Headlines for Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Kansas Bill Would Deny Illegal Immigrants In-State Tuition
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Students who entered the U.S. illegally would be barred from receiving in-state tuition under a bill in the Kansas Legislature. The House Education Committee held a hearing on a bill Tuesday that would make anyone who entered the U.S. illegally ineligible for reduced tuition normally offered to state residents. People in the U.S. illegally first became eligible for in-state tuition in Kansas in 2004. Republican Representative John Rubin of Shawnee, who sponsored the bill, says existing legislation makes the state complicit in federal immigration violations. However, representatives of the Kansas Board of Regents and school boards testified against the bill, saying it only affects 651 students this year. Several testified that they entered the country illegally as children and would be forced to abandon college should the measure pass.
UPDATE: Kansas Senate Rejects Bill Controlling Mental Health Drugs
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a bill to give the state's Medicaid program more control over costly mental health drugs. The vote Wednesday was 25-15 against the bill. Senators who opposed it said they are concerned about mentally ill participants in the Medicaid program not getting the drugs they need. Medicaid provides health care for the needy and disabled. The bill would repeal a 2002 law that prohibits Medicaid from controlling prescriptions of mental health drugs with preferred drug lists, prior authorization requirements or other methods. Supporters of the bill said it would protect mentally ill participants from being over-medicated with drugs that can have dangerous side effects. Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration was pushing the measure because it believes the state could save $16 million a year on drugs.
Kansas House Panel Rejects Raise in Public Pension Benefits
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has rejected a bill that would give retired teachers and government workers small increases in their pension benefits. The Pensions and Benefits Committee's vote Wednesday was 7-5 against the measure. Chairman and Republican Representative Steve Johnson of Assaria said the biggest concern was the long-term cost of boosting benefits. The state is working to close a projected $9.8 billion shortfall in funding for benefits promised into 2033. The bill was designed to boost benefits for retirees to help them deal with increases in the cost of living. Increases would have ranged from 0.5 percent to 3 percent. Kansas Coalition of Public Retirees Vice Chairman Ernie Claudel said the vote was disappointing because 70 percent of retirees have not received any adjustments in their benefits.
Kansas Moving Toward Allowing Concealed Guns Without Permit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is expected to approve a bill that would allow people to carry concealed guns without requiring them to get a state permit or take training classes. Senators were debating the measure Wednesday and expected to take a final vote Thursday. The measure is sponsored by 26 of the chamber's 40 members, led by Majority Leader Terry Bruce. A state concealed carry permit costs $132.50, and a person must undergo eight hours of training to get one. Gun-rights groups note Kansas has long allowed the open carrying of weapons without a state permit. The bill's critics say training should be mandated for people carrying concealed weapons. The National Rifle Association says Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming don't require permits to carry concealed anywhere in the state.
Kansas Panel Considers Holding 2016 Presidential Primaries
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are pushing back against a proposal from Secretary of State Kris Kobach that would cancel the state's 2016 presidential primary elections. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday. Senator Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican who chairs the committee, says he expected the panel to vote on it. He said the panel will continue to discuss it given the controversy. Senate President and committee member Senator Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, opposed the bill, saying that a primary would draw more attention to the state and allow more voters to participate. Lawmakers have canceled every state primary since 1992 because of the cost, and Republicans and Democrats have instead held caucuses, which draw substantially fewer participants.
Kansas Anti-Strip Club Bill Fails to Advance Before Deadline
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would heavily restrict sexually oriented businesses did not advance as Kansas lawmakers face key deadlines. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee debated the bill Wednesday. It was the last day the panel could meet before the Legislature's annual "turnaround" deadline. With a 3-3 tie in voting on the measure, it will not advance. Most bills must clear their original chamber by Friday or be discarded for the year.
Osawatomie State Hospital Avoids Losing Federal Funds
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) — Federal authorities are no longer threatening to end Medicare and Medicaid funding for the Osawatomie State Hospital after work began on $3 million worth safety improvements. The Kansas City Star reports that the Department of Health and Human Services told the psychiatric facility Monday that it had made sufficient progress and payments that amount to about one-fourth of the hospital's $26 million annual budget would continue. Osawatomie was threatened with the loss of funding after the department inspected the facility in January and found that it was not in compliance with several safety standards to prevent patient injuries and suicides. The hospital has been replacing beds, installing new bathroom fixtures and replacing suspended ceilings. They have also been eliminating items that could be used for hanging or as a weapon.
