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Regional Headlines for Friday, May 24, 2013



UPDATE: Kansas Tax Negotiators Agree on 6 Percent Sales Tax

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislative negotiators have agreed on a proposal for cutting income taxes further and setting the state sales tax at 6 percent. The deal emerged Friday from talks among three senators and three House members to reconcile differences between the two chambers. House Republicans drafted the plan, and GOP senators accepted it to see whether other lawmakers would support it. The House would vote on it first, possibly Tuesday. Republican Governor Sam Brownback wants to follow up on massive income tax cuts enacted last year without creating budget shortfalls. He proposed canceling a sales tax decrease scheduled by law for July. The 6.3 percent tax is set to drop to 5.7 percent. GOP senators wanted to keep the tax at its current rate, but House Republicans resisted.

Brownback: Right Tax Policy Worth Lawmakers' Overtime

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas residents want their legislators to get tax policy right and are willing to accept the annual session going longer than anticipated. The Republican governor said in a statement Friday that it's challenging for lawmakers to enact policies for improving the economy while balancing the state budget. Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature are deadlocked on proposals to cut personal income taxes while raising new sales tax revenues to keep the budget in balance. Both chambers have adjourned until Tuesday, guaranteeing that the legislative session will go into its 95th day. Brownback said of Kansans, "They're interested in solutions, even if it takes some overtime." His statement came two days after he admonished lawmakers that it was time for them to wrap up their session.


Kansas Budget Debate Simmers While Taxes Stew

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An agreement struck earlier in the week on the 2014 Kansas budget remains on the back burner while Republican legislative leaders seek an agreement on taxes. The plan, approved by House and Senate budget negotiators on Tuesday, would spend about $14.5 billion in the budget year that starts July 1 and a similar amount in 2015. The proposal would cut funding for higher education by 1.5 percent in each of the fiscal years and impose salary restrictions on state agencies. Democrats said Friday the cuts also would put public safety at risk. Negotiators agreed that the budget debate would begin in the House, but only after the GOP-controlled Legislature reached a compromise on taxes. The House defeated a bill Friday that had been approved late Thursday in the Senate. That defeat triggered more talks.


Kansas GOP Leaders Insist Rift on Taxes Isn't Ugly

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas Legislature are frustrated with an ongoing impasse over tax issues but insist the GOP rift isn't serious. Senate GOP leaders said Friday that it's difficult to agree on the details of cutting income taxes and adjusting the state sales tax so that the state retains enough revenue to sustain its budget. House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey of Louisburg said his chamber has a "sweet spot" on taxes. Top Senate Republicans made their comments after the House voted 109-5 against a plan the Senate approved Thursday evening. It would lower the sales tax on groceries to 4.95 percent in January but leave the tax at 6.3 percent on all other items. The sales tax is scheduled to drop by law to 5.7 percent in July.


Plan Suggests Toll Lanes on K-10 in Eastern Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A long-range plan for the state's highways suggests that Kansas Highway 10 between Lawrence and Johnson County become a partial toll road. The Kansas Department of Transportation said Thursday that the highway should be widened in the next 20 years to six lanes. The plan would add high occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes, in each direction. The HOT lanes would be free for mass transit vehicles and carpools. But single-occupant vehicles would have to pay a toll. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the recommendation is part of the Five County Regional Transportation Study. That's a project by the transportation department, the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Office and the Mid-America Regional Council. The report identifies projects for future years, after the current state roads program ends in 2020.


Storm Caused $2M in Damage to Wichita Schools

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — School district officials in Wichita say a violent storm that swept through the city last weekend caused extensive damage to several schools. The Wichita Eagle reports that district officials estimate the total damage at $2 million. Insurance is expected to cover most of the repairs, leaving the district paying only about $250,000. The storm on Sunday brought hail and high winds. District facilities director Julie Hedrick says several schools in northeast Wichita sustained damage to windows, siding, roofs or interior spaces. Roof damage at one school caused water to leak into the gymnasium, damaging the floor.


