Kansas Legislators Approve Plan for Closing Budget Shortfall
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have approved a stop-gap plan for erasing most of a predicted shortfall in the state's current budget so bills can be paid on time. The measure approved Thursday attacks a $344 million deficit projected through June 30 largely by shifting money from highway projects and other special funds to pay for education, social services, prisons and other government programs. Senators approved the bill, 24-1. Republican Governor Sam Brownback is expected to sign it. Shortly before the Senate vote, Brownback also announced that he'd cut $45 million worth of funding for higher education and public schools in March, but offered an alternative. The problems arose after slashing income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.
Kansas Governor Announces Cuts to Public Schools, Higher Ed
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he's going to cut nearly $45 million in funding for public schools and higher education in March. But the governor also suggested that lawmakers could head off the reductions by withholding $54 million from public schools instead. The Republican governor announced his plans for the current budget cycle Thursday just ahead of a Senate vote on a bill aimed at erasing a projected $344 million deficit. Kansas law gives the governor the authority to make some budget cuts on his own to keep the budget in balance. The $54 million represents additional funding required under a law enacted last year to boost aid to poor districts. The promised aid is costing more than anticipated.
Kansas Bill Would Limit Teacher Union, School Board Negotiations
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would narrow negotiations between school boards and teachers. The House Education Committee conducted a hearing Wednesday on the bill, which would remove 30 issues from a list of things over which the teachers' union and school boards would be required to bargain. That would leave only salary and work hours on the annual bargaining agenda. Both sides would have to agree beforehand to discuss benefits or other issues. Representatives of teachers and school boards testified against the bill, saying they had agreed to a compromise last month that would allow each side to bring five issues to the negotiating table. Representative Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican who is chairman of the committee, said he still believes the bill would speed up negotiations.
Senate Committee Considers Bill to Remove Teacher Protection
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Opponents of a bill that would allow criminal prosecution of teachers for presenting material "harmful to minors" say the measure could turn educators into criminals for discussing such literature as "Huckleberry Finn." The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee on Wednesday heard testimony on the measure, which would remove from state law an exemption from criminal prosecution held by K-12 teachers for materials they present. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a similar bill emerged from a different Senate committee last year but never cleared the full House or Senate. Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, says parents should have the right to protect their children from harmful materials, especially in schools.
Wife of State Lawmaker Killed in Wichita Store Parking Lot
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The wife of a state representative from Wichita died after being struck and dragged by a vehicle in a supermarket parking lot. Rachel Whitten, spokeswoman for House Speaker Ray Merrick, confirmed the victim of Thursday's accident was 60-year-old Annette Hedke, wife of Republican Dennis Hedke, a three-term state representative from Wichita. Police say she fell near her car in a Dillons parking lot as an SUV next to her pulled out and hit her. Hedke was dragged 15 feet and pinned beneath the SUV, whose driver did not see her because she had fallen. Lieutenant James Espinoza says the driver and witnesses stopped and helped her. He says it was too soon to determine what caused Hedke to fall. Whitten says Dennis Hedke has returned to Wichita.
Bonner Springs Lawmaker is New Kansas House GOP Whip
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Republicans in the Kansas House have elected a Bonner Springs lawmaker to serve as majority party whip. Representative Willie Dove received 47 votes on the third and final ballot Wednesday, compared with 44 votes for Representative Brett Hildabrand of Shawnee. The whip counts votes and lines up support for GOP leaders on major legislation. Dove is an insurance salesman first elected to the House in 2012. Republican Representatives Bill Sutton of Gardner and Erin Davis of Olathe also sought the whip's job but were eliminated on the first and second ballots. The position was open because Representative Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe stepped down. Ryckman was elected to the post in December, but House Speaker Ray Merrick later named him chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
Kansas Senate Confirms Higher Ed, Social Services Officials
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate has confirmed Governor Sam Brownback's secretary for aging and disability services and three of his appointees to the state Board of Regents. The votes Wednesday all were 40-0. Kari Bruffett has been interim secretary at the Department for Aging and Disability Services since May. She replaced Shawn Sullivan, who became Brownback's budget director. The Board of Regents oversees the state's higher education system. The Senate confirmed appointments made by Brownback in August that included former Democratic state Representative Bill Feuerborn of Garnett. The other two new regents are Goodland lawyer Joseph Bain and Sedan city attorney Zoe Forrester Newton.