Lawmakers Consider Cuts to Funding for Parents as Teachers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House committee has recommended cutting all funding for the Parents as Teachers program, which would end the program. The House Social Services Budget Committee on Tuesday recommended cutting $7.2 million for the program, which has staff member visit homes to help parents prepare students for school and connect to community resources. The organization is scheduled to celebrate its 25th anniversary next week. Representative Peggy Mast of Emporia proposed the action as part of the state's response to a multimillion dollar budget shortfall. Nancy Keel, director of the Kansas Parents as Teachers, says she was caught off guard by the proposal. But she notes lawmakers have tried to end the program in the past and funding was always restored.
Police: Wichita Homicides Increase 50 Percent in 2014
WICHITA , Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say homicides in the south-central Kansas city rose by 50 percent in 2014 while the local overall crime rate fell nearly 3 percent. The Wichita Eagle reports that last year's 26 homicides were nine more than in 2013. But last year's numbers were consistent with the 28 homicides in 2102, 27 in 2011 and 26 in 2009. The 280 reported rapes and 556 robberies in Wichita last year both were five-year highs. The city's interim police chief, Nelson Mosley, called 2014 "a challenging year full of opportunities." He says plans are on schedule to outfit about 500 police officers with body cameras by the end of the year, with funding sources, policies and procedures still being worked out.
Effects of Business Tax Break More Widespread Than Estimated
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A tax exemption championed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback helped about 90,000 more business owners than previously anticipated, as well as about 53,000 farmers. New state Department of Revenue figures have intensified a debate over how to address the budget problems that arose after lawmakers cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 in a bid to boost the economy. But Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said Tuesday that tax relief for owners of small businesses should not be blamed for budget difficulties. Lawmakers in 2012 eliminated personal income taxes for many owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships and other businesses. The state had said 191,000 business owners would be helped. The department now estimates that nearly 281,000 business owners were helped, along with the farmers, whose numbers weren't estimated previously.
State Transportation Department Considers Transfer Hub
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Department of Transportation is in the early stages of developing a hub where freight could be transferred between the highways and railroads. An advisory committee is discussing specifics for a "transload shipping center." John Maddox, freight and rail manager for the transportation department, says the committee will develop criteria for the facility in the next six to nine months, including financial considerations. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports after requirements are determined, a list of potential sites will be determined, followed by preliminary engineering work. The agency doesn't have a timeline for completing the project. Transportation Secretary Mike King said in a news release a transload facility would save customers money on transportation costs.
Kansas Advances Plan to Allow Elections Chief to Prosecute
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's proposal to give his office the power to prosecute election fraud cases has won the state Senate's approval. Senators passed a bill containing Kobach's plan on a 23-17 vote Wednesday. The measure goes next to the House. The vote exposed a split among Kobach's fellow Republicans. Nine GOP senators joined all eight Democrats in the chamber in voting against the bill. Kobach is the architect of laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls and proof of U.S. citizenship when they register for the first time. He says county prosecutors are usually too busy to pursue election fraud cases. But critics say there's not enough election fraud to justify such a move. The measure also boosts the penalties for election crimes.
Kansas Bill Penalizing Profane School Materials Moves Ahead
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Teachers no longer would be exempt from criminal charges for showing students materials deemed to be harmful to minors under a bill given first-round approval in the Kansas Senate. Teachers could be charged for any materials thought to be too sexual or too profane for minors. Republican Senator Forrest Knox of Altoona said he supported the bill and said teachers should not be protected from showing materials that would draw penalties in other contexts. Democratic Senator David Haley of Kansas City said that Senate Democrats intended to argue against the bill, but were out of the chamber when it came up for discussion. The bill swiftly moved through the approval process without debate and will be up for a final vote Wednesday. It will then pass to the House.
Defying GOP, Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has vetoed a Republican bill forcing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The White House sent notice of the veto to the Senate on Tuesday, shortly after the bill was received at the White House. It's the third veto of Obama's presidency. The move puts a freeze on a top GOP priority, at least for now. It also reasserts Obama's authority over a project that's become a flashpoint in the national debate about climate change. Congressional Republicans may try to override Obama's veto, but have yet to show they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers that they would need. Senator John Hoeven, the bill's chief GOP sponsor, says Republicans are about four votes short in the Senate and need about 11 more in the House.