Federal Cuts Affect Poorest Kansas Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — School districts in Kansas face the loss of about $7.2 million this coming school year in federal funding that's reserved for the highest-poverty schools. In a letter notifying school districts of the cuts Thursday, the Kansas State Department of Education described the loss in Title I funding as "major." The department said 5 percent was cut because of the required federal budget cuts, and 0.2 of a percent was cut because of a smaller allocation from Congress. Title I funding pays for teaching and services at high-poverty schools, including extra math and reading teachers who help struggling students. The money also pays for after-school programs. Tammy Austin, executive director of administration for the Topeka school district, said the cuts were equivalent to 13 teachers' salaries and benefits in her district.

Cessna Lays Off Salaried Workers; Numbers Unclear

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Cessna Aircraft says it has laid off some salaried workers but the company declined to say how many people lost their jobs. The company announced the layoffs Thursday. The move came a month after Cessna offered a voluntary retirement program for hourly and salaried workers. The cuts did not affect hourly employees represented by the Machinists union. Union officials say they don't expect any layoffs of their workers in the near future. Cessna said last month that it would cut production this year because of weak demand for its light jet products.

Groundbreaking Planned for Kansas Biodefense Lab

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for next week for the central utilities plant at a new, national biodefense lab in Manhattan. Officials planning to attend the May 28 ceremony include Governor Sam Brownback, U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, U.S. Representatives Tim Huelskamp and Lynn Jenkins and Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will research dangerous animal diseases and ways of protecting the nation's food supply. The Kansas facility replace an aging research center on Plum Island, New York.

Hobby Lobby Challenges Birth Control Coverage Mandate

DENVER (AP) — In the most prominent challenge of its kind, Hobby Lobby Stores Incorporated has asked a federal appeals court for an exemption from part of the federal health care law. The retailer said Thursday it shouldn't be required to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill and other contraceptives that the owners oppose on religious grounds. The Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain argues that for-profit businesses should have the same exceptions granted to religious groups and some nonprofits. A lawyer representing the U.S. Department of Justice says allowing Hobby Lobby to exempt itself from the contraception mandate would be tantamount to allowing the company to impose its religious views on its employees, who are entitled to contraception coverage. There's no indication how soon the eight-judge panel in Denver, Colorado will decide.


Police: Kansas Murder Suspect Said He 'Bullied' Wife

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — A police chief says a former Kansas police instructor admitted that he "bullied" his wife the night before she was found shot to death in the couple's fire-damaged home. The Hutchinson News reports that Kingman Chief Marc Holloway testified Friday in Brett Seacat's first-degree murder trial. Prosecutors allege Seacat killed his 34-year-old wife, Vashti, in April 2011 because she was divorcing him and set a fire to cover up the crime. Seacat says his wife set the fire and killed herself. He escaped from the fire with the couple's two young children. Holloway testified that Seacat convinced his wife to let him stay in their home for several months, despite their marital problems, by threatening to take their children to Mexico. Seacat told Holloway his wife "wasn't a fighter."


NE Kansas Man Accused of Threatening Police

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City, Kansas man has been indicted on charges of threatening the city's police chief and other law enforcement officers. Federal court records show 42-year-old John Hudson was arrested Thursday, one day after being indicted on four counts of retaliating against a witness. Prosecutors allege Hudson told someone in 2012 the police officers were "rats" who would be "eliminated" for giving information to FBI agents. The FBI at the time was investigating unspecified criminal civil rights violations. The indictment also accuses Hudson of saying in March 2013 that he would "start taking them out one by one." The threats allegedly referred to Police Chief Rick Armstrong, Captain Greg Lawson and other law enforcement officers. No one answered Hudson's phone Thursday, and court records do not list an attorney.

