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Headlines for Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Kansas Taxes $15M Short of Expectations for Month 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas says its tax collections in December fell $15 million short of expectations and the state's top revenue official is blaming lower-than-expected corporate income tax revenues. The Department of Revenue reported Wednesday that the state collected $553 million in taxes during the month when it expected to take in $568 million. The difference is 2.7 percent. Corporate income tax collections in December were $56 million, or nearly $20 million short of expectations. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said such tax collections are volatile. For the fiscal year beginning in July, tax collections were $12 million, or four-tenths of 1 percent, less than anticipated. During those six months, the state has collected $2.7 billion in taxes. The December tax-collection shortfall could complicate efforts to address state budget shortfalls.


Kansas Court Orders More State Spending on Schools 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state district court panel has ruled that Kansas isn't spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child. The three judges on Tuesday did not set a specific figure but said evidence indicates the state needs to spend at least $548 million more a year. An attempt by Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature to comply would complicate efforts to close state budget shortfalls. It also would jeopardize aggressive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback's urging to boost the economy. The state is expected to appeal the Shawnee County District Court panel's decision to the Kansas Supreme Court. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the parents of more than 30 students and four school districts.


Kansas Education Groups Praise Ruling on Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Groups representing Kansas teachers, parents and school boards say a court ruling on education funding validates their arguments that the state is underfunding its schools. But the ruling Tuesday from a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court drew strong criticism from a conservative think tank. The ruling says the state isn't spending enough money on public schools to provide a suitable education for every child. Among the groups praising the decision were Kansas Families for Education, the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Education Association. The KNEA is the state's largest union for teachers. But President Dave Trabert of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute says the judges ignored facts showing schools are adequately funded and issued a political decision.


Veteran Judges Fill Panel for Kansas School Funding Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The three judges who say Kansas isn't spending enough money on its public schools have served a total of more than 80 years on the state's trial courts. The ruling Tuesday in Shawnee County District Court was from District Judges Franklin Theis (TICE) of Shawnee County, Robert Fleming of Labette County and retired District Judge Jack Burr of Sherman County. Theis was the panel's presiding judge and has served on the bench in Shawnee County since 1977. Fleming has been a judge since 1996. Burr retired as a full-time judge early in 2009 after serving more than 30 years on the bench. A 2005 state law decreed that school funding lawsuits must be handled in district court by a three-judge panel, rather than by a single judge.


39,000 Kansans Enroll for Federal Health Insurance

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Federal health officials say more than 39,000 Kansans signed up for health care coverage through the federally-run exchange in the first month of open enrollment. Those who signed up as of December 15 will have coverage Thursday. People who sign up by January 15 will be covered beginning February 1. About 57,000 people enrolled in the exchange in Kansas last year. State officials hope more sign up this year but say it is too early to know if that goal will be met. People can sign up for individual or family coverage until February 15. Penalties for not buying insurance will rise to 2 percent of a household's income or $325 this year, unless the household is exempted because of financial hardship or some other reason.


Judge Moves to Expedite Kansas Gay Marriage Suit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has taken steps to speed up a ruling on the remaining legal issues in a lawsuit challenging Kansas's gay-marriage ban. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree on Wednesday directed opposing attorneys to narrow factual disputes and to propose a schedule at the end of January for him to hear legal issues. Both the state's attorneys and lawyers challenging the ban want to expedite the case. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in October for couples denied marriage licenses. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Kansas from enforcing its ban while the case goes forward and the ACLU expanded its lawsuit to force the state to recognize the resulting gay marriages. Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court could rule before July on whether states can keep banning gay marriage.


Homicide Investigation Underway in Overland Park 

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Suburban Kansas City police are investigating the shooting death of a man in his 40s. The Kansas City Star reports that the shooting happened Wednesday morning in Overland Park. Witnesses told police that the victim went outside to warm up his car, when they heard shouting and several gunshots. When police arrived they found the man dead in the street. Some witnesses reported hearing a vehicle leaving the scene at a high rate of speed. Detectives are now investigating and police ask anyone with information to come forward.


