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Headlines for Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Report: Lobbyists Had Email Look at Kansas Governor's Budget Plans 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A newspaper is reporting that a top aide to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback used a private email account to give two lobbyists a preview of budget proposals weeks before they were outlined for legislators. The Wichita Eagle reported Tuesday that Budget Director Shawn Sullivan sent the email December 23 with his Yahoo account. The newspaper said it obtained a copy from a source outside the governor's office. Lobbyists David Kensinger and Mark Dugan were among the recipients. Kensinger was Brownback's chief of staff from January 2011 until April 2012. Dugan was the manager of Brownback's successful re-election campaign last year. Sullivan says he used his private email account because he was home for the Christmas holiday and wasn't trying to skirt the Open Records Act.

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GOP Leaders See Need to Fix Kansas Budget by Mid-February 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's budget director and top Republicans say Kansas needs to balance its current budget by mid-February to ensure that the state can keep paying all of its bills on time. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said Wednesday that the GOP-dominated Legislature should pass a bill by February 13 to close a projected $279 million shortfall in the current budget to head off any potential delays. The Republican governor's proposals include diverting money from highway projects to general government programs and making selected spending cuts. The House Appropriations Committee had a hearing Wednesday on his proposals and plans to approve a bill by Monday. Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. said lawmakers are pressed for time. The state also faces a projected $436 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning in July.

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Kansas Budget Woes Have Some in GOP Rethinking School Funds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some Republican legislators are questioning whether Kansas should cover unanticipated increases in costs associated with aid to the state's public schools as they wrestle with a projected budget shortfall. House Appropriations Committee member and Overland Park Republican Jerry Lunn said Wednesday that the idea ought to be on the table. Lawmakers are working on measures to close a projected $279 million shortfall in the current state budget. Republican Governor Sam Brownback's budget staff says the costs of fulfilling promises on aid to public schools are almost $64 million higher than anticipated than when legislators set the current budget last year. He is proposing to cover the extra costs and then reduce school aid from that peak level for the next fiscal year beginning in July.

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Kansas Lawmakers Move to Block Local Gun Regulations 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers want to bar local governments from regulating the sale of firearms with new fees or taxes. The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on a bill Wednesday that would ban counties and municipalities from regulating gun sales through zoning or any new fees or taxes. The provision would still allow local governments to levy general sales taxes from gun sales. State law already bans local governments from regulating firearms in most other ways. Gun lobbyist Patricia Stoneking testified that the bill would protect licensed firearm dealers from excessive regulation. A second firearm bill heard by the committee Wednesday would prevent criminal penalties for licensed gun owners who accidentally bring guns into buildings where they are forbidden.

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Kansas Considers Reduced Penalties for Marijuana Possession 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Penalties for marijuana possession may be softened in Kansas as legislators seek to lower prison populations and reduce costs. The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee heard testimony from supporters of a bill on Wednesday that would drop first- and second-time marijuana possession offenses below the felony level. That would make offenders less likely to see prison time, and the Kansas Sentencing Commission's director said the move would save the state about $800,000 a year. Republican Representative Tom Moxley of Council Grove said he supported the move because growing evidence suggests longer prison terms do not rehabilitate nonviolent offenders and only strain state resources. Kansas's prison population is growing and is expected to exceed capacity by the end of 2015. No one spoke against the bill in the hearing.

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Kansas House Limits Pre-Dawn Work, Attacks Bill Bundling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members are restricting meetings of their chamber after midnight and advancing a proposed rule to make it harder to bundle multiple measures into a single bill. House members on Wednesday voted 113-6 to approve rules for their chamber saying it can't meet from midnight to 8 am unless two-thirds of its members allow it. The House also voted 116-3 to approve rules governing interactions between their chamber and the Senate. The joint rules would prohibit House and Senate negotiators from bundling more than two measures on a broad topic such as insurance or agriculture into a single bill for a final, up-or-down vote in each chamber. Senators still must approve the joint rules. Backers of both restrictions argued that those longstanding legislative practices lead to sloppy lawmaking.

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Wichita Rejects Driver Permits for People in US Illegally

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The Wichita city council has withdrawn its support for a proposal to grant driver's permits for people in the U.S. illegally. The council voted Tuesday to remove the proposal from its 2015 legislative agenda. It had voted 4-3 in December to support the idea. Councilman Jeff Blubaugh changed his vote, saying that some groups that originally pushed the idea - such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas Farm Bureau - had withdrawn their support. Sulma Arias, executive director of Sunflower Community Action, said in an email that the reversal was "stunning" and proved the city does not value the contributions of its Latino citizens. 

