Kansas House Advances Tax Cut Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have given first-round approval legislation cutting state income tax rates and abolishing the sales tax on groceries. The 68-53 vote Tuesday afternoon capped five hours of debate on taxes. Approval on a second vote would send the bill to the Senate. The measure would lower the tax rates in all income brackets and require any growth in state revenue above 3 percent be used to cut taxes further. It would also phase out earnings taxes for thousands of partnerships, sole proprietorships and other small businesses. The sales tax rate would drop to 5.7 percent from 6.3 percent in July 2013, as previously scheduled. Proponents say the changes would give all Kansans more disposable and create jobs. Critics called the policy misguided.
Kansas House Votes to End Sales Tax on Food
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The state of Kansas would no longer charge sales tax on groceries under an amendment approved by the House. The 76-44 vote Tuesday came as the chamber debated a plan that would reduce income tax rates for individuals and some classes of businesses. Representative Jana Goodman, a Leavenworth Republican, offered the amendment on groceries, arguing that all Kansas residents deserved to have more money in their pockets. Ending the sales tax on groceries would cost the state an estimated $350 million annually. Goodman says Kansas is struggling in a recession and the best way to start a recovery is by cutting taxes. The amendment was one of several considered by the House as it debated the income tax measure.
Budget Plan Draws Criticism for School Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A proposed $14 billion budget for the state of Kansas is drawing bipartisan criticism because it would withhold some education funds to push local school districts to tap their cash reserves first. The issue for critics Tuesday was the elimination of $29 million in new money for the state's 286 school districts to cover higher-than-expected costs during the current school year. Republican Governor Sam Brownback endorsed the spending. But the House Appropriations Committee removed the money before endorsing a bill containing its proposed budget Monday night. The change would force districts to absorb the costs and potentially dip into their reserves. The state's overall spending would drop about 4 percent during the fiscal year that begins July 1, or roughly $650 million.
Kansas Unemployment Rate Drops
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A new report shows the Kansas unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in January, with modest job growth over the previous year. The state Department of Labor said Tuesday the January jobless rate declined from 6.4 percent in December and 6.8 percent in January 2011, with the figures adjusted for seasonal factors. Department officials said one sign the state's economy is improving was January's increase in jobs from the same month a year earlier. The number rose by 12,200, or almost 1 percent. The agency noted that while government jobs declined, private employers added about 22,000 jobs over the year, an increase of about 2 percent. Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee says the job growth in the private sector is encouraging.
KS House Committee Votes to Freeze KNI Admissions
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee endorsed a proposal to freeze admissions to the Kansas Neurological Institute for one year. The home for the disabled in Topeka has been the center of controversy since 2010, when a commission recommended it be closed. That recommendation was rejected but Governor Sam Brownback and some legislators continue to look for ways to cut costs at the institute. Rep. Dave Crum, a Republican from Augusta, says care of disabled people is moving away from central institutions like KNI to community-based care. He says Kansans who need residential care could still live at Parsons State Hospital. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat, criticized those who voted for the amendment yesterday (MON), saying the state is obligated to care for its disabled citizens.
KS Gov Wants to Add $3.4 Million for Medicaid Overhaul
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is asking Kansas legislators to add $3.4 million to the state budget to help with an overhaul of the Medicaid program. Brownback submitted his request for the funds yesterday (MON). His administration is planning to issue contracts this summer to three companies to manage the $2.9 billion-a-year Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for the poor, the disabled and elderly. The changes are designed to cut the state's costs while improving the coordination of medical care. Brownback is asking legislators to add $1 million to the budget for what he called a robust public education campaign about the coming changes. His request also includes $2.4 million to upgrade the computer system that handles bills submitted by health care providers to the Medicaid program.
Lawmaker Faces New Complaints from Activist
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A longtime Republican activist in Kansas has filed two ethics complaints against a state senator, accusing him of misusing campaign funds and filing a false campaign finance report with the state. Kris Van Meteren, of Ozawkie, filed the complaints Tuesday against Senator Dwayne Umbarger, a Thayer Republican, with the state Governmental Ethics Commission. Van Meteren is a reviving a case he pursued unsuccessfully in 2008, but he's also added new allegations. Umbarger called the complaints a waste of taxpayer dollars. He said it's a sign he's likely to face opposition in the GOP primary in August. Van Meteren is questioning about $6,000 worth of expenditures made by Umbarger from his campaign fund from 2004 into 2009, alleging that Umbarger illegally converted campaign funds to personal use. Umbarger disputes the allegations.
8-Year-Old Topeka Girl Found Dead, Man Arrested
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A man is jailed in Topeka after an 8-year-old girl was found dead. The girl, Ahliyah Irvin, was reported missing about 5 am Tuesday and police announced about 9:45 am that she had been found dead. Police did not immediately say how the girl died or where her body was found. A 28-year-old man was taken into custody later Tuesday. Police did not say how he was connected to Ahliyah.
