Headlines for Thursday, December 11, 2014
Research Staff: Kansas Budget Plan Mostly Pushes Shortfall Forward
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report from the Kansas Legislature's nonpartisan research staff shows that Governor Sam Brownback's plan for closing a shortfall in the current budget mostly pushes the problem into the next fiscal year. The researchers released new budget projections Thursday for the Legislative Budget Committee, a panel of lawmakers from both chambers. It shows that Brownback's plan eliminates a projected $279 million deficit for the current fiscal year. But it also shows that under his plan, a projected $436 million gap for the fiscal year beginning in July grows to $648 million. Brownback proposes curing much of the current shortfall in the state's main bank account by diverting funds from other accounts to it for general government programs. Those funds aren't included in the next fiscal year.
Kansas Governor Working on Pension, School Plans
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Sam Brownback says he's working on proposals for changing how Kansas distributes aid to public schools and for bolstering the pension system for teachers and government workers. But the Republican governor provided no details during an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. He said only that his administration is researching options on school funding and pensions. Brownback's comments came a day after he outlined a plan for closing a projected $279 million shortfall in the state's current budget. His plan received bipartisan criticism because he directed the state to divert nearly $41 million from the public pension system. He said he did so to avoid cutting aid to public schools and higher education spending. But he also said the state can't sustain increases this year in education funding.
Brownback's Budget Plan Shifts $95M from Highway Fund
TOPEKA, Kan. - Governor Sam Brownback outlined a plan this week to plug a $279 million gap in the state budget partly by shifting $95 million from the state’s highway fund to pay for other government programs. Brownback told reporters Wednesday that even though the highway fund is taking a big hit, all current Kansas road projects will continue as planned through next year. But he says there will need to be a change in the state’s highway financing system after 2016. "Looking on in the future, you're not going to have as many 'new build' projects." Brownback said. "If you do they're going to have a toll component. A lot of these will have to be toll roads." Critics say that while Kansas roads are in relatively good condition now, highways and Bridges will begin to deteriorate in the future if the state continues to borrow from the highway construction funds.
Governor: Pay Raise for Kansas State Workers Still Possible
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he isn't ruling out pay increases for government workers despite projected budget shortfalls. Brownback said during an interview Wednesday that he wouldn't say yet that the state's budget problems will prevent raises for state employees. He said such decisions usually are made at the end of the Legislature's annual 90-day session. He said the state's budget picture could improve by then. Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $700 million for the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year beginning in July. State workers did not get an across-the-board raise in the current budget, but full-time employees are receiving a $250 bonus this month.
6 People Injured After Kansas Railcar Explosion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say six people have been injured after a fuel-filled railcar exploded near the northeast Kansas town of Atchison. The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/1uti428 ) reports that the explosion happened around 2 p.m. Thursday at GBW Rail Services. No deaths have been reported. Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laurie said in a news release that authorities had accounted for all of the employees who were inside the building at the time of the explosion. He said the injured people were being treated for smoke inhalation, burns and a back injury. The Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating. Lake Oswego, Oregon-based GBW manufactures freight cars and barges for use in North America and Europe. The company didn't immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.
Kansas Board Considers Abortion-Referrals Case
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for a Kansas doctor has told the state's medical board that it should allow her to regain her license despite finding that she kept inadequate records for young patients she referred for late-term abortions. Attorney Bob Eye said Thursday that the State Board of Healing Arts has no evidence that any of the patients Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus of Nortonville saw for mental health exams in 2003 were injured. Her exams for 11 patients aged 10 to 18 allowed them to obtain abortions from the late Dr. George Tiller of Wichita. Board attorney Reese Hays argued Neuhaus has shown she can't be rehabilitated. The board sanctioned her in 1999 and 2001 over record-keeping issues. The board plans to issue a written ruling by January 9.
