Most Kansas Senate Committees to Convene Under New Chairmen
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Most committees of the Kansas Senate will have new leaders when conservative Republicans take control of the chamber in January. A GOP leadership committee on Tuesday appointed chairmen for the Senate's 13 standing committees. Eleven will be new after conservatives ousted moderate Republican leaders in this year's GOP primaries. All committees are chaired by Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in the chamber 32-8. The chairmen will assume their jobs when the 2013 session convenes in January. The newcomers include Ty Masterson, of Andover, who will lead the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, and Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, who will chair the Senate Education Committee. The holdovers are Les Donovan, who chairs the Assessment and Taxation Committee, and Pat Apple, of Louisburg, who heads the Utilities Committee.
KS Revenues Could Get a Boost from "Fiscal Cliff" Negotiations Failure
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials acknowledge that the state could gain some revenues if the federal government goes over the "fiscal cliff" but they say the boost isn't likely to come close to offsetting any potential problems. The state's income tax codes are largely tied to the federal tax codes. If President Obama and Congress can't reach an agreement to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts, some tax changes will result in Kansans paying more in taxes to the state. Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration had no firm revenue estimates as of Tuesday. Spokesperson Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the administration is not preparing for a boost in tax revenues. State Senator and Topeka Democrat Laura Kelly said economic problems caused by going off the fiscal cliff outweigh any revenue boost.
Kansas Governor Will Seek to Merge Juvenile, Adult Corrections
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says he wants to merge the state's troubled juvenile justice agency with the Kansas Department of Corrections. Brownback said Monday he'll issue an executive order for the merger after the legislative session begins in January. Unless lawmakers reject it within 60 days, the order will take effect July 1st. Brownback says taking a social-services approach to juvenile justice has failed Kansas for decades. He fired the top two officials of the Juvenile Justice Authority in March. Two legislative audits issued since July criticized the agency, suggesting it doesn't do enough to keep offenders and staff safe. Brownback praised acting Juvenile Justice Commissioner Terri Williams for making improvements but said the audits demonstrate the need for change.
Dept. of Defense OKs Funds for Fort Riley Middle School
FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — The Geary County school district will receive $35.2 million in federal funds to build a new middle school at the Army's Fort Riley. The Department of Defense said Tuesday the new building will replace an existing school on the northeast Kansas Army post. The new school will have room for up to 720 students in grades six through eight. An additional $6.7 million in non-federal funds will be used for the project. Groundbreaking is scheduled for January and the school is expected to be ready for classes in 2014. The Geary County school district, located in adjacent Junction City, has seen an influx of students over the past decade with the arrival of thousands of soldiers and families assigned to the Army's 1st Infantry Division.
Judge: Boeing Division Sale Lawsuit Will Go to Trial
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled a trial is necessary to decide claims brought in a lawsuit by two unions arising from Boeing's 2005 sale of its commercial aircraft operations in Kansas and Oklahoma. The lawsuit was brought by the International Association of Machinists and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. In a 49-page decision Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Monti Belot rejected requests by both sides for summary judgment, although he did side with Boeing on some minor claims. Among issues to be decided is the meaning of "layoffs" as it relates to early retirement and retiree health care benefits stemming from the sale. Belot ruled that the question of whether Boeing breached its collective bargaining agreements should be decided through trial.
Kansas 7th in Nation for Agricultural Exports
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new government report shows Kansas ranked seventh in the nation last year as an exporter of agricultural products to other countries. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service on Tuesday cited a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegging the total value of the state's 2011 farm exports at $5.3 billion. That's up 7 percent from the previous year. Wheat was the top Kansas export, accounting for 29 percent of the state's total farm exports and 14 percent of the nation's wheat exports. The value of exports increased for wheat, corn, pork, beef and veal, hides and skins. It declined for other categories. Kansas was second in the nation for wheat exports and third for beef exports.
UPDATE: Kansas Schools to Continue Individual Decisions on JROTC Credits
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas schools will continue to decide individually whether to allow students to knock out a physical education requirement by participating in junior ROTC. On Tuesday, the Kansas Board of Education rejected a new rule that would have given students one PE credit for completing two years of junior ROTC. Kansas students are required to earn one physical education credit to graduate. Material provided to the board says 20 Kansas schools offer junior ROTC. But some give no physical education credit for the program, while others offer JROTC students a half or full PE credit. Advocates said the change would have made it easier for students to fit JROTC into schedules already packed with required classes. Opponents argued physical education and junior ROTC have different goals.