Grocer Gets 6 Months for Food Stamp Fraud Conspiracy
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita grocery store owner will go to federal prison for his part in a scheme that paid customers cash for less than the value of their food stamps and pocketed the difference.
Ahmed Al-Maleki was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten to six months in prison followed by six months of home detention. The owner of Kansas Food Market had pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and food stamp fraud. Marten also found that the loss to taxpayers amounted to $130,000, and ordered Al-Maleki to pay restitution in that amount. Marten said there are consequences to breaking the law. But he also imposed a sentence below advisory guidelines because Al-Maleki's wife speaks no English and cannot drive, making it difficult to care for their five children.
Man Gets Probation in Death of Salina Man
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A defense attorney says a man who died after a confrontation with four Salina men started the fight that led to his death. Attorney Roger Struble made that argument in a motion filed on behalf of 20-year-old Justin Taddiken in the January 2011 death of 48-year-old Robert Unselt. Taddiken pleaded no contest to aggravated battery in Unselt's fatal beating. Yesterday (MON), he was placed on two years of supervised probation. Unselt's widow and sister disputed Struble's account of the confrontation, saying Unselt was a peacemaker. The Salina Journal reports that Unselt's widow is seeking $1 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against Taddiken and three co-defendants. Two of the other men have settled their criminal cases without going to trial. Charges have been refiled against the fourth man.
Wichita Officer Who Led BTK Investigation Retires
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A lieutenant who was the public face of the Wichita police department during several high-profile investigations, including the capture of the BTK serial killer, has retired. Lt. Ken Landwehr retired yesterday (MON), after 35 years with the Wichita police force, the last 20 as commander of the homicide unit. The Wichita Eagle reports that Landwehr helped his unit solve most of 600 homicides it investigated. During a ceremony attended hundreds of co-workers and friends, he gave credit to the detectives in the unit. He was best known for his work on the BTK case and the prosecution of Reginald and Jonathan Carr, who were sentenced to death for killing four people in 2000. Speakers at his retirement ceremony praised Landwehr as a dedicated, top-flight detective who will be difficult to replace.
Kansas Makes Food Inspections Available Online
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is posting its inspection reports for restaurants and other food-handling business on a state website. Reports dating back to March 2010 can be viewed on the website of the state Department of Agriculture. The agency does unannounced inspections of restaurants, grocery stores, food-processing operations and hotels and motels at least once a year. Last year, the department conducted about 23,000 inspections. Agency officials say having the reports online will help consumers who want to see how the restaurants they frequent are faring. But officials say it's best to examine inspections over time to get a more accurate picture.
EPA Chief Says Kansas Students Can Shape Policy
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told students at the University of Kansas that her job involves ensuring their future. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told the students yesterday (MON) that they have the power to influence the course of environmental policies. She also said students should look at how they already live on campus by using public transportation, choosing efficient foods and living in small spaces. The Lawrence Journal World reports that Jackson acknowledged the criticism the federal agency has received recently from those who say environmental regulations have "hobbled" the economy. But she defended the EPA's policies, saying it's consistent with American values to keep industries from polluting, to keep vehicles from emitting toxins and to monitor chemicals used in producing food.
KS Gov Reports Expenses at Residence Declining
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says that spending at his official residence has declined since he took office. Brownback's office released figures yesterday (MON) for Cedar Crest, the governor's official residence, at the request of several news organizations. The numbers show a budget of $115,000 for the fiscal year that began last July. Two years ago, the annual budget for the residence was nearly $189,000. Brownback took office in January 2011 and cut the staff for Cedar Crest from two to one, leaving only a personal assistant for the first lady. Since July 1, about $8,300 has been spent on hospitality at Cedar Crest. The figure for the previous fiscal year was about $15,000, and hospitality spending peaked at almost $28,000 for the fiscal year ending in June 2010.
Legislature Decides to Ignore Plea for State Dog
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal to name a state dog has lost its bite. A Kansas House committee has declined to hear a bill that would have named the Cairn Terrier the official state dog. The breed is best known in Kansas for playing Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." Brenda Moore, of the South Central Kansas Kennel Club, originally asked State Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Democrat from Winfield, to introduce the bill. She said she plans to conduct a statewide campaign this summer, including a petition drive to present to state politicians. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals opposed the measure, saying it believes the designation would cause Kansas puppy mills to "churn out litter after litter of the breed" and lead to fewer adoptions from animal shelters. Trimmer says he plans to re-introduce the bill next year. In the meantime, he will visit with Kansas schoolchildren about the process of getting the Legislature to pass a law.
