UPDATE: Kansas GOP Legislative Leaders Open to Remapping
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's new leaders are receptive to redrawing the state's political boundaries again next year, even though federal judges drew them just this year. Incoming Senate President Susan Wagle told The Associated Press on Thursday that she is interested in redrawing legislative districts. However, she said she wants to consult first with attorneys to see whether a quick round of redistricting is allowed under the Kansas Constitution and past court rulings. In a separate interview, incoming Majority Leader Terry Bruce said he's open to adjusting the state's four congressional districts. He said he'd be willing to consider it if the congressional delegation can agree on a map. Asked whether Governor Sam Brownback is interested, his spokeswoman said only that he'd carefully review any legislation sent to him.
Speaker Hopes to Make Kansas House Assignments Soon
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick says he's hoping to finish committee assignments early next week. Merrick told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he's still working to fill some committee chairmanships in the 125-member chamber. The Stilwell Republican was named as the next speaker earlier this week by fellow Republican legislators and legislators-elect. His selection must be formally ratified by the entire House when the Legislature convenes its next annual session in January, but that's considered a formality. It's typical for some key committee chairmanships to change hands with a new speaker. Merrick is following Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. O'Neal didn't see re-election to the House and is now the chief executive officer of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
Fiscal Cliff's Possible Cuts Worry Kansas Legislative Leaders
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two leaders in the Kansas Legislature say they're worried about how the state's budget would be affected by spending cuts tied to the federal government's so-called fiscal cliff. House Minority Leader and Lawrence Democrat Paul Davis said Thursday he fears the cuts would have a profound effect on social services and highway projects. Congress and President Barack Obama are trying to work out a deal by the end of the year to avoid the fiscal cliff. If they can't, taxes are set to increase automatically, and spending cuts will be triggered. Incoming Senate Majority Leader and Hutchinson Republican Terry Bruce said he's concerned about specific programs, such as nutrition services for senior citizens. Bruce said the state's most vulnerable citizens could be at risk of having services curtailed.
Kansas Awaits Medicaid Waiver Decision
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials with Governor Sam Brownback's administration say they are still waiting to hear from federal health care officials about a waiver request deemed necessary to implement changes to the Kansas Medicaid system. Mark Duggan, chief of staff for Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, told a legislative health care oversight committee Thursday that Kansas officials are in constant discussion with the federal Department of Health and Human Services about the state's waiver. If approved, the waiver would give Kansas some latitude in how it implements changes to its Medicaid programs. Kansas has already awarded three contracts to managed care organizations to run the Medicaid program, which provides health care coverage to 380,000 poor and disabled residents. Known as KanCare, the changes aim to control the state's health care costs.
Kansas Congressman Pessimistic About Fiscal Cliff Negotiations
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo is pessimistic about the ability of Congress and President Barack Obama to reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. The conservative Wichita Republican told reporters on a Thursday telephone conference call that he's disturbed by comments from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that the administration will let the country go over the cliff if Republicans won't allow taxes to increase on the wealthiest Americans. Pompeo opposes such a tax increase and said the administration is "fixated" on the idea. He said the right path is lower taxes and smaller government. Without a deal by year's end, tax increases and spending cuts are to be imposed automatically. Officials and economists worry the economy will suffer. Pompeo said he wants even larger spending cuts than the looming reductions would put in place.
Kansas Leaders No Help in Topeka Schools' Grant Effort
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka school district leaders say Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and the state's two U.S. senators refused to help it secure a $40 million federal grant. Topeka School Superintendent Julie Ford said Wednesday that Brownback and U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran declined to help the district obtain a three-year Race to the Top Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Representatives for the three political leaders say the grant encourages the use of Common Core standards. They say implementing the standards will be costly, and bring more federal interference into state education. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins wrote a letter supporting the district's grant application. The Topeka school district was told recently that it will not be considered for the grant.
Activist Claims Ministerial Privilege with Inmate
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An anti-abortion activist accused of threatening a Wichita physician is claiming "ministerial privileges" in refusing to answer the government's questions about her relationship with the convicted killer of abortion provider George Tiller. The Justice Department sued Angel Dillard last year under a federal law aimed at protecting access to reproductive services. The government has accused her of sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services. Dillard says in a filing Wednesday that she provided supplementary responses to some questions. But she argued certain questions sought confidential information covered by the clergy privilege of her jail ministry. The government argues that the "priest-penitent privilege" does not apply in this case because there is no evidence Dillard is an ordained minister.
US Drought Levels Off After 2 Weeks of Intensification
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A new report shows that the nation's worst drought in decades has leveled off last week after worsening during the two previous weeks. The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows more than 62 percent of the continental U.S. remains in some form of drought. One-fifth of the land in the lower 48 states is still in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications. All of several Midwest and Plains farming states, including Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, are experiencing at least some form of drought. The two previous weekly updates showed overall conditions had worsened after more than a month of showing slight improvements. Heavy rainfall is expected in coming days in portions of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River regions.
