Headlines for Friday, January 23, 2015
Obama Highlights Child Care in KU Speech
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — President Barack Obama is pitching a plan for universal child care at a liberal stronghold deep in Republican territory, promoting his Democratic party agenda while calling for less partisanship in Washington. He says that with two working parents in many U.S. households, high-quality child care programs "are not just nice-to-haves, these are must-haves." Obama told a crowd at the University of Kansas: "I don't want anybody being daycare poor." He acknowledged losing Kansas twice during his presidential campaigns, though he added that he probably won some sectors of the university town of Lawrence. Obama was on the second day of a two-day trip to conservative states where he was making the case for initiatives that he outlined in his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
Kansas Democrats Outline Opposition to Governor's Budget
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Kansas Democratic lawmakers are criticizing Republican Governor Sam Brownback's budget proposals. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City said in a news conference Friday that the governor's proposals would hurt ordinary Kansans. Hensley argued that Brownback's proposal to repeal the current school funding formula was unconstitutional. Brownback's budget recommendations also call for sharp increases in cigarette and alcohol taxes and transfers. Hensley said these moves would disproportionately affect the poor. Kansas is facing a total budget deficit of more than $710 million in the current fiscal year and the one beginning July 1. The Democratic leaders blame Brownback's tax-cutting policies. But Democrats haven't drafted alternative budget legislation. Brownback said in a statement that he's willing to work with the Democrats.
School Funding Plan's Effects on Property Taxes Uncertain
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators from both parties say they're not sure how Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's school-funding proposals would affect the power local districts have to raise local property taxes. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said local property taxes are a key unanswered question about the governor's proposals. The Topeka Democrat is critical of Brownback's call to repeal the existing funding formula. The state's current funding scheme allows local school districts to impose property taxes to supplement their state funds, but caps the total amount they can raise. Brownback hasn't said whether he'd freeze local school taxes at current levels or eliminate the cap on districts' authority. Spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said those issues have yet to be determined. Republicans said lawmakers must decide how much taxing power to give districts.
Kobach Testifies on Changing Kansas Justice Selection Process
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Secretary of State Kris Kobach says Kansas Supreme Court decisions in school funding and death penalty cases show the justices aren't as competent as federal judges. Kobach was among the witnesses testifying Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in favor of changing how state Supreme Court justices are chosen. He says the state's current system has produced what he called "mediocre results." Kobach said he believes federal judges are better qualified for their jobs. Defenders of the current system say it's worked well for decades. An attorney-led nominating commission currently screens applicants for Kansas Supreme Court vacancies and picks three finalists for each. The governor picks one of the finalists, with no role for legislators. Kobach favors having the governor appoint justices directly, subject to Senate confirmation.
Kansas Governor Pledges to Sign New Anti-Abortion Proposal
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has promised to sign legislation to ban a procedure used to terminate hundreds of pregnancies in Kansas every year. Brownback made his pledge Thursday during a Statehouse rally with hundreds of abortion opponents. The event was sponsored by Kansans for Life and marked the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion across the nation. The Republican governor has signed several anti-abortion bills since taking office in January 2011. The latest proposal targets a method in which a doctor uses a forceps or other medical instruments to dismember a living fetus in the womb. The procedure is used in about 8 percent of abortions in Kansas. Planned Parenthood issued a statement saying state lawmakers should stop interfering in women's health care decisions.
Kansas Governor Marks 70th Anniversary of Battle of Bulge
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is honoring veterans of World War II's Battle of the Bulge and commemorating the 70th anniversary of its end. Brownback signed a proclamation designating Friday as "Battle of the Bulge Day." Joining him for the brief Statehouse ceremony were four veterans in their late 80s and early 90s who served in the Army when the battle was fought in Belgium and Luxembourg in December 1944 and January 1945. The veterans were Bob MacLeay of Lawrence and Paul Scheid, J.D. Sexton and Henry Wanke of Topeka. The six-week battle arose from the last major German offensive planned by Adolf Hitler himself, which created a bulge in American lines. More than 600,000 American troops fought in freezing temperatures to throw the Germans back.
