Headlines for Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Kansas Lawmakers to Focus on Resolving Budget, Tax Issues
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ When Kansas legislators return to the Capitol tomorrow (WED), they are expected to shift their focus to building the next state budget now that their annual session has cleared its midpoint. The Legislature needs to bridge a projected budget gap of nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. They also must decide whether they'll backtrack on personal income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 at GOP Governor Sam Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. They could pursue other revenue-raising ideas. House and Senate committees already have been reviewing Brownback's budget proposals. But March is when a full spending blueprint for the next fiscal year and another for the fiscal year beginning in July 2016 are supposed to come together.
Kansas Districts Want Lower Court to Continue Work on Schools Lawsuit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — School districts suing Kansas over education funding are telling the state Supreme Court that they want a lower court to still handle their lawsuit. Four districts on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to reject the state's request that the high court handle the lawsuit instead of a three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel. The districts sued the state in 2010. The lower-court panel ruled in December that the state isn't adequately funding schools. The state asked the panel in January to reconsider. The districts filed their own request to block legislators from tampering with additional aid to poor districts approved last year. The panel has a hearing scheduled for Thursday. But the state also appealed the panel's ruling to the Supreme Court and now wants it to handle the case.
Kansas House Panel to Receive Briefing on Spike in Earthquakes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee's chairman says it will review data about a spike in small earthquakes in recent years and ways to lessen their number amid concerns that they are tied to a process used in fracking. Republican Representative Dennis Hedke of Wichita said Tuesday that he's hoping the briefings he's planning for the House Energy and Environment Committee will reassure residents of south-central Kansas, where the earthquakes have been most numerous. He has not set a date for the hearing. The Kansas Geological Survey says there were 161 earthquakes in Kansas last year. The survey says its "working hypothesis" is that the earthquakes are possibly linked to drillers injecting millions of gallons of waste water into disposal wells. The process is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Westar Energy Seeking $152M Rate Increase
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The largest supplier of electricity in Kansas is asking state regulators to increase its rates by $152 million annually to cover upgrades at power plants and other costs. Westar Energy of Topeka said that the request it filed Monday with the Kansas Corporation Commission would increase its rates 8 percent. It said most residential customers would see monthly costs increase by between $9 and $13. The company said the higher rates would cover upgrades required by federal air pollution standards for its plant in LaCygne in east-central Kansas. Westar also is part-owner of the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington, and upgrades there will keep it operating until 2045. The commission must decide by late October whether to grant to request. Westar has about 700,000 customers in Kansas, including 595,000 residential accounts.
Judge Rules Man Will Be Tried in Kansas Jewish Site Killings
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a white supremacist will go to trial for capital murder in the shooting deaths of three people at Jewish sites in Kansas. The Johnson County judge found Tuesday that sufficient evidence exists to try Frazier Glenn Miller in the 2014 deaths. Besides capital murder, he is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of criminal discharge of a weapon at a structure. The 74-year-old Miller, of Aurora, Missouri, did not visibly react when the judge ruled. The defense asked to delay the arraignment and the judge said he would take up the request after a break. Miller is accused of killing 69-year-old Dr. William Lewis Corporon, his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffen Underwood, and 53-year-old Terri LaManno.
Kansas to Hold Meetings, Consider Options for Drone Usage
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is exploring how it fits in the new world of drones as residents express their desire to use the technology. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that options including agriculture, emergency management and law enforcement are being considered as areas where drones can be used. Meetings throughout the state have been scheduled by state agencies to discuss the ideas, as well as concerns about privacy. Billy Brown, and agribusiness developer coordinator for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said in a news release that people have been calling the department with questions about drones, and obstacles that have stopped them from using the technology. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently writing regulation rules for the use of drones. Most commercial uses of drones are illegal.
Kansas Court Considers Handling of School Funding Lawsuit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether a lower-court panel should still review a lawsuit over state funding for public schools. The Supreme Court directed school districts that sued the state in 2010 to declare in writing Tuesday whether they want a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court to have more hearings in the case. The lower-court panel ruled in December that the state isn't adequately funding schools. The state asked the panel in January to reconsider. The aggrieved school districts filed their own request to block legislators from tampering with additional aid to poor districts approved last year. The panel has a hearing scheduled for Thursday. But the state also appealed the panel's ruling to the Supreme Court and now wants the higher court to handle the case.
