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Headlines for Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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

Brownback to Seek Business, Liquor and Cigarette Tax Hikes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Latest on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's budget and tax proposals (all times local):

5:55 p.m. 
Four Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate have issued a joint statement criticizing GOP Governor Sam Brownback's budget-balancing proposals. The statement Wednesday criticized Brownback for proposing to increase taxes on wine, liquor, beer and cigarettes and for not agreeing to the repeal of an income tax break for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. It also said "a real structural fix" was "noticeably absent" and that the governor relied too heavily on accounting moves and shifting funds internally. The statement was from Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, Vice President Jeff Longbine of Emporia, Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park and Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick. Brownback's office did not immediately respond. Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through July 2019.

4:20 p.m.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback is proposing to freeze the state's contributions to pensions for teachers and government workers to help balance the state budget. The proposal outlined Wednesday would continue the contribution rates for the 2016 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The state would contribute $299 million annually through fiscal 2019. The state has been boosting its contributions each year to help close a long-term gap between the pension system's anticipated revenues and the benefits promised to workers and retirees. The gap stood at $8.5 billion at the end of 2015. A 2012 law put Kansas on the path to eliminating the gap in 2033. Brownback's proposal would delay it 10 years. Brownback's proposal would cut state pension costs by a total of $425 million through June 2019.

3:15 p.m.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback's budget-balancing proposals include forcing all 286 local public schools districts into a single state health insurance plan for their employees. The health insurance measure outlined by the governor Wednesday was included in a legislative consultant's report last year on potential government efficiencies. Brownback projects that the idea would save the state $120 million over the two years starting July 1. Kansas provides $4.1 billion a year in aid to its school districts. Supporters contend a single health plan would have more leverage in seeking lower premiums and discounts from health care providers. But Wichita schools lobbyist Diane Gjerstad was skeptical the savings would materialize. She said her district has worked with local health care providers to obtain discounts. School districts also would lose some local control.

2:45 p.m.
The Kansas House's majority leader says lawmakers have little appetite for Governor Sam Brownback's plan to sell off the state's right to collect tobacco settlement dollars. Republican Representative Don Hineman of Dighton said Wednesday that the state would be locked into a financial deal for decades "on terms that favor the investment bankers." Brownback's budget proposals assume that the tobacco funds move would generate a one-time cash payment of at least $530 million for the state to use in bolstering its budget. Kansas and other states receive annual payments from a 1990s legal settlement with tobacco companies. The share for Kansas is between $55 million and $60 million a year. Tobacco dollars are used in Kansas to finance children's programs. Kansas Action for Children is strongly criticizing Brownback's proposal.

2:25 p.m.
The chairwoman of the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee said she wants to consider proposals for cutting spending to eliminate a shortfall in the current state budget. Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick was skeptical Wednesday of GOP Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to liquidate a $317 million state investment fund to close most of the gap. The state faces a projected $342 million shortfall in its budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Legislators don't think they can raise taxes quickly enough to help. Brownback wants to liquidate the investment fund and loan those revenues to general government programs, paying it back over seven years — and avoiding cuts. McGinn said lawmakers probably cannot pass a bill quickly enough to execute Brownback's plan by June 30.

12:45 p.m.
Democrats in the Kansas Legislature are harshly criticizing Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for balancing the state budget. State Representative Tom Sawyer of Wichita described the package outlined Wednesday by Brownback as "a pile of garbage." Sawyer is the top Democrat on the House Taxation Committee. Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka called many of the proposals from the governor "taking hocus pocus budgeting to a new level." Brownback's proposals include diverting highway funds to general government programs, scaling back the state's contributions to public employee pensions and liquidating a state investment fund. His proposals also include raising taxes on cigarettes, wine, liquor and beer. Democrats blame the state's budget problems on personal income tax cuts enacted by Republican legislators in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging.

11:55 a.m.
Several hundred people are rallying at the Kansas Statehouse in opposition to Republican Governor Sam Brownback and in favor of liberal causes. The organizers called Wednesday's event the People's Agenda rally, and it covers a wide range of issues, including LGBT and voting rights, expanded access to health care and lessening the influence of special-interest group money in elections. The rally came a day after Brownback gave his annual State of the State address. He declared, "By many measures, Kansas is the envy of the world." Rally organizer Davis Hammett said the event represented "the people's State of the State." He is president of the Topeka-based advocacy group Loud Light. Hammett said rally organizers want to put the state's most vulnerable and marginalized citizens first in policy.

