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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, January 30, 2013


UPDATE: Kansas Senate Approves Change for Judicial Selection Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a proposal to give the governor and legislators more power over appointments to the state's appellate courts. Wednesday's vote on the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution was 28-12, slightly more than the two-thirds majority needed for passage. The measure would have the governor appoint judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court, subject to Senate confirmation. The proposal would scrap an attorney-led commission that screens applicants and nominates three finalists for each vacancy. The governor must pick one, with no role for legislators. The measure goes next to the House, where approval by a two-thirds majority would put it on a statewide ballot in 2014. Amendments to the Kansas Constitution require approval by a simple majority of voters.


Kansas House Advances Union Fundraising Restriction Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House tentatively approved a bill restricting political fundraising by public unions, a measure critics contend is meant to destroy union clout. The measure, advancing Wednesday on a 66-54 unrecorded vote, would prohibit groups that represent teachers and government workers from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities. Similar legislation was defeated last year. But Republicans now have supermajorities in both legislative chambers, and Governor Sam Brownback is a GOP conservative, making it likely the measure will become law later this year. Critics say the bill is part of a broader campaign against union activities, including national efforts to curb union members' bargaining rights. Supporters contend they're trying to protect teachers and other government workers from being coerced into contributing to political activities they don't support.

Study: Poor Kansans Hit Harder by Taxes than Rich 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new study by a non-partisan Washington research group says the poorest Kansans pay a much higher percentage of their incomes in state and local taxes than do the state's wealthiest residents. Wednesday's report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says for the poorest 20 percent of non-elderly Kansans, state and local taxes equal 10.3 percent of their income. For the wealthiest 1 percent, the figure is 3.9 percent. The institute's data considers income tax cuts enacted last year. The report says the percentage of income going to taxes for the poorest Kansans is 2.6 times as much as it is for the wealthiest. Only 13 states have a larger disparity. Only 11 states have their wealthiest 1 percent paying a lower percentage of their incomes in taxes.


Kansas Bills Limit Employer Social Media Access

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Kansas lawmakers are introducing measures aimed at limiting employers' access to job applicants' social media accounts. The Kansas City Star reports that state Representative Gail Finney and state Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, both Democrats, are supporting measures that seek to protect job seekers from employers who want access to user names and passwords to look through social media accounts like Facebook or Twitter. Finney is also pushing a bill that would ban colleges and universities from asking for the same information from students and potential students. Finney understands why employers might research applicants using Facebook, but says she doesn't think that justifies peering deeply into their personal accounts. Labor law experts believe such snooping is rare in the Kansas City area and the bill may be overkill.

Kansas Supreme Court Hears Gun Liability Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether a southeast Kansas gun shop may be held liable for selling a firearm that was later used by a convicted felon to kill his son. The question before the justices Wednesday was whether to reinstate a negligence case filed against Baxter Springs Gun and Pawn Shop. The case involves the 2003 murder-suicide of Russell Graham of Baxter Springs, a convicted felon who used a shotgun bought by his grandmother to shoot himself and his son. Graham was initially denied the sale of the gun by the shop owners. Elizabeth Shirley, wife of Russell Graham, filed the liability lawsuit against the gun shop owners. A lower court dismissed the case, but the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed that decision in 2010, ordering a trial.

Kansas Employment at Hawker Beechcraft Falls Below Incentive Requirement

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Hawker Beechcraft says its total Kansas employment has fallen below the level required to receive the full value of incentives due under an agreement with state and local governments.
The aircraft maker said Wednesday it had 3,372 employees in Kansas as of December 31 and is currently trying to fill more than 65 open positions in Wichita. Hawker Beechcraft was granted $45 million worth of incentives in December 2010 based on a commitment to keep 4,000 people employed in Kansas over 10 years. Cash payments from the incentives aren't reduced unless the workforce falls below 3,600. The company says this year's payment will be reduced according to that agreement. Chairman Bill Boisture says in a news release the company remains committed to being successful in Wichita. Hawker Beechcraft has more than 5,400 employees worldwide.

