Headlines for Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Kansas Governor Signs Bill Addressing Budget Shortfall
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill closing most of a projected $344 million shortfall in the state's current budget. Brownback announced his action Tuesday and said lawmakers worked hard in passing it last week. The bill mostly diverts money from highway projects and other special funds to general government spending. The state also is shorting contributions to pensions for teachers and government workers. Separately, Brownback announced plans last week to cut nearly $45 million in funding for public schools and higher education. Kansas also faces an additional shortfall of nearly $600 million in the budget for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. The budget problems arose after lawmakers aggressively cut income taxes at Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013.
Kansas House Committee Introduces Plan to Expand Medicaid
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has drafted a plan for expanding the state's Medicaid program for the poor and disabled in line with the federal health care overhaul. The bill introduced Monday in the House by the Vision 2020 Committee would impose a special tax on hospitals and other health care providers to raise any state matching funds required to tap extra federal dollars. It also would allow the state to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work. Committee Chairman and Lawrence Republican Tom Sloan said the proposal is designed to start a discussion about expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to as many as 169,000 people. But many Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature are still wary of getting the state involved with the 2010 federal health care law.
Kansas Governor Rescinds Order Protecting Gay State Workers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has rescinded a former governor's order barring discrimination against gays and lesbians in hiring and employment throughout much of state government. The Republican said Tuesday he issued an executive order canceling the August 2007 order by Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius ordered departments under the governor's direct control to bar discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Kansas's anti-discrimination law covers private employers and housing, but it doesn't extend to gay, lesbian or transgender residents. Brownback says legislators should approve any expansion of anti-discrimination laws, and that Sebelius — who later became President Barack Obama's health secretary — acted unilaterally But he reaffirmed the state's commitment to preventing discrimination against state workers based on race, gender, religion or national origin.
Kansas Democrats Condemn Narrowing of State Anti-Bias Policy
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A decision by Republican Governor Sam Brownback to narrow an anti-discrimination policy for Kansas government workers has prompted a Democratic lawmaker to introduce a bill aimed at protecting gays and lesbians. Democratic state Representative John Carmichael of Wichita on Tuesday asked the Kansas House Judiciary Committee to sponsor a measure to bar discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The committee agreed to do so. Carmichael's bill would expand the state's existing anti-discrimination act, which does not specifically cover gays, lesbians and transgender residents. He said he acted in response to Brownback's decision to rescind a previous Democratic governor's executive order barring such discrimination in state government hiring and employment. House Minority Leader and Kansas City Democrat Tom Burroughs also condemned Brownback's action.
Kansas Democrats Support Proposals Aimed at Boosting Wages
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats have outlined proposals to increase the state's minimum wage and set higher wages on public works projects. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City had a Statehouse news conference Tuesday to unveil the measures. They said their proposals would help working-class families. One proposal would boost the state's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage to $11.32 an hour over five years. Another would require contractors on public projects to pay what's known as the prevailing wage in the local area for each job. The figure is set by the federal government, and critics say it typically follows union pay scales. Republicans who control the Legislature resist such proposals and worry that they'll raise costs for businesses and for public projects.
Kansas Democrats Want to Restore Tax Breaks for Poor Families
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic legislative leaders in Kansas say they'll push to restore breaks for poor families that were reduced or eliminated as the state dropped income tax rates in recent years. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City disclosed during a news conference Tuesday that Democrats are working on a series of proposals. They include restoring an income tax credit for child care expenses and a refund previously available to low-income renters. Democrats also want to increase rebates that poor families receive for sales taxes paid on food. The state aggressively cut income rates in 2012 and 2013 at Republican Governor Sam Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. He said Tuesday the goal was to make the tax system simpler.
Kansas Moves to Narrow Teacher, School Board Negotiations
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiations between teachers and school boards may be drastically narrowed as the Kansas Legislature looks for greater efficiency. The House Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would require the two parties to only negotiate salaries and work hours in yearly talks. Both sides would have to agree beforehand to discuss any other subject, such as sick leave, insurance or safety. Associations of teachers, administrators and school boards have criticized the bill, preferring instead a compromise they reached last month. Under that agreement, each side could propose five subjects in talks in addition to wages. A Senate panel conducted a hearing Tuesday on a bill representing the compromise. Cheryl Semmel of United School Administrators of Kansas said she is hopeful the compromise will have a better chance in the Senate.
