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Headlines for Monday, February 16, 2014


Kansas House Committee to Consider Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Hikes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes are being reviewed by a legislative committee. The House Taxation Committee has scheduled hearings for Wednesday and Thursday on a bill containing Brownback's proposals. Brownback wants to raise tobacco and alcohol taxes to help eliminate a projected shortfall of nearly $600 million in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Republican governor wants to increase the cigarette tax to $2.29 a pack from 79 cents. The tax on other tobacco products would rise to 25 percent from 10 percent. The tax on packaged alcoholic beverages would go to 12 percent from 8 percent.


House Committee Restores Highway Funds Transfer 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A House panel reversed a decision made last week and decided to fully restore Governor Sam Brownback's request to use millions of dollars from the Kansas Department of Transportation to fill gaps in other state spending. The governor wants to take $724 million from transportation projects. Last week, the House Transportation Budget Committee voted to reduce that amount by $280 million, allowing about $444 million to be transferred during fiscal years 2016 and 2017. On Monday, during a quick meeting not held in a committee room, the panel restored the $280 million fund transfer. Chairman Representative J.R. Claeys, of Salina, said more study is needed to determine the impact of removing fund sweeps on the budget. He said the quick meeting was necessary because he had to attend another meeting.


Kansas Lawmakers Find Agreement on Campaign Spending Raise 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Republicans and Democrats can agree on one thing — they want more campaign money. Representatives of both parties' leadership testified Monday in favor of a bill before the House Elections Committee that would at least double contribution limits to most state campaigns. For example, the bill would increase individual contribution limits to $4,000 from $2,000 for gubernatorial candidates and $2,500 from $1,000 for state senators. Kansas Democratic Party Chairperson Joan Wagnon testified that the current limits, which have changed little since the 1970s, were unrealistically low. Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker told the committee that the drastic increase in spending on ads from outside groups has muddied campaign messages. He said voters want to hear more directly from the candidate's campaigns.


Kansas Bill Would Keep Fantasy Sports Legal Amid Dispute 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker is moving to keep fantasy sports leagues legal amid a dispute with the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission. Republican Representative Brett Hildabrand of Shawnee submitted a bill to the Legislature Monday that would define fantasy sports as a game of skill. The distinction is important because the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission said in August that fantasy sports meet the criteria of a lottery, which would make them illegal. Under the Kansas Constitution, only the state is allowed to administer lotteries. Hildabrand said he introduced the legislation so ordinary Kansans who enjoy fantasy football would not become criminals. The federal government and 45 states consider fantasy sports legal games of skill. However, five states consider them illegal.


Study: Small Kansas Quakes Raise Risk of More Serious Ones

SAN JOSE, California (AP) - New federal research says the small earthquakes shaking southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma on a daily basis are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and more dangerous quakes. Scientists link many of these quakes to the deep underground injections of wastewater associated with drilling for oil and gas in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Federal records show the region has had nearly 200 quakes since January 1. U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist William Ellsworth says the jump in these nuisance quakes increases the risk of future ones that can do serious damage. The number of small quakes started rising in 2008 and then really soared in 2013 and 2014. 


Hundreds of Gay Rights Supporters Rally at Kansas Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Hundreds of protesters rallied at the Kansas Statehouse Saturday against Republican Governor Sam Brownback's decision to end protections against discrimination for gays and lesbians working in state government. The Valentine's Day rally had about 600 participants. It was organized by gay rights advocates following Brownback's decision last week to rescind an executive order that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring and employment in state government. The order was issued in August 2007 by then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who later served as President Obama's health secretary. Brownback said Sebelius acted unilaterally and legislators should set such policies. But speakers at the rally condemned Brownback's action as backward and described it as an attack on gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals.


Jury Reaches Partial Verdict in Lawrence Homicide 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man will be retried on a first-degree murder charge after a jury reached a partial verdict in the case. A Douglas County jury on Monday convicted 30-year-old Dustin Walker of aggravated burglary but could not agree on a verdict on a first-degree murder charge after about 11 hours of deliberation. Walker is charged with killing 39-year-old Patrick Roberts in March. The Lawrence Journal-World reports prosecutors allege Walker and co-defendant Archie Robinson went to Roberts's home to steal cash and marijuana and Walker shot Roberts during the crime. The defense claimed Roberts' brother attacked Robinson. Walker testified last week that Robinson was holding the gun when he was tackled and the gun went off, hitting Roberts. A new trial date will be set in May.


State Upgrading Osawatomie State Hospital

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is spending millions of dollars to rehabilitate one of its two state psychiatric hospitals to avoid the loss of federal Medicare and Medicaid funds. Osawatomie State Hospital is replacing patient beds and mattresses, installing new bathroom fixtures and making other changes after an inspection in late January raised concerns about patient safety. Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services spokeswoman Angela de Rocha says it will cost the state about $3 million to bring the hospital into compliance. It's the second time in recent months that federal regulators have threatened to take away the facility's Medicare and Medicaid funding which makes up about one-fourth of the facility's $26 million budget.


