Headlines for Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Kansas Lawmakers Urged to Reject Increase in Alcohol Taxes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have been urged to reject Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to increase alcohol taxes by beer and liquor industry lobbyists and even one of his former budget directors. The House Taxation Committee had a hearing Wednesday on Brownback's proposal to raise the state's tax on packaged liquor, wine and beer to 12 percent from 8 percent. The proposal is included in a bill that also would boost tobacco taxes, raising the cigarette tax to $2.29 a pack from 79 cents. Former Budget Director Steve Anderson says the state should look at cutting spending first. Liquor and beer industry lobbyists say the alcohol tax increase would hurt businesses and consumers. House Speaker Ray Merrick said before the hearing that he opposes the tax increases.
Kansas Attorney General Appeals School Finance Ruling
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has filed a widely expected appeal of a ruling that found the state isn't spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Wednesday that the appeal had been filed after vowing last month to challenge the ruling. The Shawnee County District Court panel declared in its December ruling that the current funding is "inadequate from any rational perspective of the evidence." The panel said the evidence suggests base state aid should increase to at least $4,654 per student — which would amount to about $548 million a year. However, the panel also suggested the figure could be much higher. Kansas is facing a shortfall of nearly $600M in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Kansas Panel Moves to Double Campaign Contribution Limits
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Limits on campaign contributions to political parties and campaigns would double under a bill endorsed by a Kansas House panel. The House Elections Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the measure that would at least double the campaign contribution limits for all state and county-wide offices. The bill was amended to double contribution limits to political parties, raising it to $50,000 for national parties and $30,000 for state parties. The biggest boost would go to county-wide office campaigns in counties with a population of 75,000 or more. That limit would increase to $2,500 from $500. Representatives of the state Republican and Democratic parties testified earlier in favor of the bill, saying that the increases were needed to keep pace with the sharp rise in campaign spending by outside groups.
Lawrence to Gain Hallmark Printing Jobs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hallmark Cards plans to end printing work at its Litho-Krome printing subsidiary in Georgia and transfer the work to Lawrence, Kansas. Hallmark officials said Tuesday the Litho-Krome subsidiary produces greeting cards and Crayola packaging. The work will end in Midland, Georgia, in the third quarter of this year. The work will move to a Hallmark production center in Lawrence, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that 10 Litho-Krome employees will be offered a relocation option and about 40 other employees will receive severance pay. Hallmark acquired the Litho-Krome lithography and printing operation in 1979. The current plant is being marketed for sale by the Kansas City-based real estate office of CBRE.
Kobach: Kansas Attracted Most New Businesses Since 2003
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says more new businesses were formed in Kansas in 2014 than at any point since 2003. Kobach said at a news conference Tuesday that 15,780 new businesses were formed — 311 more than in 2013. Kobach says this indicates that a 2012 move to exempt 191,000 business owners from income taxes had succeeded in attracting investment. However, he did not say how many of the new businesses were of the specific designation that received the 2012 tax cuts. Critics of the current administration have said that some business owners are closing existing businesses and re-registering them with new designations for tax reasons and therefore the numbers do not indicate growth. In 2014, 2,676 businesses dissolved in Kansas. That's 373 more than in 2013.
KS Bill Would Tweak Worker's Compensation to Avoid Lawsuits
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would change its workers' compensation law back to older guidelines under a bill being discussed by the Legislature. The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would move the state back to the older guidelines on compensation for work-related injuries. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach testified in favor of the move, saying that in states like Kansas that have moved to the newest guidelines have faced an increase in negligence lawsuits against employers. A Florida court ruled in 2014 that deficiencies in the newest guidelines provide grounds for injured employees to sue. Kobach says he was worried Kansas courts would reach the same conclusion. Opponents of the bill say the newest guidelines are most in line with current medical costs.
Kansas Officials Call Immigration Ruling 'Victory'
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says that a federal court ruling that blocks an executive order on immigration vindicates his efforts. A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked executive orders Tuesday that would have protected as many as 5 million people who entered the U.S. illegally from deportation. Kansas is one of 26 states that have challenged the orders as unconstitutional. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Wednesday called the ruling a preliminary victory in the case. Kobach said the ruling will boost his state-level efforts to deny benefits to people in the U.S. illegally. Irene Caubillo, president of advocacy group El Centro, said she expected the ruling to be appealed and her organization would continue to aid those in the country illegally to gain legal status.