Prosecutors Question Kobach Claims of Voter Fraud in Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wants lawmakers to give him the power to press voter fraud charges, saying prosecutors don't pursue cases he refers. The state's top federal prosecutor says Kobach hasn't sent him any cases. The conservative Republican publicly chastised Kansas-based U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom late last year for not prosecuting cases referred by Kobach. But in a November 6 letter sent from Grissom to Kobach and obtained by The Associated Press, the prosecutor said his office received no voter fraud cases from Kobach. Kobach acknowledged to the AP last week that his office hasn't sent Grissom any suspected voter fraud cases. He says he was citing cases referred by his predecessor. Grissom says the FBI determined two cases referred before Kobach took office in 2011 weren't fraud.
Residents, Politicians Argue Against Fort Riley Troop Reductions
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Military officials heard Monday from Kansas lawmakers and residents about the reasons against deep troop reductions at Fort Riley. Residents from neighboring Junction City and Manhattan spoke of the importance of Fort Riley to the region during a town hall meeting in Junction City. Fort Riley officials have said the installation stands to lose as many as 16,000 employees who would be dismissed or redeployed as a result of personnel reductions to the Army. Governor Sam Brownback and U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas spoke in favor of keeping personnel at current levels at the base. Representatives of area schools and businesses also spoke of the negative impact of troop reductions. Fort Riley employs more than 25,000 people in the Junction City area with an estimated economic impact of more than $1.5 billion dollars.
Kansas AG Pays $1.2M to Defend Anti-Abortion Laws
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office says it has paid outside attorneys nearly $1.2 million to defend anti-abortion laws enacted since January 2011. The attorney general's office reported Monday that it has paid almost $770,000 to the Lawrence firm of Thompson, Ramsdell & Qualseth for fees and expenses in handling multiple federal and state lawsuits. Abortion providers sued the state over special regulations adopted in 2011 and a 2013 law requiring them to post certain material on their websites for women seeking abortions. The state also was sued over restrictions on private health insurance coverage of abortions. Schmidt's office also has paid more than $425,000 to the Wichita firm of Foulston Siefken to defend a measure blocking federal aid for Planned Parenthood to fund the group's non-abortion services .
Study: Groundwater Depletion Slowing in Western Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Geological Survey says average groundwater levels are still declining in western Kansas, but at a slower rate. The agency on Tuesday released preliminary data from the measurements of some 1,400 water wells taken earlier this year. Most of the wells draw from the High Plains aquifer, which includes the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer in south-central Kansas and the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas. Water levels declined an average of 0.87 feet in 2014 — a slightly slower rate than the 0.9 feet drop in 2013. But it is far less than the 2.7-foot drop in water levels seen in 2012, the 2.8-foot decline in 2011 and the 1.18-foot decline in 2010. Southwest Kansas had the greatest declines, with average groundwater levels falling 1.92 feet.
Police: Attempted Robbery Led to Triple Shooting in Lawrence
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police say a shooting near the University of Kansas campus was the result of an attempted robbery. Two of the three people shot Sunday evening were KU students. Sergeant Trent McKinley says one of the victims was released Sunday while the others remain hospitalized. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening. Police on Tuesday continued to search for the two suspects, who fled toward the KU campus after the confrontation. McKinley says they both had weapons when they fled. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that at least one of the suspects, if not both, wore a mask when they entered the home. McKinley says the suspects and victims knew each other. No names have been released.
KBI Investigating Officer-Involved Shooting in Hugoton
HUGOTON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is helping to investigate the shooting of a southwest Kansas man by police officers after he led them on three chases. The KBI said in a news release that the 36-year-old man was shot by Hugoton police and was in stable condition Monday. Hugoton police were called to a domestic disturbance on Saturday. They called off the first chase. The suspect returned to the scene twice and led officers on chases again. The KBI says during the third call, the suspect tried to hit one of the officers with his car. After the third chase, the suspect stopped about 2 miles southwest of Moscow, where he was shot. The KBI did not release any details about the shooting. The officers involved are on administrative leave.
Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Son's Starvation Death
SALINA, Kan. (AP) - The father of a 3-month-old Salina boy who was abused and starved to death has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Twenty-eight-year-old Nicholas Corbin had pleaded no contest to first-degree murder in the death of Jordan Corbin in December 2013. Before he was sentenced Monday, Corbin said he and the baby's mother, Desirah Overturf, did not know how to care for a baby and were both under stress when the child died. Overturf was sentenced in September to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The Salina Journal reports a defense attorney argued that Corbin had an intellectual disability and should not be subject to mandated sentencing.
Baby Found Safe After Lenexa Carjacking
LENEXA, Kan. (AP) - Police are investigating after someone stole a vehicle with a 5-month-old baby inside in Lenexa. The child is safe after authorities say the vehicle was found abandoned in Kansas City, Missouri on Monday night. Police are interviewing witnesses following the incident and plan to review surveillance camera images. Police say the child's parents were standing in a parking lot near their vehicle that was unlocked and running when a man jumped in and drove away with the baby still in the back seat. Authorities say a pedestrian was hit during the carjacking but wasn't seriously injured. One of the victim's cellphones was in the vehicle, and police were able to track it down.