Dredging Prepares Kanopolis Lake for Holiday

MARQUETTE, Kan. (AP) — Visitors to Kanopolis State Park this holiday weekend should have an easier time using their boats after a weeklong dredging operation. The central Kansas lake is about 8 feet below its normal depth, causing problems for boat access at ramps. Park staff worked nearly all week to dredge near the ramp at Langley Point, the only usable boat ramp. Park manager Rick Martin says the last time similar dredging was done at the park was in 2006. Martin says the lake is so low because no water is coming from Smoky Hill River. KAKE-TV reports that despite the low water, 70 percent of the lakes sites that can be reserved have been claimed for the weekend. And all rental cabins are taken.


Nurse on Royals' Entertainment Crew Revives Girl

A pediatric nurse says she was in the right place at the right time to revive a 14-year-old girl who collapsed while dancing in the upper deck during a Kansas City Royals game. Sam Sapenaro was working her second job as a member of Kaufman Stadium's K-Crew on Thursday night when someone yelled that a girl had collapsed. Sapenaro said she rushed over and began performing CPR after she couldn't detect a pulse. The girl was resuscitated, but stadium medical personnel had to resuscitate her a second time before she was taken to a hospital. A spokeswoman for Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri said she could not provide a name or condition for the girl, citing privacy laws. The 26-year-old Sapenaro said she was glad she could help.

2nd Child Dies After Crash in Southern Kansas

PRESTON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says a second child has died from injuries suffered in a one-car accident in south-central Kansas. The patrol says 5-year-old Navaeh Smallwood of Turon died Thursday after being hospitalized since Monday's accident on Kansas 61 about a mile north of Preston. Another child, 2-year-old Craigjohn Vanzandt of Turon died at the accident scene. The patrol says 27-year-old Ginny Coates of Turon lost control of her vehicle, which went off the road and came back on the highway before rolling three times and coming to rest on its wheels. Coates and 6-year-old Jessica Coates of Turon were treated and released after the accident. The Pratt Tribune reports no one was wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.

Kansas Museum Showcases Apollo Engine Restoration

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Visitors to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center will be able to watch the restoration of rusted pieces of Apollo-era rocket engines that helped boost astronauts to the moon. The Apollo F-1 conservation project premiered Friday at the Hutchinson museum. The first public tour began at 11 am with ongoing tours daily after that. Bezos Expeditions F-1 Recovery Project, which fished the engines out of the Atlantic in March, commissioned the restoration work. Visitors can follow its progress from the museum's new observation gallery, a glassed-in viewing area overlooking its SpaceWorks division. Tours begin in the museum's Apollo Gallery. The National Institute for Aviation Research recently scanned four of the artifacts to help create a 3-D model to help in disassembly and reconstruction of the components.


Kansas House Rejects Senate GOP Leaders' Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators were resuming negotiations on tax issues after the failure of a plan from top Senate Republicans. The House and Senate negotiators' meeting Friday came after the House voted 109-5 against a Senate GOP to lower the sales tax on groceries to 4.95 percent in January 2014. The plan also would have preserved the state's sales tax on other items at 6.3 percent. The Senate approved the measure Thursday evening on a 24-15 vote. Governor Sam Brownback wants to cancel most or all of the decrease to stabilize the budget while Kansas cuts individual income taxes. Both chambers adjourned until Tuesday, guaranteeing that the Legislature's annual session will last at least 95 days, five more than the state constitution specifies. Each extra day is costing taxpayers up to $45,000.

**This story has been updated. Please see above.


Legislative Negotiators Resume Tax Talks after KS Senate Plan Failure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have restarted negotiations on tax issues after the failure of a plan from top Senate Republicans. House and Senate negotiators met briefly Friday shortly after the House voted 109-5 against a Senate GOP plan to lower the sales tax on groceries to 4.95 percent in January. The plan also would have kept the sales tax on other items at 6.3 percent. The Senate approved the measure Thursday evening. The negotiators made little progress but planned to meet again. Both chambers adjourned until Tuesday and pushed the Legislature's annual session to 95 days. The sales tax is set to drop by law to 5.7 percent in July. Governor Sam Brownback proposed cancelling the decrease, in order to raise revenues for the state budget while also cutting individual income taxes.

**This story has been updated. Please see above. 

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