Kansas Tax Collections $8.5M More Than Expected in November
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is reporting that it collected $8.5 million more in taxes than anticipated in November. It was the sixth consecutive month with higher-than-expected revenues. The Department of Revenue reported Friday that the state collected $463.5 million in taxes last month. The official projection was $455 million, and the surplus is 1.9 percent. It was the first monthly report on tax collections since state officials revised revenue projections November 2. The state's new fiscal forecast is more optimistic than the previous one issued in April. Since the budget year began in July, the state has collected nearly $2.5 billion in revenues, also $8.5 million more than expected. Tax collections this year are 11.7 percent ahead of last year's collections. Lawmakers increased income taxes earlier this year to help balance the budget.
Outgoing Kansas Governor Advises Successor: 'Pray'
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has one word of advice to give to his successor: "Pray." The Wichita Eagle reported that the Republican governor told supporters at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday that leaders need to be people who pray and who seek wisdom from above. Brownback also announced that one of his last acts before leaving office as governor will be to declare a statewide day of prayer and fasting for Kansas. A U.S. Senate committee has approved President Donald Trump's nomination of Brownback as an ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Brownback is expected to resign after confirmation by the Senate and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer will become governor. Brownback says in his diplomatic post he is going to urge other countries to protect religious minorities.
2 Papers Sue over Rejected Requests for Body-Camera Footage
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star allege in a lawsuit that Wichita officials didn't follow the state's open records law in denying access to police body-camera footage in two cases. The suit filed Friday in Sedgwick County District Court says officials were wrong not to release footage of an Iraqi man being handcuffed while trying to deposit a $151,000 check, which later was determined to be legitimate. The man alleges he was racially profiled. Also rejected was a request for footage of a case involving a Wichita police officer, who is alleged to have been involved in an off-duty hit-and-run crash. Eagle editor Steve Coffman says he hopes the lawsuit will bring clarity. City attorney Jennifer Magana didn't immediately return a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Judge Mulls Blocking Kansas Law Against Boycotting Israel
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge is considering whether to block Kansas from enforcing a new law barring state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree had a hearing Friday in a free-speech lawsuit challenging the law from the American Civil Liberties Union. It is asking Crabtree to block enforcement of the 5-month-old law while the lawsuit proceeds. More than 20 states have anti-boycott policies. The Kansas law took effect in July. The ACLU sued on behalf of a Wichita educator who was told she couldn't be paid by the state to train teachers because she refused to sign a statement that she wasn't boycotting Israel. She is boycotting Israeli products and services to support Palestinians. The state said the law allows the teacher to seek a waiver.
Kansas City Dad Charged with Murder After 7-Year-Old Finds Mom's Body
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities have charged a Kansas City man with stabbing his wife to death, saying the couple's 7-year-old daughter told a school counselor she found a body in her basement and later told investigators that she "didn't want to be next." Benjamin Byers, 45, was charged Thursday with second-degree murder, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse and child endangerment in the death of Melissa Byers. Bond is set at $500,000. No attorney is listed for him in online court records. A police detective wrote in the probable cause statement that the girl talked to a counselor Wednesday, one day after finding "lots of blood" and glimpsing a body in the basement with a "stab on the back." She told a forensic interviewer that the face was covered but that the sweater on the body was her mother's. The girl hadn't seen her mother since school pickup on Monday. The girl said she was leaving the basement when she received a call from her mother's boyfriend, who said he was coming over. She said her father started acting "suspicious," closing all the blinds and locking the door, according to the probable cause statement, which doesn't say whether the girl's father and mother were estranged. A police spokesman, Darin Snapp, said in an email Friday that "as far as we know they still lived together." The girl didn't tell the boyfriend or father what she had seen in the basement. She told the forensic interviewer her father had been acting "weird" and that she "didn't want to be next," the detective wrote. After the girl's school contacted police, officers went to the home, where Benjamin Byers said he didn't know his wife's whereabouts, the detective wrote. Officers found blood throughout the house and a large section of carpet that appeared to have been removed from the dining room. After obtaining a search warrant, Melissa Byers's body was found in the basement covered with carpet, plastic, sheets and clothing. Bloody drag marks were seen on the basement stairs. Police also saw signs that efforts had been made to clean up the dining room, living room, kitchen and bathroom. Byers declined to talk to detectives after the body was found.
Kansas Legislative Panel Won't Back Prison Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee won't endorse a plan from state corrections officials to build a new prison mainly because of how the project would be financed. The state Department of Corrections outlined its plan Thursday to have the nation's largest private prison operator build a replacement for the state's oldest and largest prison in Lansing, which is near Kansas City. CoreCivic, based in Nashville, Tennessee, would lease the new prison to the state for 20 years before the state owned it. The legislative committee wants the department to pursue financing the project with state bonds instead. The committee's recommendation to delay the project will go to top legislative leaders and Republican Governor Sam Brownback. State law gives them the final say on whether the project moves forward.
