisition of Westar Energy. The commission heard six days of testimony on the proposed $12.2 billion acquisition before ending the hearings Tuesday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that attorneys will present written briefs to the commission before commissioners make their decision. Stockholders for both Missouri-based Great Plains and Topeka-based Westar overwhelmingly approved the deal in September, saying it would lead to lower electric rates. But the commission's staff, consumer advocates and others opposed the deal, contending it would cause closed plants and job losses. If approved, the new company would serve 1.5 million customers from central Kansas to central Missouri. Great Plains is the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light Co.


Police: Injured Officer in Critical, but Stable Condition 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita police officer is in critical but stable condition the day after being run over by a fleeing suspect. Deputy Chief Troy Livingston said Wednesday the officer is doing a lot better, adding he has "a lot of injuries to overcome." A police news release identified the injured officer as Brian Arterburn, a 25-year veteran of the police force. He sustained injuries to his chest, abdomen and brain. He underwent emergency surgery and remains hospitalized. Arterburn was struck by the vehicle when officers were monitoring a house Tuesday in south Wichita where a stolen vehicle and suspect were seen. The suspect was arrested after a police chase. Police say a 31-year-old man with an extensive criminal background has been booked on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder.


Bill Could Allow Vote on Slot Machines at Wichita Racetrack 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House bill could allow voters in Sedgwick County to vote one more time on whether to allow slot machines at the closed Wichita Greyhound Park. The Wichita Eagle reports the bill is another effort to reopen the racetrack that owner Phil Ruffin shut down after voters narrowly rejected slot machines in the county in 2007. According to the bill, residents can only put the issue on the ballot if they gather at least 5,000 signatures. Supporters say racing would benefit the area economically. Republican Representative Larry Hibbard says the bill's goal is to reopen multiple closed horse and dog tracks in the state to create more jobs. Opponents say the vote would breach the Kansas Lottery's contract with Kansas Star Casino, which pays a fee to be the only gaming facility in south-central Kansas.


Investigation Begins After 2 Men Killed in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating after two men were killed in Kansas City, Kansas. Police identified the victims in a news release as 45-year-old James Christopher III and 28-year-old Alfred Vine Jr. Officers responding to a shooting found the Kansas City, Kansas, men dead Tuesday. Police are urging anyone with information to call a tips hotline.


Sanders to Speak at Kansas Democratic Party Gathering 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Former Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders is scheduled to speak at the Kansas Democratic Party's Washington Days convention later this month. The party announced Tuesday that the Vermont senator will speak at the convention February 25th in Topeka. The Vermont senator faced Hillary Clinton in the nomination for Democratic presidential candidate. Sanders mounted a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination before eventually losing to Clinton. Sanders soundly defeated Clinton in Kansas' presidential caucus last March, winning with 68 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Clinton.


Preliminary Hearing Rescheduled for Kansas Triple Murder Suspect

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) - The preliminary hearing has been rescheduled for one of two people accused of killing three people before fleeing to Mexico. The Harvey County attorney said in a news release that the hearing for 31-year-old Myrta Rangel has been moved to April 6. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether there is evidence for Rangel to be tried on one count of capital murder and three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 33-year-old Travis Street, 37-year-old Angela May Graevs and 52-year-old Richard Prouty. Thirty-five-year-old Jereme Nelson faces identical charges. The victims' bodies were found in October outside a rural home near Moundridge. An 18-month-old child was found unharmed. Nelson and Rangel were extradited last month to Kansas. 


2 Arrested After Kansas $2 Dollar Restaurant Robbery 

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities are investigating a Kansas restaurant robbery that netted $2.  The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that two men are accused of forcing three Jimmy John's employees to the floor Monday night. Night manager Seth Cheney says that after told the masked suspects he couldn't open the safe or register, they demanded cash from the Pittsburg sandwich shop's employees. But Cheney says two of them had empty wallets and a third had $3. The suspects also are accused of demanding a sandwich and fleeing as the food was being prepared. A responding officer spotted two men riding away from the area on bicycles. Arresting officers recovered an airsoft pistol, baseball bat and $2. A Pittsburg police spokesman says the suspects apparently dropped a dollar as they tried to escape. Bond is set at $50,000.


2 Missouri Men Sentenced in Craigslist Robberies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two Missouri men who robbed people responding to phony Craigslist ads were sentenced to federal prison. Federal prosecutors said 27-year-old Thomas Thorpe, of Kansas City, was sentenced Tuesday to 27 years in prison, while 23-year-old Troy Wright, of Grandview, was sentenced to 25 years. A third defendant, 25-year-old Debvon Buckner, of Kansas City, also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors say Thorpe and Wright committed six armed robberies in June and July 2014. Buckner communicated with the victims. In a July 2014 robbery, a married couple from Liberty was shot and robbed. The victims was shot eight times but survived. 


Ceremony to Mark U.S. Entry into WWI Planned in Kansas City

WASHINGTON (AP) - A ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I is planned in Kansas City at the National World War One Memorial. The commission organizing the April 6 ceremony says dignitaries from the U.S. and other counties will be invited. Congress agreed in 2014 to give the landmark national status, designating it as a "national memorial" for World War I. The site features a tower that rises 217 feet into the skyline. Underneath is a museum that tells the story of the war that claimed 116,516 American lives. The museum's collection includes period weaponry and uniforms, as well as life-size recreated trenches.

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