Kansas Revenue Chief Touts Governor's Tax Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan is telling legislators that Kansas must further reduce individual income tax rates to remain competitive economically. Jordan testified Tuesday before the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee on its first of three days of hearings on tax proposals from conservative Republican Governor Sam Brownback. Brownback wants to phase in additional cuts in individual income tax rates over three years, following up on aggressive income tax cuts last year. But to keep the budget stable, he also wants to eliminate two popular income tax deductions for homeowners and raise additional sales tax revenues. Jordan says Brownback's goal is to phase out individual income taxes. Republican governors and legislators in other states also are talking about slashing state income taxes after the cuts in Kansas last year.

Lobbyist: 2012 Kansas Tax Cuts Hurt Bank Owners

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A lobbyist for the Kansas Bankers Association is telling legislators that bank stockholders are paying $2.5 million more a year in taxes because of a law passed last year to eliminate income taxes for thousands of business owners. Lobbyist Douglas Wareham on Tuesday urged the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee to correct what he sees as an unintentional flaw in the law. The law exempted the owners of 191,000 businesses from income taxes. But banking companies pay what's known as the privilege tax, a special income tax applied only to financial institutions. Wareham said when legislators exempted other business owners from income taxes, they also eliminated deductions that the business owners used to claim. The changes wiped out a deduction that bank shareholders could claim for their companies' losses.

Kansas Legislators Complete Rules Revisions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are done revising their rules, and one new provision limits the consideration of new spending when the House and Senate debate budget bills. The Senate voted 28-12 on Tuesday to approve rules governing interactions between the two chambers. The House approved the same measure Monday on a vote of 81-41. The biggest change is a joint rule barring members of both chambers from proposing increased spending during budget debates without proposing an offsetting cut elsewhere. The Kansas House had such a rule in place for the past two years. The Senate didn't, but GOP conservatives took over the chamber this year. House members approved the rules for their own chamber Monday on an 82-40 vote. Senators approved rules for their chamber two weeks ago.


Hearing to Resume in Tabor Player's Death

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A preliminary hearing resumes Thursday afternoon for two suspects in the death of a Tabor College football player. The hearing for Alton Franklin and DeQuinte Flournoy began last week. But it was continued to give prosecutors time to search for a key witness to a fight that led to the death of 26-year-old Brandon Brown. The redshirt defensive lineman from Tabor College was found unconscious September 16 at a McPherson Party and died about a week later. The suspects both are former McPherson College football players. They're charged with being accessories to second-degree murder. The missing witness moved back to Texas after the case was delayed in October and a subpoena to compel him testify was returned earlier this month as undeliverable.


2 Kansas Hospitals Sold to California Company

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A California company is buying two financially troubled hospitals in eastern Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas and Saint John Hospital in Leavenworth are being sold to Prime Healthcare Services. Both Kansas hospitals had been operating at a loss. The financial terms of the sale weren't disclosed Tuesday, when the sale was announced. The hospitals' current owner is SCL Health System, which was founded by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and moved its headquarters last year from Lenexa to Denver. The announcement says Prime Healthcare "will make significant investments to financially stabilize the facilities." Prime Healthcare runs 21 hospitals in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas.


Historic Kansas Hotel Taken Off National Register

BROOKVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas hotel that dates back more than century has been taken off the National Register of Historic Places because of recent renovations. The Wichita Eagle reports that the original Brookville Hotel, located in the Saline County town of Brookville, has been delisted after state preservation officials found the renovation had negatively affected the building's historic integrity. The hotel was built in 1870 when the town was a hub for the railroads and cattle drives from Texas. It was relocated to Abilene in 2000. Sarah Martin, coordinator for the Kansas State Historical Society, says it's rare when the state Historic Sites Board of Review asks for a building to be taken off the register. But she says the Brookville Hotel's appearance has changed so drastically it's no longer eligible.


