Headlines for Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Kansas House Panel Approves GOP Leaders' School Funding Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a plan from top Republican lawmakers to overhaul how the state distributes aid to public schools. The House Appropriations Committee's voice vote Tuesday sends the plan to the full House for a debate that could occur later this week. The committee voted despite bipartisan criticism that it is moving too quickly. GOP leaders unveiled the plan only last week. The plan jettisons the current formula and gives the state's 286 districts "block grants" based on their current aid for two years, until the Legislature drafts a new formula. GOP leaders contend the state's current per-student formula doesn't put enough money into classrooms. The state also can face unanticipated but automatic spending increases. Many educators say the current formula is sound.
State Budget Shortfalls Worry Kansas Farm Leaders
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The new president of the Kansas Farm Bureau says the state needs to rebalance its tax structure in the wake of revenue shortfalls created by massive income tax cuts enacted last year. Rich Felts says he worries property taxes may still take the brunt of tax hikes in the waning days of the legislative session as lawmakers struggle to fill the budget hole. For years, Kansas had "a three-legged stool" of income, sales and property taxes that worked. But Felts stresses that is only his personal opinion because his grassroots organization didn't take a position on the income tax cuts when members met last December. Its members didn't realize the extent of the shortfall. He says a lot of people were in denial then, including Governor Sam Brownback's administration.
"Permitless Carry" Divides Gun Supporters in Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Gun rights advocates in Kansas are divided on a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed gun without a permit. If the bill passes, people will also be able to carry a concealed gun without the training that a permit requires. The bill will not extend to anyone under 21, unless they are on their own property. Some gun rights advocates say they have misgivings about the section of the bill that eliminates training. The bill was introduced by Republican Senator Terry Bruce after three years of research to make sure it would stand up to the scrutiny of the courts and the public. Bruce says he has received more emails of support than not for the bill.
Kansas Senate Leader's Aide Taking Job with Oklahoma Senator
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An aide to Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle is taking a job with U.S. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Wagle's office announced Monday that Aly Beley would be stepping down as the Kansas lawmaker's communications director at the end of this month. Beley joined Wagle's staff in December 2012, after GOP state senators designated the Wichita Republican as Senate president. Before that, Beley served as communications director for then-Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal and as an aide to Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes. She also was an aide to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback during his first campaign for Kansas governor in 2010. Lankford is a Republican who won his seat in the U.S. Senate last year.
Kansas AG Challenging Oklahoma Tribe's Casino Expansion Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has filed a federal lawsuit to block plans by the Quapaw Tribe in northeast Oklahoma to expand a casino across the state line. The lawsuit filed by Schmidt this week challenges a decision in November by the National Indian Gaming Commission to clear the way for casino games on 124 acres in Cherokee County in southeast Kansas. Schmidt contends the commission exceeded its legal authority. A spokesman said the commission hasn't seen the lawsuit. The tribe bought the land in 2006 for a parking lot for its Downstream Casino Resort across the state line. It later asked the federal government to allow gambling there and wants to expand its casino. Meanwhile, the Kansas Lottery is reviewing three applications for a state-owned casino in the area.
Kansas Lawmaker Compares Abortion to Holocaust
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas lawmaker has compared abortion to the Holocaust in arguing against a procedure used in about 8 percent of abortions in the state. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on a bill Monday that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion by removing a fetus from the womb in pieces. Republican Representative Dick Jones of Topeka called the ban a no-brainer. He said after the hearing that he views abortion as being a Holocaust against fetuses. Opponents to the bill testified that banning the procedure would increase health risks to women. Some argued that the Legislature was unqualified to regulate medicine and accused politicians of harboring ulterior motives.
Kansas House Panel Considers Higher Scrap Theft Penalties
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House panel is reviewing a bill to significantly increase penalties for scrap metal theft. The House Judiciary Committee had a hearing Monday on a bill to make damaging a building or other structure to steal scrap a felony punishable by up to 19 months in jail for a first offense. Farm and law enforcement groups said scrap thieves often do thousands of dollars in damage when removing precious metals. But Democratic Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita said that the state could not afford more-crowded prisons and suggested that the bill be coupled with legislation to reduce other prisoners' sentences. Republican Rep. Craig McPherson of Overland Park also said provisions in the measure to track scrap items would increase bureaucracy. The Senate passed the bill in February.
Ex-Osawatomie Recreation Director Accused of Embezzlement
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The former recreation director for Osawatomie has been indicted on federal charges alleging he embezzled more than $125,000 on the job. Fifty-three-year-old Ron Maring of Osawatomie is charged with four counts of tax fraud and 10 counts of money laundering. His first court appearance is scheduled for March 27. The indictment alleges that Maring embezzled the funds from 2008 to 2011 while heading the Osawatomie Recreation Commission. He's accused of writing checks from the commission's account to himself and to American Legion Baseball, then converting the money to his own use. The indictment alleges he failed to report the embezzled money as income on his federal income taxes from 2008 through 2011. Online court records do not show Maring as having an attorney reachable for comment.