Opponents of Medical Marijuana Testify to Kansas Senate Committee
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Opponents of a medical marijuana bill made their case to the Kansas Senate Thursday. The Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard testimony from opponents of a proposal that would legalize marijuana for medical use. Speakers argued that the bill would lead to dangerous increases in drug use in the state and strain treatment resources. Institute on Global Drug Policy chairman Eric Voth said marijuana is harmful and legalization measures would threaten public health. He said other states that passed such legislation skirted medical research processes and set bad precedents. Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police legislative committee chair Ed Klumpp said states that have passed marijuana laws have faced problems. He says more information is needed before Kansas follows suit. On Wednesday, the panel heard from supporters of the medical marijuana legalization bill.
Kansas Lawmakers Consider Hate Crime Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would toughen punishments for hate crimes. Democratic Senator David Haley spoke in favor of the bill, which would double sentences for offenses determined to be hate crimes. Haley said the bill would help protect potential victims from crimes motivated by prejudice. But Republican Senator Forrest Knox expressed skepticism of the bill's effectiveness in the hearing. He said it was unclear whether tougher sentences would deter potential criminals. Knox also said it would be difficult to prove that those accused were motivated by prejudice. Currently there is no Kansas statute that requires stiffer punishment for hate crimes. However, Kansas courts may transfer cases of alleged hate crimes to federal courts, where penalties are increased.
Shortage of Kansas Troopers Means Fewer Tickets, DUI Arrests
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — With fewer Kansas Highway Patrol troopers patrolling the state's highways, the number of tickets and traffic stops also has dropped. That might seem like good news for drivers but safety advocates say the decline in troopers is putting motorists at risk. The Kansas City Star reports that the number of troopers has dropped 16 percent since 2008, leaving 409 officers responsible for more than 10,000 miles of state highways. During those same years, the number of drunken-driving arrests declined 51 percent, and troopers wrote 31 percent fewer tickets. Highway patrol officials say the agency is struggling to replace officers because of low pay, long hours and the resulting morale problems. Highway Patrol Major John Eichkorn says the positions are not being left open to save the state money.
Leak in Water Pipe Could Affect All of Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Public works officials in Wichita are working to find and fix a leak in a main water pipe, which could affect all 450,000 water users in the city. The leak was discovered Wednesday. It is in a pipe that connects the Equus Beds Aquifer and Cheney Reservoir to the city's water plant. It's unclear exactly where the leak in the 66-inch steel pipe is located. Officials say the leak will not affect water quality because water is leaking out but no contamination is going into the pipe. However, public works director Alan King says if the plant's capacity isn't increased, users could be asked to conserve water. Public works employees are installing bypass pipes to increase the plant's capacity. The work could take up to five days.
Sedgwick County Judge Richard Ballinger Dies Following Illness
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County Judge Richard Ballinger has died following a prolonged illness. The 18th Judicial District Court announced in a news release that the 62-year-old judge died Friday morning at his home. Ballinger was first appointed to the court in 1992, and served as its chief judge from 2003 to 2006. Prior to his judicial appointment, Ballinger was an assistant district attorney with the Sedgwick County district attorney's office. He served as former chairman of the Sedgwick County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, and as a member of the civil and probate committees of the Wichita Bar Association. He also served as an advisory board member for Wichita Legal Services.
Alexander Wind Farm Orders 21 New Turbines
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Siemens says it has received an order to supply 21 wind turbines to the Alexander wind project located 120 miles northwest of Wichita. The Hutchinson-based company announced Thursday in a news release that it has reached a deal with NJR Clean Energy Ventures for the 48-megawatt project. The $85 million Alexander wind farm is expected to be operational by this fall. Siemens says the turbine's generator housing, called a nacelle, will be assembled at its nearby facility in Hutchinson. The blades will be manufactured at its facility in Fort Madison, Iowa.