11:10 a.m.
Republicans in the Kansas House are reacting cautiously to GOP Governor Sam Brownback's tax and budget-balancing proposals. House Taxation Committee Chairman and Assaria Republican Steven Johnson said Wednesday that the governor's proposals for $74 million a year in new taxes for business owners is a starting point but lawmakers may have to go farther. Johnson's committee already has drafted a bill to repeal an income tax break for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners championed by Brownback. The change would raise $260 million a year. Brownback is proposing to reinstate income taxes on royalties and rents and to increase companies' annual filing fees. House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Bunker Hill Republican Troy Waymaster said he's concerned about Brownback's proposals on pensions and liquidating a state investment fund.

10:25 a.m.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback is giving legislators an option for raising taxes for business owners without ending an income tax break that he's championed. The governor proposed Wednesday that the state reinstate personal income taxes on royalties and rents. They have been exempt under a 2012 policy that also exempts the profits of more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. Even some GOP lawmakers want to repeal the full exemption. Taxing royalties and rents would raise $40 million annually, starting in July. Brownback also proposes to boost for-profit companies' annual filing fee to $200 from $40, starting July 1 for another $34 million annually. Each partner or person holding at least 5 percent of a firm's stock would pay the fee, rather than just the company paying it once.

10:15 a.m.
Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to sell of the state's right to collect tobacco settlement dollars is likely to face strong opposition from children's advocates. The advocacy group Kansas Action for Children was criticizing the idea well before Brownback proposed it as a budget-balancing step Wednesday. His proposal is to sell all or part of the rights to collect the Kansas share to funds from a 1990s legal settlement between states and tobacco companies. The state receives between $55 million and $60 million a year. Brownback's budget assumes the state can raise $530 million in cash from such a deal. Tobacco dollars finance programs for children. Brownback's budget proposes to have general tax dollars finance those programs, but children's advocates have said such funding is far more vulnerable to being cut.

9:55 a.m.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is projecting that his proposal to boost taxes on liquor, wine and beer would raise more than $50 million a year. The proposal outlined Wednesday would double the state's liquor enforcement tax to 16 percent from 8 percent on July 1. Consumers pay the tax when they purchase beer, wine and liquor at liquor stores, microbreweries and farm wineries. Clubs, restaurants and caterers pay the tax when they purchase their alcoholic beverages from distributors. The proposed increase is part of Brownback's plan for closing projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. He estimates that the alcohol tax increase would raise $52 million during the 2018 fiscal year that begins July 1 and nearly $55 million in fiscal 2019.

9:10 a.m.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Sam Brownback is proposing to increase taxes and fees for business owners and to boost state liquor and cigarette taxes to address the state's budget problems. The governor also outlined proposals today (WED) to continue diverting highway funds to general government programs, scale back state contributions to public employees and liquidate a state investment fund. He also proposed selling off the state's rights to collect its share of funds from a 1990s legal settlement with tobacco companies to raise $530 million or more. The cigarette tax would increase by $1 a pack, to $2.29. The state's liquor enforcement tax would double to 16 percent. Business owners would pay personal income taxes on rents and royalty income that is now exempt and higher annual filing fees. 


Brownback Defends Income Tax Cuts in State of the State Address  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proposed, what he called, "modest, targeted" tax increases to help address the state's serious budget problems during his annual State of the State address Tuesday evening. The Republican governor strongly defended an income tax break that some lawmakers want to end. Brownback also said he'll propose some "one-time measures" to help balance the state's current budget. Kansas faces a projected shortfall of $342 million in its current budget. Lawmakers don't think they can raise taxes quickly enough to fill the gap before the fiscal year ends June 30 and one-time accounting moves would allow the state to avoid immediate spending cuts. Brownback also cautioned lawmakers against expanding the state's Medicaid program in line with the 2010 federal health care overhaul. President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are planning to repeal the health care law. Brownback also called on legislators to pass school choice measures and reiterated his support for merit pay for teachers. He called for creating more competition in education and for expanding a program in which poor students can receive scholarships to attend private schools. The state gives an income tax break to corporations that contribute to scholarship funds. Brownback also said the state should create a program for grading schools.