Bill Would Have KCC Sign Off on Pollution Rules
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The group that regulates Kansas utilities would have the final say in preparing a greenhouse gas reduction plan under a bill in the state Legislature. The House Energy and Environment Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would give the Kansas Corporation Commission final authority in presenting new greenhouse gas emissions standards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has directed states to submit plans by June 2016, and states without a suitable plan will have federal regulations imposed upon them. Supporters of the bill said it would make future regulations more cost-effective. But Tom Gross of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment testified that taking proposals through the commission would slow the process and possibly cause Kansas to miss the federal deadline.
Crackdown on Kansas Scrap Theft Gains KS Senate Approval
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Penalties for scrap theft in Kansas would rise significantly under a bill given first round approval by the state Senate. Senators from both major parties spoke in favor of the measure Wednesday. The bill would classify scrap theft as a level six felony, which would put repeat offenders behind bars. It also would create a database of scrap items with the goal of helping law enforcement track down offenders and punish dealers trading in stolen goods. Republican Senator Michael O'Donnell of Wichita says it's one of the most important pieces of legislation for the citizens of Sedgwick County that could be passed this year. Supporters of the bill have said current laws do not adequately punish offenders who can do thousands of dollars in damage while removing metal components.
Some Parents Urging Kansas Legislators to Legalize Hemp Oil
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Parents of children suffering from seizure disorders are asking Kansas lawmakers to legalize hemp oil. The Wichita Eagle reports that the House Health and Human Services Committee had a hearing Tuesday on a bill sponsored by Democratic Representative John Wilson of Lawrence. Parent Ryan Reed testified that he and his wife feed their 4-year-old son Otis hemp oil with a spoonful of applesauce three times a day so that he can sleep soundly. The Reeds once lived in Wilson's district but moved last year to Colorado Springs last year, because medical marijuana is legal there. The Kansas bill would be limited to hemp oil. But the Kansas police chiefs' association opposes the measure and argued it could lead to a broader legalization of marijuana.
Kansas Lawmakers Settle Dispute over Rules, Bill Bundling
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have approved rules limiting a common practice used to rush legislation to passage. The House voted 83-38 on Tuesday to approve rules governing interactions between the two chambers. The Senate approved the rules on a 27-7 vote Monday. The Senate was not scheduling debates on bills until the joint rules were settled. The two chambers disagreed over limiting the bundling of separate bills into the final version of a single measure on a broad topic such as insurance or agriculture. Critics say the practice leads to sloppy lawmaking. The joint rules will allow up to five bills to be bundled, with an exception for tax measures. The House had wanted to allow only two bills to be bundled, while the Senate initially sought no limit.
Competing Judicial Appointment Proposals Approved by KS House Committee
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved rival proposals for changing how state Supreme Court justices are selected. Justices would be elected under one proposal clearing the Judiciary Committee. Under the other plan, the governor would appoint the justices directly, subject to Senate confirmation. Currently, a lawyer-led commission screens applicants for Supreme Court vacancies and names three finalists. The governor must pick one, with no role for lawmakers. Republican Representative Mark Kahrs of Wichita said Tuesday that the decisions of the Judiciary Committee represent progress in reforming judicial selection. But Democratic Representative John Carmichael of Wichita said there's no reason to change the selection process. The House committee approved the two rival proposals Monday on 13-9 votes. Debates by the full House have not been scheduled.
Kansas Bill Would Require Parental Consent for Sex Education
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Schools would be barred from giving sex education lessons to students without their parents' consent under a bill before the Kansas Legislature. The House Education Committee held a hearing on the bill Tuesday that would require school districts to share any sexual education materials with parents and obtain their written consent before teaching it to their children. Several parents and teachers testified in favor of the bill, saying that while some districts have already instituted similar policies, many districts do not properly inform parents about potentially inappropriate material in curriculums. Opponents included two pastors and a priest, who testified the bill would deprive children of information important to their health. An identical bill was endorsed by the committee last year, but did not pass beyond the House floor.