Kansas Man Denied Diversion in Bicyclist's Death
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man accused of causing the death of a Manhattan bicyclist will not be eligible for diversion. Assistant Riley County Attorney James Garrison said during a hearing Monday that 33-year-old Derik Kesler of Rossville will not be eligible for diversion. Garrison did not give a reason. Kesler faces one misdemeanor charge of vehicular homicide in the June 2014 death of 49-year-old Mark Jilka of Manhattan, who was riding his bicycle on Kansas Highway 177 south of Manhattan. The Manhattan Mercury reports that Kesler said in a voluntary statement that he was typing a location into his phone's GPS when his truck hit Jilka.
Inmate Caught After Escaping from Kansas City Hospital
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities have captured a Jackson County inmate who escaped while being treated from a Kansas City hospital. Kansas City police say 25-year-old Willie J. Sanders escaped from Truman Medical Center early Tuesday. He was captured without incident about 7:30 am in east Kansas City, still wearing leg shackles. He is being held in Jackson County on charges of kidnapping, burglary and assault in a case from last year. Truman spokesman Shane Kovac said Sanders somehow slipped past a county detention center guard that was accompanying him and escaped down a stairwell. Details on why Sanders was at the hospital were not released. No other patients, visitors or hospital staff members were in danger. Jackson County (Missouri) officials said in a statement that they would do everything necessary to prevent another escape.
Roger Gillett's Re-Sentencing Date Scheduled in Murder Case
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The re-sentencing of death row inmate Roger Lee Gillett is scheduled for Nov. 16 in Forrest County (Mississippi) Circuit Court. Television station WDAM reports that Gillett was in court Monday. The Mississippi Supreme Court last year overturned Gillett's death sentence for killing a cousin and the cousin's girlfriend and taking their bodies to Kansas. It upheld his conviction. The Supreme Court found in Gillett's case that an attempt to escape from a Kansas prison should not have been presented as an aggravating factor for sentencing. Gillett and his girlfriend, Lisa Jo Chamberlin, were arrested in Kansas after state police looking for meth evidence at his father's abandoned farmhouse found dismembered bodies in a freezer. Both were sentenced to death for capital murder. Chamberlin's sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008.
Report: Kansas Wheat Faring Mostly Well This Winter
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas wheat crops and livestock are in generally positive shape so far this winter. A report released Monday by the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows 44 percent of the state's winter wheat crop is in good to excellent condition. Another 44 percent is rated in fair condition. Just 12 percent is reported in poor or very poor shape. The agency also generally gave high marks to the condition of livestock in Kansas. It reported that 67 percent of the state's cattle and calves were in good or excellent condition. About 31 percent were reported as fair, and 2 percent rated in poor condition. About 70 percent of the state's sheep and lambs were reported to be in good to excellent shape. The rest were reported in fair condition.
Kansas Secretary of State to Sponsor Archery Tournament
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is sponsoring a children's archery tournament next month in MacLennan Park near the governor's residence in Topeka. Kobach's office is holding Ad Astra Archery Tournament with the state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism on April 25. The registration fee is $10 and participants can register online at www.sos.ks.gov/archery . The competition is open to students in kindergarten through the 12th grade. Each participant will receive a T-shirt and a medal. The event is named after the 20-foot-tall bronze statue of a Kanza Indian named "Ad Astra" on top of the Kansas Capitol dome. Organizers also asked in a new release for donations for scholarships for young Kansas archers interested in attending the National Archery in the Schools championship this fall in Louisville, Kentucky.
Wichita Principal Pleasantly Surprised by Student Prank
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita high school principal says he was brought to tears after a senior prank didn't pan out the way he expected. A student recently asked North High principal Sherman Padgett to hold a bucket, while monitoring students passing in the hallway. He declined, joking that he feared she would dump fish eyes into it. He reluctantly held the pail later in the next passing period after his secretary said it was part of a senior prank. Bracing himself for the unknown, the principal was surprised to find students drop notes into the container. The Wichita Eagle reports each card featured handwritten notes from students, with expressions of gratitude, shared memories and inside jokes. Padgett says he plans to keep all of the notes.
Prosecutors Refute Entrapment Allegations in Wichita Bomb Plot
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Federal prosecutors say a man accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack at a Wichita airport was "well on his way" to becoming a violent terrorist before authorities began investigating him. Prosecutors filed a heavily redacted dosier Monday seeking to counter defense arguments that an undercover FBI agent recruited and radicalized the suspect, Terry Loewen. The defense contends the government's conduct in the operation was entrapment and that terrorism-related charges against Loewen should be dismissed. But prosecutors argued it would have been irresponsible for the FBI to allow Loewen to continue trolling the internet looking for someone to help him with his plot. Loewen was arrested in December 2013 when the former avionics technician tried to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport. Loewen has pleaded not guilty.
