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Headlines for Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kansas Lawmakers Moving to OK No Permit Concealed Carry  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is close to allowing residents 21 or older to carry concealed firearms without a state permit. The state House is debating a bill today (WED) to end the permit requirement. The Senate approved the measure last month, and House members so far have made only one technical change in committee. Supporters contend gun owners are responsible and shouldn't have to ask the government's permission to carry concealed. Currently, a permit costs $132.50, and a person seeking one must undergo eight hours of firearms training. The bill's opponents say the state still should require some training to carry concealed. But the Republican-dominated Legislature has strong gun-rights majorities in both chambers. The House also was considering a bill to prevent cities and counties from levying special fees or taxes on gun

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Kansas House Advances Measure to Ban Abortion Procedure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is close to banning a controversial abortion procedure medically known as dilation and evacuation. The procedure has been targeted by a national group and described by abortion opponents as fetus dismemberment. The state House gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill imposing the ban. The Senate already has passed the measure, so final House approval would send it to Republican Governor Sam Brownback who has promised to sign it. The bill outlaws the dilation and evacuation procedure and redefines it as "dismemberment abortion." Doctors could not use forceps or similar instruments on a fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. The National Right to Life Committee drafted the measure as model legislation for states. The bill's critics say lawmakers should not interfere in medical decisions.

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Federal Bill Would Require Labels for Genetically Modified Foods

WASHINGTON (AP) - Inspired by the popular "USDA organic" label, House Republicans are proposing a new government certification for foods free of genetically modified ingredients. The idea is part of an attempt to block state efforts to require mandatory labeling of foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A Kansas congressman, Mike Pompeo, says the label would be voluntary. He's including the idea in legislation he plans to introduce as soon as Wednesday. Pompeo says a government-certified label would allow companies that want to advertise their foods as GMO-free to do so, but it would not be mandatory for others. The food industry backs Pompeo's bill and has strongly opposed individual state efforts to require labeling, saying labels would be misleading because GMOs are safe.

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Senate Panel Considers Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Hikes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Health advocates and business owners are divided over proposed increases in cigarette and alcohol taxes in Kansas. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee considered the measures Tuesday. Republican Governor Sam Brownback recommended the moves in January as a part of his budget proposals. The cigarette tax would jump by $1.50 per pack to $2.29 and the tax paid by consumers at liquor stores would increase to 12 percent from 8 percent. Health advocates testified for the bill, saying that increasing prices is the best way to get smokers to quit. But representatives of liquor and tobacco businesses testified that the bill would hurt Kansas retailers and send shoppers across the state line to Missouri. Chairman and Republican Senator Les Donovan of Wichita said the committee will likely vote on the bill in April.

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Kansas Lawmakers Continue to Restrict Presidential Primaries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has not held a presidential primary since 1992, and lawmakers are advancing a bill to stop the state from scheduling such a contest every four years. The state Senate gave first-round approval to a bill that repeals the law setting the primary on the first Tuesday in April in each presidential election year. A final vote is expected Wednesday. The primary election in 2016 would cost an estimated $1.8 million. Legislators have canceled the past five primaries because of their cost. The Republican and Democratic parties have instead held presidential caucuses and covered the cost themselves. The bill before the Senate initially would have cancelled the 2016 primary while still allowing future elections, but senators amended it to stop scheduling all primary elections in the future.

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Kansas House Advances Greenhouse Gas Emissions Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has advanced a bill to set up a greenhouse gas reduction plan. The chamber plans to take a final vote Wednesday. The bill would direct the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to develop an emissions plan, and the Legislature's energy committees would be required to approve it. The Environmental Protection Agency has directed states to develop stricter emissions standards by June 2016. States without a suitable plan will have federal regulations imposed upon them. The EPA estimates Kansas would have to cut emissions 23 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. An earlier version of the bill would have given the state's utilities regulator final say on the plan, but it met resistance in committee.

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House Advances Bill to Reduce Civil Service Protections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would potentially shrink civil service protections for some employees has advanced in the Kansas House. The chamber voted 71-53 Tuesday to give first-round approval to a bill that would allow state agencies to remove some protections for new workers and employees changing positions. State employees receive employment protections and benefits not given to political appointees. The chamber also blocked an amendment that would have reinstated non-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian and trans-gendered employees. The body voted 81-42 that the proposal was not relevant to the bill. 

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Student Success Key to New Kansas School Funding Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee is considering a new education funding plan that would tie some state aid to public schools to how well students do after high school. The Senate Education Committee had a hearing Tuesday on a plan drafted by Chairman and Arkansas City Republican Steve Abrams. He said his goal is to focus public schools on educating students so they can at least be part of the middle class. The Legislature passed a bill this month to replace the state's current per-student funding formula with "block grants" for school districts, but that system would be in place for only two years. The Abrams plan would be tested on six school districts during the 2015-16 school year before being expanded to all 286 school districts over two years.

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Bill Adds New Grounds for Impeaching High Court Justices

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal has been introduced in the Kansas Senate to spell out grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices, and the list includes attempting to usurp the Legislature's authority. The bill was introduced Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican Senator Mitch Holmes of St. John said he sought the measure. The state constitution says justices can be impeached by the House, tried by the Senate and removed if convicted of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Holmes said the constitutional language offers no guidelines to lawmakers, and without guidelines, they're not ever likely to exercise their power to impeach and try justices. Other impeachment grounds listed in the bill include attempting to usurp the executive branch's power, judicial ethics breaches and failing to adequately supervise subordinates.

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Kansas Supreme Court Hears Convicted Killer's Appeal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is weighing the conviction and death sentence of a serial killer who stuffed the bodies of some victims into barrels. The high court heard legal arguments Tuesday involving 71-year-old John E. Robinson Sr. and gave no indication when it may rule. The Olathe man was convicted and sentenced to die in 2003 in Kansas for the deaths of a Michigan woman and another from Indiana. He also received a life sentence in Kansas for the murder of a woman whose body was never found. He was sentenced to life terms in Missouri after pleading guilty to five other killings. Robinson's attorneys argued Tuesday his conviction should be overturned, citing prosecutorial and juror misconduct. Johnson County prosecutors countered the verdicts and sentences were appropriate.

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Kansas Commune Leader Sentenced to Life for Murder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has sentenced the head of a former Kansas commune to life in prison for the killing of a commune member 12 years ago. Fifty-five-year-old Daniel Perez was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder last month in the 2003 drowning death of Patricia Hughes at the group's suburban Wichita compound. Perez showed no emotion Tuesday when he was sentenced. He received a second life sentence on a sexual exploitation of a child conviction and nearly 34 more years behind bars for convictions on 26 other counts, including rape and aggravated criminal sodomy. Prosecutors say Perez received millions of dollars in life insurance payouts following the deaths of commune members.

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Airbus Moves Engineering Center to WSU Campus

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Airbus Americas plans to relocate its engineering center now in downtown Wichita to Wichita State University's Innovation Campus. The move announced Tuesday comes as the university augments its basic research role with one geared to applied research and development that has a more immediate impact. Airbus will bring its 400 Wichita employees to a new building on campus that is slated for completion in January 2017. Airbus Americas President Barry Eccleston says relocating to the Wichita State University campus gives the company access to the next generation of engineers. He says innovation is the culture and mantra of his company. Wichita State University President John Bardo says the partnership with Airbus increases the quality of education for students and increases the impact of the university.

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