Kansas Legislators Break Off Tax Cut Talks
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers won't agree on the final version of tax-cutting legislation until they return in late April from their annual spring break. House and Senate negotiators suspended talks Thursday on working out their chambers' differences on bills reducing individual income taxes and eliminating the income tax for some businesses. They also remain divided on cutting the sales tax. The lead negotiators for both chambers said the talks are complicated because they want a package that doesn't create budget problems. The House and Senate have approved different versions of Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for cutting income taxes. Lawmakers are set to adjourn Friday and return April 25 to wrap up the year's business.
Kansas House Approves Congressional Redistricting Plan Splitting Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has passed a redistricting bill splitting Topeka between two congressional districts. But key senators said even before Thursday's vote 81-43 vote in the House that they oppose the measure. The Senate approved its own plan last month, and negotiators for the two chambers must compromise. Topeka currently is in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, and the House's plan would move part of it into the 1st District of western and central Kansas. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, noted that his chamber rejected other plans that kept Topeka in a single district. But Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, called splitting Topeka absurd. And Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said he opposes the idea.
GOP Deflects Attack on Kansas Governor's Medicaid Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans who support GOP Governor Sam Brownback's overhaul of the Kansas Medicaid program have brushed aside an attack on his efforts in the state House. The House voted 69-54 Thursday to send back to its Appropriations Committee a bill creating a legislative oversight panel on Medicaid. The $2.9 billion-a-year program covers health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. Brownback's administration plans to issue contracts this summer to three private companies to manage the Medicaid program. Supporters argue the overhaul will lead to better coordination of care and save money. The House's move cut off debate and blocked a vote on a proposal from Democratic Representative Jim Ward, of Wichita, to exempt developmentally disabled Kansans from the Medicaid overhaul. Critics, including some Republicans, say the administration is moving too fast.
UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Religious Freedom Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — House members have approved a bill that aims to put certain guarantees of religious freedoms in Kansas law, codifying current legal precedents. The 91-33 vote Thursday sends the bill to the Senate. Conservative Republicans drafted the bill to protect Kansas residents from laws that they say infringe upon their rights to religious freedom. The bill declares that state and local government policies shall not "substantially burden" people's right to exercise their religious beliefs without showing a compelling interest and imposing the burden in the least restrictive way possible. It also declares that people have the right to sue state and local government agencies if they feel their religious freedoms have been abridged. Critics argue the bill would allow discrimination under the guise of protecting religious beliefs.
UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Abortion 'Conscience' Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill sought by abortion opponents in Kansas that also could limit access to birth control has now cleared the state House. The House voted 95-29 on Thursday to approve the measure, which is designed to give health care providers greater legal protections if they refuse to have any involvement in abortions. The bill now goes to the Senate. Kansas already has laws that say no person or hospital can be forced to participate in abortions or sterilizations. This year's measure extends such protections to facilities other than hospitals and says providers couldn't be required to refer patients for abortions or dispense abortion-inducing drugs. The anti-abortion group Kansans for Life acknowledges the bill protects doctors or pharmacists who refuse to provide birth control if they reasonably believe it terminates pregnancies.
UPDATE: House Approves Bill Creating Prayer & Meditation Room
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have approved a bill creating a prayer room at the Statehouse. The 107-17 vote Thursday sent the measure to the Senate. During a debate Wednesday, supporters said other states, including Florida and Arizona, and Congress have set aside space at the state capitol for prayer. The bill does not list a location within the Statehouse for the prayer room. House Majority Leader Representative Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, originally sought to create an all-faiths chapel. But he and other supporters said the Prayer and Meditation Room would contain no religious symbols, and religious materials would not be kept there permanently. Also, the room would be set up using private donated funds, and donors' names would be kept confidential.
Governor Brownback Signs Bills Repealing Old Kansas Laws
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed his first batch of bills repealing a number of Kansas laws identified by his administration as outdated. The four bills signed Thursday were the first group to make it to the Republican governor's desk out of 51 individual statutes recommended for removal. He was joined by Secretary of Administration Dennis Taylor, who has been assigned to identify specific items for repeal. Brownback created the repeal office within Taylor's agency in 2011, saying there was a need for the state to identify and remove statutes and regulation that were unnecessary and viewed as an impediment to government efficiency. The governor said Thursday the changes would streamline licensing and application processes so the state can focus on growing business and families.