Effort to Seize Nebraska Land for Pipeline Remains on Hold
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The company trying to build a pipeline to carry Canadian oil south to the Gulf Coast says its efforts to force Nebraska landowners to agree to the project remain on hold because of several pending lawsuits. Earlier this month, a Holt County judge issued a temporary injunction blocking TransCanada's eminent domain efforts there. Company spokesman Mark Cooper says a York County, Nebraska judge is expected to issue a similar order Thursday. Cooper says TransCanada plans to ask judges in seven Nebraska counties to delay action on its other eminent domain cases until the lawsuits are resolved. The proposed pipeline still needs presidential approval before it could be built across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to connect with existing pipelines. It would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day.
FAA Allows Salina Program to Use Drones Statewide
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Federal authorities say Kansas State University-Salina will be able to use unmanned aircraft across the state, with several restrictions. The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that the school will be able to expand its research across Kansas, including over private property with the owner's permission. Program manager Mark Blanks says the aircraft would be used for such things as researching drought stress and bug infestation. The Salina Journal reports that the permission comes with several restrictions. For example, all flights must stay below 700 feet and be during the day. And the controller must maintain sight with the vehicle. Also, missions cannot fly over heavily used roads or an outside gathering of people. Blanks also stressed that the university doesn't plan to compete with private companies.
Police Arrest One in Hutchinson Stabbing
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say an argument over money led one man to stab another man in Hutchinson earlier this week. Lieutenant M.J. Robertson told The Wichita Eagle in a statement that officers were called shortly before 9:30 pm Monday to investigate a stabbing. When they arrived, they found a 30-year-old man with a stab wound to his chest. Robertson says the man was taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery. He is now in stable condition. Another man, who also is 30, was arrested and booked into Reno County Jail on suspicion of aggravated battery. His bond has been set at $50,000.
Portion of Kansas Highway Named After Late Atchison Police Officer
ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — A stretch of state highway in northeastern Kansas now bears the name of an Atchison police officer who was killed on duty in 2011. KQTV in St. Joseph reports that the stretch of Kansas Highway 7 from Atchison to Troy was renamed Tuesday as Sergeant David Enzbrenner Memorial Highway. He was a 24-year veteran of the city's police force until he was killed while delivering a nuisance notice. Atchison police Lieutenant Timothy Stout called Tuesday's event "a special day" that the department and Atchison residents have been awaiting for some time.
Cerner Offering Voluntary Separation Packages to Employees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Cerner Corporation is offering voluntary separation packages to employees whose combination of years of service and age total 65. The Kansas City Star reports eligible workers will have a month to decide to take the buyouts. Cerner spokesman Dan Smith says the offer will not affect the company's hiring and growth plans. The company has 21,000 employees and has said it plans to add tens of thousands of workers in the next 10 years. Smith says the company does not have a predetermined number of buyouts and the program is completely voluntary. He says it was prompted in part by Cerner's acquisition of Siemens Health Services, which caused some overlap in jobs. Smith says the program will not include involuntary separations.
2014 Kansas Crop Values Down
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A new government report shows the value of Kansas crops plummeted last year to $6.51 billion. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Tuesday that the decline compares to $7.85 billion in 2013 and $8.09 billion in 2012. The lesser numbers come as no surprise, given the drought last year that decimated the state's winter wheat crop before late spring and summer rains salvaged fall-harvested crops. Grain prices also have fallen in the past couple of years, making the remaining crop worth less. Among the state's major crops, the agency valued the state's wheat crop at $1.51 billion last year. It pegged the value of Kansas corn at $2.12 billion. Soybeans came in at $1.38 billion, with sorghum trailing at $755.2 million.
Lawrence Officer Suspended, Accused of Domestic Battery
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A Lawrence police officer is suspended after being arrested on charges related to domestic violence. The police department says the woman, while in a relationship with patrol officer, reported that he battered and threatened her last month. 32-year-old William Jacob Burke was arrested on suspicion of aggravated battery, criminal threat, aggravated assault, domestic battery and kidnapping. He is a three-year veteran of Lawrence's police force. His first court appearance is Wednesday, and the investigation is continuing.
Topeka: Heartland Park Needs $7M in Improvements
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The city of Topeka says any new operator of Heartland Park Topeka will have to make more than $7 million in improvements. City attorney Chad Sublet says the city has submitted an amended project plan to the Kansas Department of Commerce as it tries to buy the troubled racing facility. Whoever the city chooses to operate the track will be required to pay for 16 improvements at Heartland Park, including commerce park development, garages and high-end facilities and a new banquet facility. Topeka's efforts to buy the track depend on the state issuing $5 million in additional STAR bonds. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports city manager Jim Colson has said the city won't issue the bonds if it doesn't find a track operator.
