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Headlines for Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kansas Legislature Begins Second Half of Annual Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators are returning to the Statehouse for the second part of their 90-day annual session. Lawmakers reconvened this morning (WED), after a five-day weekend following their "turnaround" deadline last Friday. That's when most bills must clear their chamber of origin to be considered further this year. Going forward, the biggest task for the Republican-dominated Legislature and Governor Sam Brownback is erasing a budget shortfall projected at nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  Lawmakers also have topics such as rules for social services programs on their agenda. A House committee hearing was set for Wednesday on a bill requiring able-bodied applicants for state cash assistance to be working or pursuing employment.

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Brownback Pressing Ahead on School, Higher Ed Funding Cuts 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's budget director says he's not planning to back off cuts in funding for public schools and state universities even though tax collections were better than expected last month. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said Wednesday that the state's revenue picture is still too uncertain. The state collected $22 million more in taxes than expected in February after revenues fell short of expectations in December and January. Brownback announced in late January that he'd cut aid to public schools in the current budget by $28 million and funding for state universities by $16 million. The reductions are scheduled to take effect Saturday. The governor acted to avoid a budget deficit on June 30. The state's budget problems followed aggressive income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013.

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Kansas Governor Touts Tax Policy to Missouri Lawmakers
 
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is touting to Missouri lawmakers what he says is right with his state because of new tax policies. Brownback on Wednesday spoke with Republican legislative leaders and other lawmakers during a private luncheon at a Jefferson City hotel. The event was sponsored by business groups and the conservative group Grow Missouri, which is backed primarily by wealthy political donor Rex Sinquefield. Brownback's statements come as Kansas faces a projected budget shortfall of nearly $600 million after the Republican governor successfully pushed lawmakers to slash personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013. Brownback says despite the shortfall, he's starting to see "the seeds of growth" in Kansas. He also says he'll balance the budget as required by the state's constitution.

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Kansas House Panel Wants to Hunt for Budget Efficiencies 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee plans to examine vacant jobs within state government and wants to begin a long-term hunt for budget efficiencies. The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a proposed $27 million budget for the Legislature for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It includes a requirement for lawmakers to hire a consultant to examine state government and find ways to trim spending in 2016 and 2017. The committee also directed legislative researchers to compile statistics on vacant jobs in executive branch agencies to determine whether budgets can be trimmed by eliminating them. Legislators must close a projected shortfall of nearly $600 million for the next fiscal year. The deficit arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.

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Kansas Senate Panel Approves Bill to Rewrite Lobbying Laws
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lobbyists in Kansas would be required to report payments they receive from government agencies to finance efforts to influence state officials under a bill approved by a legislative committee. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee endorsed the measure on a voice vote Wednesday. It goes next to the full Senate for debate. The bill would require lobbyists to disclose the taxpayer funds they receive from cities, counties, school districts and other government agencies in reports they file with the secretary of state's office. Lobbyists now report what they spend on meals, drinks and small gifts for state officials and on media advertising or other campaigns to influence state decisions. No one spoke against the measure. Committee Chairman and St. John Republican Mitch Holmes said it would promote transparency.

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Kansas Senate Panel Grills Brownback Judge Appointee 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback's appointee to the Kansas Court of Appeals has gotten a chilly reception at her first confirmation hearing before a Senate panel. Kathryn Gardner faced fierce questioning Wednesday by Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Jeff King. The Independence Republican compared Gardner's qualifications to those of Harriet Miers, whose appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 was eventually withdrawn following strong bipartisan opposition. Gardner has served as the law clerk for U.S. District Judge Sam Crow since 2000 after working for 12 years as a practicing lawyer in Wichita and two years as an assistant state attorney general. She said her time as clerk was directly applicable to the job of an appellate judge, but King said it leaves too vague of an impression of her legal philosophy.

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Kansas House Panel to Review Anti-Abortion Bill Next Week 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee plans next week to review a proposed ban on an abortion procedure targeted by a national group and described as dismembering a fetus. Chairman Steve Brunk said the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee will have a hearing Monday on a bill imposing the ban. The measure passed the Senate last month. The bill outlaws the dilation and evacuation procedure and redefines it as "dismemberment abortion." Doctors could not use clamps, forceps or similar instruments on a fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Abortion rights supporters say it's sometimes the safest procedure for a woman. The National Right to Life Committee drafted the measure as model legislation for states. The procedure is used in about 8 percent of Kansas abortions.

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Kansas House Panel to Have Briefing on Spike in Earthquakes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas legislative committee's chairman says it will review data about a spike in small earthquakes in recent years and look for ways to lessen their number amid concerns that they are tied to a process used in fracking.  Republican Representative Dennis Hedke of Wichita said Tuesday that he's hoping the briefings he's planning for the House Energy and Environment Committee will reassure residents of south-central Kansas, where the earthquakes have been most numerous. The Kansas Geological Survey says there were 161 earthquakes in Kansas last year. The survey says its ``working hypothesis'' is that the earthquakes are possibly linked to oil drillers injecting millions of gallons of waste water into disposal wells. The process is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. 

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Kansas to Hold Meetings, Consider Options for Drone Usage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is exploring how it fits in the new world of drones as residents express their desire to use the technology. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that options including agriculture, emergency management and law enforcement are being considered as areas where drones can be used. Meetings throughout the state have been scheduled by state agencies to discuss the ideas, as well as concerns about privacy. Billy Brown, and agribusiness developer coordinator for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said in a news release that people have been calling the department with questions about drones, and obstacles that have stopped them from using the technology. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently writing regulation rules for the use of drones. Most commercial uses of drones are illegal.

