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Headlines for Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Kansas House Panel Passes Budget Requiring Tax Increases 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas panel has endorsed a $6.4 billion budget that doesn't balance without tax increases. The House Appropriations Committee approved the plan Tuesday. The budget would fall about $133 million short if the Legislature does not increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes as Governor Sam Brownback has recommended. Republican Representative Virgil Peck from Tyro said that he would not support a budget that increases spending without having secured the revenues to pay for it. Chairman and Republican Representative Ron Ryckman of Olathe said approving the plan would help clarify how much additional revenue the state will need through new taxes. The Senate approved the largest portion of the state budget by passing the governor's school funding overhaul Monday. Brownback is expected to sign the plan later this week.


Kansas House Panel Endorses Change for Civil Service System 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has endorsed a bill making it easier for state agencies to move jobs out of the civil service. The 9-7 vote Wednesday by the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee sends the bill to the House for debate. The measure incorporates a proposal from Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration. Civil service workers have more job security than non-civil service workers. The state has about 13,000 civil service employees. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said in an email that the bill gives agencies more flexibility in hiring. He said even if the measure is enacted, many jobs will stay in the civil service. Critics are skeptical that the civil service system will remain intact and say favoritism will play a bigger role in employment decisions.


Kansas Lawmakers Move to Change Collective Bargaining

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas are pursuing proposals to limit collective bargaining between state agencies and their workers. The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday debated a collective bargaining bill. Chairwoman and Republican Senator Julia Lynn of Olathe said the panel would vote on it Thursday. The measure would limit bargaining between state agencies and unions to setting minimum wages. Supporters said the state should operate more like private industry. Critics said workers would be harmed. Lynn said the committee also will consider another bill preventing state and local government agencies from doing payroll deductions for workers for union dues.


Kansas Closer to Allowing Concealed Carry with No Permit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are moving closer to allowing residents 21 or older to carry concealed firearms without a state permit. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a bill Tuesday ending the requirement for a permit. The committee's voice vote sends the measure to the full House for debate. The Senate approved the measure last month, and the House committee made only one technical change. Supporters argued that gun owners are responsible and shouldn't have to ask the government's permission to a carry concealed weapon. A permit costs $132.50, and a person seeking one must undergo eight hours of firearms training. The bill's opponents say the state still should require some training to carry a concealed firearm. But the Republican-dominated Legislature has strong pro-gun majorities in both chambers.


Kansas School Funding Dispute Heading Back to High Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A dispute over whether Kansas must boost spending on its public schools by tens of millions of dollars each year is headed back to the state's highest court. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office notified a three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel this week that the state will appeal a recent ruling by the panel in a 2010 lawsuit. The panel ruled in December that the state must spend at least $548 million more annually to fulfill its duty under the state constitution to provide a suitable education to every child. The state both appealed to the Supreme Court and asked the panel to reconsider. The high court told the lower court March 5 to review the state's request to reconsider. But the panel last week reaffirmed its December ruling.


Kansas House Panel Cancels Meeting on Green Energy Mandate 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House panel has cancelled a debate on a bill to freeze renewable energy mandates for utility companies. The House Energy and Environment Committee had been scheduled to vote on the measure Wednesday. The panel did not say why it cancelled its meeting. Kansas law requires that 10 percent of the electricity generated by utilities come from renewable energy sources, such as wind. That figure is set to rise to 15 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2020. The bill would eliminate those future requirements. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and conservative think tanks contend the government should not set such mandates on businesses. The Kansas Farm Bureau and renewable energy groups argue that the bill would remove an incentive for further investments in renewable energy.


Kansas Ethanol Producers Say Proposed Tax Would Close Plants 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ethanol producers say a proposed excise tax in Kansas would harm the industry and put some plants out of business. The House Taxation Committee held a hearing on a bill Wednesday that would impose a 4.33 percent tax on ethanol products and electricity from renewable sources. Farmers, ethanol producers and representatives of the renewable energy industry testified to the committee that the tax would hurt rural economies and cause plant closures. Only conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute testified in favor of the bill, saying in written testimony the move would eliminate unneeded protections from the industry. The Kansas Legislature also is considering measures to remove the property tax exemption for renewable power plants and freeze mandates requiring utilities to include increasing amounts of renewable energy in the electrical grid.


House Budget Includes Funding for K-State Architecture Building

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A House committee authorized issuing up to $60 million in bonds to renovate Kansas State University's College of Architecture. The project approved Tuesday is the only capital improvement project sought by six state universities to be funded in the House budget proposal. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the university is running its College of Architecture, Planning and Design in dilapidated buildings, parts of which were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Representative Mark Hutton of Wichita says he made the motion to include the project in the budget because Kansas State waited for years while major projects were funded at other universities. The bonds would be issued in fiscal year 2016, with the first $3.7 million payment in 2017 coming from the state Educational Building Fund.