Missouri Man Gets Federal Prison for Bid to Kill Informant
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City-area man has been ordered to spend roughly six years in federal prison for trying to kill a police informant. Twenty-one-year-old Justin Hill of St. Joseph was sentenced to five years and 11 months in prison. Hill pleaded guilty in April of last year to a charge of attempted murder of an informant. Authorities say the informant told federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents that Hill was bringing cocaine from to St. Joseph. Missouri troopers later attempted to stop Hill, who while fleeing from them tossed two ounces of cocaine out of his vehicle. Hill was arrested. Authorities say that Hill used a sport utility vehicle in August 2013 to ram the informant's vehicle and fired six shots at him. The informant wasn't injured.
Kansas Earthquakes Worsen Damage to Historic Courthouse
ANTHONY, Kan. (AP) - Harper County officials say frequent earthquakes are adding to the cost of repairing the century-old county courthouse, which was already deteriorating because of age. The Hutchinson News reports the county was considering spending $400,000 to fix cracks in the courthouse's staircases. Then a sharp increase in earthquakes began hitting south-central Kansas, causing more damage. The latest estimate is that it will cost $1.1 million just to fix the staircases. Other damage includes cracks in interior walls of the courthouse. County commissioners say photos show the quakes have worsened the damage in the courthouse. The Kansas Geological Survey has recorded more than 200 earthquakes in Kansas since January 1, 2013, with most in south-central part of the state. There had been five earthquakes detected in the state in the previous 10 years.
Lawyer: HIV Assault Ruling May End Such Military Cases
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The attorney for a Kansas airman says a ruling by the nation's highest military court that reversed his client's conviction for exposing multiple sex partners to HIV will effectively end such prosecutions in the armed forces. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on Monday unanimously ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that any of David Gutierrez's acts at swinger parties in Wichita were likely to transmit HIV to his partners. Defense attorney Kevin McDermott says the ruling overturns a 25-year precedent that allowed military personnel to be convicted of aggravated assault solely on the basis of a positive HIV test. The court upheld Gutierrez's lesser conviction of assault by battery for offensive touching to which partners did not provide meaningful informed consent.
Kansas Fatal Fire Caused by Child Playing with Lighter
BELLEVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Fire officials say a fire in north-central Kansas that killed a toddler was started by a child playing with a lighter. Monday's fire killed 21-month-old Sawyer White, who was trapped in the basement of a family home in Belleville. His 3-year-old brother was treated for a burned finger. Belleville fire chief Duffy Strnad says the fire started in a basement bedroom. He says a fire marshal's report did not specify which child was playing with the lighter. The Salina Journal reports that the boys' father was at work and their mother, who works nights, was sleeping upstairs when the fire started. Strnad says the older boy was able to go upstairs and wake his mother, who could not rescue her younger son because of the smoke and fire.
K-State Student Cited for Misconduct in Court-Storming Case
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say they've cited a Kansas State University student for disorderly conduct after he body-checked a University of Kansas player during an on-court celebration following the Wildcats' upset victory Monday over the visiting Jayhawks. Kansas State police on Wednesday identified Nathan Power as the Wildcats fan who collided with Kansas forward Jamari Traylor after Kansas State's 70-63 victory over eighth-ranked KU. University police say a cooperative Power met voluntarily with them Tuesday, after police sought public help in identifying a photograph showing the student who made contact with Traylor. Power didn't immediately respond Wednesday to an Associated Press interview request sent to his student account. A message left at his Kansas City-area home wasn't immediately returned. A student identifying himself as Nathan Power also apologized in a letter Wednesday to the university newspaper.
Mike Sweeney Elected to Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former first baseman Mike Sweeney will become the 26th member of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. Sweeney, a five-time All Star when he played with the Royals from 1995 to 2007, was elected in his first ballot appearance, the team announced Wednesday. Sweeney also played for the Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies but he signed a one-day contract with the Royals in March 2011 to retire as a member of the Kansas City organization. He hit .297 with 325 doubles, 215 home runs, 909 RBIs and 759 runs scored during his career. He set the Royals' record with 144 RBIs in a season and is in top six in franchise history in 17 offensive categories. Sweeney is a special assistant to Royals general manager Dayton Moore.