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State Agencies to Host Public Meetings on Water Supply 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is planning a series of public meetings across the state this month to set regional water supply goals and priorities. The state plans to hold 26 meetings hosted by water vision regional teams. The 14 leadership teams will draft water supply goals based on public input and available resources. That public input is expected to help each team identify its region's water supply priorities. Facilitators from Kansas State University Research and Extension Service will help organize the public meetings. The goals will be presented to the Kansas Water Authority in May. The finalized regional goals are expected to be approved in August.

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Wyandotte County Deputy Shot During KCK Robbery

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Wyandotte County officials say an off-duty deputy was shot and critically wounded when he walked into a convenience store early Wednesday during an armed robbery. Sheriff's Lieutenant Kelli Bailiff says the deputy had just left work and still had his uniform on when he stopped at a 7-Eleven in Kansas City, Kansas, when the suspects ran into the store, apparently to rob it. They shot the deputy several times. Bailiff says at least three suspects are being sought. Two men were arrested Wednesday morning but Bailiff says it is not confirmed that they are suspects in the shooting and robberies. She says investigators are trying to determine if three other robberies at gas stations and convenience stores in the Kansas City region were committed by the same suspects.

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Former Pittsburg State Professor Pleads Guilty to Fraud

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) - A former Pittsburg State University professor has admitted defrauding a Nigerian graduate student exchange program he led at the university out of more than $140,000. The Joplin Globe reports 61-year-old Michael Muoghalu pleaded guilty in federal court in Wichita to wire fraud and money laundering. In exchange for the plea agreement, the prosecutor agreed to recommend a lower sentence. He will also be required to repay the university $148,430. Prosecutors allege that beginning in 2006 Muoghalu worked with an unknown accomplice in Nigeria to persuade 15 Nigerian students to give him part of the refunds they received after they deposited money with the university for tuition and fees. Muoghalu, who taught finance at the school for 23 years, resigned last September.

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White Supremacist Will Be Tried in Kansas Jewish Site Killings 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled that an avowed white supremacist will go to trial for capital murder in the shooting deaths of three people at Jewish sites in Kansas. A Johnson County judge found Tuesday that sufficient evidence exists to try Frazier Glenn Miller in the 2014 deaths. Besides capital murder, he is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of criminal discharge of a weapon at a structure. The 74-year-old Miller, of Aurora, Missouri, did not visibly react when the judge ruled. The defense asked to delay the arraignment and the judge said he would take up the request after a break. Miller is accused of killing 69-year-old Dr. William Lewis Corporon, his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffen Underwood, and 53-year-old Terri LaManno.

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Man Charged with Importing Illegal Prescription Drugs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas City man is accused of trying to distribute tens of thousands of prescription pills he acquired from India and Thailand. Brian S. Hoskins is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance and acting as a wholesale drug distributor without a license. Court records say investigators seized at an airport a package with a controlled substance that was being shipped from India and addressed to Hoskins. Police say they watched Hoskins arrive at a Kansas City post office and pick up several parcels he put into his backpack. Hoskins allowed an officer to search his backpack, which had about 8,400 pills. Around 20,000 pills also were found at his home.

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Former Poet Laureate Addresses Race and Gender Issues in KU Speech

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A former U.S. poet laureate  shared with an audience at the University of Kansas her experience of having parents of different races and being raised in the South. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Natasha Trethewey's speech Tuesday in Woodruff Auditorium, focused on race and gender issues. Trethewey was born to a white father and a black mother. She described memories of her childhood, recalling strangers mistaking her mother for her maid whenever they walked together. The poet's appearance at the university is the latest in the school's Humanities Lecture Series. 

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Time Changes Inside House in Western Kansas 

KENDALL, Kan. (AP) — This weekend's time change can be rough on some people. But consider Ron and Sherry Finlay. Their home near Kendall in western Kansas sits on the line that divides the Mountain and Central time zones, about 1½ miles from the Kearny County line. So, when a person walks through the Kendall's east door, it's Central Time. Go through the west door, and it's Mountain Time. The Hutchinson News says the confusion's nothing new. It's been going on since mid-1980, when Kearny County asked the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the nation's time zones, to change from Mountain to Central time. Sherry Finlay says her family has adapted but the change can confuse visitors. Currently, only Hamilton, Greeley, Wallace and Sherman counties in Kansas remain on Mountain Time.

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Jayhawks Defeats West Virginia in Overtime to Win Big 12 Championship

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The 9th ranked Kansas Jayhawks pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in Allen Fieldhouse history Tuesday night for a 76-69 overtime victory over No. 20 West Virginia. It gave Kansas its 11th consecutive Big 12 championship. Frank Mason III scored the last eight points in overtime and finished with 19 points. The Jayhawks 11 straight conference titles trail only the 13 in a row UCLA won in the John Wooden era. Junior forward Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks' leading scorer, appeared to injure his knee late in the first half and did not return. Daxter Miles had 23 points for West Virginia (22-8, 10-7). Trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, Kansas (24-6, 13-4) finally tied the game 59-59 on two free throws by Devonte Graham with 11.5 seconds left in regulation.  A 3-pointer from the Mountaineer's Miles' gave West Virginia a 63-61 overtime lead before the Jayhawk's Jamari Traylor's three-point play made it 64-63. Mason went 4 for 4 from the free throw line in the final seconds as the Jayhawks completed a 16-0 home season.
 

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