Headlines for Friday, March 13, 2015
School Funding Overhaul Passes Kansas House
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has narrowly passed a school funding overhaul. The chamber voted 64-57 Friday to pass the bill that now goes to the Senate. The bill is a key part of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's policy agenda as education spending is the biggest item on the state budget. The plan would give school districts "block grants" based on their current aid for the next two school years. Lawmakers are then expected to establish a new funding formula. The House gave first-round approval to the bill in a tight vote Thursday. Republican lawmakers were expecting a comfortable margin for the measure but got just 64 votes to advance it. Opponents to the bill have said abandoning the current formula opens up schools to cuts and uncertainty.
Kansas Senators Consider Bill to Reverse Part of Business/Farm Tax Cut
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee has broached the idea of reversing part of a big break for business owners and farmers to help close a budget shortfall. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee had a hearing Thursday on a bill to revive the state's tax on passive business income, including income from rental property. The measure would raise $65 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislators must close a projected shortfall of nearly $600 million in the budget for the next fiscal year. Lawmakers cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy. One policy exempted 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers. Some lawmakers now argue that the policy went further than intended. But business groups criticized the bill.
Parts of Southeast Kansas Quarantined over Avian Flu Threat
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas has established quarantine zones in Crawford and Cherokee counties -- in southeast Kansas -- in the wake of a case of avian influenza in neighboring Missouri. The Department of Agriculture says the quarantine areas are meant to allow them to respond "quickly and decisively'' to eradicate any outbreak that might occur. Transportation of poultry, eggs and other poultry products in or out of the designated zone is prohibited without first receiving an official permit. The map of the quarantined area is available online on the ag department's website.
Kansas Supreme Court Overturns Sentence in Wyandotte County Murder
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's highest court has upheld the premeditated first-degree murder conviction of a man who shot his uncle 10 times and left him to die in a burning house. But the Kansas Supreme Court also overturned the enhanced sentence of 50 years without the possibility of parole handed down by the trial judge to Mark Salary. He was convicted for the 2008 murder of Valray "Joe" Estell at his home in Kansas City, Kansas. It sent the case back to Wyandotte County District Court for resentencing. It is the latest in a string of Kansas cases sent back for resentencing since a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court opinion. That decision requires that a jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that aggravating circumstances exist to merit the enhanced minimum sentence.
New Proposal Would Eliminate, Replace Kansas Teacher of the Year Program
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal to replace the Teacher of the Year program with a cash awards system. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the proposal establishes the Kansas Legislature Award for Teaching Excellence Program, which would dole out thousands of dollars to chosen teachers, and prohibits the Kansas Department of Education from running any similar awards program. Teacher of the Year winners are currently selected by a large committee composed of educators, administrators, boards of education, parents and other education organization representatives. Winners receive a $4,000 prize and can earn up to nine free credit hours a year from several Kansas colleges and universities. The proposed replacement would see winners selected by 13-member committee comprised of three administrators, a superintendent, four business representatives chosen by House and Senate leaders, four members of the legislature and a previous winner. One outstanding teacher would receive $20,000. Four finalists would get $15,000 and at least 10 semifinalists would receive $10,000 each. According to Budget Director Shawn Sullivan, the program would cost the state about $340,000 per year.
Push to Rewrite Kansas Collective Bargaining Laws Stalling
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A push by business and conservative groups in Kansas to rewrite laws on collective bargaining and public employees unions has stalled for now. The state Senate Commerce Committee had a hearing Thursday on a bill to prohibit state and local government agencies from deducting union dues from workers' paychecks. The committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill restricting collective bargaining between government agencies and their workers. The committee was set to vote Friday on both measures, but Chairwoman and Olathe Republican Julia Lynn canceled the meeting. Lynn said she's not sure when the votes will occur and said House GOP leaders have signaled that they're reluctant to tackle such issues. House Commerce Committee Chairman Mark Hutton said he can't guarantee action on the bills because he hasn't seen them.
FDA: 3 Die from Foodborne Illness Linked to Blue Bell Frozen Treats
DALLAS (AP) — Officials say three people have died after developing a foodborne illness linked to Blue Bell ice cream products. That has prompted the first product recall in the Texas creamery's 108-year history. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says five people in all developed listeriosis in Kansas after eating Blue Bell products from one production line at Blue Bell's Brenham, Texas creamery. The FDA says listeria bacteria were found in samples of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars, Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Scoops, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bars and No Sugar Added Moo Bars. Blue Bell says its regular Moo Bars were untainted, as were its half gallons, quarts, pints, cups, three-gallon ice cream and take-home frozen snack novelties.
El Dorado Man Sentenced for 18-Month-Old Girl's Death
EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) _ A southern Kansas man has been sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison for the 2012 death of his girlfriend's 18-month-old daughter. KWCH-TV reports that a Butler County judge sentenced 31-year-old Justin Edwards on Thursday for aggravated battery, involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in the March 2012 death of Jayla Haag. Edwards entered a no contest plea in the case in January. He originally was charged with first-degree murder. The girl's injuries included a broken jaw, missing teeth that had been forcibly removed, severe head injuries and multiple bruises. She also was suffering from malnourishment and tested positive for methamphetamine. Jayla's mother, Alyssa Haag, previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2013.
Painter Killed in Scaffolding Collapse in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A painter has died after scaffolding collapsed in the northern part of Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that emergency personnel responded around 1:30 p.m. Thursday to Inland Truck Parts and Service on the Missouri side of town. Kansas City Fire Department Battalion Chief James Garrett says two painters were working on the scaffolding 25 feet high when the scaffolding gave way. He says one painter fell onto a truck and some of the scaffolding landed on him. The second painter was uninjured.