KSU Researchers Develop Heat-Tolerant Wheat

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Two Kansas State University researchers are developing a type of wheat that will tolerate hotter temperatures as the grain is developing. The problem is that kernels start to shrivel if temperatures are too high as the wheat grains begin to fill out. That happens in May and June in Kansas. The transgenic wheat contains genetic material into which DNA from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced. In this case, the researchers added genetic material from rice. Professor Harold Trick says wheat is a cool-season grass, and its grain fills out best when temperatures are between 60 and 65 degrees. Potentially, a 3 percent to 4 percent yield loss occurs with every 2- to 3-degree rise in temperature.


AT&T to Match Google Broadband in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - AT&T has announced a new Kansas City-area broadband service with speeds and pricing intended to put it in competition with Google Fiber. The Kansas City Star reports that the fiber optic packages, called GigaPower, will be available to homes and businesses in downtown Kansas City and the Kansas suburbs of Leawood, Lenexa, Olathe and Overland Park. Company officials said the new service's Internet connection speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second will cost about $70 a month, matching Google's current pricing. AT&T said it does not plan to offer the service to every home in the Kansas City market. Rather, the Texas-based company would calculate where demand is strongest and lay cable in those areas.


Great Mall in Olathe Closing in Fall 2015

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe will close in mid-to-late fall. The owners of the 786,000-square-foot mall said in a statement Monday that economic realities such as the economic downturn and changing buying habits prompted the closing. The mall has struggled to remain profitable since it opened in 1997. VanTrust, the asset manager for the property, says it tried to find potential uses for the existing property but the structure, maintenance costs and layout making it unlikely the current building will be preserved. The developer is working with the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council to find the best use for the property.


State Considers 4 Sharply Different Proposals for SE Kansas Casino 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Developers hoping to operate a state-owned casino in southeast Kansas have offered four proposals that provide a sharp contrast in approaches. The two most expensive proposals would place the casinos near the Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas borders. One is Castle Rock Casino Resort's $145 million facility, the other is a yet-unnamed casino proposed by Southeast Kansas Casino Partners for $140 million. The Wichita Eagle reports both would compete with the Downstream Casino Resort just across the Oklahoma state line. The other two are more moderately priced and would locate the casino near Pittsburg, catering more to regional gamblers. The Emerald City Casino Resort would be a $110 million project in Frontenac north of Pittsburg, while the $62 million Kansas Crossing Casino would operate south of the city.


Kansas Mission of Mercy Helps 1,400 Dental Patients

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A free two-day dental clinic in Salina served about 1,400 people over the weekend. TheSalina Journal reports that volunteers gathered Saturday night to celebrate completion of the 14th Kansas Mission of Mercy free dental clinic at the Salina Bicentennial Center. With $120,000 in donations, volunteers performed $1.2 million in dental work. 133 dentists participated along with 103 dental hygienists, 187 dental assistants and 676 volunteers. Dr. Cindy Reed, a Salina orthodontist, says the dental workers extracted 3,118 teeth, did 1,466 fillings and treated 171 children. She says that while some patients were turned away Friday, all patients were seen Saturday.


Kansas Man Dies After Car Hit by Amtrak Train 

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Garden City man died when his car slid on icy roads in southwest Kansas and was hit by an Amtrak train. The Kansas Highway Patrol says 45-year-old Lanh Tranh died in the accident early Monday. He was driving west on Highway 50 about three miles east of Cimarron, in Gray County, when his car slid and stopped at a railroad crossing and was hit by the Amtrak passenger train. The patrol says no one on the train was injured.


Sheriff's Office Investigating Death as Homicide 

PARK CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in southern Kansas say they're investigating after a body was found near Park City over the weekend. Captain David Mattingly of the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says Monday the case is being investigated as a homicide. A passer-by found the body early Sunday evening. No further details about the case were released early Monday.


1 Man Dies, 1 Injured in KCK Accident

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - One man is dead and another injured after a vehicle went over the side of a bridge in Kansas City, Kansas. Police said in a news release that officers found the wreck Sunday morning while investigating possible copper thefts. The surviving victim was in critical condition when he was taken to a hospital. he name of the man who was killed wasn't immediately released.


Kansas Farmer Comes Home After Harvest Accident

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A central Kansas community has welcomed home a farmer who suffered severe shocks and burns in a fall harvest accident. The Salina Journal reports that car and truck horns sounded Saturday afternoon as 24-year-old Zach Short arrived in Assaria. Nearly 300 lined a road on the edge of the tiny town, with some holding "Welcome Home" signs. His 17-month-old daughter, Brynlee, was there proclaiming "Daddy! Daddy!" Short was helping to harvest a soybean field in October when he tried to help put out a fire coming from a grain cart. Nobody noticed that the auger was in contact with overhead electric lines. When Short touched something metal, he was shocked. After months in hospitals, including nearly a month on a ventilator, Short says, "It feels good to be home."


English Mother, Daughter to Watch Kansas Leg of Pancake Race

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — An English mother and daughter who are both past champions of a trans-Atlantic pancake race will be in southwest Kansas for this year's competition. The High Plains Daily Leader reports that 21-year-old Devon Byrne won't be able to compete Tuesday because she won for a third straight time last year. So she's doing the next best thing and watching the Liberal leg of the Shrove Tuesday competition in which women from there and Olney, England, run the course with a pancake in their pan, flipping it at the beginning and end. Her mother, Lesley Byrne, won the international competition in 1988 and 1989. She also won the Olney leg in 1993 on the same day she learned she was pregnant with her daughter, Devon Byrne.


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