Regulators Cite Company over Deadly Fireworks Explosion
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) _ Federal regulators have cited a company for workplace safety violations stemming from a deadly southeast Kansas fireworks explosion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed $55,000 in fines against Lone Star Management LLC after finding nine serious safety violations. The blast happened August 12 as employees were moving pallets of fireworks and cardboard out of an explosives storage facility in Pittsburg. OSHA said employees were directed to use a gas-powered forklift that wasn't approved for a flammable environment, and gas ignited. One worker, 28-year-year-old Kenny Clark, died several hours later at a hospital in Joplin, Missouri. OSHA said another employee suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. OSHA also accused the company of storing cardboard in the explosives' containers.
Lawrence Man Sentenced to 3-Years in 2012 Accident
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A University of Kansas graduate was sentenced to three years in county jail for an accident that cost another student his legs. Julian M. Kuszmaul, of Lawrence, was sentenced Thursday after being convicted in December of second-offense DUI, refusing to submit to alcohol or drug testing and possession of marijuana. Prosecutors say that in August 2012, Colby Liston was pinned between a vehicle driven by Kuszmaul and another car, which was parked illegally. After the accident Liston, who is now 20, had his legs amputated above the knees. The Lawrence Journal-World reports blood tests showed Kuszmaul had a blood-alcohol content of 0.25, three times the legal limit of 0.08, when he struck Liston. Kuszmaul's attorney said he plans to an appeal.
Wichita Man Pleads Guilty to Possessing Child Porn
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Federal prosecutors say they will recommend a 20-year prison sentence for a Kansas man who's pleaded guilty to collecting images and videos of child pornography. The Wichita Eagle reports 47-year-old James Paul Bettes of Wichita has pleaded guilty to one count of distributing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. According to a news release from U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, a Wichita police detective last year downloaded child porn that Bettes was distributing over a peer-to-peer network. Authorities say they were able to trace it to Bettes. Grissom says Bettes had been collecting child porn since 1995 using a computer, external drives and other devices to store it. His sentencing is scheduled for April 9.
Judge Declares Mistrial in Topeka Case After Attack on Attorney
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A mistrial has been declared in the sexual assault case of a man who knocked his attorney unconscious during the trial. A Shawnee County District Court judge declared a mistrial Thursday after a juror asked to withdraw from hearing the case against 32-year-old Lance Franklin. A new trial date was not set. On December 11, Franklin was being tried on three counts of rape and other charges when he punched his attorney, David McDonald, and knocked him unconscious. The trial was scheduled to resume February 17 but a juror was allowed to withdraw on Thursday. Franklin refused to agree to have the case heard by only 11 jurors, prompting the mistrial. Franklin is now also charged with felony aggravated battery for injuring McDonald.
New Kansas Education Commissioner Meets with Public
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson is beginning a 15-stop tour this week to meet with parents, lawmakers and others about what they want from the state's public schools. The tour started Thursday night at the Maner Conference Center in Topeka. Watson also will attend events in Arkansas City, Wichita, Salina, Hutchinson, Hays, Oakley, Garden Center, Sublette, Parsons, Girard, Emporia, Topeka, Olathe, Hiawatha and Kansas City. Watson was selected for the commissioner job in November. He replaces Diane DeBacker, who left in May to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. Watson previously was superintendent of the 2,400-student McPherson school district. He also was chairman of the Kansas Coalition of Innovative School Districts.
Judge Denies Resentencing in Deadly Kansas Arson Fire
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) _ A former Johnson County physician has been denied a chance for a different sentence for killing two of her children in a 1995 arson fire. The Kansas City Star reports that Johnson County District Judge Brenda Cameron ruled Thursday that Debora Green isn't entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Green had wanted her sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years vacated and replaced. At issue are recent Kansas and U.S. Supreme Court rulings that certain sentences must be determined by a jury and not a judge. The ruling has led some inmates to successfully challenge their sentences. But Cameron found that Green's situation was different because she was sentenced based on a plea agreement that was well understood before she entered her pleas.
Hearing Set for 3 Suspects in Deadly Kansas Gun Shop Robbery
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A hearing has been scheduled to determine whether there is enough evidence to try three Missouri men in a deadly robbery attempt at a Kansas gun shop. A Johnson County judge on Thursday set the April 21 preliminary hearing date for 18-year-old Hakeem Malik, 19-year-old Nicquan Midgyett, and 20-year-old Londro Patterson III. The Kansas City Star reports that the three Kansas City, Missouri, men are charged with felony first-degree murder in the shooting death of Jon Bieker. The 44-year-old was killed Jan. 9 at his Shawnee store, called She's a Pistol. Midgyett and Patterson were wounded in the shooting, along with 19-year-old Deanthony Wiley, of Kansas City, Missouri. Wiley also has been charged but remains hospitalized.