Kansas Legislators Continue Negotiating Tax Cuts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ House and Senate negotiators are continuing their discussions on measures to reduce Kansas tax rates. Three senators and three House members scheduled meetings throughout the day today (THU) as they try to find a compromise between tax-cut measures approved by each chamber. Both proposals are loosely based on recommendations from Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The governor is pushing legislators to cut taxes this year, saying the move would stimulate the Kansas economy. Both chambers' bills would cut income taxes for individuals and some businesses. But they differ on how to treat a raft of tax credits and exemptions. Legislators are also discussing what to do with the state sales tax rate, currently at 6.3 percent.
KS House to Vote on Congressional Redistricting
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders are hoping the Kansas House approves a congressional redistricting bill after a previous measure failed. The bill up for a final vote Thursday splits Topeka between two congressional districts. The entire city currently is in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, and the bill would move part of it into the 1st District of western and central Kansas. Topeka-area legislators oppose the bill, arguing it's not necessary to divide the city to even out the populations of the state's four U-S House districts. But last week, the House rejected a proposal to keep all of Topeka in the 2nd District while dramatically redrawing district lines in south-central and southeast Kansas.The Senate has passed a different plan, and the two chambers would have to agree on a compromise.
UPDATE: Brownback Says Beef Additive Concerns Unwarranted
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says the controversy over what the beef industry calls finely textured lean beef "is unmerited and unwarranted." Speaking to reporters Thursday in Topeka, the Republican governor and former Kansas agriculture secretary said the substance, called "pink slime" by its detractors, has been used by the meat industry for decades and its use in beef products is safe. Beef Products Incorporated is the main producer of the cheap lean beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. It has drawn extra scrutiny because of concerns about the ammonium hydroxide it treats meat with to slightly change the acidity of the beef and kill bacteria. Brownback will be touring a beef plant in Nebraska along with Texas Governor Rick Perry and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to see how the product is made.
SE Kansas Democrat Renews Push to Lower Corporations' Required Casino Buy-In
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A southeastern Kansas Democrat is renewing his effort to pull a bill that would modify the state's gambling laws to the floor for a debate before the 2012 session ends. Representative Bob Grant of Frontenac made a motion Thursday to pull a bill he and fellow Democrat sponsored out of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. A similar effort was defeated earlier in the week. Grant wants the chamber to consider the measure, which would change the investment threshold for constructing a state-owned casino in either Cherokee or Crawford counties. Voters there have approved allowing for a casino but no developer has been willing to make the required $225 million initial investment. The bill would lower the investment to $100 million.
Beef Plant Closure to Affect Western Kansas Students
HOLCOMB, Kan. (AP) — About 220 western Kansas students have parents who work at a now-shuttered processing plant that had produced a beef product known by its critics as "pink slime." The Garden City Telegram reported that the number of affected students comes from administrators in the Garden City and Holcomb school districts. Officials at Beef Products Incorporated announced Monday that production had stopped at its Holcomb plant, along with production facilities in Amarillo, Texas and Waterloo, Iowa. The plants produce what's known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," but is referred to as "pink slime" by those seeking to have it banned. The suspension of operations at the Holcomb plant has caused a loss of 236 local jobs. Employees will receive full salary and benefits until May 25. It's unclear whether the closings will be permanent.
Hundreds Turn Out for KU Final Four Sendoff
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 500 people turned up at Forbes Field to cheer on members of the University of Kansas men's basketball team as they prepared to leave for the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the crowd Wednesday chanted and waved flags and handmade signs as the team walked through the airport. Fans also reached out for autographs and high fives as the team made its way to the back of the airport through a path kept clear by yellow rope. Among the loudest of cheers came when KU's Jeff Withey entered the airport. He said the team was grateful for the fans who came out to support them.
UPDATE: Jury Seated in Trial of Man Accused of Killing Kansas Cheerleader
GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) _ A jury has been seated in the trial of a Kansas man accused of killing a 14-year-old cheerleader and burning her body at an asphalt plant. Opening statements are planned for Thursday afternoon in the trial of 38-year-old Adam Longoria. The Great Bend man faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. He also is charged with vehicle burglary and theft. To convict him of capital murder, prosecutors must also prove aggravating circumstances such as sodomy or attempted rape when Alicia was killed. The state is not seeking the death penalty. Prosecutors say Longoria was obsessed with Alicia. She was killed the weekend before she was to start her freshman year of high school.