Prosecutors: Topeka Man Punches His Defense Attorney
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a man has punched his defense attorney during his rape trial in northeast Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that attorney David McDonald was taken by ambulance to a hospital during the fourth day of Lance Franklin's trial in Shawnee County District Court. Assistant district attorney Mike Kagay said he heard a smacking sound after McDonald finished questioning the rape victim. Senior assistant district attorney Dustin Curry said he had stood to question the witness and turned around to find McDonald on the floor. Curry said a corrections officer grabbed Franklin. Prosecutor's office spokesman Lee McGowan told The Associated Press no charges have been filed over the courtroom incident. The senior partner for McDonald's firm, Tenopir & Huerter, said through a staff member that he didn't want to comment.
Kansas Begins Issuing Gender-Neutral Marriage Forms
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has started issuing gender-neutral marriage forms amid ongoing litigation over its same-sex marriage ban. Copies of the new forms were included in a motion that seeks to have former Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser dismissed from the litigation. The motion, which was filed Wednesday, notes that Moser has resigned and that new marriage forms delete all references to husbands and wives. Applicants seeking to wed now fill in information under the headings "Party A" or "Party B." They can select whether they want to be referred to as a bride, groom or simply a spouse. The forms were changed last month after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Kansas's request to prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying while the state fights the issue in court.
KCC, Gas Companies Collaborate on Replacement of Old Pipes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission and natural gas companies are working together to find a way to replace aging gas pipes in a less expensive way. Kansas natural gas companies currently add a fee, called the gas service reliability surcharge, to customers' bills to cover projects required by safety regulations or related public works projects. But the Legislature-approved charge doesn't cover preventative work like replacing old cast iron and steel pipes before they break. Officials say that kind of work is cheaper and causes less disruption than an emergency pipe repair. Commissioner Pat Apple tells The Topeka Capital-Journal that amending the GSRS to pay for pipe-replacement work requires legislative approval. But commissioners say they think they can set up a separate process without sending it to the Legislature.
Falling Oil Prices Raise New Concerns for States
Lower oil prices are raising new financial worries in some states...including Kansas...that rely on oil taxes to pay for roads and other government services. With oil prices around a five-year low, budget officials in about a half-dozen states have begun paring back projections for a continued gusher of revenues. Spending cuts have started in some places, and more reductions could be necessary if oil prices remain at lower levels during the coming year. How well the oil-rich states survive the downturn may hinge on how much they have saved and how greatly they depend on oil revenues for basic services. Texas has diversified its economy since oil prices crashed in the mid-1980s and isn't expressing concern. But Alaska remains heavily dependent on oil and will have to tap into savings.
Jurors Convict Man of Killing Girl Found in Dryer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Jurors have convicted a man of snatching an 8-year-old girl from a Topeka apartment, raping her, killing her and stashing her body in a dryer. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County jurors found 31-year-old Billy Frank Davis Jr. guilty Thursday afternoon of 10 counts, including capital murder, in the March 2012 death of Ahliyah Nachelle Irvin. Her parents wept as the verdict was read. Jurors will return Friday to hear more evidence before deciding whether to recommend whether Davis should receive the death penalty or life without parole. Prosecutors said Davis killed the child to hide that he had sexually assaulted her. But the defense said Davis didn't have the mental wherewithal to form the intent to kill the girl because he been drinking and using cocaine.
KU Fraternity to Remain on Interim Suspension
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas fraternity will remain on interim suspension as the school continues an investigation of alleged sexual assaults occurring at the house. Kappa Sigma had asked the university to remove it from suspension, arguing that it did not represent a threat. University and fraternity representatives met Nov. 24 to discuss the request. The Lawrence Journal-World reports university procedures require a decision within 10 business days of the meeting. But the university said Wednesday that deadline was extended and Kappa Sigma's interim suspension will continue indefinitely. The suspension was imposed September 30 after the university received allegations of sexual assault during a party at the fraternity the previous weekend. Lawrence police are conducting a separate investigation. A spokesman said Wednesday no arrests have been made.
