Kansas Legislature's 2015 Session Begins
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers returned to Topeka Monday to begin the 2015 session, with a massive state budget shortfall looming over most other issues. The Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature is expected to spend much of the session debating how to address a projected shortfall of more than $710 million in the current budget and for the fiscal year beginning in July. The shortfalls resulted from personal income tax cuts enacted last session at the urging of Governor Sam Brownback. The governor is scheduled to offer a spending plan to address the budget shortfall Friday. Before the session began Monday afternoon, Brownback was inaugurated for his second term. Eight statewide elected officials and new lawmakers were also sworn in.
Brownback: Solutions to State's Woes Involve Culture, Morality
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says challenges facing Kansas can be resolved only by strengthening families and changing the culture from one that focuses too much on personal satisfaction over obligation and sacrifice. Brownback's inaugural speech on Monday came before the Legislature was scheduled to convene for its 2015 session. He says too many people have not progressed in recent years because of a slowly growing economy and an overly paternalistic big government. Brownback says solutions to problems facing the state are "principally cultural and moral," not as dictated by government but "emitting from our hearts alive with a loving God."
Kansas Birth Rate Drops to New Low
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - An annual report says the Kansas birth rate in 2013 was the lowest since the state began keeping birth records in 1912. The annual vital statistics report says the Kansas rate was 13.4 per 1,000, a drop of 4.3 percent from 2012. Kansas State University professor Laszlo Kulcsar, a demographer, says many people are deciding to have fewer children for a variety of reasons, including the economy. The report showed 38,805 babies were born in Kansas in 2013. The report also found teen pregnancies were the lowest in 20 years. The abortion rate increased slightly from 2012 but is still trending downward to about 97 abortions per 1,000 live births.
Kansas Revenues Take Major Hit from Plummeting Oil Prices
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Although falling gas prices are reducing the amount of oil severance taxes Kansas is expected to collect, state lawmakers say there's a bright spot to the otherwise dim projections. Residents will have more money in their pockets to spend on other things. Kansas Legislative Research Department economist Chris Courtwright appeared Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee. He says forecasters in November revised their estimate of how much severance tax money would come in by nearly $8.2 million, based on oil prices of $80 a barrel. But with the price of Kansas oil at $35.75 a barrel as of Tuesday, Courtwright says severance tax receipts are bound to go much lower. He says there's a chance the low prices could stimulate the economy and raise tax revenues elsewhere.
Saline County Commission Reinstates Fired Department Heads
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A new Saline County Commission has reinstated four department heads that were dismissed two weeks ago. The vote on Monday rescinded a December 30 decision to eliminate the jobs of county administrator, and the directors of the road and bridge, health, and planning and zoning departments. Commissioners who pushed the dismissals said the move would save the county thousands of dollars. The change came after three new commissioners were sworn in, expanding the commission to five members. The new commission agreed to give the administrators back pay for the weeks they missed. The Salina Journal reports the vote means a court hearing scheduled for Monday seeking a temporary restraining order will not be held. A Salina attorney had sued the former commission, arguing against the elimination of the department heads.
University of Kansas Medical Center Gets $1M Gift
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former University of Kansas professor and his wife are donating $1 million to the University of Kansas Medical Center. Keith and Laurie Tennant, of Vero Beach, Florida, say in a news release Tuesday that the gift is thanks for life-saving care Keith Tennant received at the medical center. The gift will go toward research at the medical center's Cardiovascular Research Institute in Kansas City, Kansas. Keith Tennant, now 72, underwent two heart surgeries at the medical center, the first when he was 46. Both Tennants were faculty members at the university's Department of Health, Sport and Exercise Science. Keith Tennant was a professor from 2002 and department chair from 2002 to 2005 until he retired in 2012. Laurie Tennant taught in the department from 2002 to 2011.
Court Upholds Expulsion of KU Law Student
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the expulsion of a student at the University of Kansas School of Law who lied about his criminal history on his application. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on Tuesday the district court's summary judgment against former law student Robert Brown. Brown did not dispute that he had falsified answers in his application where law school applicants were supposed to disclose any criminal history. He began classes, but later amended his application to disclose criminal convictions for domestic battery and driving under the influence. The law school expelled him after determining in 2010 that his application would have been rejected had his criminal past been known. A three-judge appeals court panel rejected Brown's arguments that the school had denied him due process.
State Fair Officials Developing New Master Plan
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Kansas State Fair officials have begun the process of forming a new master plan to address renovations at the aging fairgrounds. Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein says the plan could address issues such as a rarely-used racetrack to updating the Depression-era Bison Arena and an Expo Center built in the 1960s. The Hutchinson News reports that the last master plan was approved by the Kansas Legislature in 2001 and it took several years to complete the recommended renovations. Several costly projects were left out of that plan. Stoecklein says two companies have submitted bids for completing the projects listed in the master plan. The companies will be asked to visit the fairgrounds to further evaluate the property in the spring.
Concrete Manufacturing Company to Open Plant in Kansas
PLEASANTON, Kan. (AP) — A Minnesota-based company that makes precast concrete wall panels for the construction industry plans to begin operations in eastern Kansas. FABCON Precast officials announced Monday that it would open its fourth plant in the country in Pleasanton, Kansas, by July. It expects to hire 35 to 40 people, including engineers, drafters, plant managers and skilled manufacturing laborers. The Kansas City Star reports the company will take over a plant previously occupied by IPC Inc., a subsidiary of Cretex Companies. FABCON said the expansion will be its first in 14 years.