KCK Police Seek Help in Identifying Body
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas are asking for the public's help in identifying a man found dead in burning vehicle over the weekend. Firefighters made the discovery around 11 pm Saturday while extinguishing the flames. Police said Monday the man's death is now being investigated as a homicide. The victim is believed to have been 40 to 60 years old, with a full set of upper dentures and partial lowers. The vehicle is described as a red, 2012 Lincoln MKT crossover registered to Avis rentals. The cause of death has not been released.
Carbon Monoxide Cited in Hotel Incident
GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas hotel has reopened after carbon monoxide exposure sent more than 30 people to a hospital where they were treated and released. Sunday's incident caused a brief evacuation of the Best Western Inn and Suites in Greensburg. Kiowa County Sheriff Kendal Lothman said Monday that several children had got out of the hotel swimming pool with dilated eyes and difficulty breathing. Lothman says the children had been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide believed to result from a water heater failing to vent properly. Guests were allowed back in their rooms later Sunday, but the pool area remains closed until the problem is fixed. Hotel manager Ron Wright said Monday he was thankful nobody was seriously hurt.
Push Continues for Statewide School Anti-Bullying Policy
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A group of activists is planning to renew efforts to lobby the Kansas Legislature to expand the definition of bullying and cyberbullying because of ongoing problems in a south central Kansas school district. The Wichita Eagle reports that parents from the Wichita area and State Board of Education member Walt Chappell are pushing the issue to modify a bullying law passed in 2007. The law requires districts to implement anti-bullying plans but doesn't dictate how districts should handle or track reports of bullying. Calls for the legislation were prompted by bullying incidents in the Haysville district. Parents say they want districts to make sure students are safe. Critics say the bullying proposal would increase the paperwork and burden for schools as they deal with bullying incidents.
Reminder: Texting Whereabouts of Deer Illegal in Kansas
PRATT, Kan. (AP) — Kansas wildlife officials are reminding hunters that it's against the law to exchange text messages on the whereabouts of deer and other game that might be headed their way. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says the law has been around in various forms for years. Officials say hunters are probably aware that they can't use two-way radios to give other hunters a heads-up about the location of a game animal moving in their direction. But that law, which prohibits the use of a radio or other mechanical device, includes cellphones. The department says a text is the same as a phone call under the law, so don't do it.
KU Seeks $30M for New Medical Building
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is asking the state for millions of dollars to help construct a $75 million medical building at its Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Steve Stites, a medical center official, plans to meet with Governor Sam Brownback to discuss the proposed education and training facility. The university is asking the state to provide $30 million in bonds over 10 years. It also wants the state to release $26 million of a federal refund related to payroll taxes. The university's budget request also includes nearly $3 million for improvements at the School of Medicine's Wichita campus. Last month, Brownback said a general increase in funding for higher education is unlikely but additional dollars for specific projects at the universities could be available.
Burglaries Rise in Dodge City
DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Dodge City police say the western Kansas city is seeing a big increase in burglaries. Police responded to 52 burglaries at homes, businesses and vehicles in November. That's a 60 percent increase over November of last year. Police Chief Craig Mellecker says the crimes are happening across the city. He says it's not clear what is prompting the increase but he added that such crimes increase around the holidays. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports that Mellecker also says drugs often play a part in property crimes.
Garden City Officials: Recent Fires May Be Related
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Garden City law enforcement and fire officials are working to determine if five fires in the last month are connected. The Garden City Telegram says that the fires have all been reported since November 9. No one has been injured in any of the fires. Two of the fires were at vacant mobile homes. Garden City police Sergeant Michael Reagle says an 8- and 11-year-old are considered suspects in those cases but no arrests have been made. The other three fires involved fires being set to trees, grass and fences. Reagle says it's unclear if those fires are related to the other two incidents. Police have no leads or suspects in those fires.
McPherson Will Continue Police Chaplain Program
MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — McPherson city officials say they plan to continue a police chaplaincy program despite a complaint from a national group that it violates the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state. Mayor Thomas Brown said Monday that discussions with the city's attorney led him to believe the program is constitutional. The city was contacted last week by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Wisconsin-based group said a McPherson resident complained about the program. McPherson officials say chaplains will be allowed to offer counseling to officers and be present when families are notified of tragedies. The Hutchinson News reports that the program has not yet begun. Brown says the city will consider some of the issues raised by the foundation to be sure it complies with the law.