Kansas Health Department Secretary Mosier Leaving Office
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The leader of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment plans to leave the agency in early January. On Thursday, Governor Sam Brownback announced Susan Mosier's decision to leave a job she has held since December 1, 2014. Mosier, an ophthalmologist, was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2010 and became the state's Medicaid program director in 2012 until three private health insurers took over daily operations in 2013 and rebranded the program KanCare. The KanCare program, which serves more than 400,000 poor, disabled and elderly residents, has been criticized for offering too few services, too quickly denying services and a large backlog of claims. Brownback said Lt. Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer will name a replacement for Mosier in the near future.
Judge Says Kansas Officials in Contempt over Records Request
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A judge says he will find officials at Larned State Hospital in contempt for not turning over records on the man charged with the murder of a Kansas police officer. Wyandotte County District Judge Wes Griffin said Friday the hospital has not responded to repeated record requests on Jamaal Lewis. He is charged with capital murder in the death of Kansas City, Kansas police Captain Robert Melton. The Kansas City Star reported Griffin says mental health experts need them to determine competency for trial, and requests from prosecutors and defense attorneys have not been met. Griffin says he is reluctant to enter a contempt order and would wait until Monday to send the notice. Melton was killed last year while attempting to stop a suspect in a drive-by shooting.
Kansas Nursing Homes Deal with Spike in Fines, Citations
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas nursing homes are facing a spike in fines and citations industry members consider heavy-handed enforcement of federal regulations. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Legislature's KanCare oversight committee heard concerns from nursing home industries on Wednesday. Industry members say rising citations and penalties from regulatory enforcement surveys make it tough to stay in business and provide care to patients. A trade organization representing not-for-profit nursing homes called LeadingAge Kansas says federal fines levied against nursing homes for non-compliance have risen nearly 8,900 percent since 2012. LeadingAge officials say the increased fines don't result from a lack of quality at nursing homes and add to significant challenges the institutions already face, such as limited resources, a small workforce and slow Medicaid reimbursements. An advocate for seniors says she thinks enforcement is instead lacking and that citations are underreported.
Kansas Supreme Court Overturns Kidnapping Conviction
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The highest court in Kansas has overturned a man's 2013 kidnapping conviction in Shawnee County District Court after finding the prosecutor improperly commented about the alleged victim's credibility to jurors. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the prosecutor in the case of Osi Bisa McBride improperly urged the jury to presume the alleged victim was telling the truth, comparing it to the constitutional presumption of innocence given a criminal defendant. McBride was originally charged with rape, aggravated kidnapping and two counts of criminal sodomy stemming from a 2011 encounter with a woman with whom he had an intermittent romantic relationship. A jury deadlocked in his first trial. He was convicted on a lesser kidnapping charge in a second trial that also acquitted him of the remaining charges.
Funeral in Kansas City for WW II Marine Whose Remains Were Recently Recovered
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The newly discovered remains of a World War II marine will be buried in Kansas City next to his mother. The Kansas City Star reports that Donald Tolson's remains will arrive home via plane from a South Pacific island on Friday. His family will meet the plane on the tarmac at Kansas City International Airport. A military escort will accompany the remains to Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where Tolson will be buried next to his mother, Roxy Ann Tolson. Donald Tolson was born in Kansas City in 1923. Military records say Tolson joined the Marine Corps just after he turned 18, but in 1943 was killed in action during a 76-hour battle on Betio Island. His remains were considered "non-recoverable" until an island resident discovered his dog tag last year.
Man Ruled Competent for Trial in 2014 Lawrence Homicide
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Douglas County judge has ruled that the suspect in the beating death of a Lawrence woman is competent to stand trial. Twenty-one-year-old Rontarus Washington is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the November 2014 death of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the case stalled for several court hearings to discuss Washington's competency. On Tuesday, Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria ruled Washington was able to stand trial. Mosso's body was found in a bloody bathroom of an apartment leased by her estranged husband. Investigators say Mosso was bludgeoned and stabbed repeatedly. Washington, who lived down the hall from Mosso, was later arrested in Mississippi.
2 Killed After Car Clips Van Carrying 6 Near Topeka
GRANTVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two people have been killed after a car clipped a van on a highway northeast of Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the crash happened Friday morning at an intersection along U.S. 24 near Grantville in southwest Jefferson County. Lieutenant Adam Winters, of the Kansas Highway Patrol, says the van overturned, killing the driver and a passenger. Their names, ages and genders weren't immediately released. Four others in the van were taken to a Topeka hospital, including one person flown there with critical injuries. Winters says none of the three occupants in the car were seriously injured.