1st Infantry Brigade Readies for Africa Mission
FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — A 1st Infantry Division brigade will be conducting a live-fire training exercise in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Africa. Soldiers with the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team will be conducting a mock assault exercise Thursday on the training grounds at Fort Riley. The soldiers will be using newly issued models of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks during the exercise. The training will combine the use of ground forces and maneuver equipment from the 4,000-soldier brigade. The 2013 mission to Africa is the first of any Army unit as part of regionally aligned forces. The soldiers will advise, train and assist soldiers from African nations. Fort Riley is home to more than 18,000 soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division and is located about 60 miles west of Topeka.
Mayor Says Police Might Be Cut When Walmart Leaves
ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City mayor says her police department is in danger of being disbanded after a Walmart store closes in 2014 and leaves a roughly $700,000 sales tax gap. Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Foster says she could consider eliminating the department to save money, but the City Council's public safety committee chairman says that's not an option. KSHB reports the police department has 20 full-time and part-time employees serving the community of about 6,500, with an annual budget of about $1.4 million. As council members work on budget-cutting proposals, getting rid of the police department is among suggestions on Foster's list. If that were to happen, the city would have to pay the Johnson County Sheriff's Department to provide public safety services.
State Grants $28M Hike in Kansas Gas Service Rates
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators have approved a 7 percent rate increase for the state's largest natural gas company that will generate $28 million a year in new revenues for the utility. The Kansas Corporation Commission said a legal settlement it accepted Wednesday will raise bills for average residential customers of Kansas Gas Service by less than $2 a month. The settlement was reached in October by the company, the KCC's staff and other parties. They included the Citizens' Utility Ratepayers Board, a state agency representing residential customers and small businesses. The agreement will allow Kansas Gas Service to earn a pretax profit of 10.6 percent on its operations. The company originally sought a rate increase of nearly $51 million. It has about 632,000 customers in Kansas.
Kansas School Boards Want to Change Union Bargaining
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Association of School Boards says it wants teacher evaluations to be separate from union negotiations. The association voted at its convention last week to lobby lawmakers to remove evaluations from items that must be negotiated with teachers. Kansas school districts currently are changing the evaluation process for educators and administrators. By the 2014-2015 school year, districts must meet several federal requirements, including evaluating teachers based in part on students' progress. Mark Tallman, an official with the association, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the association is concerned some districts will have trouble implementing the requirements. But Peg Dunlap, of the Kansas National Education Association, says negotiating evaluations is crucial because it ensures teachers have input in the process.
3rd Hutchinson Church Break-in This Week
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Thieves are again targeting Hutchinson churches. Police say a break-in Wednesday night at the McGee Chapel, Church of God in Christ, was the third church break-in in less than a week. Some petty cash was stolen but no significant damage was reported. That burglary came a day after a break-in at First Presbyterian Church, where a maintenance worker surprised a young male burglar and chased him out of the church. Nothing was stolen. And sometime during the weekend, the First Christian Church was vandalized and about $60 was stolen. This summer, more than a dozen church break-ins were reported in Hutchinson. Four people were arrested in those crimes. The Hutchinson News reports that police have not found any evidence linking any of the previous suspects to the recent break-ins.
Kansas Shooting Suspect Charged with Capital Murder
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 19-year-old man accused of killing two people at a Wichita Dollar General store could face the death penalty, after being charged with capital murder. Marquis Marshall was charged Wednesday in the killing of 22-year-old Zachary Hunt, a store employee, and 79-year-old Henry Harvey, who was at the store to buy candy for his grandchildren. Police say both men were shot several times last Friday. Police have not discussed a possible motive for the shootings. Marshall's bond was increased to $5 million from $1 million. The Wichita Eagle reports that an attorney from the Death Penalty Defense Unit declined to comment after the hearing. The case qualifies as a possible death penalty case because more than one person died in the attack last Friday.
Hawker Beechcraft Moves Closer to Bankruptcy Exit
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Plane maker Hawker Beechcraft Corporation is now a step closer to exiting bankruptcy after a court ruling approving the company's disclosure statement. The ruling by the bankruptcy court on Wednesday means Hawker Beechcraft can begin soliciting approval of its plan of reorganization from its creditors. The voting is expected to be completed by January 22. The company says it will seek court approval to exit bankruptcy at a confirmation hearing scheduled for January 31. Hawker Beechcraft says its reorganization plan is supported by a committee of unsecured creditors and the majority of its creditors. It plans to rename itself Beechcraft Corporation. The new company will focus on its more profitable turboprop, piston, special mission and military aircraft, as well as its parts, maintenance, repairs and refurbishment business.