K-State President Named to NCAA Executive Committee

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University, has been appointed to the NCAA executive committee. The university said in a release Wednesday that Schulz has served on the NCAA board of directors since July and was unanimously appointed to the executive committee, which is the NCAA's highest governance body. Schulz will also continue in his current four-year term on the Division I NCAA board of directors, which is made up of presidents or chancellors from institutions in each of the association's 11 conferences. That term ends in 2016.


Escaped Inmate Now in Sedgwick County Custody

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have apprehended a 25-year-old inmate who escaped from a north-central Kansas jail over the weekend. The Sedgwick County sheriff's office says in a release that Joseph Mosier was taken into custody early Wednesday when he surrendered to the Elk County sheriff's office. He's being held in the Sedgwick County jail. Authorities say he escaped sometime over the weekend from the fenced-in exercise yard at the Osborne County Detention Center on charges from Sedgwick County. His disappearance wasn't noticed until a head count Sunday night. He was originally being held on charges of burglary, criminal damage to property, attempted theft and parole violations.


KC Man Sentenced for Packing Gun in Luggage

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 26-year-old man has been sentenced to six years in federal prison for having a loaded handgun in his carry-on bag at Kansas City International Airport. Anthony Winn, of Kansas City, was sentenced Wednesday for having a weapon in his luggage. Winn was stopped at the airport on December 28, 2011, as he tried to board a flight to Minneapolis. Police conducted a search after the screener noticed the handgun. Officers also reported finding about $4,900 in Winn's pants pocket and more than $26,000 in the pockets of three pairs of jeans in the bag. Winn admitted in his plea agreement that he knew he had the 9 mm Glock pistol in his bag. X-ray equipment showed the handgun was loaded with 23 live rounds.

Kansas Man Sentenced to 15 Months for Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man has been sentenced to more than a year in prison on a federal bank fraud charge. The U.S. Attorney's office said Tuesday that 44-year-old Kevin Mahoney, of Stilwell, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison and was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors say Mahoney admitted lying on loan applications he submitted to mortgage lenders to fraudulently obtain loans for several Kansas City area properties.


KC Records 6 Homicides in Less Than 48 Hours

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are investigating the fatal shootings of two men at a recording studio in the southern part of the city. The killings brought to six the number of homicides in Kansas City since Monday. The latest was reported around 12:30 pm Wednesday. Witnesses reported an armed man ran from the scene. On Tuesday, the owner of a barber shop was found shot to death inside his store. And two men were found shot to death Monday night in a vehicle. Also Monday night, police were called to home where they found a man on a porch with severe head injuries. That man later died. A 33-year-old suspect was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder. Witnesses said the pair had been drinking when the suspect hit the victim with a handgun.


City, County Leaders Prepare Wichita-Area Community Survey

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Officials of Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita plan to mail a community survey about future community and infrastructure investments to 25,000 randomly selected registered voters. The survey, which will be mailed this week, seeks feedback on community infrastructure, quality of life, and economic priorities through 2035. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer says residents own more than $7 billion in city and county infrastructure. The survey is part of a comprehensive community investments plan, which sets out a framework for the future. The plan focuses on public transportation; water, sewer and storm water improvements; cultural, recreational and parks amenities, and economic development.

TV Crew Comes to Kansas, Looking for Bigfoot

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Saline County authorities say a television crew has been in Kansas looking for Bigfoot. The Salina Journal reports that Saline County sheriff's deputies got a call of suspicious vehicles Monday near a rural residence. Sheriff Glen Kochanowski says deputies found a television crew with several sport utility vehicles and a U-Haul at the site and determined the vehicles belonged to the crew from Ping Pong Productions of Los Angeles, California. The sheriff says the crew had the landowner's permission to be at the location. A representative of the television crew said they had received information about a Bigfoot sighting in the area and were recording video for a cable program called "Finding Bigfoot." But the sheriff says members of the crew told deputies they hadn't found anything.