Kansas City on Pace for Lowest Homicide Count in 47 Years 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City is poised to finish 2014 with its lowest number of homicides in nearly five decades. As of early December 31, the city recorded 76 homicides this year. The last time the murder count was lower was in 1967, when 66 people were killed. Only 10 years since 1967 have ended with fewer than 100 homicides. Last year, 106 people were murdered in the city. City law enforcement leaders say a 2-year-old anti-violence program called the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or NoVA, helped but they caution the city's historically high murder rate is far from under control. NoVA relies on "focused deterrence," in which police talk to members a criminal network — including those who haven't yet committed serious crimes — about the possible consequences of their actions.


Saline County Cuts 4 Department Positions 

SALINE, Kan. (AP) — The Saline County Commission voted to eliminate the jobs of four department heads but the change might be temporary. The commission voted Tuesday to cut the administrative jobs for road and bridge, planning and the health departments, as well as County Administrator Rita Deister. Three of the department jobs were to end Wednesday. Health department Director Bronson Farmer resigned in October and will not be replaced. Commissioner John Price said the reductions will save the county between $430,000 and $470,000 a year. The commission will expand from three members to five in January. The Salina Journal reports all three of the incoming commissioners said Wednesday they were shocked by the commission's decision and two indicated they would try to overturn it after they take office January 12.


Kansas City Health Officials Say Flu Season 'Unprecedented'

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas City-area hospital and health officials say this year's flu season so far has seen an "unprecedented'' number of cases.  The University of Kansas was treating 23 inpatients with the flu on Tuesday, along with 13 others with suspected cases of influenza. Two other flu patients have died this year at the hospital.  Chief medical officer Lee Norman says in his past eight years at the hospital he's seen at most 10 hospitalized at any given time.  Norman says as of Monday 10 of 28 Kansas City-area hospitals weren't accepting helicopters bringing patients to their emergency rooms, which are packed with flu patients.  The Kansas Department of Health reported 333 deaths related to influenza or pneumonia between September and December 20. More than 1,100 in Kansas died of the flu last season, which typically ends in March.  Chief epidemiologist Larry Franken of the Wyandotte County Public Health Department says numbers this year are troubling because the flu normally hits the hardest in January or February. Franken says he's concerned 2015 will bring similarly high numbers of flu cases in the area. 


KC Parish Revives Tradition for First Responders  

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Catholic church in Kansas City has revived a tradition that died out in the 1960s. The Kansas City Star reports that it all started about five years ago when the Reverend Ernie Davis asked a couple of volunteers to clean an old chalice at St. Therese Little Flower Catholic church. A faint inscription found on the chalice mentioned a former Kansas City police officer who was fatally wounded on New Year's Eve 1923. The founding priest of St. Therese Little Flower, Maurice Coates, marked the anniversary of the officer's death with a special New Year's Day Mass until his own death in 1962. Davis revived the tradition in 2010 and expanded it. The New Year's Day 2015 event will feature bagpipes and a gospel choir.


2 Wichita Men Acquire Former Boeing Site 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two Wichita men have acquired the former Boeing site in the southern part of the city and plan to fill it with new office and aviation tenants. The Wichita Eagle reports that Air Capital Flight Line closed Wednesday on the acquisition of the 413-acre site. In January 2012, Boeing announced it would close its Wichita facilities and move work to Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Seattle area. Johnny Stevens of Air Capital Flight Line called the 1.9 million square feet of manufacturing, office, storage and hangar space "a great asset." His partner, Dave Murfin, said it was a "civic opportunity." Stevens and Murfin declined to disclose the financial terms of the acquisition. A Boeing spokeswoman declined to disclose the terms as well.


Kansas Survey to Study Dropping Groundwater Levels

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Researchers are planning to measure ground water in western Kansas to check for dropping water levels. The Kansas Geological Survey based at the University of Kansas will work with the Department of Agriculture in early January to track a drop in aquifer levels over the past 60 years. A statement from the university says annual data has shown decreases in groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. Research cited sparse rains and a rise in irrigation usage. The underground aquifer is the main water source for irrigation, cities and industries in western and central Kansas. Survey water-data manager Brownie Wilson says most of western Kansas had moderate to severe drought this month. Counties on the Oklahoma border had extreme drought.


AAA: Missouri Gas Prices Lowest in Country, Kansas Has 3rd Lowest

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — AAA reports that Missouri has the least expensive gas in the country at $1.93 a gallon. The average price for a gallon of regular in Kansas is $2.03, the third lowest in the country. Oklahoma has second place with prices at $1.98 a gallon. According to AAA this is the first time prices in Missouri and Oklahoma have dropped below $2 a gallon since 2009.