Store Loses Thousands in Comic Book Theft
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police continue to search for a man who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of collectible comic books from a northwest Wichita store. Police say the man broke into the store on November 19 and made several trips while he carried away about 40 items such as Avenger and Hulk comic books. Mark Rowland, owner of River House Traders, says he lost more than $300,000 in the theft. But Rowland says he's more upset because he's owned some of the items for more than 50 years. KAKE-TV reports there is no description of the suspect, only that he left in a dark-colored car. Rowland now has a security system and says he will store some of his more valuable collectibles elsewhere.
Kansas City Woman Charged in Animal Abuse Case
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City woman has been charged with felony animal abuse and animal neglect after her dog was abused so severely that his eyes had to be surgically removed. Jackson County prosecutors charged 36-year-old Kimberly Anderson on Wednesday in the November 9 attack on the Tibetan spaniel named Roadrunner. A witness says Anderson threw the small dog off of a third-floor balcony before kicking and choking him. Anderson was previously issued a municipal citation in the same case. She tells police she didn't abuse the dog and that he was hit by a car. KC Pet Project manages the city's animal shelter and said Friday that the dog is doing well at a foster home. It wasn't immediately clear if Anderson has an attorney.
Police: Woman Attacked, Beaten with Her Walker
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a 78-year-old woman suffered a broken shoulder after she was knocked down and beaten with her walker by a man who was then found sleeping in her apartment. Lieutenant James Espinoza says the woman was leaving her apartment early Thursday when a stranger knocked her down and hit her with her walker as she was on the ground. The man then ransacked the woman's apartment. Espinoza says the woman, who is Vietnamese and doesn't speak English, got a neighbor to call 911. Responding officers found a 28-year-old man asleep inside her apartment and arrested him. Espinoza says alcohol appeared to be a factor in the case. The woman told police she didn't know the suspect. Nothing appeared to be missing from the woman's home.
Former Kansas Fire Chief Pleads Guilty to Theft
BASEHOR, Kan. (AP) _ A former northeast Kansas fire chief has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $14,000 from his township. KCTV-TV reports Jeff Theno of Basehor admitted Wednesday to stealing from Fairmont Township. The former fire chief was paid to remodel the township's fire station but didn't complete the required work. The felony theft was uncovered after a newly elected county attorney reviewed work orders. Prosecutors will recommend the 17-year fire veteran get probation when he is sentenced next month. Theno tells the station that he intends to pay back all the money and finish the work.
Renovation of Wichita's Union Station Begins
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A $54 million renovation and expansion of Wichita's Union Station officially begins Thursday. A groundbreaking ceremony was scheduled for Thursday afternoon to mark the start of the project. The redevelopment is expected to take about 2 1/2 years. The building, which opened in 1872, has been vacant since 2007. The project includes renovating the existing four buildings and will include two new buildings and a 150,000-square foot expansion on another. Plans call for retail, restaurant and office space.
Kansas Man Charged with Defrauding Nigerian Students
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) _ A man is charged with taking refunds due to Nigerian graduate students who were recruited to attend Pittsburg State University. Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that 61-year-old Michael Muoghalu of Pittsburg faces one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. Muoghalu is accused of taking more than $148,000 in refunds due to the Nigerian students in Pittsburg State's Masters of Business Administration program, beginning in 2006. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Muoghalu allegedly convinced the Nigerian students to give him part of the refunds they received on deposits for tuition and fees. Muoghalu also allegedly filed fraudulent papers to receive the partial refunds. It wasn't immediately clear if Muoghalu has an attorney.
New Superintendent for Topeka's Brown Historic Site
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Brown v. Board of Education historic site in Topeka has a new superintendent. The National Park Service announced Wednesday that Sherda K. Williams will become leader of the site on January 11. Williams currently is superintendent of the James A. Garfield and the First Ladies National Historic Sites in Ohio. She previously led the Nicodemus National Historical Site in western Kansas. Williams, a native of Berkeley, California, replaces David Smith. He resigned last September to become supervisor of Joshua Tree National Park in California. The Topeka site commemorates the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended separate-but-equal school segregation in the United States.