UPDATE: Kansas Commune Leader Found Guilty of Murder
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The leader of a Kansas commune that received millions of dollars in life insurance payouts from dead members has been convicted of murder in the drowning death of a female member. A jury on Wednesday found 55-year-old Daniel Perez guilty of first-degree premeditated murder for 2003 death of Patricia Hughes at the suburban Wichita compound that was home to the commune. Her death was considered an accident until 2011, when a woman who was 12 at the time told authorities the death was staged. He also was found guilty of all 27 other counts, including rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, sexual exploitation of a child and making false information. Perez testified during the trial that he was innocent of all the allegations.
Video Shows Man Shooting at Passengers on Kansas City Bus
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City Area Transportation Authority video shows a man shooting at a city bus, seriously wounding a 15-year-old girl. The video released Tuesday shows the man standing alone at a bus stop in Kansas City on December 30. In footage shot from a camera mounted outside the bus, he's seen pulling a gun from his jacket and firing at the vehicle. Surveillance footage filmed inside the bus then shows a man and woman bolting from their seats as the bullets come at them through the window. Kansas City police told KSHB-TV that investigators believe the man was aiming for the girl's boyfriend, who was sitting beside her on the bus. No one has been arrested and detectives are asking the public for tips to help identify the shooter.
Woman Gets 21 Months in Prison for Hiring Illegal Workers
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A co-owner of two Kansas City-area hotels has been sentenced to a year and nine months in federal prison for hiring workers who were in the country illegally and paying them less than other employees. A judge on Tuesday sentenced 42-year-old Rhonda Bridge of Overland Park, Kansas. She pleaded guilty last July along with her husband, 53-year-old Munir Ahmad Chaudary to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented workers for personal gain. Chaudary awaits sentencing. The couple admitted they hired the workers for Clarion hotels they own in Overland Park, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. Authorities say the illegal workers were not given Social Security, workers' compensation and unemployment insurance. Bridge has agreed to forfeit her interest in the two hotels and funds derived from the crime.
County Sheriff's Ex-Employee Charged with Sex Crimes
MARION, Kan. (AP) — A former sheriff's dispatcher who played Santa Claus for preschool children in Marion County is accused of sexually attacking an 8-year-old girl. Prosecutors have charged 46-year-old Kenneth Newell of McPherson with 13 counts involving sexual misconduct. KWCH says Newell's December 23 arrest was revealed Monday night to Marion County commissioners. The sheriff says the county may have to continue paying $30 a day to keep Newell jailed in McPherson County because he's too familiar with operations of the Marion jail. A message left Tuesday with Newell's attorney, Steve Atherton of Emporia, was not immediately returned.
Former Missouri Business Owner Admits Defrauding Bank
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owner of a now-defunct northwestern Missouri business faces up to three decades in federal prison now that he has admitted defrauding more than $2 million from a bank. Seventy-one-year-old Wilbur Duncan of Savannah, Missouri, pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of loan-application fraud. Federal prosecutors say that while owning Duncan Agri Service, Duncan made dozens of materially false statements on inventory reports to get a line of credit for his business. The government says the scheme defrauded U.S. Bank in St. Joseph of nearly $2.2 million, with the bank losing $1.46 million after Duncan's business was liquidated. A sentencing date was not immediately set.
Wichita State Won't Appeal Loss of Baseball Victories
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State officials say the school will not appeal an NCAA ruling that it must vacate its baseball wins in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. University president John Bardo said in a statement Wednesday that he disagreed with the punishment but decided it was not in the school's best interest to appeal. Wichita State has not yet determined which games included the ineligible players. The Shockers won 74 games in the two seasons. The NCAA placed the baseball program on probation in January after finding the Shockers used 21 players who received impermissible benefits in 2012 and 2013. The NCAA found the players were given improper discounts on non-baseball merchandise from the program's athletic apparel manufacturer. The school also was placed on one year probation and fined $5,000.
Eric Hosmer, KC Royals Agree to $13.9 Million, 2-Year Contract
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — First baseman Eric Hosmer and the Kansas City Royals avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $13.9 million, two-year contract. Hosmer gets $5.65 million this year under Wednesday's agreement and $8.25 million in 2016. The 25-year-old hit .270 for the AL champions with 35 doubles, nine homers and 58 RBIs. He won his second straight Gold Glove. He made $3.6 million last year and had asked for $6.7 million when the sides exchanged proposed arbitration salaries last month. The Royals had offered $4.6 million. Kansas City has not gone to an arbitration hearing since Dayton Moore became general manager in 2006.