Missouri Company Gets $5 Million for 1 Mile Relocation in Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An insurance marketing company is receiving $5 million in incentives to move one mile from Missouri across the border to Kansas. Kansas economic officials say SelectQuote Senior Insurance Services' move from Kansas City to Leawood is good for the state. SelectQuote plans to consolidate its local call center operations. But a Kansas City civic leader says it's another example of business poaching that is costing Missouri and Kansas millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, which hurts the Kansas City metro area on both sides of the state line. SelectQuote officials say about 150 employees with an average salary of $55,000 will be consolidated at the new office. The Kansas City Star reports the incentive calls for 290 new full-time jobs within five years.
Trego County Facing Budget Shortfall at Hospital
WAKEENEY, Kan. (AP) — Trego County commissioners are working to cover a cash shortfall at the county-owned hospital caused by a temporary reduction in Medicare reimbursements. The commissioners agreed to seek $1.8 million in no-fund warrants, which is similar to issuing general obligation bonds, for cash obligations at Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital. The Hays Daily News reported Wednesday that Trego County residents will have to repay the money, plus interest, during the next four years, through a special levy. Hospital administrator Harold Courtois says the temporary drop in Medicare reimbursements over three months cost the hospital about $600,000. The cash shortfall grew until the reimbursements were restored in November. The decision requires a 60-day comment period, during which Trego County residents could gather petitions to put the request to a vote.
Service Held for Woman Slain by Chiefs Player
BLUE RIDGE, Texas (AP) — A relative of the slain girlfriend of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher says she was a loyal friend who brought joy to others with her smiles and laughter. Kasandra Perkins's great-uncle also told mourners at a service Thursday that Perkins loved her family and considered her 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, to be the love of her life. Family and friends gathered at a rural North Texas church to remember the 22-year-old Perkins, five days after Belcher killed her then shot himself in the head. A white casket bedecked with a spray of white lilies was the mourners' focal point at Ridgeview Family Fellowship in Blue Ridge, about 40 miles northeast of Dallas. Great-uncle Ted Downing said Perkins "had a deep, deep understanding about the important things in life."
NFL, Teams Offer Support for Players in Crisis
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — In the final days of Jovan Belcher's life, he could have taken advantage of numerous avenues for support provided by the Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL. There are hotlines established by the league that connect players, staff and their families with third-party counselors unaffiliated with the NFL or its teams. There are also numerous symposiums and support personnel whose jobs are to ensure the well-being of the players. But as many players suggested, having support available is only half of the equation. They must also take advantage of it, and that means a willingness to admit when they have problems. Said Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan Lilja: "The resources the league and the teams offer are always good, it's just up to guys to take advantage of it."
Maryland Ski Resort Sold to Kansas City Group
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — A bankruptcy court judge has approved the sale of Maryland's only ski resort to a unit of a Kansas City-based real-estate investment trust for $23.5 million. A judge in Greenbelt, Maryland approved the sale of the Wisp resort to EPT Ski Properties, a unit of EPR Properties, on Tuesday. The judge also approved the sale of a golf course and other land to National Land Partners for $6.1 million. The resort filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011 after defaulting on nearly $30 million in loans it had received from BB&T Corporation of Winston-Salem, North Carolina to build a golf course community near the ski hill. Home sites in the Lodestone golf-course development didn't sell as well as expected. Formal closing dates for the sales are expected in December.
2 Arrested After Chase, Police Cars Rammed in KCK
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man and woman are under arrest after ramming three police cars and driving through backyards in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say in a news release that no officers were injured in the chase Wednesday evening. Officers were en route to a reported automobile accident when they learned a woman who was injured in the wreck got into a car and left the scene. Police saw the car and but the driver refused to stop. Police say during the chase, the car lost at least one tire, left the road and drove through residential backyards before it crashed. The male driver and female passenger were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Frank Deford to Receive William Allen White Award
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Sportswriter Frank Deford has been selected to receive the 2013 William Allen White Foundation National Citation in February at the University of Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that he will receive the award on February 8 in Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union. Deford also is an author and commentator who has written for Sports Illustrated since 1962. He provides commentary on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" each Wednesday and is senior correspondent on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." William Allen White Foundation trustees choose a winner of the award annually in honor of the former Emporia Gazette publisher. Past recipients include columnist George Will and reporter Bob Woodward. Deford plans to spend February 7 talking with students at the university's journalism school.