Kansas Wind Industry Fights Against Tax-Credit Reversal
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Wind industry executives are pressing Governor Sam Brownback to lobby Kansas's congressional delegation in opposition to a cut to a federal tax credit that could threaten $1.5 billion in planned projects across the state. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a provision weakening the production tax credit was incorporated into the U.S. House bill endorsed by all four Kansas representatives. But executives of seven wind energy companies asked Brownback and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer to encourage Republican U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran to keep changes to the tax credit out of the Senate's bill and the final legislation. Wind officials say the tax credit is originally scheduled to be phased out in 2020 based on a 2015 agreement approved by Congress. The House bill gets rid of that agreement.
North Dakota Maps Tree Resources with Aerial Imagery
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A project to map trees on the Northern Plains using aerial imagery is helping the North Dakota Forest Service get a better handle on the state's tree resources. The Bismarck Tribune reports that the state has partnered with the forest service departments of Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota to collect data and determine where critical tree resources are declining. Forest health officials say nearly 2 percent of the state's area is native forest, and that the weather and soil isn't conducive to traditional forests. North Dakota planted windbreaks after severe dust storms in the 1930s, but their condition is aging. Forest Health Manager Lezlee Johnson says landowners are concerned about the windbreak infrastructure. Johnson says the project's results could double the amount of tree cover that was previously counted under the state forest inventory program.
Judge: Wichita Officer's Shooting Vet with PTSD Reasonable
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Wichita saying police officers' actions in the fatal shooting of an Iraq veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder were reasonable. The Wichita Eagle reports that police fatally shot 26-year-old Icarus Randolph in front of his family in 2014 when he came toward officers with a knife and after a Taser didn't stop him. Family members say they were trying to get Randolph taken to a hospital so he could be treated for a mental health crisis. The family's lawsuit says officers didn't follow proper procedure on dealing with mental health crises when approaching Randolph, who had PTSD. Sedgwick County District Court Judge Bruce Brown ruled Wednesday that the officers' actions were reasonable. He says police procedure on dealing with mental health crises allows officers to use their discretion.
Not Guilty Plea in Alleged Hate Crime Killing at Olathe Bar
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The man accused in an alleged hate crime at a suburban Kansas City bar that killed one Indian national and left two men wounded has pleaded not guilty. Adam Purinton is charged with first-degree murder in the February shooting in Olathe that killed 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla. He also faces two counts of attempted first-degree murder for wounding two other men. The Kansas City Star reports Purinton on Thursday waived his preliminary hearing and the not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. His next hearing is scheduled for May 8. Federal prosecutors allege that Purinton targeted Kuchibhotla and another Indian man because of their race or ethnicity. The third man was shot when tried to help the two victims.
Kansas Widow Sues Sheriff, Undersheriff over Shooting Death
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The widow of a Kansas man killed last month during an encounter with Barber County deputies has sued the county's sheriff and his undersheriff. Kristina Myers filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging law enforcement officials used excessive force when they killed her 42-year-old husband, Steven. The lawsuit contends video shows Steven Myers was standing with empty hands at his sides, and did not threaten officers or attempt to escape during the October 6 encounter in Sun City, Kansas. Undersheriff Virgil Brewer shot Steven Myers at close range with a beanbag round. Video from a body camera captured Sheriff Lonnie Small saying, "Shot him with a beanbag round. Hadn't shot anybody with it yet." The sheriff's office referred comment to the county attorney's office, which did not immediately return a phone message.
Business Conditions Index Slips but Still Shows Good Signs
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Economists say a business conditions index for nine Midwest and Plains states dropped over the past month but also say it still suggests that regional economic conditions continue to improve. A report released Friday says the Mid-America Business Conditions Index slipped to 57.2 in November from 58.8 in October. The September figure was 58.2 in September. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says the manufacturing sector has reported consistent growth over the past several months. The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
University of Kansas Installs Giant Fossils in New Building
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Replicas of two fossilized Cretaceous-period reptiles were installed into the University of Kansas's new geology building. Lawrence Journal-World reports that giant replicas of a mosasaur and a Cretaceous-era sea turtle were hung from the atrium ceiling of the university's $78.5 million Earth, Energy and Environment Center on Wednesday. The center will open in January. The replicas recreate a scene that could have occurred 80 million years ago near campus. The mosasaur's fossil casts dive headfirst toward the protostega, an ancestor of green sea turtles. The original skeletons were both found in Kansas. The mosasaur was uncovered in Logan County in 1911. The protostega was recovered near Quinter in 2011. University officials say the replicas will be visible from the building's exterior and show visitors what the department is about.