Headlines for Thursday, March 26, 2015
Kansas Senate Passes $15.5 Billion Budget
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate passed a $15.5 billion budget proposal Wednesday. The spending cuts in the Senate's budget, along with transfers from other funds, erase most of the state's nearly $600 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but the budget would still come up about $130 million short without tax increases. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Republican from Nickerson, said that approving the budget, which passed on a 26-13 vote, would help focus discussions on what revenue adjustments can be made to fill the remaining deficit. One possibility is an increase to alcohol and tobacco taxes proposed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback amounting to $1.50 more per pack of cigarettes, while taxes on other tobacco products would increase to 25 percent from 10 percent and the tax on alcohol at liquor stores would jump to 12 percent from 8 percent. This is projected to raise a total of $394 million over two years. Other proposals would offer an amnesty that waives penalties for people who owe back taxes, eliminate sales tax exemptions and impose excise taxes on renewable energy production. The House has not yet voted on a budget bill.
Plaintiffs File Motion to Block Kansas School Funding Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The plaintiffs in a school funding lawsuit have filed a motion to block the governor's new school funding plan. The motion was filed Thursday and calls on the court to bar the state from enacting the law overhauling the way the state distributes aid to schools. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed the plan into law Wednesday. His office referred questions to the attorney general's office. A spokeswoman for the attorney general says the administration will defend the rewritten school finance law in the courts. The three-judge panel has ruled that it may move to preserve status quo and will hear arguments for blocking the law May 7. The law scraps the state's school funding formula and gives each district a fixed amount of money for the next two years.
Brownback Signs School Funding Overhaul Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has signed a $4.1 billion plan to overhaul Kansas's school funding system. The governor signed the bill into law Wednesday during a private ceremony. It scraps the current formula for determining state aid and replaces it with "block grants" to school districts based on their current aid. The grant system will be in place for two years while the Legislature develops a new funding formula. The state's 286 school districts lose $51 million in aid they expected to receive for the current school year under the plan. The bill has been lauded by the conservatives and business groups. Brownback said in a statement that the plan will give more direct spending control to officials closest to the classroom.
Kansas Lawmakers Approve Concealed Carry Without Permit
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal to allow Kansas residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit has won final approval from the Legislature. The measure is headed to Governor Sam Brownback even though some lawmakers were worried that the state would no longer require training to a carry concealed weapon. The National Rifle Association says Kansas would become the fifth state to allow concealed carry without a permit everywhere within its borders. The House approved the bill, 85-39. The Senate passed the measure last month, but House members made a technical change that senators had to review. Senators signed off on the minor revision, 31-8. Supporters of the bill said gun owners have proven that they can be trusted.
Kansas Legislature Pass Ban on Abortion Procedure
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have approved a proposed ban on a common second-trimester procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Activists on both sides said Kansas is the first in the nation to have legislators pass such a ban, which was model legislation written by the National Right of Life Committee. The House voted 98-26 to outlaw the procedure which abortion opponents have described as dismembering a fetus. The procedure is used in about 8 percent of all abortions in Kansas. The Senate approved the measure last month, so it goes now to Republican Governor Sam Brownback. He has promised to sign it. Abortion foes call the procedure gruesome. Abortion rights supporters say it's often the safest way for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.
Kansas Appeals Voter Citizenship Case to US Supreme Court
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas and Arizona have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to force federal elections officials to require residents of their states to prove their U.S. citizenship before registering to vote. A court notice Wednesday shows the appeal has been filed. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has until April 23 to respond to the states' petition to hear the case. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in November that Kansas and Arizona cannot demand help from federal officials in enforcing state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. The appeals court overturned a ruling last year by U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren requiring the commission to revise its federal voter registration form for those states to add the proof-of-citizenship requirements.
Kansas Moving Closer to Issuing $1B or More in Pension Bonds
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is moving closer to issuing $1 billion or more in bonds to bolster its pension system for teachers and government workers. The House and Senate have approved rival plans, even though many lawmakers view issuing bonds as financially risky. Governor Sam Brownback advocates the borrowing as part of a larger plan to reduce annual pension costs and help balance the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. House and Senate negotiators expect to work on a compromise next week. Thanks to laws enacted in recent years, the state pension system is on track to close a projected $9.8 billion gap between revenues and the benefit costs from now until 2033. But those laws require increasing state contributions, and Brownback argues that the payments will strain the budget.