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Lawrence Voters Approve School District's Local Option Budget

LAWRENCE, Kan. _ Voters in Lawrence approved a measure allowing the school  district to keep its local option budget at 33 percent. The Lawrence Journal World reports that more than 17,000 voters participated in the first-ever, all mail-in ballot in Douglas County. 84 percent of the voters were in favor of keeping the school district's local option budget at its current level. The local option budget is funding that is raised by local property taxes for school districts. The size of a district's local option budget cannot be larger than 33 percent of its general operating fund, which for Lawrence is about $72.2 million. If voters had voters denied the request,  the district would have had to lower its local option budget to 31 percent, resulting in a funding decrease of approximately $1.4 million. School district officials said that classroom sizes and programs for athletics, arts or at-risk students could have been endangered if the measure had failed.

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Juvenile Arrested After Bomb Threat Causes Evacuations

ONAGA, Kan. (AP) — Pottawatomie County authorities say a juvenile was arrested after a bomb threat caused the evacuation of a school and hospital in Onaga. Sheriff Greg Riat says a boy under the age of 14 was arrested then released to his parents after being booked. Riat says someone called the sheriff's office Tuesday morning and made a bomb threat against the Onaga Elementary School and Onaga Community Hospital. Onaga Police Chief Dan Costlow says students at the school were sent home for the day. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports patients and staff were evacuated until the hospital was searched and no bomb was found.

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Ex-Kansas City Chiropractor Sentenced for Medicare Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A former Kansas City chiropractor was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for Medicare fraud. Federal prosecutors say 59-year-old Michael Kelly Miller was also ordered Tuesday to pay $879,582 in restitution for proceeds he received as operator of the Waldo Rehabilitation Health & Wellness. Miller pleaded guilty in April to submitting Medicare claims for nerve block injections and other experimental procedures that were not medically necessary. Between February 2009 and December 2011 Miller billed Medicare more than $3 million and received nearly $900,000. Miller, now of Temple Terrace, Florida, has surrendered his chiropractic license.

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Brownback Nominates Patrol Veteran for Superintendent Job 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Sam Brownback is nominating the man serving as interim superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol to get the job permanently. The governor announced Tuesday that he is nominating Major Mark A. Bruce for the superintendent's job. The Kansas Senate must approve the appointment. Bruce is a 25-year veteran of the patrol and has been interim superintendent since January 6. Bruce earned his master's degree in criminal justice from Washburn University and his bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas. He previously served with the Kansas Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force.

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Wichita Council Puts Marijuana Issue on April Ballot 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita voters will get the opportunity to vote on easing marijuana penalties for first-time offenders. The Wichita City Council agreed 6-1 to place the measure to amend the city's ordinance on the April 7 ballot. But it remains unclear what will happen even if the issue passes because state law still makes marijuana possession illegal. Action came in the wake of a petition for it containing thousands of signatures. The proposal makes first-offense marijuana possession a criminal infraction with a $50 fine. It would be enforced with a summons or citation rather than an arrest. A conviction could be expunged after 12 months if the offender stays out of legal trouble. It would apply only to those 21 or older carrying 32 grams or less of marijuana.

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Pittsburg Commission Supports Casino Proposal

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) - The Pittsburg City Commission is willing to gamble on a proposal for a $62 million casino complex that could bring 300 jobs to the southeast Kansas city. The commission on Tuesday unanimously supported a proposal from JNB Gaming to build a casino, hotel and restaurant complex on land recently annexed by the city. JNB Gaming's proposal, called the Kansas Crossing Casino & Hotel, is one of three proposals for a southeast Kansas casino. Applications for all the proposals are due Friday. The developer said their proposal could generate $1.2 million in revenues a year, which would be divided between the city, Crawford and Cherokee counties. Commissioners noted the developer is endorsed by officials in the city of Mulvane. JNB built a similar project near Mulvane seven years ago.