Kansas Democrats Respond to Governor's Address, Saying He Is "In Denial" 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats are pushing back against Republican Governor Sam Brownback's assertion that Kansas is strong. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said during a news conference after the State of the State address that Brownback is in denial about the harm his policies have caused. He and House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita rejected Brownback's defense of an income tax break for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners enacted in 2012. They blame tax cuts promoted by Brownback for the state's budget shortfalls. Ward said Brownback's promise to find budget efficiencies would help in the future but the financial crisis should be fixed first. Ward didn't say whether Democrats would support a stand-alone bill repealing the income tax break but he said it should be part of a long-term solution.


Kansas Regains Seat on House Ag Committee

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas doctor who ousted U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp in the Republican primary has now regained a seat on the House Agriculture Committee important to his farming district. Congressman Roger Marshall was selected Wednesday to serve on the House ag committee. Huelskamp was a tea party favorite who was a thorn to GOP leaders. He was booted off the ag committee in 2012. Farm groups then turned against him, and voters in his sprawling 1st Congressional District saw the loss of the committee seat as a crucial election issue in their farming state. Kansas has had a seat on the House ag committee for the last century, with the exception of the last three years. The committee will help shape the next farm bill and take up trade issues.


Kansas Health Agency Promises to Decrease Medicaid Backlog 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says it is taking steps to reduce the state's backlog of Medicaid applications for residents of nursing homes. Those steps include more advanced payments and a hotline to assist facilities. The state has a backlog of nearly 2,700 applicants. Many of those applications are unprocessed. For others, the agency is awaiting documents from the applicant or the applicant was previously denied and is applying again. Providers testified Wednesday before the House Health and Human Services Committee that the backlog means homes often pay for care and may not be reimbursed. State Medicaid Director Mike Randol told the committee that KDHE would increase advanced payments to nursing homes, set up a hotline and resources for nursing staffs and find long-term solutions to the problem.


Kansas Lawmaker Sees Investment Fund as Option 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House Appropriations Committee's new chairman says tapping a $320 million state investment fund is an option worth considering amid the state's budget woes. Republican Representative Troy Waymaster of Bunker Hill said Tuesday the possibilities include making a loan or sweeping the fund to help finance general government programs. Kansas faces a projected $342 million shortfall in its current budget. Some lawmakers have said one-time accounting moves could close the gap to avoid immediate spending cuts. Legislators created the investment fund in 2000 to boost the state's interest earnings. State Treasurer Ron Estes has said it could realize about $40 million in investment gains if it liquidated the fund. Republican Governor Sam Brownback was giving the annual State of the State address Tuesday and outlining his budget proposals Wednesday.


Wichita Lawyer Plans to Run for 4th District Seat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita lawyer says he wants to run in a potential special election to replace Representative Mike Pompeo. George Bruce announced his candidacy for the 4th Congressional District seat on Tuesday at the Petroleum Club of Wichita. He has worked as an attorney at Martin Pringle Attorneys at Law since 1989. This is Bruce's first run for public office.  Bruce says he wants to help reduce the federal government's ``cumbersome rules, overly complex regulations and burdensome taxes.'' The special election will be needed if Pompeo is confirmed to lead the CIA. He has been chosen by President-elect Donald Trump for the post. If Pompeo is confirmed, Governor Sam Brownback will have five days to call a special election. Both parties would then have 25 days to select a nominee. 


Suspect in Wichita Death, Baby's Abduction Gets Extradition Papers 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say a woman accused of killing a Wichita woman and abducting her newborn daughter has been served papers that would extradite her from Texas to Kansas. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Tuesday that 34-year-old Yesenia Sesmas, who is being held in the Dallas County Jail, was served extradition papers in Dallas. Sesmas is accused of killing Laura Abarca-Nogueda at a Wichita apartment in November. She then allegedly took Abarca-Nogueda's newborn daughter, Sofia, who was six days old at the time. After a nationwide search, a tip led investigators to Dallas. Authorities found Sofia safe at a home and returned her to her relatives. Bennett said the extradition process is likely to take up to three months.  


