Fiscal Issues Dominate Kansas Legislative Agenda
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have opened their annual 90-day session facing major budget and tax issues. The House and Senate convened Monday afternoon for the swearing-in of members and the election of top leaders, with conservative Republicans in control in both chambers. Ray Merrick of Stilwell is the new House speaker and Susan Wagle of Wichita is the new Senate president. Legislators and Republican Governor Sam Brownback must close a projected $267 million gap between anticipated revenues and existing spending commitments for the fiscal year that begins in July. The shortfall results from aggressive income tax cuts approved last year to stimulate the economy. Many GOP lawmakers want further income tax reductions. But a three-judge state district court panel also has ruled that spending on public schools is inadequate.
New Leaders Assume Power in Kansas Legislature
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New Republican leaders have assumed power in the Kansas Legislature. Lawmakers opened their annual session Monday. The House and Senate formally ratified leadership choices made earlier by the Republican majorities in each chamber. The new House speaker is 73-year-old Ray Merrick, from the northeast Kansas town of Stilwell. The new Senate president is 59-year-old Susan Wagle, the first woman to lead either chamber. Wagle, of Wichita, has served 22 years in the Legislature and survived multiple bouts of cancer since being diagnosed with lymphoma in the 1990s. Merrick has served in the Legislature since 2000. He was born in a log cabin in northern Alberta, Canada. Following tradition, neither Merrick nor Wagle had opposition, and their selections were unanimous.
New Kansas Senate Leader Hoping for 80-Day Session
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce is hoping legislators can finish their business this year in only 80 days. If the Hutchinson Republican gets his wish, the Legislature's annual session will be 10 days shorter than the normal 90 days that leaders expect each year. But lawmakers can — and regularly have — had longer sessions. The record was 107 days, set in 2002. Last year, lawmakers spent 99 days in session. They were on track for a relatively short session, having spent only 73 days in session before their annual spring break. But their post-break wrap-up took 26 days. Bruce says the key to a shorter session will be moving relatively quickly on budget issues. Legislators can't finish their work each year until spending decisions are made.
Kansas Lawmakers Mulling Ballot Measure on Schools
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Republicans in the Kansas Legislature say they're discussing proposed changes in the state constitution to rein in the courts after a ruling that the state isn't spending enough money on its public schools. Several leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature said Monday that they're not yet sure what form a proposal will take. But they said they expect lawmakers to consider a proposal to clarify that only legislators can set school funding levels. A three-judge panel in Shawnee County ruled Friday that the state must spend at least $440 million a year to meet its obligations under the Kansas Constitution to finance a suitable education for every child. A constitutional amendment must be adopted by two-thirds majorities in both chambers and approved by a simple majority in a statewide election.
About 100 Rally Against Kansas Governor and GOP Lawmakers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ About 100 people staged a protest outside the Kansas Statehouse against Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature. The protesters argued Monday that Brownback and his legislative allies are moving the state too far to the right. They were upset with massive income tax cuts approved last year, arguing that they'll help the wealthy while leading to big cuts in spending on public schools and social services. The groups included the American Federation of Teachers and the National Organization for Women. They rallied shortly before the Legislature opened its annual session. AFT-Kansas President Lisa Ochs said the groups are ready to fight Brownback and his allies. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the governor will protect core state services with the budget proposals he'll outline this week.
Kansas Legislature Has Fewest Women Since 1988
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Legislature starts its 2013 session with the lowest number of women since 1988. A survey conducted by Rutgers University says 39 of the state's 165 lawmakers this session will be female. That ranks Kansas 26th in female representation in the country. In comparison, the state had 55 female legislators and ranked fifth in the nation. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that some lawmakers cite last year's redistricting for the decline. While their numbers are down, female legislators moved into leadership positions. Senator Susan Wagle is the state's first female Senate President and Representative Peggy Mast was elected House Speaker Pro Tempore. And four of the Democrats' six House minority leadership positions went to women.
Analysis: Old Business Big for Kansas Legislature
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — With conservative Republicans in control, the Kansas Legislature will spend much of this year's session replaying debates from the past two years. The annual session opens Monday. Conservatives will probably revive proposals to change how members of the state's appellate courts are selected, limit labor unions' political fundraising and mandate a 401(k)-style pension plan for new teachers and government workers. A plan from conservative Republican Governor Sam Brownback to overhaul public school funding is all but certain to get serious consideration. Even a debate over how best to build on last year's massive income tax cuts will revisit part of last year's debate. Legislators are expected to reconsider their refusal to keep the state's sales tax from dropping in July as planned to offset income tax reductions.
Former Moderate GOP State Senator Switching Party Affiliation
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The former Republican chairwoman of the Kansas Senate's Education Committee who was defeated last year by a more conservative challenger says she is changing her party affiliation to Democrat. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Jean Schodorf announced on Facebook Sunday that she will make the change on Monday. The Wichita resident was one of several moderate Republicans defeated in the August 2nd primaries by conservatives backed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Governor Sam Brownback. Schodorf said in her Facebook post that she feels the Republican Party at both the state and national levels no longer represents her. She had announced shortly after the primary that she planned to leave the party and wanted to help form a moderate-centrist coalition in the state.