Kansas Man Indicted in Missouri Officer's Shooting

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) - A grand jury has indicted a Kansas City, Kansas man in the shooting of a suburban Kansas City police officer. Thirty-one-year-old Omar Maria was indicted Tuesday on felony charges of assault on a law enforcement officer and armed criminal action. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says Pleasant Valley Police Officer Jacob Baldwin was shot December 13 after he stopped a car for a registration violation. Investigators say the vehicle's driver jumped out and fired several shots at Baldwin's car before the officer could get out of the vehicle. Baldwin was hit in the face but was able to call for help. The suspect fled. Maria was arrested the next day after a brief standoff Kansas City, Kansas. He's being held in Leavenworth County on $1 million bail.


Kansas Deputies Seize 7 Pounds of Meth

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) - The McPherson County Sheriff's Department says a traffic stop led to the seizure of about 7 pounds of methamphetamine. Sheriff Larry Powell says in a news release that the drugs were found after a vehicle was stopped Monday on Interstate 135 near Moundridge. Deputies found drug paraphernalia in the pickup and impounded the vehicle. The methamphetamine was then found in the truck. Powell estimated the value of the drugs at $1.75 million. One person was arrested for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.


Teen Charged in Wichita Stabbing Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A 16-year-old male has been charged in the Christmas Eve stabbing death of a Wichita man. Sedgwick County District Attorney spokesman Dan Dillon said the boy is charged in juvenile court with intentional second-degree murder in the death of 32-year-old Steven Manuel. The boy appeared in court Tuesday and is scheduled for an initial appearance on January 22. He is being held in the Juvenile Detention Facility. Manuel died early Christmas Day after he was stabbed several times during a fight at his home.


Worker Dies at Kansas City-Area Ford Plant 

CLAYCOMO, Mo. (AP) — Ford Motor Company officials say a person has died in an accident Tuesday at a company plant in suburban Kansas City. The company released a statement confirming the death at the Claycomo Assembly Plant but few other details were released. Emergency responders were called to the plant north of Kansas City about 10:30 am Tuesday. The company said in its statement that the worker died in an "occupational incident." Ford promised a full investigation.


Missouri Man Sentenced for Selling Stolen Items 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man was sentenced to five years in federal prison without parole for leading a burglary ring that sold stolen items on eBay. Federal prosecutors say 37-year-old Nathaniel Dixon of Lee's Summit was also ordered Tuesday to pay $104,657 in restitution and forfeit $125,921 to the government. Prosecutors say the group stole items from vehicles of at least 144 victims in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Items were stolen from inside the vehicles, as well as tires and wheels. The items were sold on Dixon's eBay account. The theft ring caused a loss of about $476,000 to the victims. In a separate case, 36-year-old Nickalass King was sentenced to three years and three months without parole for his role in the conspiracy and for violating his supervised release.


Kansas Beats Kent State 78-62

LAWRENCE, Kansas (AP) — KU Freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 20 points and Perry Ellis added 15 to help No. 13 Kansas beat Kent State 78-62 on Tuesday night. Jimmy Hall scored 13 points and eight rebounds, and Khaliq Spicer added 11 points and five rebounds for Kent State (8-4). Blunders and bloopers were evident early for Kansas (10-2). Everyone but Oubre had shooting woes. Excluding the freshman's perfect first half where he made all six shots, Kansas was 10 of 30. When the Kent State Golden Flashes were called for a foul, the Jayhawks only made 3 of 8 free throws. Kent State wasn't any better. They only shot 25 percent from the line.


Royals' Gordon Undergoes Surgery on Right Wrist 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon has had surgery on his right wrist, and the four-time Gold Glove winner should be ready for the season opener against the White Sox on April 6. The surgery, an extensor retinaculum repair, was performed by Dr. Bruce Toby at the University of Kansas Hospital on Tuesday. It is not yet clear when Gordon will be able to start in spring training. Royals trainer Nick Kenney says in a statement that Gordon reached out to the team about some wrist discomfort last week. Gordon traveled to Kansas City and underwent testing, and the surgery was scheduled immediately so that he would be ready for the upcoming season. Gordon dealt with pain in the same wrist midway through last season but did not miss significant playing time. He aggravated the injury during his winter training sessions.


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