Ex-Kansas Prosecutor Convicted of Meth Charges
COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) _ A former assistant prosecutor in southeastern Kansas has been convicted of methamphetamine-related charges stemming from a search of his former Galena law office. A Cherokee County jury found 47-year-old Jeffrey Pittman of Carterville, Missouri guilty of conspiracy to possess meth and to traffic contraband into a correctional institution. Pittman was stopped in Galena for a defective brake light in June 2009 and arrested on an Oklahoma warrant for possessing meth ingredients. Authorities said a search of his former law office in Galena turned up meth ingredients, items used to make the illegal drug and drug paraphernalia. Pittman was assistant Cherokee County attorney from March 2001 to February 2002.
Drought Affecting Kansas Aquifers
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ The lack of rainfall in Kansas in 2011 led to intense declines in groundwater levels around the state. The Ogallala Aquifer in southwest Kansas usually sees annual declines, but its decline in 2011 was one of the worst in decades. Officials with the Kansas Geological Survey said the aquifer there dropped an average 3.78 feet in 2011. That's compared to a drop of about 3 feet in 2010 and 1.39 feet in 2009. Much of Kansas received 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation last year. In central and south-central Kansas where groundwater levels usually show gains or only modest declines, the water table in the Equus Beds decreased an average 3.17 feet, and Big Bend district No. 5 dropped an average 3 feet.
Lawyer: Afghan Massacre Suspect Depressed Following Service in Iraq
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ An attorney for the U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians says his client suffered a traumatic incident in Iraq that triggered tremendous depression and anxiety. Lawyer John Henry Browne says that he cannot discuss the details of the matter because it remains classified. But he expects the issue to become a focal point in the case against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Browne previously said Bales experienced other major dangers in his deployments, including a serious foot injury and head trauma. He also said a fellow soldier's leg had been blown off days before the Afghanistan massacre. Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes, and he is being held at a U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
KU's Danny Manning to Take Head Coach Position at Tulsa
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Danny Manning, the University of Kansas assistant coach and former star for the Jayhawks, has agreed to coach the University of Tulsa men's basketball team. Tulsa announced the hire on Thursday. The 45-year-old Manning is in New Orleans, where KU will play Ohio State in the NCAA tournament semifinals on Saturday night. He won't join the Golden Hurricane until next week. Manning has spent nine years on the KU men's basketball staff and has been a full-time assistant since 2007. He won national championships as a player (1988) and assistant (2008). The school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder takes over for Doug Wojcik, who was fired by Tulsa after failing to make the NCAA tournament in six seasons.
Communities Selected for Workplace Wellness Program
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Ten Kansas communities have been selected to be champions for workplace wellness. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the participating communities are Lawrence, Beloit, Clifton, Coffeyville, Great Bend, Independence, McPherson, Clearwater, Newton and Wellington. They are benefiting from a new three-year state initiative called WorkWell KS. The effort is funded with a $700,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation and administered by the Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care. In each community, at least seven businesses will complete an in-depth assessment of their wellness efforts. Then, leaders will be sent to training sessions on how to develop or strengthen wellness programs. Ideas for improving workplace wellness include health fairs and assessments, educational programs and walk-in medical clinics.
Kansas Motorcyclist Injured in Collision with Buffalo
INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — A collision between a motorcycle and a buffalo has landed a southeastern Kansas man in the hospital with serious injuries. Montgomery County sheriff's Deputy Kyle Hand told The Independence Daily Reporter the collision happened around 4:25 am Thursday on a county road southwest of the city. The deputy says a 49-year-old Independence man was riding his motorcycle when he ran into a buffalo that was in the roadway. The man was airlifted to Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Missouri for surgery. Sheriff Robert Dierks told the newspaper the man was in critical condition Thursday afternoon.
Wichita Man Sentenced on Child Porn Charges
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita man has been sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for possessing child pornography. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Wednesday that Kenneth Cheatum was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison after pleading guilty earlier to one count of possession of child pornography. The Wichita Eagle reports that Cheatum admitted accessing a website to download child pornography, most recently in March 2010.0
KC School Board Agrees to Property Sales
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City School Board has agreed to sell two more of its 30 vacant properties. The board Wednesday agreed to sell Douglass School and Seven Oaks School. The district's list of unused schools grew in June 2010 after a massive consolidation effort. The Kansas City Star reports that the agreements Wednesday are part of a recent rush of activity as the district works to find new uses for the vacant properties. An earlier sale of another property was finalized Friday. The district's repurposing office last week began public presentations where potential buyers showed their proposals for four other schools. All proposals still have to go back to the district's repurposing office's internal committee, with possibly more public presentations, before they can go to the school board.