Olathe Student Sues over Alleged Assault by School Employees 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two former employees of a suburban Kansas City school district are accused in a lawsuit of beating a student and her brother. The Kansas City Star reports that the suit against the Olathe school district was filed Tuesday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. It alleges that the student asked her brother to meet her last February outside Olathe North High School because a classmate who was the daughter of one of the employees was threatening her. The suit says the girl was bitten and that she and her brother were repeatedly hit in the "melee" with the classmate and the two employees. Court records show the two employees were subsequently fired and charged with misdemeanor battery. A district spokeswoman declined to comment because the litigation is pending.


Family of Boy Killed on Kansas Waterslide Settles with Park 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The family of a Kansas lawmaker's 10-year-old son killed last summer on what was billed as the world's tallest water slide has reached a settlement with the park's owner. Terms of the deal filed Wednesday in Johnson County District Court involving Caleb Schwab's family were not immediately released. A spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, Winter Prosapio, confirmed the settlement, which was first reported by The Kansas City Star. She declined to elaborate, other than to say the park's owners plan to follow through on demolishing the slide as announced in November. An attorney for two women injured with Schwab during the ill-fated ride last August 7 says Wednesday's action does not resolve any potential liabilities against the park by his clients. No charges have been filed.


Virgin Mobile Looking to Hire up to 100 People

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Virgin Mobile says it plans to open its permanent U.S. headquarters in downtown Kansas City and hire up to 100 people. The communications company currently is in a temporary office in the same downtown building and has been renovating a new floor for its headquarters. It expects to move to the new offices at the end of the summer. The state of Missouri granted Virgin Mobile up to $1.87 million in incentives if the company creates 84 jobs during the next five years. Virgin Mobile is affiliated with Sprint Corporation, which is based in Overland Park, Kansas. The company's decision to expand into Missouri is part of a plan to relaunch the brand under the Sprint banner.


Plan Proposed for Hutchinson Trail to Go Through Fairgrounds 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — City officials are considering adding the Kansas State Fair to the city's trail system. The Hutchinson News reports that officials have been working to connect the city's trails together. The trail system would enter the fair at Gate 8, go through the north end of the fairgrounds and exit through Gate 3. City engineer Bruce Colle met with the fair's building committee Jan. 6 to propose the idea brought forth by fair manager Susan Sankey. The original plan called for the trail to go along State Fair Road, which Colle said was expensive. Sankey says she hopes to plan another meeting as soon as February to go over details, which call for the construction of the 10-foot-wide, multipurpose trail to start this summer. The trail would not be open during the September fair festivities.


Documentary Filmed in Sedgwick County Jail Set to Air
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A prison documentary filmed at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita in 2015 is set to begin airing on MSNBC. The Wichita Eagle reports "Lockup" is a documentary show that profiles life in prison by following the stories of inmates and prison staff. The first episode is set to air Saturday. This will be the final season of the show. Filming at the Sedgwick County Jail occurred from September to October of 2015. Lawyers with the public defender's office tried to have the crews prohibited from filming in the jail, but a judge denied the request.


Wichita Police Identify Victim in City's First Homicide of 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a man killed in the city's first homicide of 2017 was targeted by the shooters. Authorities say cousins Bernadino and Andrew Ornelas were shot Monday after two vehicles stopped at an intersection. Bernadino died at the scene and Andrew is being treated at a Wichita hospital. Wichita police say the shooting was a "targeted" incident. Investigators are looking for an orange or red Chevy Avalanche that left the scene after the shooting. They also are investigating whether other vehicles were involved. Police have not released descriptions of possible suspects.


Ex-Kansas Banker Sentenced in Money Laundering Case 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas banker at the Plains State Bank has been sentenced to probation for not reporting suspicious activity in a customer's bank account. The Wichita Eagle reports 53-year-old James Friend, who was the president of the bank, received one year of probation Monday. He had pleaded guilty to one count of failing to file a Suspicious Activity Report of George and Agatha Enns, who were indicted on charges on money laundering proceeds from drug trafficking. The Enns pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy. The bank became aware of the suspicious activity through software that regularly flagged the Enns' account.