Two Killed When Car Crashes into a Sedgwick County Utility Pole
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say two people are dead and two others are hurt after a Sedgwick County crash. The Wichita Eagle reports that the crash happened early Wednesday afternoon when a car went off a road and struck a utility pole on the passenger side. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says the victims were 17-year-old Derrick Burnett and 15-year-old Dontrez J. Williams. The 19-year-old driver and a 20-year-old passenger were taken to area hospitals. Lieutenant Lin Dehning says investigators think speed played a role in the crash.
Shawnee Man Accused of Poisoning Neighbor's Dog
SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Eastern Kansas police have arrested a 48-year-old man they suspect of poisoning a neighbor's dog twice. According to Johnson County District Court records, the poisoning incidents occurred in December and earlier this month. The dog, a 3-year-old shepherd-pointer mix named Ginger, survived after receiving emergency veterinary care. Shawnee police arrested the man Thursday on a warrant, and he faces animal cruelty charges. He has been released from custody after posting a $25,000 bond. His next court appearance has been set for March 25.
Wichita Marijuana Reform Question Still on Track for April Ballot
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The ballot question on the marijuana reform initiative in Wichita appears still on track for a vote on the April 7th ballot KAKE-TV reports that the ballots are headed to the printer Friday afternoon. Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman says it's on the ballot unless her office gets direction from the city or a court to remove it. The initiative asks Wichita voters to decide whether to reduce the penalty for a first time arrest for marijuana possession in the city. Voters will also decide on a mayor and city council members. Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a legal opinion earlier this week the proposed ordinance conflicts with state law. But supporters of the measure say the issues the attorney general raised require judicial determination.
Kansas Seeks Federal Designation for Arkansas River
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas officials say a second state waterway deserves a federal designation that is aimed at encouraging recreation. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks says it wants the Great Bend to Oklahoma border stretch of the Arkansas River added to the National Water Trails system. The Kansas River received the designation in 2012. It encourages state, local and federal governments to work together to increase water recreation, promote tourism and help local economies. Department Secretary Robin Jennison said in a written statement that the designation would "help draw tourists.'' He said the Kansas and Arkansas river "offer some really great opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy parts of the state that are often overlooked.''
OSHA Seeks $60,000 in Fines Against Kansas Manufacturer
FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas manufacturer of water tanks and other products is facing proposed fines of $60,200 for allegedly exposing welders to toxic fumes and other violations endangering workers. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration says Niece Products of Kansas received 15 serious safety and health citations. Those include failure to use respiratory equipment for welders in confined spaces like large tanks at its Fort Scott facility. OSHA says that during an October inspection it also found electrical hazards, improper storage of flammable materials and other safety issues. Patrick Flanagan, a managing partner at Niece Products, says the company is working closely with OSHA. He says they have every expectation they run a safe company and will continue to do so.
Wichita Aviation Lab Plans Major Facilities Expansion
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The National Institute for Aviation Research is expanding its testing laboratories in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports that the aviation lab has made an agreement to lease 35,000 square feet of space in buildings that were abandoned by Boeing. Officials from Wichita State University, which the lab is a part of, made the announcement Thursday. The institute plans to relocate its Environmental Test and Electromagnetic Effects Lab to the new space next month, according to institute executive director John Tomblin. Developers believe that the deal may help lure airplane modification companies to Wichita since it will become one of the few places in the world where full electromagnetic testing can be done on an entire aircraft. A university official said that the lab may be able to do testing on large commercial and military aircraft.
Missouri Commission Asks for Documents on Energy Project Before Ruling
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Public Service Commission has asked Grain Belt Express for more information about a proposed high-voltage transmission line that would run through part of southern Randolph County despite the commission's staff recommending that it deny the company's application for certification. The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that the company needs the certificate to build the line that would carry wind-generated power from Kansas to Indiana. The project faces criticism from some who believe it will negatively affect property values and people's health, while supporters say that it will move the state closer to a voter-mandate that utilities generate at least 15 percent renewable energy by 2021. The information requested by the commission concerns business contracts, financial backers and amounts, proposed economic benefits, rate structures and efforts to meet regulatory requirements in other states. The deadline for providing the information is April 11.
Friends University Names First Permanent Woman President
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Friends University has named Amy Bragg Carey as its 14th president and the first woman in its history to hold that post in a permanent capacity. The Wichita Eagle reported Friday that Carey comes to the Friends University from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul in Minnesota, where she had been the vice president for institutional advancement. Her first day as president at Friends University will be July 1. Friends University was founded in 1898 and now has an enrollment of about 2,000 students.
1 Dead in Medical Helicopter Crash in Eastern Oklahoma
EUFAULA, Okla. (AP) — Authorities say the pilot of a medical helicopter died and a nurse and paramedic were injured when their helicopter crashed in remote woods in eastern Oklahoma. Officials at EagleMed LLC said Friday that pilot Matt Mathews was killed in the crash. Nurse Kim Ramsey and paramedic Ryan Setzkorn have non-life threatening injuries. The Federal Aviation Administration says the aircraft, an Airbus AS350, was flying to McAlester from Tulsa when it crashed. No patients were on board. The crash was reported late Thursday and searchers on foot and all-terrain vehicles found the wreckage about 4 am Friday. The U.S. Air Force assisted in locating the crash site west of Eufaula, about 120 miles east of Oklahoma City. EagleMed is based in Wichita.