Kansas Panel Considers Divesting Pension Funds from Companies in Iran 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas pension system would be forced to divest from any companies operating in Iran under a bill considered by a House panel. The House Pensions and Benefits Committee discussed a bill Wednesday that would require the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to sell stock in any companies that had invested $20 million or more in Iran since 1996. The bill would immediately impact the pension system's investments in Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Toyota. KPERS currently holds stock worth about $68.5 million in those companies. Republican Representative Scott Schwab, of Olathe, said the bill would send a signal to Washington about where Kansas stands on the country's relationship to Israel and Iran. But other lawmakers worried that the cost would be high and politicize the pension system.


27 More Test Positive for TB at Olathe Northwest High School 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Twenty-seven more people have tested positive for tuberculosis at an eastern Kansas high school. State and county health officials made the announcement Wednesday after tests were conducted on more than 300 Olathe Northwest High School students and staff members who came into contact with an infected student. The Kansas City Star reports that officials began calling people who test positive on Monday. People with no sign of infection will receive letters. Tuberculosis 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. People with the disease are most likely to spread it to others with whom they have prolonged contact.


Monsanto to Pay $350K to Settle More Wheat-Related Lawsuits 

NEW YORK (AP) — Monsanto says it will pay about $350,000 to settle class action lawsuits brought by farmers in seven states over genetically modified wheat. The St. Louis company said Wednesday it will make donations of $50,000 to agricultural schools at land grant colleges in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It will also reimburse the plaintiffs' and their counsel for a portion of the costs associated with the case. The lawsuits relate to the discovery of genetically modified wheat on a farm in Oregon in May 2013. The wheat had not been approved, and after the discovery, Japan and South Korea temporarily suspended some wheat orders. The European Union called for tougher testing of shipments from the U.S.


Former Topeka Hospital Worker Files Civil Rights Suit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A former Topeka hospital employee says in a federal civil rights lawsuit that she was taunted and bullied at work because of her race. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Pamela Banks, who is black, filed the lawsuit in a Kansas federal court against the St. Francis Health Center. She's seeking damages and back pay. Banks says she complained to managers about a hostile environment, but that they dismissed the complaints without an investigation. Banks was an employee of a health services company that placed her in St. Francis in 2012. She says the company removed her from St. Francis in 2014 after the hospital refused to take action.


Trial Starts in Lawsuit over Nebraska Funeral Protest Law

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Trial has begun in a lawsuit challenging a Nebraska law that limits picketing at funerals. The case stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church that challenged Nebraska's funeral picketing law. The original 2006 law required protesters to stand 300 feet away from a funeral service, but it has since been amended to keep protesters at least 500 feet away.  The church protests at funerals around the country contending that U.S.soldiers and others are being struck down by God for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality.  On Tuesday, a member of the church testified that Westboro members are often kept much further away from Nebraska funerals than the law's 500 feet, while counter protesters are allowed as close to funerals as they want. 


Topeka Could Legally Issue Bonds for Heartland Racing Park

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka has no more legal obstacles to issuing bonds to buy Heartland Park. City attorney Chad Sublet said Tuesday that the city can legally issue the bonds since the Kansas Court of Appeals found a petition to force a public vote on the bonds was invalid. However, City Manager Jim Colson said a new council seated after the April election will consider the issue and public meetings could be held before the bond sales are authorized. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that in recent months, lawyers for the city and the racetrack operator said the track could close soon if a petition drive to stop the sale went to a public vote. Races are scheduled to start April 4.


Kansas City-Area Principal Resigns After Bullying Case 

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — The principal of a suburban Kansas City middle school has resigned nearly a month after a student with Asperger's syndrome was seriously hurt in a bullying incident. Principal Dan Weakley of Liberty Middle School also will take a personal leave of absence for the remainder of the school year. The Liberty Board of Education on Monday accepted Weakley's resignation and granted his request for leave. Twelve-year-old Blake Kitchen suffered injuries including a cracked skull and a fractured jaw in the February 19 attack in the school's cafeteria. The sixth-grader spent several days at a hospital. A 14-year-old eighth-grader at the school admitted to the assault and was placed in the custody of the Missouri Division of Youth Services.


Journal Expresses Concern About Study Ranking UMKC No. 1 in Biz Research

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An academic journal is distancing itself from an article that named the University of Missouri-Kansas City number 1 in the emerging field of business research. The Kansas City Star reports that the Journal of Product Innovation Management issued an "expression of concern" about the article it published in 2012. The journal also criticized the school for the way it used the finding to promote its programs. Auditors for PricewaterhouseCoopers found in a January report that the work was not subject to the same rigid standards as top academic papers. The auditors also found that the college's business school knowingly submitted false date in applying for rankings and awards. UMKC officials said in a statement that they "respect the publication's point of view" but consider the matter in the past.


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