Headlines for Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Kansas House Panel Approves Abortion Procedure Ban
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a proposed ban on a procedure described by abortion opponents as dismembering a fetus. But the Federal and State Affairs Committee's voice vote Wednesday to advance the measure came after abortion rights supporters on the panel forced anti-abortion lawmakers to vote down a broader proposal. The alternative would have banned most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected early in pregnancy. The bill advanced by the committee outlaws the dilation and evacuation procedure and prohibits doctors from using forceps or similar instruments on a fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. The National Right to Life Committee drafted the measure as model legislation for states. It and some anti-abortion groups want to avoid broader measures that might not withstand court scrutiny.
Kansas Senate Confirms Appellate Judge Nominee
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has confirmed Kathryn Gardner to the state Court of Appeals. The Senate confirmed Gardner on a 31-9 vote Wednesday. She was appointed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback and previously served as the law clerk for U.S. District Judge Sam Crow since 2000. She also spent 12 years as a practicing lawyer in Wichita and two years as an assistant state attorney general. Republican Senator Jeff King of Independence cast the only GOP vote against Gardner's confirmation. After the Senate session, said he voted against her because he thought she was not sufficiently qualified compared to other potential nominees. Brownback said in a statement after the vote that he was pleased with the Senate's action and said Gardner will respect Kansas values on the bench.
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. 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.
Over Half of Kansas Insurance Exchange Signups Are New Enrollees
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — More than half of Kansans who signed up for the federally run insurance exchange this year are new enrollees. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 52 percent of about 96,000 people who signed up through the exchange in Kansas were new customers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The department says the number of Kansans who re-enrolled in the program was split between people who returned to the exchange after looking at other plans, and those who automatically re-enrolled without shopping around. About 60 percent of Kansans who shopped around chose a different plan than the one they had in 2014. According to the department's acting assistant secretary for public affairs, price was a significant motivator for people who switched plans nationwide. Making sure certain doctors are in their insurance network was a factor as well.
Kansas Public Unions Oppose Collective Bargaining Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiations on wages and benefits with Kansas public employees would be drastically narrowed under a bill considered by a state Senate panel. Several public employee union representatives spoke in opposition to the bill Wednesday in the Senate Commerce Committee. It would narrow negotiations to only salary and wages and would allow the government to impose conditions on public employees in the case of an impasse. Public employee unions also would be barred from endorsing or contributing to political candidates under the bill. Robert Wing of the Kansas State Council of Firefighters said that the current system works well and overhauling it would lead to costly labor disputes in the courts. Republican Senator Jeff Melcher of Leawood sponsored the bill and said it would make negotiations more flexible.
Kansas Lawmakers Ponder Legalizing Fantasy Sports Leagues
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has heard no opposition to a bill ensuring that fantasy sports leagues are legal in the state. The Federal and State Affairs Committee took testimony Wednesday on a measure responding to a position outlined in August by the state Racing and Gaming Commission. The commission said fantasy sports leagues are illegal lotteries. The Kansas Constitution allows only a state-owned lottery, and the ban on private lotteries covers a wide array of games of chance. The bill would declare that the results of fantasy sports leagues depend on the skill of the participants. A Fantasy Sports Trade Association attorney said 500,000 Kansans participate in leagues. The hearing came as other committees considered proposals on student groups' religious freedoms and rules for state social services programs.
US Agriculture Secretary Headlines Farmers Union Convention
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be headlining the National Farmers Union convention meeting in Wichita. Kansas is hosting the group's national convention for the first time since 1946. The four-day event begins Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Wichita. Its theme is "Driving the Future of Agriculture." Vilsack will be speaking Monday to the group. He will be joined later that day by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. They will be addressing agricultural and environmental issues. Convention breakout sessions include farm safety, weather patterns, perennial grain crops, among other topics.
July Trial Set for Suspect in Suicide Bomb Plot at Airport
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has scheduled a summer jury trial for the man accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack at a Wichita airport. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot set a July 8 trial date following a telephone conference Wednesday with attorneys in the case against Terry Loewen. The former avionics technician was arrested in December 2013 during a sting operation in which undercover FBI agents acted as co-conspirators. Prosecutors allege he tried to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, now called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. Loewen has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device to damage property and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.
Kansas Monitoring Control Zone for Signs of Avian Influenza
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Agriculture says it is monitoring a control zone in southeast Kansas for signs of avian influenza. The move comes in the wake of a confirmed case in Jasper County, Missouri. A team from KDA's Division of Animal Health and the U.S. Agriculture Department is conducting surveillance activities. It is asking backyard poultry owners in Cherokee and Crawford counties to self-report backyard flocks to the state's animal health division. The department says that will help animal health officials control the spread of the disease. Avian influenza is a contagious viral disease that affects birds, but is not considered to be a threat to public health. Outbreaks of the H5N2 strain have been found in Missouri, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Sheriff's Office Identifies Body Found in Rural Leavenworth County
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — The Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office has identified the body of a woman found in a field over the weekend. The sheriff's office identified the woman as 22-year-old Karissa Warren of Kansas City, Kansas. Her body was discovered Sunday in rural Leavenworth County, and her death is being investigated as a homicide. Investigators have said they believe Warren's body was in the field for less than 24 hours. Authorities haven't said whether they believe Warren was killed in the field or if her body was disposed of there. Warren's family say they don't know who would want to hurt her or why, but her cousin notes Warren was a witness to her boyfriend's killing. Anyone with information about Warren's death is asked to contact authorities.