Senate Rejects Bill on Kansas Teacher Contracts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would have forced a re-negotiation of all teacher salaries at the end of their current term was defeated in the Senate. The Senate voted 13-27 to reject the bill Wednesday. It would have also eliminated the current teacher pay scale by narrowing salary talks between school boards and teachers unions to minimum salary. Republican Senator Jeff Melcher from Leawood inserted the changes into the bill and said they would help school reward good teachers and fire underperformers. But, opponents said the bill would undercut teachers' positions by reducing job security and base salary.
KU Receives Grant to Study Public School Information Systems
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The University of Kansas is conducting research to see whether the software that public schools use to track student information is being used effectively. The university announced that it has received a grant to look at student information systems. Schools have begun using software to track student attendance, grades and disciplinary notes to help keep parents and administrators apprised of day-to-day changes. Sociology professor Bill Staples said the study will try to determine whether the use of the systems leads to better educational outcomes for students. He said students may react to the systems with decreased trust in educational settings because they feel they are being watched too closely. The study will be funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation in Chicago.
Kansas Supreme Court to Hear Cases in Hays
HAYS, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court is making its first visit to Hays to hear cases as part of an outreach effort. Court officials said that three cases will be considered on the evening of April 13 at Fort Hays State University. The appeals involve a women convicted of sinking another person's motorboat, a man convicted of driving under the influence and another man convicted of five sex offenses. The justices are making the trip in an effort to familiarize residents with the high court and the overall role of the Kansas judiciary. The Supreme Court first convened outside its traditional Topeka courtroom to mark the state's 150th anniversary in 2011. More recent stops have included Salina, Greensburg, Wichita, Overland Park, Pittsburg and Kansas City.
State Official Will Become Director of Manhattan Airport
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Jesse Romo, the director of aviation for the Kansas Department of Transportation, will become the director of the Manhattan Regional Airport next month. Manhattan officials announced Thursday that Romo will replace Peter VanKuren on April 27. VanKuren oversaw a period of growth at the Manhattan airport, which served more than 125,000 passengers last year while providing twice-daily flights to and from Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O'Hare airports. The airport also recently completed the first of a two-phase terminal expansion. Romo has worked for the state since 2006. He has a master's degree in business administration in aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Romo is a member of the American Association of Airport Executives and is a commercial pilot.
Reno County Spending Money to Keep Jail Smelling Good
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County is buying equipment that will vacuum-seal clothing used by inmates to keep the county's new jail smelling good. County commissioners on Tuesday approved spending more than $10,000 to buy the CPI Guardian Inmate Clothing Storage System. Sheriff Randy Henderson says the machine will seal clothing people are wearing when they arrive at the jail before they are issued jail clothing. He says the vacuum also will kill bacteria on the clothes. The Hutchinson News reports that the idea for the vacuum-sealing came after a committee studying a possible Reno County jail visited the Ford County jail and noticed the lack of odor.
Wichita Man Sentenced to 16 Years for Armed Robbery
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been sentenced to 16 years in federal prison for stealing prescription drugs during an armed robbery. The U.S. attorney's office said that 34-year-old Ryan B. Schmidt was sentenced Thursday for commercial robbery and brandishing a firearm. Prosecutors say he used a gun when he ordered a Gessler's Drug Store employee to give him medication in September. He fled with seven bottles of the painkiller hydrocodone and three bottles of the antihistamine promethazine. Police say he led officers on a high-speed chase before hitting a utility pole and another vehicle.
KCK Man Found Dead in Home
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City, Kansas police are investigating the death of a man inside his home as a homicide. Police say a woman who had a child with the man called police after finding him dead early Thursday. Officer Amber Hickerson says the woman found the front door open and found the man, in his late 30s, dead from a gunshot wound. Several shell casings were discovered around the body. No further information was immediately available.