Hallmark Cards Cutting Subsidiary Jobs in Indiana
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) _ A greeting card company is eliminating 90 jobs in southern Indiana as it moves business operations of a subsidiary to Missouri. The decision by Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards to shift the Sunrise Greetings jobs from Bloomington comes about two years after Hallmark stopped manufacturing work in the city. Hallmark spokeswoman Julie O'Dell tells The Herald-Times that Sunrise employees were told Wednesday about the cost-saving move and that current workers could apply for open Hallmark positions in Kansas City. The relocation will begin in April and be finished this year. Sunrise Greetings was founded in Bloomington in 1974. At its peak in the late 1990s, it employed about 700 people. Hallmark bought Sunrise in 1998 and says it is continuing the Sunrise brand.
Opening Statements Expected in Kansas Murder Trial
GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys are expected to lay out their cases in the trial of a Kansas man accused of killing a 14-year-old girl and burning her body at the asphalt plant where he worked. Opening statements are set Thursday in the capital murder trial of 38-year-old Adam Longoria. The Great Bend man faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. Prosecutors have portrayed Longoria as obsessed with the girl since meeting her at a party. Jury selection edged closer to completion Wednesday with 44 jurors accepted into the pool after three days of questioning. A panel of 12 jurors and two alternates will be finalized Thursday once attorneys use their rights to dismiss some jury candidates without having to offer a reason.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.
Governors Urge Consumers to Reconsider "Pink Slime"
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ The main producer of the so-called food additive "pink slime" will have a hard time persuading consumers and grocery stores to accept the product, even if it the processed beef trimmings are as safe as the industry insists. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, along with two other governors and two lieutenant governors, plan to tour Beef Products Incorporated's plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska this (THUR) afternoon to support the company and the several thousand jobs it creates in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas. Critics call the product an unappetizing example of industrialized food production and have dubbed it "pink slime." But the product, which has been used for years, meets federal food safety standards. Larry Smith, with the Institute for Crisis Management, says he's not sure the company will be able to overcome the public stigma at this point.
**this story has been updated with comments from Governor Brownback. Please see above.
Kansas House Advances Religious Freedom Bill to Final Action
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill that supporters say enshrines religious freedom in state statutes has won first-round approval in the Kansas House. The 89-27 vote Wednesday sent the measure to final action, set for Thursday. Conservative Republicans drafted the bill to protect Kansas residents from laws that they say infringe upon their rights to religious freedom. The bill declares that state and local government policies shall not "substantially burden'' people's right to exercise their religious beliefs without showing a compelling interest and imposing the burden in the least restrictive way possible. It also declares that people have the right to sue state and local government agencies if they feel their religious freedoms have been abridged. Critics argue the bill would allow discrimination under the guise of protecting religious beliefs.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.
Kansas House Advances Prayer & Meditation Room Proposal
The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a bill creating a prayer room at the Statehouse. The House planned to take final action on it Thursday. Approval would send it to the Senate. During a debate Wednesday, supporters said other states, including Florida and Arizona, and Congress have set aside capitol space for prayer. The bill does not list a location within the Statehouse for the prayer room. House Majority Leader Representative Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, originally sought to create an all-faiths chapel. But he and other supporters said the Prayer and Meditation Room would contain no religious symbols, and religious materials would not be kept there permanently. Also, the room would be set up using private donated funds, and donors' names would be kept confidential.
Kansas House Advances Abortion 'Conscience' Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill aimed at giving Kansas health care providers more legal protection if they want to avoid any involvement in abortions is moving toward House passage. The House gave the bill first-round approval Wednesday on a voice vote. A final vote is set for Thursday, and the measure is expected to pass and go to the Senate. Supporters brushed aside criticism that the bill is broad enough to let doctors and pharmacists refuse to provide birth control. Kansas already has a law that says that no one can be forced to participate in an abortion or penalized for refusing. This year's measure says health care providers couldn't be required to refer patients for abortion care or to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.