KCMO Lawyer Admits to Money Laundering Conspiracy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City, Missouri lawyer has pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder the drug money of an undercover agent posing as a marijuana dealer. Sixty-six-year-old Ronald Partee entered the plea Wednesday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. Partee admitted that he and the operators of a credit counseling service agreed to funnel drug money through Kansas bank accounts. As part of the scheme, a certificate saying the purported dealer had completed training as a bankruptcy specialist was created. Prosecutors say that Partee served on the counseling service's board and approved two wire transfers that he believed were drug funds. He also engaged in a discussion with the undercover agent about the storage of marijuana. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a five-year prison sentence. A sentencing date hasn't been set.

Missouri Senate Bill Would Accelerate KC Schools Takeover

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A bill that could speed up a state takeover of Kansas City schools is moving forward in the state Legislature. The Kansas City Star reports that the Senate bill is spurring the Kansas City district to show it's making enough progress to warrant giving the district two years to regain accreditation. The measure would remove limitations in state law that give unaccredited school districts two full school years to regain its status before the state intervenes. Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro wants the state to have the discretion to move in more quickly or to allow an improving district to carry on. Kansas City school officials, however, want the bill to give an unaccredited district that's improving at least the two full years to reach performance levels required for accreditation.

Fed's New Voting Lineup Likely Won't Alter Policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The cast of voting members on the Federal Reserve's policy committee is changing this year. Their policies probably won't be. Chairman Ben Bernanke will likely retain a solid majority on the 12-member committee for his drive to keep interest rates low well into the future despite critics who worry about the risks. The Fed wraps up its first two-day policy meeting of the year today, with economists expecting it to affirm that it expects to keep short-term rates near zero until joblessness dips below 6.5 percent from the current 7.8 percent. The one official most likely to dissent from the easy credit policy is one of the new voting members, Esther George, who heads the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Other Fed regional bank heads gaining votes include Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed, Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed and James Bullard of the St. Louis Fed. Rosengren is considered a 'dove' on interest rate policies and was a leading voice in pressing the central bank to adopt a second round of bond purchases in 2010 to drive interest rates lower.


Defendants Make 1st Court Appearance in Topeka Homicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two men accused in the death of a 34-year-old Topeka woman have been extradited to Kansas from Texas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 20-year-old Benjamin Brian Anaya, and 20-year-old Gabino Campos Alcala, both of El Paso, Texas, are charged with felony first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit felony first-degree murder in the Oct. 18 shooting death of Ashley Alcala at her Topeka home. Two other people are also charged in Ashley Alcala's death, and are scheduled to stand trial in March. Anaya and Gabino Alcala were booked into the Shawnee County jail on Tuesday and are being held on $1 million bond each. They made their first court appearance Tuesday. Their next hearing is scheduled for February 7.


Kansas Senate Vote Looms on Change in Judge Selection Procedures

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A vote is looming in the Kansas Senate on overhauling the way judges are selected for the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. Senators planned to vote Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment to give the governor and legislators more power over appellate court appointments. The measure is favored by conservative Republicans frustrated by past court rulings ordering lawmakers to boost spending on public schools. Under the measure, the governor would appoint appellate court members, subject to Senate confirmation. The change would scrap an attorney-led commission that screens applicants and nominates three finalists for each vacancy. The governor must pick one, with no role for legislators. Constitutional amendments must be adopted by two-thirds majorities in both chambers and approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 



Kansas Senate Hears Opposition to Judicial Selection Procedure Change

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bar Association is lobbying against a proposal to overhaul the way appellate judges are selected as a vote on the measure looms in the state Senate. Senators debated the measure Wednesday and expected to take final action. It would amend the Kansas Constitution to have the governor appoint judges to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Courts, subject to Senate confirmation. The change scraps an attorney-led commission that screens applicants and nominates three finalists for each vacancy. The governor must pick one, with no role for legislators. The bar association sent letters to senators arguing the current system works well. Critics call the system undemocratic. Constitutional amendments must be adopted by two-thirds of the House and Senate and approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 

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