Sex Crime Charge Dropped Against Ex-Corrections Officer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a sex crime charge against a former Shawnee County corrections officer. Aaron Kalka was charged in March 2014 with one count of aggravated criminal sodomy of a victim younger than 14 by an offender older than 18. A Shawnee County judge ruled earlier this month that recorded video and audio statements that Kalka made to law enforcement officers wouldn't be allowed in court. The judge also determined that all polygraph-related evidence collected by a sheriff's detective wasn't admissible. Prosecutors say that without the evidence, they had to dismiss the charge against Kalka, but reserve the right to refile. Kalka's defense attorney says the dismissal was the right decision. Kalka worked with the Shawnee County Corrections Department between August 2013 and October 2014.
Parsons Woman, 18, Killed in 5-Vehicle Collision
FREDONIA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says an 18-year-old Parsons woman was killed in a five-vehicle wreck in southeastern Kansas. The highway patrol crash report says Breunca Taylor died after losing control of her vehicle while traveling on a wet highway about seven miles west of Fredonia on Wednesday. Her vehicle was hit by a semitrailer traveling east and then hit again by another vehicle behind her. The semitrailer also struck another car before sideswiping another tractor-trailer. The report says one driver sustained injuries in the crash. His or her condition wasn't immediately known. No other injuries were reported in the wreck.
Kansas Man Charged in Playground Disturbance Incident
LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old man is accused of endangering more than a dozen children and injuring three of them during a playground incident in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa. The Kansas City Star reports that Johnson County prosecutors charged Javon Locket of Lenexa with three counts of aggravated battery. Those charges allege he injured three children at a playground near his home Monday, leaving them with cuts, bruises and scratches. Prosecutors also charged Locket with assault, obstructing legal process and 18 counts of child endangerment. Police say officers responding to reports of an armed suspect throwing rocks at cars arrested Locket after a short foot chase. Online court records don't show whether Locket has an attorney to comment on his behalf.
Salina Man Hopes to Transform Flour Mill, Redevelop Area
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a Salina mill has proposed a multimillion-dollar plan to transform the H.D. Lee Flour Mill and Grain Elevator into either townhomes or hotel rooms, with a restaurant 100 feet off the ground. The Salina Journal reports that 63-year-old Bob Brown, who bought the mill nearly two years ago, has teamed up with others to revitalize the area in north Salina where the mill is located. A conceptual video from local visualization artist Mike Munson and David Exline, from the California-based Exline Design & Architecture, shows what the mill may look like after redevelopment. The video has garnered over 13,000 hits on Exline's and Brown's Facebook pages as of Wednesday, according to Brown. The next step in the project is collecting $300,000 to $500,000 of private seed money to look at the mill's structure and make sure that it is sound.
Kansas State Dismisses 2 Players, Another Will Transfer
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State's leading scorer Marcus Foster and two other players will not suit up for the Wildcats next season. Coach Bruce Weber has announced that Foster and freshmen reserve Tre Harris had been dismissed from the basketball team, and guard Jevon Thomas will transfer. Weber said that Foster and Harris did not live up to standards the school sets for its players, but he did not elaborate. He said Thomas decided he wanted to move closer to home. After a sterling freshmen season, Foster's play deteriorated this season. He was suspended for three games and removed from the starting lineup several times. Thomas led the team with 102 assists and started 25 games, but also was briefly kicked off the team before a road game against Texas.
Pitcher Yordano Ventura to Start Royals' Home Opener
SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Yordano Ventura has been picked to pitch on opening day for the AL champion Kansas City Royals against the Chicago White Sox. The 23-year-old right-hander went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA as a rookie last season and tossed seven scoreless innings to beat San Francisco in Game 6 of the World Series. The announcement was made by Royals manager Ned Yost on Wednesday. Yost says left-hander Danny Duffy and right-hander Edinson Volquez will follow Ventura in the rotation during the season-opening series against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Duffy was 9-12 with a 2.53 ERA last season. Kansas City signed Volquez to a two-year contract in December after he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA last season for Pittsburgh.