Report: Winter Wheat Acreages Down in US, Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Growers in Kansas and across the nation have seeded far fewer acres of winter wheat for harvest this year. A report released Monday by the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows a 5 percent drop in U.S. winter wheat acres compared to a year ago, with 40.5 million acres seeded. Most of that acreage is hard red winter wheat, the class most commonly seeded in Kansas. Nationwide hard red acres total 29.5 million acres. Kansas remains the nation's biggest wheat producer with 9.4 million acres planted for harvest in 2015. That is a 2 percent decrease from a year ago. Texas growers put in 5.9 million acres of wheat, followed by Oklahoma with 5.1 million acres. Winter wheat is seeded in the fall and harvested in late spring or early summer.
Ex-Insurance Agent Sentenced for Stealing from Clients, Firm
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Prosecutors say a former insurance agent has been sentenced to 42 months in prison for stealing from his clients. The U.S. Attorney's office said Monday that 43-year-old Jason Matthew Pennington of Wichita pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and one count of attempted bank fraud. In his plea, Pennington admitted committing fraud while working as an agent for State Farm Insurance. Prosecutors allege he forged a client's signature to obtain a $105,000 loan from a Phoenix life Insurance Co. policy. In another wire fraud count, Pennington changed the address of a retired teacher's insurance policy to his business address. He then made a withdrawal of $278,250 on the policy without her knowledge.
Lawrence Police Offering Bonus to Recruit Spanish Speakers
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Those interested in joining the Lawrence Police Department could receive a $1,500 sign-on bonus if they speak fluent Spanish. The city of Lawrence is seeking applicants to fill open positions at the police department and is encouraging Spanish-speakers to apply. Those hired will be offered a $750 bonus upon hire and another $750 upon successful completion of training. A spokesman for the police department said the city's growing Hispanic population sparked a need for more Spanish-speaking officers. The Lawrence Journal-World reports law enforcement officials blame the language barrier between Spanish-speaking witnesses and English-speaking investigators for slowing the pace of an investigation into the November homicide of a Mexican immigrant.
Police: Woman's Car Crashed into Retirement Home, Killing 1
NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — Newton police say a woman might have hit the wrong pedal before her car drove into a retirement home, killing an 82-year-old resident. Police Lieutenant Scott Powell says Wanda Dyck died at a hospital Sunday after the accident Saturday at the Asbury Park Retirement Homes in Newton. KAKE-TV reports a car driven by a 52-year-old woman jumped a curb, went onto an ice-covered pond and then plowed into Dyck's apartment. The ceiling collapsed and Dyck was buried under debris. The driver suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. Powell says the staff of the home was able to get the other nine residents out of their rooms without any injuries. He says investigators are awaiting toxicology reports but it appears the driver simply hit the gas instead of the brake.
Suspect Shot by Police Charged with Bank Robbery, Carjacking
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a Kansas City, Missouri, man shot by police last week has been charged with bank robbery and carjacking. Twenty-nine-year-old Steven Marquain Davis is accused in a criminal complaint filed Tuesday of using a bomb to rob the Commerce Bank in Kansas City, Missouri. The affidavit filed alleges Davis entered the bank Friday holding a remote control device and placed a duffel bag on the counter. Davis allegedly told the teller to "gimme everything." The teller, believing the robber was referring to a bomb, placed $29,689 in the bag. The complaint alleges Davis tried to get into three cars into the area before police arrived. He was wounded by police after allegedly pointing a gun at officers. Agents later located an explosive device in the bank lobby.
Man Sentenced to Nearly 10 Years in Kansas Shooting
LINCOLN, Kan. (AP) — The son of a central Kansas sheriff was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for the shooting death of another man he called his best friend. Thirty-four-year-old Scott Weigel was sentenced Monday to nine years and nine months in prison for the September 2013 death of 21-year-old Keith Ancell in Lincoln. Weigel, the son of Lincoln County Sheriff Mike Weigel, was convicted in November of second-degree murder. Testimony at the trial indicated the shooting happened while the men were partying with friends. The Salina Journal reports Weigel read a statement calling Ancell his best friend and apologizing to Ancell's family and his own.
Police Arrest Suspect in Shooting That Killed 2
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police have arrested a 29-year-old man in the shooting that left two men dead outside a Wichita bar. Authorities say a tip to Crime Stoppers via a cell phone text message identified the suspect and his address. Wichita Crime Commission Director Gordon Bassham says police took the suspect into custody without incident Monday afternoon. He was booked on two counts of second-degree murder, aggravated battery, and felon in possession of a firearm. Authorities say 28-year-old Andrew Smith and 32-year-old Quentin Brown died in the early Saturday shooting outside a bar called The Place. Two other people were wounded. A 25-year-old was released from a hospital after being treated for a gunshot to the leg. Officials say a 36-year-old man is in serious condition after being shot in the stomach.
Royals Extend Manager's Contract Through 2016 Season
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The AL champion Royals and Ned Yost have agreed on a one-year contract extension that will keep the manager with the franchise through the 2016 season. Yost said after leading the Royals to an improbable pennant last season that he hoped to manage a few more years. His contract had been set to expire after the 2015 season. Yost became the Royals' manager in May 2010 and presided over a massive rebuilding effort that culminated with the end of a 29-year playoff drought. The Royals took the San Francisco Giants to the seventh game of the World Series before their season finally ended. The longest-tenured manager in club history, Yost will soon become its winningest. He has 373 victories, trailing only Dick Howser (404) and Whitey Herzog (410).