Kansas Sec of State: Business Startups Are 'Healthy'
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says a record number of new businesses filed paperwork with his office last year. Kobach says his office received about 15,000 filings for new business entities in 2012, up about 10 percent from the previous year. The figure includes for-profit corporations, limited partnerships and nonprofit corporations. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are not required to file with the secretary of state's office to do business in Kansas. Kobach says entrepreneurship is "healthy" in Kansas. His office compiled a 15-page report on business filings over the past decade. University of Kansas economist Art Hall says the pace of business startups shows the possibility of stronger economic growth.
Israel's Ambassador to US to Deliver Landon Lecture
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Israeli ambassador to the United States is appearing at Kansas State to give the latest installment of its Landon Lecture series. Michael Oren will present "Israel, The Ultimate Ally" at 10:15 am on January 29. The U.S.-born and -educated Oren has held the ambassador post since June 2009. His last two books are "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present" and "Six Days of War." Both were New York Times best sellers. Oren sometimes attracts controversy. Ten Muslim students were convicted of misdemeanors for repeatedly interrupting his 2010 speech at UC Irvine. The Landon Lecture is named for Governor Alf Landon, a Republican who was Kansas governor from 1933 to 1937. Landon lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election.
Kansas History Standards Await Review
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A new draft of history, geography and social studies education standards that focus more on context than content are ready for review by the Kansas State Board of Education. The board will get the standards Wednesday during its regular monthly meeting. This is the first revision of the social studies standards since 2003. Kansas typically revises its academic standards every seven years. The state board decided several years ago to delay those changes in order to prevent districts from incurring additional expenses during the economic recession. The standards are expected to be formally approved later this spring after further public comment and review. Students will be tested based on the new standards starting in 2016.
Google's Ultrafast Internet Draws Startups to KC
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Google's new superfast Internet connection is creating a tech startup culture in Kansas City. Both sides of the Kansas City state divide were picked as the first cities to get Google's new fiber-optic network that's capable of reaching speeds far greater than average cable-modem connections. Tech startups are sprouting up around the area dubbed "Silicon Prairie" as developers use the superfast connection. In one neighborhood, a web developer has created what he calls a "Home for Hackers" where entrepreneurs can live rent-free for three months while they develop their business.
NWS Office Offers Advanced Storm Spotter Training
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The National Weather Service's office in Wichita will be offering advanced storm spotter training for the first time since it started giving basic sessions more than 50 years ago. The Wichita Eagle reports that meteorologist Robb Lawson will present the advanced classes in Salina, Parsons and Wichita starting in early April. He says anyone who wants to take the advance training should attend a basic session first. Lawson says the weather service has been working to make its storm spotter sessions interesting yet not so technical that they turn people off. Too much science can get boring, while too many light-hearted videos and anecdotes lead to people saying they didn't learn much. Lawson says the basic sessions will focus on safety, while the advanced ones will focus on the science.
Kansas Revoking Parole for Woman in Fatal DUI Crash
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A woman who killed three people in a drunken driving crash in 2005 is having her parole in Kansas revoked after being accused of driving drunk in Oklahoma. Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay says 36-year-old Jennifer Lyn Adams is in custody and will be brought back to Kansas. She was arrested in October in Bixby, Oklahoma on DUI, drug possession and other charges. Adams pleaded guilty in Sherman County in 2005 to three counts of involuntary manslaughter. She admitted being drunk when she was involved in a crash on Interstate 70 that killed three women. She spent six years in a Kansas prison before being paroled in July 2011 and moving to Oklahoma, where her parole was transferred.
Hutchinson Waste to Be Processed in One Spot
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ A Hutchinson recycling company plans an expansion that will end the need to transfer some of the region's recycling waste to a separate facility. Officials say the expansion at Waste Connections and its subsidiary, Stutzman Refuse Disposal, will add about 10 jobs to the South Hutchinson plant. The Hutchinson News reports that the current facility divides recyclables from Hutchinson and other south central Kansas towns, and then sends some of the material to a plant in Harvey County. Jim Spencer, of Waste Connections, says the expansion will end that practice. The company plans to add a 13,000-square-foot building that will allow the company to process 4,000 tons of material a month.
Pittsburg Housing Project Ready for First Home
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) _ After several years of planning, a city-sponsored housing project in Pittsburg is ready for the construction of its first home. The project, called Lincoln Square, will eventually have 10 homes for moderate-income residents on a city-owned block. Bill Warlop, president of a construction company working on the project, says ground could be broken in two weeks for the first home. He says the house should be completed in three to four months. The Joplin Globe reports that Pittsburg received $280,000 from a state program designed to improve housing stock in Kansas cities. It covers sewer line work, putting in an alley and helping homeowners with closing costs. Warlop says his company will build a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a purchase price of $120,000 to $125,000.