Woman's Body Found in Leavenworth County Field
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ The Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office says it's investigating a homicide after a woman's body was found in a field over the weekend. Officials haven't released the name of the victim found Sunday. Investigators believe the body was in the field for less than 24 hours. Authorities didn't say whether they believe the woman was killed in the field or if her body was disposed of there. Major Jim Sherly with the sheriff's office says investigators want to speak with anyone who may have heard or seen anything around the field that's in a rural part of the county. Anyone with information is asked to contact authorities.
Authorities ID Man Found Dead in Western Kansas Park
NORTON, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities have identified a man found dead in a western Kansas park after a suspect shot at officers. Norton police said in a news release that the victim was 47-year-old Joseph A. Sweet, of Norton. Police said a 37-year-old suspect is jailed in Norton County on $1 million bond, but no charges were immediately filed. The release said an officer was investigating a report of a man with a gun Friday night when shots were fired. Sweet's body was found as officers searched the area. Police said officers later confronted the suspect as he walked along U.S. Highway 36. The man fired more shots before fleeing to a subdivision, getting into a vehicle and speeding away. Police said the suspect was taken into custody around 12:40 am Saturday north of Oberlin.
Southeast Kansas Man Gets 8 Years in Prison on Meth Conviction
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 44-year-old southeast Kansas man has been sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine. The Wichita Eagle reports that Jimmy Lee Riddle was sentenced this week after being convicted in January. The Kansas attorney general's office says Riddle's conviction was the result of investigations by Baxter Springs police, the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office and the Kansas Bureau of investigation. Authorities have said the Baxter Springs man was making the drug in 2013. Riddle's lawyer, Candace Gayoso, was not immediately available for comment on the sentencing.
Lenexa Employer Sent to Prison for Hiring Workers Illegally
A hotel owner will go to prison for employing workers who were living illegally in the United States at his two hotels. Munir Ahmad Chaudary was sentenced Monday to 27 months in prison in a case that highlights a shift by the federal government in its handling of immigration-related cases. His wife was sentenced last month to 21 months in prison. The government is seeking forfeiture of their Clarion hotels in Overland Park, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says he hopes Kansas business owners are listening. He says violating federal law is "not a good business strategy.'' Prosecutors say that the couple replaced lawfully employed workers with immigrants not authorized to work to cut their labor costs and gain an unfair competitive advantage.
Renewable Energy Plans from Westar Up for Approval
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Utility regulators are weighing four renewable energy proposals from Westar Energy. One of the proposed changes would lower the price of an optional renewable energy tariff. About 43 customers currently pay $1 on top of the regular rate for 100 kilowatt hours of renewable energy. But Greg Greenwood, senior vice president of strategy for Westar, said that will fall to about 25 cents if approved, to better reflect the actual cost of producing it. Two other proposals would allow customers to buy units of energy or shares with solar farms. The fourth proposal would allow large electricity users to buy a share of wind power. The Kansas Corporation Commission has jurisdiction over rates and special programs offered by electric utilities in Kansas.
Report: Kansas Wheat, Livestock in Generally Positive Shape
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A government report shows that the Kansas wheat crop and livestock are in generally positive shape so far this winter. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 46 percent of the state's winter wheat crop is in good to excellent condition. Another 41 percent is rated in fair condition. Only 13 percent was reported as being in poor or very poor shape. Temperatures over the past month were near normal in most of the state but averaged between 6 and 9 degrees below normal in southeast Kansas. The agency also positively graded livestock, as animals continue to graze on crop residue with supplemental feeding. It reported that 65 percent of cattle were in good or excellent condition; 32 percent were fair and only 2 percent were poor.
Kansas Governor Supports Rural Incentives Amid Skepticism
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he continues to support the state's rural opportunity zone program after some lawmakers questioned whether it is luring new residents and businesses to areas with declining populations. Brownback called it "a good concept.'' He most recently talked about the program last week during a visit to St. Louis. The Rural Opportunity Zones program spans 77 counties, covering wide swaths of western and southeastern Kansas. It seeks to lure people to rural areas with student loan forgiveness and income tax waivers. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in late February, senators were less than convinced of the initiative's usefulness. The state lost about $800,000 in revenue in 2014 from income tax waivers issued through the program.
Fire Crews Startled by Fireworks Blast While Battling Blaze
GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters in western Kansas were surprised by a barrage of fireworks as they battled a blaze at a storage unit early on the morning of February 24. Goodland Police Chief Clifton Couch says it took several hours for crews to contain the fire after they were alerted shortly after midnight. Residents at a nearby mobile home park were under voluntary evacuation orders and a temporary shelter was set up at a church. Wichita TV station KWCH12 reports that the Kansas Fire Marshal was called in to investigate. Firefighters from the city of Goodland and the Sherman County Rural Fire Department were called in to fight the flames.