California Man Sentenced for Dodge City Bank Holdup
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A California man is going to prison for the armed holdup of a Dodge City bank in October 2010. The U.S. Attorney's office says 33-year-old Angel Garcia Aguirre, of Santa Paula, California, was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years and three months behind bars. Garcia Aguirre pleaded guilty last year to one count each of bank robbery and brandishing a firearm, admitting he and another man robbed a Bank of America branch in Dodge City on October 21, 2010. He said he stood in the lobby while the other man jumped over a teller's counter and grabbed money. Garcia Aguirre was shot and wounded by police the following day when he climbed out a window of a home where investigators confronted him and tried to scale a fence.
Kansas Wheat Crop Comes Out of Winter Dormancy
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas winter wheat crop continues to come out of dormancy with the warm temperatures. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service says the crop's condition improved slightly over the past week. The agency now rates 11 percent of the wheat in poor to very poor condition, 36 percent fair, 45 percent good and 8 percent excellent. Only 4 percent of the wheat is showing light freeze damage.
Scott City Fire Victims Identified
SCOTT CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities have identified a Scott City woman and three children who died in a house fire in the western Kansas town. The fire on Saturday killed 28-year-old Jackie Ann Coberly and her son, 4-year-old Brandon Carter. Eight-year-old Terra Renee Murphy and 6-year-old Cassie Linn Murphy also died. They were the daughters of Coberly's boyfriend. Scott City Police Chief Chris Jurgens said Monday the fire is believed to be accidental but an investigation is continuing. The Garden City Telegram reports that the fire started Saturday morning near a heater in the laundry room of a home the family was renting. Officials said Coberly reported the fire but wasn't able to get out of the house because she was disabled.
Ex-Official Pleads Guilty in Kansas Theft Case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The former public works director in Barber County has admitted stealing from the county. Forty-nine-year-old Steven Collier, of Nashville, Kansas, pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday (MON) to two counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds. He agreed to make restitution of $116,310. In return, the government agreed to drop nine counts. Sentencing is set for May 30. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Metzger says prosecutors plan to ask the court to dismiss the indictment against Collier's wife, Diana, of Medicine Lodge. Steven Collier admitted forging an invoice for the purchase of steel beams and using the money instead to buy a bulldozer for his own use. He later sold the bulldozer and kept the proceeds. He also admitted selling a county-owned tractor for $20,000 and keeping the money.
Kansas Commission Seeking Artists for Brown v. Board Mural
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas commission is looking for artists interested in painting a mural at the Statehouse commemorating the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. The Capitol Preservation Committee is asking artists to submit applications to be declared qualified to execute the project, which is to be completed in 2014. House member Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat who chairs the Preservation Committee, says applications will be taken until May 1. The mural will honor the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which declared that separate schools for black and white children where inherently unequal. The high court consolidated a lawsuit challenging segregation in Topeka's public schools with cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Monsanto Plans Widespread Tests of Drought-Tolerant Corn
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Seed giant Monsanto plans large-scale tests this year of the first government-approved biotech crop developed to deal with drought. The new corn is being introduced as much of the U.S. remains abnormally dry and areas in the South and Southwest still face severe drought. Monsanto says the corn won't be a panacea for drought-stricken farmers but when combined with improved agricultural practices could help those in areas like the western Great Plains, where production without irrigation can be half as much as the national average. The St. Louis-based company plans on-farm trials from South Dakota to Texas to quantify how well the corn works before releasing it commercially next year. Drought-tolerant corn sold by competitors such as Pioneer Hi-Bred were developed with conventional and molecular breeding.
Reserve Missouri QB Arrested for Unpaid Tickets
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri backup quarterback Ashton Glaser has been arrested in Columbia on Laclede County warrants issued after he failed to show up in court for a speeding ticket. Columbia police say Glaser was punched in the face early Sunday by an unidentified man who answered the door when Glaser sought out a female neighbor. Witnesses called police, but only the 21-year-old Glaser was arrested after officers discovered the outstanding warrants. The arrest was first reported by the Columbia Daily Tribune. Glaser was charged in a November 2011 traffic stop in Laclede County with speeding and not having a valid driver's license. The warrants were issued after he failed to appear in court in January and February. Glaser is listed as the Tigers' third-string quarterback on spring football depth charts.
KS House Sets Tax Cut Debate
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — After a one-day delay, the Kansas House is ready to debate a Republican plan to cut income taxes. The measure, which supporters say will improve the Kansas business climate, was originally set for debate yesterday (MON), but pushed back to today (TUE) by other issues. As written by a GOP-dominated committee, the bill would promise future cuts to individual income taxes as revenues grow, forcing the state to check the annual growth in its spending at 2 percent. The state would phase out taxes on the earnings of thousands of partnerships, sole proprietorships and other small businesses. The sales tax rate would drop to 5.7 percent from 6.3 percent in July 2013, as scheduled. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has made tax change a top priority in 2012.