Kansas Education Officials to Provide Cursive Instruction Update
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Cursive handwriting is on the agenda again during this month's Kansas Board of Education meeting. On Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Education will provide the board with a range of possible recommendations on the issue of teaching cursive. Last month, the board heard a report that interest in teaching the subject has begun to wane. A survey found 90 percent of state school districts are teaching cursive writing, generally beginning in third grade. Teachers typically spend from 15 minutes to an hour a day instructing students on cursive script. But nearly 23 percent of districts responding said teaching handwriting is not a high priority, and about 6 percent said they anticipate eventually reducing the amount of class time spent on it.
Newspaper: Beef Tenderizing Method Has Risks
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A newspaper report says the beef industry has been using a mechanical meat tenderizing process that may increase the risk of E. coli exposure. The Kansas City Star said in a series of articles published this week that the newspaper spent a year investigating various aspects of the U.S. beef industry, looking at the largest beef packers, as well as feedlots and animal drug companies. The tenderizing method, which results in so-called "bladed" or "needled" beef, has been around for decades and involves injecting marinades into meat. The industry says the practice is safe, but food safety advocates say it can drive pathogens like E. coli deeper into the meat, requiring more cooking to destroy the E. coli. Beef industry officials respond that E. coli illnesses have declined recently.
Kansas Supreme Court to Honor Washburn Law Professor
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is giving its highest award to a Washburn University law professor who formerly served as the law school's dean and has a long history of helping write legal codes. James Concannon will receive the court's Justice Award for service to the judiciary and the legal profession during a special session Friday afternoon in Topeka. Concannon has been on the Washburn law school faculty since 1973 and served as its dean from 1988 to 2001. Among other things, he serves on committees that review and revise standard instructions for juries and procedures for civil lawsuits. The Supreme Court bestows the award when it feels it has a worthy candidate in a given year.
Graduation Looms for Fort Leavenworth Officers
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Military officials are preparing to graduate the latest class of officers studying at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in northeast Kansas. Nearly 335 officers and government employees, including 46 officers from other countries, will receive their degrees Thursday at Fort Leavenworth's Lewis and Clark Center. The officers began their instruction in February. General David Rodriguez, commanding general of the Army's Forces Command, will be the guest speaker. The 10-month course teaches leadership skills to perform in a variety of military operations. Fort Leavenworth has been educating international officers alongside U.S. officers since 1894.
Texas Judge Halts Oil Pipeline Work
HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas court has ordered TransCanada to temporarily halt work on a private property where it is constructing part of an oil pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline crosses portions of Kansas. Texas County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz signed a temporary restraining order and injunction Friday. The injunction went into effect Tuesday after Michael Bishop, the landowner, posted bond. TransCanada says this will not delay its project. Bishop argued the Canadian company defrauded him by taking his land in Nacogdoches County for a pipeline it said would carry crude oil. He argues that tar sands oil is not crude oil and that the company's claims that it is are fraudulent. The judge says there's sufficient cause to halt the project until a hearing December 19.
2 Arrested in Unrelated Wichita Homicides
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are sorting out the details in a pair of weekend homicides that occurred just a few hours apart. The first took place around 9 pm Saturday, when 23-year-old George Vasquez was shot in the head after answering a knock at the front door of a home. A 28-year-old man was arrested after police found him outside arguing with two men who live at the house. Police said Monday they were seeking a motive. A suspect is also in custody the fatally stabbing of a 27-year-old man around 1 am Sunday, after a fight broke out at a party. Police say Tan Nguyen died in surgery at a Wichita hospital. Investigators say the victim was involved in a long-running feud with a brother of the 29-year-old suspect.
Man Pleads Guilty to Beating Death in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man will be sentenced in January after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in a beating death after a dispute over ownership of a dog. Nelson R. Glover pleaded guilty Monday in the death of 47-year-old John Tolliver in his home in July. Glover also will be sentenced January 24 for robbery and aggravated battery. Police say Glover and another man beat Tolliver because of dispute between Tolliver and his ex-girlfriend over possession of a dog. The Wichita Eagle reports that the second defendant in the case, Samuel J. Sims, also has pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced January 16.