Wichita Could Face Legal Action over Marijuana Initiative
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers say the city of Wichita could face legal action if it does not remove a proposal to lessen marijuana penalties from its city elections ballot. Republican Representative Mark Kahrs of Wichita said Tuesday that if the city prints ballots that include the initiative, it could face legal action from the state attorney general. The attorney general's office released an opinion Friday saying that the proposal conflicts with state marijuana laws and the move would be considered void if it passed. The Wichita City Council voted to include the ballot initiative following a successful petition campaign on the issue. Wichita city lobbyist Dale Goter said the city felt legally compelled to include the initiative and would not resist any action by the state against the measure.
14-Year-Old Arrested in Shooting
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita 14-year-old has been arrested after a weekend shooting that critically wounded a trucker. Police Lieutenant James Espinoza says the victim, a 32-year-old from Arizona, and another man had delivered merchandise to a Wal-Mart before trying to buy drugs in a nearby parking lot. He says the truckers met several males, and shots rang out. The Wichita Eagle reports the victim, whom police haven't identified, was hit three times, once in the face, twice in the body. Espinoza said the wounded man remained in the hospital in very critical condition Tuesday. Police are seeking at least one other suspect. The teenager, whom police haven't identified because of his age, has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and was being held in a juvenile detention center.
Wichita Teens Accused in Series of Violent Crimes
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police have arrested a trio of teens accused in a series of crimes that started with robbing a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint and ended with crashing a stolen car. Police Lieutenant James Espinoza says a 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds are suspected of going after the pizza man Saturday evening. Witnesses have connected them to a drive-by shooting in a stolen car that was crashed Monday morning. Their names have not been released publicly, because they are juveniles.
Police Say Armed Robbers Took $6,000 from Man in Hotel
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say armed robbers stole more than $6,000 from a 21-year-old man after attacking him in a hotel on the west side of town. The Wichita Eagle newspaper reports that the victim refused treatment after the weekend ambush. Police Lieutenant James Espinoza says the robbery occurred after three men came to the door with a woman whom the victim and another occupant of the room recognized.
Deadly Bird Flu Strain Confirmed in 2 Missouri Facilities
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri agriculture officials have quarantined two commercial facilities after a strain of bird flu that's deadly to poultry but poses no immediate public health concern was detected. The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced Sunday that the virus was confirmed in turkeys at a grower facility in Asbury in the southwest part of the state. Preliminary tests also came back positive for the virus at a facility in Fortuna in mid-Missouri. It was not immediately clear how many birds were affected. It's the same H5N2 strain that's been confirmed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota. The release says the remaining turkeys in the "involved flocks" will be killed and won't enter the food system. Officials also are conducting testing at properties near the affected facilities to ensure the virus hasn't spread.
Sheriff: Teen Loses Money to Buy Car in Internet Scam
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Saline County sheriff says a teenager who saved more than $1,500 to buy a car was scammed out of the money she sent to purchase a vehicle through an online ad. Sheriff Glen Kochanowski tells the Salina Journal the 16-year-old girl spotted an ad for a 2003 Honda Accord on Craigslist and contacted the seller by email. She was told the car was ready to ship, because its owner had been killed in an accident. The sheriff says the girl sent the money through a Moneygram to a Springfield, Missouri, address but the car wasn't shipped. A phone number the girl was given was out of California. Kochanowski says the girl had worked for two years to save enough money to buy a car.
Kansas Farm Experts Plan Webinar on Crop Insurance
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University is offering an hour-long webinar to help farmers and others make decisions on crop insurance as the signup deadline at the end of March nears. The university's Department of Agricultural Economics hour-long webinar at 11 am Wednesday by crop insurance experts Art Barnaby and Mykel Taylor. It will cover topics like changes in rules that may impact farms, new county data, and other resources to estimate payments and prices. The link to register for the $25 webinar is http://commerce.cashnet.com/KSUAGECON.
Former Kansas Gaming Executive Steps Down from Maryland Post
BALTIMORE (AP) — The director of Maryland's lottery and gaming agency is cashing in his chips. Stephen Martino, who heads the state's Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, told staff in an email that he was resigning and his last day would be March 27. He plans on taking a job as a partner in the Baltimore office of law firm Duane Morris. Martino was appointed to his position by former Governor Martin O'Malley in 2010. Prior to his appointment, he served as the executive director of the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission. In a statement from Governor Larry Hogan's office, spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said the administration was actively searching for a director who would continue to improve the lottery and gaming programs.