Newell Rubbermaid to Expand Winfield Operations, Add 320 Jobs
WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Newell Rubbermaid is planning a $27 million expansion of the company's plant in Winfield and will add 320 jobs. Company officials announced Monday the expansion will occur during the next three years. It will allow the plant to increase manufacturing of food storage products and add manufacturing and distribution of some other Rubbermaid products. Newell Rubbermaid has operated its plant in Winfield since 1986. The company invested more than $26 million in the plant, including adding a distribution plant, in 2012. It is the largest employer in Winfield.
Officials Fear Kansans Complacent About Tornado Season
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Weather officials in Kansas are worried that the state's lack of tornadoes last year will make citizens complacent going into tornado season this spring. State officials are urging residents to not have a false sense of security since the state saw only 40 tornados last year. Kansas has averaged 100 tornadoes a year for the last decade and 80 tornadoes per year over the last 30 years. AccuWeather vice president Mike Smith said at a convention in Denver that he sees troubling similarities between this winter's weather and 2011, which produced an outbreak of tornadoes including the one that hit Joplin, Missouri. Nationwide, the number of tornadoes dropped 30 percent last year from 1,253 to 888, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Kansas Teen Pleads Not Guilty to Counts Linked to Fatal Fire
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 15-year-old central Kansas boy ordered to stand trial as an adult in the fire-related deaths of his mother and sister has pleaded not guilty to murder charges. KWCH-TV of Wichita reports that Buhler High School student Sam Vonachen was arraigned Monday in Reno County on two counts of premeditated first-degree murder. Vonachen also is charged with one count of attempted first-degree murder of his father, and of aggravated arson. Authorities allege Vonachen used gasoline to ignite his family's two-story Hutchinson home in September 2013, killing 11-year-old sister Audrey Vonachen and their mother, 47-year-old Karla Jo Vonachen. Prosecutors have played investigators' recorded interview of Samuel Vonachen. He told authorities that people are "awful" and he set the fire to send his family a message.
Kansas City Schools, ACLU Settle Suit over Ferguson Protests
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City's school district has settled a lawsuit over its punishment of students who during a speech last year by Missouri's governor protested the deadly Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown. The district says it isn't required to compensate any of the affected students or pay the American Civil Liberties Union's attorney fees in settling the free-speech lawsuit filed in December. That suit came a month after Governor Jay Nixon's speech at the Lincoln College Preparatory Academy. U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple dismissed the lawsuit Monday. Court records don't provide details of settlement terms. The school system says it ordered the protesting students to serve Saturday detention not for exercising their free-speech rights but for refusing to sit down as ordered.
Firefighters Rescue Dog from Frigid Kansas City Lake
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters have rescued a dog that fell into a partially ice-covered lake in Kansas City, Kansas. KMBC-TV reported Monday that police saw the canine at Big Eleven Lake and called for the city's Fire Department's water rescue team. Two firefighters jumped into the frigid waters and used a lasso to capture the dog and pull it back to shore. The firefighters wore special water suits and were tethered to other personnel on land. The dog displayed signs of signs of hypothermia after being rescued from the water. It was wrapped up and brought to a shelter. Authorities say they're not sure if the dog is a stray or was lost.
Twin Born on Way to Hospital Fights for Life
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A tiny boy born on his parents' way to a Nebraska hospital is struggling for life as they mourn his twin sister. Kaleb and Savannah Clark arrived early on February 5 as their parents, 39-year-old Kevin and 36-year-old Laura Clark, headed to Lincoln from their home in Barnes, Kansas. Kevin Clark had to stop alongside U.S. Highway 77 on the south side of Lincoln because one baby already had arrived. Laura Clark's cousin Mary Crevier told the Lincoln Journal Star that two days after the twins were born, Savannah died after blood vessels burst in her head and lungs. Crevier says Kaleb weighed about 2 pounds at birth. He's since gained about 10 ounces and been taken off a breathing tube. She says Kaleb's "a little fighter."
Chiefs Place Franchise Tag on Linebacker Houston
UNDATED (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have placed the franchise tag on All-Pro pass rusher Justin Houston. The Chiefs announced the move on Monday, saying in a statement that "it was in the best interest of the club" as it pursues a long-term deal with Houston. Monday's move was widely expected given the relatively little progress Kansas City has made with Houston and his representatives on a long-term deal. The two sides still have until July 15 to negotiate a contract, and it is not certain whether Houston will immediately sign his tender. As an outside linebacker, the one-year deal would earn him about $13.1 million for the upcoming season. The Chiefs likely will need to make additional moves soon to free up salary cap space.