British Boy Returns to Kansas City for Cancer Surgery

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ A British 9-year-old has returned to Kansas City for the first of three surgeries for bone cancer after spending a week in Florida. The Kansas City Star reports that Alexander Goodwin is scheduled to have the first surgery today (WED) to remove and replace his right femur and knee with prosthetics at the University of Kansas Hospital. The Make-A-Wish Foundation helped send Alexander and his family to Walt Disney World and Sea World before having to deal with surgeries and recovery. Alexander's father, Jeff Goodwin, says cancer has taken away a lot of his son's childhood and it was nice to see him enjoy himself. Alexander received a huge welcome from the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department at the Kansas City International Airport when he first arrived from the United Kingdom in December. His father is a police officer in the UK.


Woman Falls in Kansas Ice Pond; Remembered as Giving Person 

MOUNDRIDGE, Kan. (AP) — A California woman who died along with her 8-year-old son after falling through ice on a Kansas pond traveled extensively, led a church youth group and helped gut and renovate houses. The Wichita Eagle reports that 44-year-old Polly Claassen and her son, Trent, fell through the ice of a pond at William P. Pack Memorial Park in Moundridge on Jan. 6. Polly's husband and Trent's father, Gary, was also on the ice when it broke. He was treated and released from a hospital. The Claassens were visiting from California when the incident occurred. Gary's aunt, June Krehbiel, says the family had been staying at her house, several blocks from the pond. June says Polly was someone who thought of others and taught Trent, a Cub Scout, to be the same way.


Kansas City School Bus Driver Injured in Collision 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a school bus driver has been hurt in a Kansas City crash. The Kansas City Star reports that the sole student aboard the bus wasn't hurt when a pickup truck ran a red light early this (WED) morning and collided with the bus. The extent of the bus driver's injuries weren't immediately known.


Taco Bell Going National with Fried Chicken Taco Shell 

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Taco Bell plans to go nationwide this month with its latest concoction: a taco with a shell made entirely out of fried chicken. Taco Bell says the shell of the Naked Chicken Chalupa is made up of all-white seasoned chicken. The rest of the taco is packed with lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and avocado ranch sauce. The fast food chain says the taco tested well in markets in Bakersfield, California, and Kansas City, Missouri, over the past two years. It will be available at Taco Bells across the country on January 26.


Number 2 Ranked Kansas Beats Oklahoma, 81-70

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Frank Mason scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half, and the Kansas University Jayhawks rallied to beat Oklahoma 81-70 on Tuesday. With No. 1 Baylor losing at West Virginia earlier in the night, the Jayhawks will be in position to claim the No. 1 ranking for the first time this season if they beat Oklahoma State on Saturday. Josh Jackson scored 16 points and Devonte' Graham added 13 for the Jayhawks (15-1, 4-0 Big 12), who have won 15 straight. Rashard Odomes and Kameron McGusty each scored 13 points for the Sooners (6-9, 0-4), who lost their seventh in a row.


Empire Electric Withdraws Pending Rate Case in Kansas

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Empire District Electric Company has withdrawn its pending rate case before the Kansas Corporation Commission. The Joplin Globe reports the utility withdrew its case as a condition of the commission approving the company's recently completed merger. The Joplin-based utility is now seeking an update on a rider currently on Kansas customers' bills. They involve costs from the company's unit at its Riverton, Kansas, plant, and costs from an air quality program at its Asbury, Missouri, power plant. If approved, the change would increase an average customer's monthly bill by $5.50. Company spokeswoman Julie Maus says the increase could take up to seven months to be implemented. Empire is seeking an additional $1.87 million in annual revenues from Kansas, down from the $6.4 million per year from the withdrawn case.


Kansas State Loses Close Contest to Texas Tech, 66-65

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas Tech beat Kansas State 66-65 on Tuesday night. Texas Tech's Keenan Evans made a go-ahead layup with 15 seconds left, to give the Red Raiders a 63-62 lead. Aaron Ross and Niem Stevenson then combined for three foul shots for Texas Tech before Barry Brown made a 3-pointer in the final seconds for Kansas State.  Zach Smith had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Red Raiders (13-3, 2-2 Big 12), who improved to 11-0 at home. Kamau Stokes led Kansas State (13-3, 2-2) with 17 points. 

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