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Fort Riley Plans Public Meeting on Possible Job Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Fort Riley is holding a meeting to hear from the community about how possible personnel reductions on the base could affect them. Fort Riley employs more than 25,000 people in the Junction City area. In a news release, Fort Riley said as many as 16,000 could be dismissed or redeployed. The base is one of 30 military installations across the U.S. that could see troop reductions as a result of the federal budget cuts and personnel reductions to the Army. The forum will be held February 9 at the Geary County Convention Center in Junction City.

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3 Sentenced in KC Payroll Check Scheme 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Three men have been sentenced in a scheme that used homeless men to cash counterfeit payroll checks in the Kansas City area. Federal prosecutors say more than $400,000 in counterfeit checks were cashed in the region in late 2012 and early 2013, as part of a scheme that used homeless people to cash more than $8 million in counterfeit checks across the country. Forty-eight-year-old Truly Matthews and 47-year-old Calvin Almond, both of Atlanta, and 55-year-old Gary Merritt, of Kansas City, Kansas, were sentenced Monday. Matthews was sentenced to 10 years and four months in federal prison without parole and must pay $62,861 in restitution; Merritt got five years and $239,092 in restitution; and Almond was sentenced to two years and 11 months and $57,772 in restitution.

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KC Man to Spend Rest of Life in Prison for Molesting 2 Girls 

PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 45-year-old Kansas City man will spend the rest of his life in prison after being sentenced for sexually abusing two young girls while in a relationship with their mother. A Platte County jury took 90 minutes on Tuesday to find Robert F. Seaton guilty of statutory rape, statutory sodomy and child molestation. He faces up to 70 years in prison, and prosecutor Eric Zahnd says Missouri law requires him to receive a sentence of no less than 60 years. Prosecutors say Seaton sexually abused the oldest victim around age 13 and the youngest from 8 to 11 years old. One of the girls testified Seaton blew crack cocaine smoke into her mouth before molesting her. Seaton is scheduled to be sentenced on March 26.

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Buhler Voters Approve $10M Bond Issue

BUHLER, Kan. (AP) _ A $10 million bond issue for improved sports venues in Buhler has passed. Unofficial results from Tuesday's election show the issue passed with 58 percent of the vote, 1,476 in favor and 1,049 opposed. Superintendent Mike Berblinger said the issue likely received support because it won't require an increase in property taxes. The Hutchinson News reports the bond issue will be used to renovate the Buhler High School football stadium and track, add stadium seating and enlarge the press box. It will also build new tennis courts, a baseball/softball complex and a wellness center in Buhler. The city of Buhler will be a partner in some of the projects. Buhler Mayor Daniel Friesen says a 1 percent city sales tax increase could be ready for the April 7 ballot.  
   
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Workshops Planned on Restoring Kansas Prairies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two groups are sponsoring workshops in Lawrence designed to teach rural landowners how to restore native prairie habitats. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the workshops are planned for February 26, March 12 and April 9 at the Lawrence Public Library. They're sponsored by the Douglas County Conservation District and the Grassland Heritage Foundation. The workshops are designed to help landowners identify what plants already are growing on their property, show them how to do a restoration and teach them to manage their newly restored prairie. The series also will feature information about restoration resources and tools available from area agencies. Speakers include private consultants and representatives from the Kansas Biological Survey, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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No. 17 West Virginia Defeats K-State, 65-59

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — West Virginia, relying on its high-pressure defense, shut down Kansas State for a 65-59 victory Tuesday night. In a game marred by fouls and poor play, the Mountaineers (17-3, 5-2 Big 12) forced the Wildcats (12-9, 5-3) into 25 turnovers while holding them to 36 percent shooting from the field. West Virginia's leading scorer, Juwan Staten, had just 11 points while dealing with foul trouble all night.  The Wildcats played most of the game without Nino Williams, who had been averaging 21 points his last two games. The senior forward appeared to be dealing with a left knee injury.

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Sporting KC Signs Ellis and Carrasco

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Sporting Kansas City has signed defender Kevin Ellis and midfielder Servando Carrasco. The club announced the moves Tuesday. The 23-year-old Ellis will be entering his fifth season with the club. He's appeared in 27 games across all competitions, scoring the winning goal against Cruz Azul in the Champions League last year. He also assisted on two winning goals in MLS play. Carrasco has made 60 appearances over four MLS seasons, first with the Seattle Sounders and then with the Houston Dynamo. His rights were acquired by Sporting KC from Houston during this year's MLS SuperDraft.

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