Cherokee County Opposes Casino Expansion into Kansas
COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — The Cherokee County Commission has approved a resolution to support the Kansas attorney general's attempt to bar the Quapaw Tribe from extending a casino from Oklahoma into Kansas. The Joplin Globe reports that the Cherokee County Commission approved the resolution on Monday. The attorney general wants to bar the expansion of the Downstream Casino after the National Indian Gaming Commission granted the Quapaw Tribe permission to expand onto its former reservation land. In 2012, that particular piece of land was placed into a trust stating that it would only be used for parking and agriculture, not gaming. In late 2013, Downstream Casino applied to operate Class 3 gaming, which includes roulette and craps, on the land in Kansas. Class 3 gaming is unconstitutional in Oklahoma.
FEMA Approves Tornado Shelter in Dodge City
DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) - A tornado shelter/student activities center at Dodge City Community College is one step closer to reality. The college's foundation announced Monday that the federal government had approved an application for $491,000 to help fund the structure. College Foundation Director Roger Proffit says the approval means the college can begin construction of the domed structure. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports supporters are conducting a five-year, $5 million fundraising campaign for the activities center. With the federal grant, current donations and pledges, about $1.5 million is still needed. Besides providing a community shelter during severe storms, the center will include a walking track, wellness center and aerobics room. It also will have a student activities room and all collegiate basketball and volleyball games will be played there.
Lawrence Man Sentenced for Embezzlement
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man was sentenced to two years in federal prison for embezzling more than a half-million dollars from his company and business partners. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 55-year-old Mark Elzea was sentenced Monday and ordered to pay $619,000 for embezzling from Pur-O-Zone. He pleaded guilty in September to one count of interstate transportation of stolen funds. Elzea was controller and part owner of Pur-O-Zone, a Lawrence janitorial and cleaning equipment business. Prosecutors say he began embezzling in 2004. The scheme was discovered in May 2014 after a vendor complained about not receiving a check. The partners discovered that Elzea had signed several unauthorized checks made payable to Cardmember Service Chase Bank in Illinois.
Jackson Named Special Agent in Charge of KC FBI Field Office
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 50-year-old former FBI terrorism supervisor has been named to lead the bureau's operations in Kansas City. Erik K. Jackson was announced on Monday as the special agent in charge of the Kansas City field office, which covers the western half of Missouri and all of Kansas. Most recently he served as acting deputy assistant director and section chief of the FBI's Cyber Division in Washington, D.C. Jackson joined the FBI in 1997 and was assigned to the Tampa field office to investigate international terrorism, organized and violent crime, drug and health care fraud cases. Jackson previously served as assistant special agent in charge of the National Security Branch in the Kansas City field office, which includes the international and domestic terrorism, counterintelligence, cyber and weapons of mass destructions programs.
Labor Pains Prompt Flight Diversion to KC
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A flight from Phoenix to Chicago was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Kansas City after a passenger went into labor. Kansas City International Airport spokesman Joe McBride says the Spirit Airlines flight landed in Kansas City Tuesday morning so the woman could be taken off the plane and transported to an area hospital. McBride said he didn't have any additional information about her condition or whether she delivered the baby. According to FlightAware.com, the flight departed from Phoenix at 1:34 am Tuesday and landed in Kansas City at 4:34 am. The plane departed from Kansas City at 5:31 am and landed in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport an hour later.
Public Memorial Planned for Basketball Coach Dean Smith
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — The University of North Carolina will hold a public memorial service for Dean Smith on Feb. 22. The school says the service will take place in the campus arena bearing the name of the Hall of Fame coach, who died Saturday at the age of 83. Smith was a native of Emporia, Kansas, a graduate of Topeka High School and former star player for the Kansas University Jayhawks. In a statement released by UNC, Smith's family said it is "comforted by the countless gestures and words" from well-wishers. The family also asked people to donate to the Chapel Hill-based Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund or a charity of their choice in lieu of flowers.
James Shields and San Diego Padres Agree to 4-Year Contract
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Right-handed pitcher James Shields, who helped Kansas City reach the World Series last season, has agreed to a four-year contract with the San Diego Padres. Shields is the latest addition by first-year general manager A.J. Preller, who in December added sluggers Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, as well as Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Shields was traded from Tampa Bay to Kansas City two years ago in a deal in which Myers, then the Royals' top prospect, was acquired by the Rays. Shields was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA last season and declined a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Royals. He lost both of his World Series starts, outdueled each time by Madison Bumgarner.