Judge Accepts Findings in Kansas Gas Condemnation
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has fully adopted the recommendations of a panel of petroleum engineering experts on what Omaha-based Northern Natural Gas should pay for condemning nearly 9,200 acres in southern Kansas. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot ruled Wednesday that the report from the court-appointed panel is fundamentally sound. He called it a fair resolution supported by the evidence and consistent with constitutional requirements of just compensation. The panel had mostly sided with the gas company over what it should pay gas producers and owners of land surrounding the company's underground storage facility. It affects property owners in Pratt, Kingman and Reno counties. The panel had recommended the company pay $7.3 million for storage rights and for gas underlying the land, far below the more than $100 million property owners wanted.
Invista to Open New Center in McPherson
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Invista, a unit of Koch Industries, plans to open a new manufacturing plant in McPherson to expand production of its Raptor nylon pipe for oil pipelines. The Wichita Eagle reports the company will convert an existing building in McPherson for its operations, with production expected to begin in early spring. About a dozen employees will be hired initially in McPherson but the company expects its workforce to grow. Invista spokesman executive vice president Kurt Buremeister says establishing a production facility in Kansas will reduce delivery times to customers and help the company to respond to increasing demand for its product. No incentives were sought for the project. McPherson already has 17 or 18 plastics manufacturing-related businesses.
Layoffs Announced at Western Missouri Billing Company
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A billing company that operates in St. Joseph and Kansas City says it is laying off 275 workers after losing a contract. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that NCO Financial Systems filed a notice it would be laying off 96 employees in St. Joseph and 179 in Kansas City by March 31. The company specializes in collections related to medical, financial and utility accounts. An NCO spokeswoman says the affected employees all either work from home or are tele-service employees.
Kansas Game Wardens Seeking Tips in Shooting of Eagle
MARION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas game wardens are asking the public for help to find the person or people who shot and killed a bald eagle near Marion Reservoir. KAKE-TV reports that the eagle was found Wednesday in a field near the reservoir with a gunshot wound. Larry Hastings of the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says it appears the eagle was flying when it was shot. Bald eagles gather near the reservoir in the winter months. Hastings says bald eagles are federally protected and the shooter could face fines up to $5,000. Anyone with information about the bald eagle's death is asked to call Operation Game Thief at 877-426-3843.
Kansas Man Pleads Guilty to 2 Counts in Fatal Collision
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A 33-year-old Kansas man has pleaded guilty in the death of a former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader in a traffic crash while he was fleeing from police. The Kansas City Star reports Roy Lee Maney of Shawnee pleaded guilty Wednesday to reckless second-degree murder and leaving the accident scene in the collision that killed 30-year-old dance instructor Tiffany Mogenson in October 2013. In a plea deal, Johnson County prosecutors dismissed charges of aggravated battery and obstructing the legal process. Mogenson's husband called the plea agreement "absolutely sickening" and has hired attorneys to ask the judge to not accept the plea. Mogenson was stopped at a Prairie Village intersection when Maney's car hit the back of her vehicle at an estimated 90 mph, killing her instantly.
Owner of Heartland Park Releases Proposed Schedule
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The owner of a troubled Kansas racing facility has released a tentative 2015 schedule that includes hosting a National Hot Rod Association drag racing event in May. Heartland Park Topeka owner Raymond Irwin says it would be irresponsible for him to not have a schedule in place for the new track operator, drivers and fans. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a Kansas Court of Appeals panel is to hear oral arguments on February 26 from Irwin's company, Jayhawk Racing, the city of Topeka and petitioner Chris Imming. The city wants to issue $5 million in STAR bonds to buy Heartland Park, but Imming initiated a petition drive seeking to put the purchase to a vote. The city challenged the legality of the petition, which a Shawnee County judge ruled invalid.
Prosecutor Describes Commune Leader's 15-Year Brutal Reign
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a 55-year-old Kansas man accused of killing a member of his commune more than a decade ago was a brutal leader whose 15-year reign was marked by sexual violence and the deaths of six people. Daniel Perez is charged with first-degree murder in the 2003 drowning death of Patricia Hughes at the group's compound in Valley Center. During opening statements in his trial on Wednesday, Perez's attorney, Alice Osburn, told jurors her client did not kill Hughes and that all of the deaths at the commune were coincidental. Osburn said the group shared $4 million in insurance payments from the dead members. Perez also is accused of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat, making false statements on credit applications and sexual exploitation of a child.