Missouri Man Sentenced to Life for Drug Trafficking
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man convicted in a cocaine trafficking operation has been sentenced as a career offender to life in prison without parole. The U.S. Attorney's office says the sentence imposed Monday on 31-year-old Theodore Wiggins was mandatory because of his prior felony convictions for drug offenses. Prosecutors said two of those convictions involved carjackings, including one in which he shot at pursuing officers. Wiggins was found guilty in June of participating in a drug-trafficking conspiracy and selling cocaine to an undercover officer. Prosecutors say the conspiracy involved distribution of large amounts of powder and crack cocaine in the metro area. Twenty-four people have pleaded guilty to charges related to the operation, including a Raytown man who bought cocaine by the kilogram from suppliers in Kansas City, Kansas.
Deer Loses Hound Pal to Shelter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The unlikely companionship that developed at a Kansas City cemetery between a stray dog and a motherless doe has ended. The doe, named Ella, and the dog have been at each other's sides in the 43-acre Elmwood Cemetery for the last few months. Cemetery officials said that although it appeared the two had a bond, they were concerned that the dog wouldn't make it through the winter. The Kansas City Star reports that crews from a local animal shelter set up a humane trap with treats and caught the dog Saturday. When people from the shelter arrived to get the dog, Ella the deer was right by the trap that held her pal. Cemetery officials say the shelter will work to get the dog adopted.
US 71 South of KC to Be Renamed I-49
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The director of a coalition pushing for creation of a nonstop highway from New Orleans to the Canada border say Missouri's completion of its portion of the project should build momentum for Arkansas and Louisiana to finish theirs. A 180-mile stretch of U.S. 71 from Kansas City to Joplin will be officially renamed U.S. 49 at noon Wednesday, marking completion of all but about five miles of Missouri's segment. Interstate 49 International Coalition executive director Gard Wayt of Shreveport, Louisiana says his state will be finishing a portion connecting to the Arkansas border in the next six to seven months. In Arkansas, voters approved a half-cent sales tax in November to pay for continued construction of four-lane highways, including a portion of the I-49 project.
Holiday Train Making Its Way Back to Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A train bringing holiday cheer is winding up its journey through the South and Midwest. The Kansas City Southern Holiday Express Train began its trip November 23 in Texas. It's already made stops in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Final stops were scheduled this week in Joplin, Missouri on Tuesday; Pittsburg, Kansas on Wednesday; and Drexel, Missouri on Thursday. The trip ends Friday at Kansas City's Union Station, where the train will be on display through Sunday. The train features a specially decorated engine dubbed "Rudy," a gingerbread boxcar, a flatcar carrying Santa's sleigh, plus reindeer and a miniature village. There's also a snow-covered stall filled with model train displays, the elves' workshop and even a little red caboose. Guests get to visit Santa and tour the train.
NY Services Held for NFL Player in Murder-Suicide
DIX HILLS, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of mourners attended a wake in New York State for Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend and himself. The 25-year-old Long Island native was in an open casket in an auditorium-sized room at the Upper Room Christian World Center church in Dix Hills, 30 miles east of New York City. Police say the West Babylon, New York native shot 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins and then shot himself on December 1. The couple had a 3-month-old daughter, Zoey. Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, declined to speak with a reporter when contacted by telephone on Tuesday. Belcher's casket was surrounded by floral arrangements. Poster boards filled with family snapshots also were displayed. Teammates and coaches attended a service for Belcher last week in Kansas City. Belcher's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.
January Hearing Set for Former Independence Teacher
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities will make their case next month for trying a suburban Kansas City band teacher on charges of having sexual contact with a 14-year-old student, sometimes at school. During a court appearance Tuesday, a judge set a January 30 preliminary hearing date for 27-year-old James N. Owens. He is free on bond after being charged last month with one count each of child enticement and child molestation. His attorney, Eric Vernon, declined to comment. Court documents allege that Owens exchanged more than 100 phone calls and more than 1,500 text messages with the girl.
Kansas Board to Consider PE Credit for JROTC
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas students could knock out a physical education requirement by participating in junior ROTC, under a proposal before the State Board of Education. If approved during Tuesday's board meeting in Topeka, the new rule would give students one PE credit for completing two years of junior ROTC. Kansas students are required to earn one physical education credit to graduate. Generally, a credit takes two semesters to earn. Material provided to the board says 20 Kansas schools offer junior ROTC. But some give no physical education credit for the program, while others offer JROTC students a half or full PE credit. Advocates say the change would make it easier for students to fit JROTC into schedules already packed with required classes. Opponents say physical education and junior ROTC have different goals.
**this story has been updated. Please see above for the latest developments.