Olathe School to Test 350 Students, Staff for Tuberculosis
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — An Olathe school isn't taking any chances and is testing about 350 students and staff for tuberculosis after they came into contact with an infected student. The director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment says there's a very low chance the student spread the disease to others at Olathe Northwest High School. KCTV-TV reports the screenings this week will involve students and staff having their blood drawn. The student diagnosed last week with tuberculosis hasn't returned to school and is being treated at home. Parents and students attended a public meeting to learn more about tuberculosis, an airborne disease that can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include a bad cough for three weeks or longer, chest pain, weakness or fatigue, and coughing up blood.
Wichita Could Face Lawsuit over Marijuana Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers say Wichita could face legal action from the state attorney general if it does not remove a proposal to reduce marijuana penalties from its city elections ballot. 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.
Wichita Teens Accused in Series of Violent Crimes
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Wichita police have arrested three teens who are suspected of committing a series of crimes. Police say the 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds are accused of robbing a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint over the weekend. They say witnesses have also connected the teens to a drive-by shooting in a stolen car that was crashed Monday.
Former Fed Reserve Programmer Admits Workplace Code Theft
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former lead software programmer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City faces July sentencing after admitting in court that he stole software code in his waning days with the Fed. Fifty-four-year-old Hamid Reza Tahmasebi of Leawood, Kansas, on Wednesday pleaded guilty in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, to a charge of theft of government property. A statement by the region's U.S. Attorney's Office did not specify why Tahmasebi had taken the code. The U.S. government says both sides recommend that Tahmasebi receive five years of probation when sentenced. Tahmasebi also agrees to pay the Fed more than $246,000 in restitution. That's the amount of the Fed spent to investigate the theft and extensively review the security of its coding.
Historic Hutchinson Building Renovation Completed
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A $17-million renovation has wrapped up on a 1913 Hutchinson building that once featured a department store. The Hutchinson News reports that a dedication ceremony is planned for Thursday night for the Wiley Building. The nine-story structure has been transformed into two floors of commercial space and 73 apartments with the help of state and federal tax credits. In the building's first year, an estimated 1.5 million people walked through its doors. But by the mid-1980s, the store was suffering because of competition from the Hutchinson Mall. The Wileys closed the downtown department store in June 1985, and the building had been mostly vacant since 2002. Renovations began in December 2012 with the gutting of the interior.
Southeast Kansas Man Gets 8 Years 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. 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.
KS AG Challenging OK 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.
University of Kansas Research Spending Has Best 4 Years Ever
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Research spending at the University of Kansas has seen its strongest four-year span ever, but the overall outlook is not good. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the school's externally sponsored research expenditures at all of its campuses totaled more than $1 billion. The university's expenditures from all sources, however, fell during fiscal year 2014 due to the federal budget sequester and declining purchasing power for federally funded research According to the university, externally sponsored expenditures totaled $238.8 million last year, compared with $260.5 million in 2013 and $275.2 million in 2012. The school said that was a high point under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The university says that it receives about 85 percent of its research support from the federal government. The university says that it is looking to other sources for funding.
Charter, KC District Suspend Talks About High School
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A French language immersion charter school and the Kansas City district have put the brakes on plans for a high school that would have offered a college preparatory curriculum known as International Baccalaureate. The Kansas City Starreports that plans had called for the Academie Lafayette to run the school for the district in the Southwest Early College Campus. On Tuesday, Academie Lafayette board vice president Marvin Lyman and Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green said they wanted to create a "language-rich" high school. But concerns over the fate of current students currently at Southwest compelled them to suspend talks. Lyman said it wasn't workable to have two programs in the building. He added that the charter will be looking at alternative locations for a high school.
Royals Finally Fall in Spring Training
SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) _ The Kansas City Royals had been perfect in spring training, but that changed yesterday (TUE), as the Chicago White Sox beat the boys in blue
6-to-2. It ways the first time the Royals lost after starting 6-0 this spring.
Chiefs Announce Signing of Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have signed Jeremy Maclin to a five-year deal, adding the down-the-field threat that their wide receiver group was sorely lacking last season. The contract is worth up to $55 million, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because those details were not announced. Maclin started all 16 games for the Eagles last season. He set career highs with 85 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns, and showed no lingering effects from the torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season. His addition could mean the end of Dwayne Bowe's tenure in Kansas City. The veteran wide receiver is due to count $14 million against the salary cap.