KU Student Newspaper to Focus on Digital Circulation
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The University Daily Kansan is going digital with fewer print editions and more content online. The University of Kansas' student newspaper announced Wednesday that it will move to just two printed issues per week, rather than four, starting this fall. The Kansan has seen its web traffic increase over the past several years, while print circulation has slumped. The Kansan says in a news release that the shift of more content to its website will better serve students and faculty. The Kansan's staff decided the move was necessary because of research showing the newspaper's audience is increasingly consuming news online. The shift also was made to help prepare the student journalists who run the newspaper for today's media environment.
Wichita Man Charged with Girlfriend's Murder
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A 22-year-old man is facing criminal charges in the death of his girlfriend, whose body was found in a parked car. Darnell D. Hall of Wichita made his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in Sedgwick County District Court. He was charged with one count of second-degree murder and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. Police sought Hall after neighbors reported seeing him carry 23-year-old Sabryna Guerrero-Newman's body from a home last week. She was found shot to death several hours later inside a car. A district judge set bond at $1 million for Hall, who will be represented by the public defender's office.
Wichita Teacher Honored with Milken Award, $25K Prize
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A third-grade teacher in Wichita has won a prestigious teaching award that comes with a $25,000 prize. Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary School teacher Amy Stanislowski was named a recipient of the Milken Educator Award for Kansas. The Kansas State Department of Education said in a news release that Stanislowski was told about the award this week in a surprise ceremony at the school. Stanislowski is one of about 40 educators around the country being recognized this year with the distinction. Stanislowski has been teaching for more than six years. Colleague Melissa Mahan described Stanislowski as "one of the very best teachers in our profession."
Kansas Woman Delivers Twins on Side of Nebraska Highway
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A Kansas woman rushing toward Lincoln, Nebraska after her water broke delivered twins on the side of the highway. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that 36-year old Laura Clark, of Barnes, Kansas, told her 39-year-old husband Kevin Clark to pull over Thursday morning and call 911, because one of the babies had already been born. After placing the call, Kevin Clark says he wrapped the baby in a blanket and tied off the umbilical cord, and then the second one was born. Lancaster County Sheriff's Captain Ben Houchin says rescue crews arrived shortly after the second birth and took the babies to Bryan Medical Center East Campus in Lincoln, where he says the newborn boy and girl are doing well. The couple says they haven't yet decided on names.
Texas Tech Defeats Kansas State Men's Team, 64-47
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Devaugntah Williams scored 22 points to lead Texas Tech to a 64-47 win against Kansas State on Wednesday night. Both offenses struggled in the first half, as Kansas State (12-11, 5-5 Big 12) scored just two points over the first 5:20. The Wildcats, who trailed 34-26 at the break, heated up in the second half, trimming their deficit to 45-44. The Red Raiders (12-11, 2-8 Big 12) responded with a 14-0 run over to build a 59-44 lead with 2:28 left and ice the game.
Kansas State Women Upset No. 20 Texas, 66-57
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kindred Wesemann made eight 3-pointers for a career-high 25 points and the Kansas State women's team beat No. 20 Texas 66-57 on Wednesday. The freshman finished 8 of 11 from long-range with four steals to help the Wildcats (14-7, 4-6 Big 12) win their third straight. Ashia Woods added 13 points while Breanna Lewis and Shaelyn Martin added 10 apiece. Ariel Atkins led Texas (15-6, 4-6) with 18 points.
KU Women Bounce Back With Win Over Texas Tech, 71-67
LAWRENCE, Kan _ The Jayhawks pulled ahead of the Lady Raiders in the second half Wednesday night to claim their second win over Texas Tech this season, 71-67, at Allen Fieldhouse. After having no Jayhawks in double figures in the first half, a 20-2 run in the final frame, along with five players reaching double figures helped Kansas (13-10, 4-6) over Texas Tech (13-9, 3-7). Senior forward Chelsea Gardner led Kansas with 19 points and eight rebounds. Freshman guard Lauren Aldridge was next up with 13 points and senior guard Natalie Knight brought home 12. Ivonne Cook-Taylor led Texas Tech with a career-high 23 points.