Shawnee Mission Medical Center Receives $1M Gift
MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City couple has given a $1 million gift to the foundation for the Shawnee Mission Medical Center. The medical center announced the gift from Benny and Edith Lee on Wednesday. Benny Lee is chairman and chief executive officer of DuraComm Corporation, which manufactures and distributes power supplies, lighting, solar power and other energy conservation products. The Kansas City Star reports that the atrium of the hospital's $44 million birth center will be named after the Lees. The birth center is scheduled to open in late February next year. The center will have a capacity to care for 5,000 newborns and their mothers each year. The hospital says the foundation has now raised more than $29.5 million toward its $30 million capital campaign.
Number of Passengers at Garden City Airport Soars
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Passenger boardings at the Garden City Regional Airport have soared since it began offering new routes to Dallas-Fort Worth this year. Airport officials recorded 16,051 boardings in the last eight months, surpassing the 11,690 for all of last year.
Airport director of aviation Rachelle Powell says the increase started after American Eagle began offering round trips to Dallas-Fort Worth in April. Previously, Great Lakes Aviation offered flights to Denver. The Garden City Telegram reports that the increased business will allow the city access to more federal funding for the airport. Powell says because the airport exceeded 10,000 boardings this year, it will receive $1 million in federal funding for airport improvements. The money will be used for snow removal equipment and taxiway improvements in 2014.
Missouri Couple Convicted of $800,000 Tax Fraud
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A northwest Missouri couple has been convicted in an $800,000 tax fraud scheme against the federal government. Thirty-four-year-old Joshua Simonson and his wife, 35-year-old Kristen Simonson of Oak Grove, were found guilty Wednesday of 11 counts, including conspiracy. Prosecutors say the couple filed fraudulent returns for taxes they claimed were withheld on interest income they earned. Prosecutors say they did not earn or pay taxes on any interest income. Joshua Simonson also was convicted of money laundering for trying to conceal the money by moving it among various accounts. When the Internal Revenue Service began contacting the Simonsons, Joshua Simonson sent two fraudulent checks totaling more than $1 million to cover the funds. The government seized $129,000 from the Simonsons, who repaid $2,000 after learning of the federal investigation.
Kansas 'Occupy Art' Exhibit Features Workers' Plight
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita Art Museum has put together an exhibition depicting the dignity and plight of workers over 150 years. "Occupy Art: Protest and Empathy for the Worker" reflects the empathy artists have for the common man. Occupy Wall Street protests were launched in September 2011 setting off an Occupy movement. Artists have long pictured the common man in their works. Visitors to the Wichita Art Museum will soon have the chance to examine works of arts spanning 150 selected from the museum's permanent collection. The museum says unsafe working conditions and the impact of wars on the poor are depicted in poignant works of art. The exhibit was curated by Rachel Epp Buller, Assistant Professor of Art at Bethel College. It opens Saturday and runs until March 31.
Central Kansas Farm Brothers Expand Parody Song Repertoire
ASSARIA, Kan. (AP) — Three central Kansas brothers who became an Internet sensation this summer with their parody song "I'm Farming and I Grow It" have a new tune that's become an overnight hit. The Peterson brothers on Tuesday night released a parody of the song "Gangnam Style," changing the title to "Farmer Style." The Wichita Eagle says the song by Greg, Nathan and Kendal Peterson had well over 130,000 hits on You Tube by noon Wednesday. The video features the brothers dancing Gangnam style with other family members and includes farming scenes from their farm near Assaria. Their first video, a parody of LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It," went viral in June, garnering nearly 8 million hits. The brothers have been invited to speak and perform at various multi-state agricultural events.
Wife Accused in Missouri Sex Slave Case Pleads Guilty
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A woman has admitted helping her husband keep a young woman as a sex slave in their rural southwest Missouri home. The Kansas City Star reports that Marilyn Bagley's plea agreement Thursday recommends she be sentenced to probation. The 47-year-old Bagley pleaded guilty to conspiring to help her husband sexually enslave the woman, who was 16 when she moved in with the couple. Bagley and her husband, Edward Bagley, were scheduled for trial in February on several charges, including sex trafficking. Prosecutors allege Edward Bagley persuaded the girl to live with the couple in Lebanon. They say she was given drugs and tortured until she was hospitalized in February 2009. The Bagleys have said the sex acts were consensual and part of the sexual lifestyle they practiced.
Kansas GOP Senate Leader Wants to Tackle Legislative Remapping
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle says she's interested in redrawing legislative districts next year even though federal judges redrew boundaries earlier this year. Wagle told The Associated Press Thursday that she first wants to consult with attorneys to see whether a quick round of political redistricting is possible under the Kansas Constitution and past court decisions. But she said if it is possible, in her words, "Nothing should be out of the realm of fixing." Wagle is a Wichita Republican and was among the conservative GOP legislators frustrated with this year's legislative stalemate over redrawing political boundaries to ensure equal representation. Lawmakers failed to approve any maps, forcing three federal judges to draw the new lines. GOP conservatives gained control of the Senate in this year's elections.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.