ACLU Says Missouri Town to Stop Ticketing Headlight Flashers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union says a Kansas City suburb has agreed to stop ticketing drivers who flash their headlights at oncoming traffic to warn that a speed trap is ahead. The ACLU of Missouri said in a news release that a lawsuit against the 13,000-resident town of Grain Valley was dismissed Friday. The federal suit was filed on behalf of Jerry L. Jarman Jr., who was ticketed in August for violating a city code that bars interference with radar and other speed-checking devices. The ACLU of Missouri alleges the Kansas man was "engaged in expressive conduct" that is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. Interim Grain Valley city administrator Ryan Hunt says the city changed its ordinance last month and agreed to pay Jarman $5,560.
All Training Restored at Wichita Company Hit by Plane
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A pilot training center that was hit by an airplane at a Wichita airport has resumed all of its programs. FlightSafety spokesman Steve Phillips told The Wichita Eagle that all programs offered before the October crash at Mid-Continent Airport — now called Eisenhower National — have been restored. A Beechcraft King Air airplane crashed into the roof of the Cessna Pilot Learning Center on October 30, killing the pilot and three other people who were inside the center. Six other people were injured. The center offered training on Cessna Citation and Caravan airplanes. Phillips said in an email that no decision has been made about rebuilding the building damaged in the crash.
49-Year-Old Kansas Firefighter Dies After Training Session
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) -- A 49-year-old southwest Kansas firefighter has died after experiencing difficulty breathing during training. Garden City Fire Chief Allen Shelton says Ronnie Peek and other firefighters were participating in scheduled training Thursday night when he started having trouble breathing. The 16-year veteran of the fire department was taken to St. Catherine Hospital, where he died. Shelton says the department will issue more information later about memorials or ways to help his family.
Fort Hays State Recruiting for Honors College
HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Fort Hays State is looking for students for its first Honors College this fall. The school began recruiting academically gifted students for an accelerated learning curriculum last week in Lawrence and Kansas City. It will hold a 13-city, three-state tour to recognize high school students and transfers who will receive Fort Hays State scholarships this fall. Students in the new college must be a National Merit finalist or semi-finalist, winners of a National Achievement Award or have received National Hispanic Recognition status. They must have a minimum high school GPA of 3.7, a minimum ACT score of 33 or an SAT score of 1460. Other factors will be scholastic or community leadership. The program will offer students honors-only floor of McMindes Hall and space in Forsyth Library.
Military Judge Calls Hearing in 2009 Fort Hood Gunman's Case
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — A military judge has called a hearing in the case of the Army psychiatrist sentenced to death for gunning down 13 people at Fort Hood six years ago. Fort Hood officials said Friday that a hearing in Major Nidal Hasan's case will be held next week. The hearing will take place at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Hasan is being held on death row for the 2009 attacks that also wounded more than 30 people. Post officials say the judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, on Thursday wants to review "routine matters" including Hasan's post-trial rights and the attorneys representing him. Hasan's mandatory appeals before military appellate courts have not yet begun.
Tennessee Man Sentenced to 10 Years in Cargo Thefts
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A Tennessee businessman was sentenced to 10 years in prison with no parole for leading a multi-state cargo theft ring. Sixty-year-old Earl Stanley Nunn, of Memphis, also was ordered Friday to pay $3.5 million in restitution during sentencing in federal court in Springfield. Nunn, owner of Nu World Trucking, pleaded guilty in July to theft of an interstate shipment. Prosecutors say drivers would take tractor trucks to truck stops and service stations near interstate highways. When they found unattended semi-trailers, they would hitch them to their trucks and drive off. The contents were generally sold in Chicago and Detroit. Thefts were committed in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Nunn's nephew and son also pleaded guilty in related cases.