Tough Voting Laws Useless in Identity Theft Case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Mexican man accused in a bizarre identity theft scheme would likely still be able to circumvent tough new Kansas voting laws because he had the proper documents. Eighty-one year-old Ramon Perez-Rivera entered a not guilty plea Wednesday in Wichita after being charged in a 33-count indictment. Federal prosecutors say he took another man's identity to get food stamps and Medicaid, obtain a U.S. passport and driver's license, and register to vote. While Perez-Rivera did not have to prove his citizenship to vote because he registered in 1999, he still would have likely fooled the state even under the strict requirements now in place because he would have had the needed paperwork. Election officials say he remains eligible to vote pending a conviction.
5 People Charged in Kansas Counterfeiting Scheme
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Five Kansas residents are facing federal charges accusing them of counterfeiting and trying to pass fake $100 bills. Prosecutors charged 47-year-old John Stark and 24-year-old Deona McNutt of Great Bend, and 30-year-old Alyssa Dannebohm and 22-year-old Keith Dannebohm of Hutchinson, with counterfeiting. They also charged 30-year-old Justin Herren of Great Bend with one count of passing two $100 bills. A complaint filed against Stark says the defendants photocopied a number of bills between June and November and tried to pass them. Stark also was charged with three additional counts of making counterfeit $10, $20 and $50 bills, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
KC Union Station's Science Center Rebounding
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Science City at Kansas City's Union Station is rebounding from years of stagnant attendance, thanks to new exhibits and attractions and an increase in donations. The latest good news came Wednesday, when two new exhibits costing more than $1 million and resulting from a high school science competition opened. The Kansas City Star reports that more than half of Science City has been overhauled in recent years, sparked by more than $5 million in donations from the Burns & McDonnell Foundation and in-kind services from the company. It appears to be paying off. Attendance at Science City increased 7 percent in 2013 and has grown by double digits this year. Revenues increased 17 percent in 2013 and Union Station CEO George Guastello says the science center is financially self-sustaining.
Report: Kansas Cotton Production Increases
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A government report forecasts cotton production in Kansas this year at 52,000 bales, up 27 percent from a year ago. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Wednesday that the number of harvested cotton acres is up 12 percent, with 29,000 acres cut. The agency says the yield is forecast at a record 861 pounds per acre. That is 104 pounds per acre more than last year. Dry edible bean production in the state is forecast to be up 37 percent this year compared with a year ago. Pinto beans account for 78 percent of the state's dry bean production.
Kansas Beats Georgetown 75-70
WASHINGTON (AP) - Kansas Jayhawks Guard Brannen Greene went 5 for 5 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 19 points Wednesday night as No. 10 Kansas defeated Georgetown 75-70 in Washington. Greene scored 16 in the second half, including two free throws that helped clinch the game in the final minute. Frank Mason III added 14 points, and Perry Ellis had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Jayhawks (7-1), who have won six straight. Joshua Smith scored 20 points to lead the Hoyas (5-3).
Chiefs' Charles, Hali and Fasano Miss Practice Due to Injuries
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, linebacker Tamba Hali and tight end Anthony Fasano were held out of practice Wednesday with knee injuries. All of them are considered day to day, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. The Chiefs (7-6) have lost three straight games, putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy. They face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Oakland Raiders Move Practice Indoors Due to Storm
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Raiders are moving practice from their headquarters to an indoor facility because of the heavy rain storm in the Bay Area. The Raiders made the change Thursday morning in response to what is expected to be the most powerful storm to hit the area in five years. The storm has already led to numerous school closures and power outages in the area. The Raiders (2-11) do not have an indoor practice facility at their Alameda headquarters so they found an offsite location to prepare for Sunday's game in Kansas City against the Chiefs. The team will take buses to practice and then return to the facility for meetings later in the day.