Autopsy: Chiefs LB Drunk at Time of Murder-Suicide
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An autopsy shows that Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher was legally drunk when he shot his girlfriend nine times and then killed himself. The Jackson County (Missouri) Medical Examiner released the results of autopsies performed on Belcher and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, following their deaths on Dec. 1. Police say Belcher killed Perkins at the couple's Kansas City home, then drove to the team's practice site and committed suicide in front of his coach and general manager. The autopsy report released Monday says Perkins was shot in the neck, chest, abdomen, hip, back, leg and hand. Belcher's blood-alcohol level was 0.17, and was likely higher at the time of the shooting. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.
Cessna Starts Assembly of New Light Jet
INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — Cessna Aircraft has begun assembly of a new, light business jet at its plant in Independence. The Wichita Eagle reports that the first Citation M2 jet is expected to roll of the line in April, with the first delivery of the $4.4 million aircraft slated for third quarter of this year. Cessna describes the M2 as a natural step up for owners of the smaller Citation Mustang, which is already assembled at the Independence plant. The Citation M2 is larger — with seating for six passengers and two crew members — and faster, with a longer range of 1,300 nautical miles. The forward and aft cabin assemblies and wings are built at Cessna's Wichita plant, then delivered to Independence for final assembly. The 16-year-old Independence plant has nearly 500 employees.
Suspected Burglar Shot by Wichita Police
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a man was shot and wounded by officers responding to a report of a burglary in southwest Wichita. KFDI reports that officers went to the home after an elderly woman reported someone was breaking into a shed behind her home. Deputy Police Chief Terri Moses says officers saw the man was running through the property. When he pulled a weapon, the suspect and two officers exchanged fire. Moses says the officers weren't wounded. The suspect is in critical condition at Via Christi Hospital.
Butler County Community College Considers Tobacco Use Ban
EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Butler County Community College leaders are considering a proposal to ban smoking and tobacco on all its campuses. A task force created last year to consider the proposal presented its findings last week to the college's Board of Trustees, which could vote on the issue in March. KAKE-TV reports that Butler currently bans smoking inside campus buildings but smoking is allowed outside 25 feet from the buildings. Bill Rinkenbaugh, a vice president at the school, says if the policy is approved, it might be implemented in the upcoming fall semester. He estimates the college would spend between $25,000 and $30,000 to implement the ban, for signs and educational materials. So far, about a dozen small colleges in Kansas have banned tobacco.
KC Law Firm to Sponsor Forum for Levee Owners
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A free forum on the challenges facing levee owners is planned for later this month in Kansas City. The law firm of Husch Blackwell is holding the January 23 meeting at its downtown Kansas City office. Speakers will include Brian Klippenstein, deputy chief of staff for Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. Topics will include the political issues affecting levee owners in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Participants also will talk about regulatory and financial challenges.
Number of Homeless Children in Wichita Tops 1,800
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita educators and social workers have counted more than 1,800 homeless children in the Wichita School District, and advocates say that number is going to keep going higher. The U.S. Department of Education counts anyone "doubling up" or living with another family as homeless, in addition to those living on the street or in shelters. The Wichita Eagle reports that number hit 1,829 in Wichita schools on Friday, including 14 new ones identified a day earlier. The school district's liaison for homeless students, Cynthia Martinez, says many homeless parents want to work, and are neither lazy nor unintelligent. She says many of the new homeless families include parents who used to work for local aeronautical companies before being laid off and losing everything.
$9.4M Hot Lotto Ticket Bought in NE Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lottery officials say someone in northeast Kansas has hit the Hot Lotto jackpot, worth more than $9 million. The Kansas Lottery says the winner of Saturday's multi-state drawing can choose to take $9.43 million prize in 25 installments or take the cash option of $7.15 million before taxes. Lottery officials urge the holder of the winning ticket to sign the back of it immediately and put it in a safe place until claiming the jackpot. The Lottery says the state's northeast region includes 21 counties. It's the fifth time a Hot Lotto jackpot has been hit in Kansas since the state joined the game in 2006. Hot Lotto is played in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
Louisville Moves to No. 1 Ranking in AP College Basketball Poll; KU Drops to 4
Louisville, taking advantage of weekend losses by Duke and Michigan, is ranked number one in The Associated Press men's college basketball poll. The Cardinals have held the top ranking one other time; they were number one in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Louisville (15-1) moved up from number three. The Cardinals have won ten straight games since losing to Duke in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Indiana University jumped from fifth to number two. Duke University dropped two spots to third. The University of Kansas dropped two places to number four, and the University of Michigan dropped to number five.
Chiefs Introduce Dorsey as New General Manager
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs introduced longtime Packers executive John Dorsey as the team's new general manager Monday, turning over a team that was 2-14 to one of the men responsible for building Green Bay into a consistent winner. Dorsey takes over for Scott Pioli, who was fired after four tumultuous seasons. The Chiefs announced the Dorsey had been hired on Saturday night, while the Packers were playing the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC playoffs. Dorsey played for the Packers and later was a scout and director of scouting while new Chiefs coach Andy Reid was an assistant in Green Bay. Dorsey left to spend a year in Seattle, but returned to the Packers and rose to director of football operations.