Headlines for Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Kansas Senate Committee Advances Plan for Increasing Taxes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has advanced a plan to increase a variety of taxes to close a projected state budget shortfall. The Assessment and Taxation Committee voted 6-4 on Tuesday to send the plan to the Senate without recommending its passage. The plan would raise $496 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Senate could debate the plan Thursday. Legislators must close a projected budget shortfall of $406 million for the next fiscal year. The plan would increase the sales tax to 6.5 percent from 6.15 percent but drop the rate on food to 6 percent. It would repeal a 2012 policy that exempted the profits of more than 330,000 business owners and farmers from income taxes. The plan also would raise tobacco and gasoline taxes.
Key Kansas Lawmakers See Only Small Changes for Budget Plans
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The chairmen of the Kansas House and Senate budget committees don't expect lawmakers to rethink the spending recommendations they've been developing. Republican Senator Ty Masterson of Andover and GOP Representative Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe said Tuesday that they believe most details have been settled for the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislative researchers estimate that House and Senate budget negotiators are on track to draft a budget that requires about $6.4 billion in state tax revenues. Spending financed with those tax dollars would grow about 3 percent. Lawmakers then would have to raise taxes $406 million to balance the budget. Masterson said budget negotiators may trim their spending proposals between $20 million and $30 million. Ryckman said he sees only minor tweaks coming.
Kansas House Approves Regulatory Compromise with Uber
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a compromise on regulations that ride-hailing company Uber says will allow it to stay in the state. The Senate passed the legislation 37-0 on Tuesday after the House approved it 119-3 earlier in the day. Uber announced in early May that it had ceased operations in Kansas after the Legislature overrode the governor's veto on regulations the company opposed. Under the new measure, Uber and other ride-hailing companies could do private background checks on their subcontracted drivers under the bill. But they could face lawsuits from the attorney general if drivers were found to be operating with a criminal background. The compromise will now go to the governor. Republican state Senator Jeff Longbine says he believes the governor will sign it.
Brownback Signs Bill Asserting Legality of Fantasy Sports
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill clarifying the legality of fantasy leagues. Brownback's office announced he signed the bill into law Tuesday, along with seven other measures. The legality of fantasy sports leagues has been in dispute because the Kansas Constitution allows only the state to administer games fitting a broad definition of a lottery. The state's gambling regulator announced in August that it viewed fantasy sports as illegal lotteries, though there have been no known prosecutions. Attorney General Derek Schmidt released an opinion in April saying legislators could legalize fantasy sports leagues by declaring that the outcomes depend upon the knowledge and skill of the players. The bill passed with large majorities in each chamber.
Kansas Assumes Control of Nursing Home Due to Operator Insolvency
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state has temporarily taken over a Topeka nursing home after its owners couldn't make payroll and no one else stepped forward to run it. Officials with the Kansas Department on Aging and Disability Services met Monday with residents of the Washburn Community Care Center and their families. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the 26 residents have 60 days to relocate. Agency official Joe Ewert said the state intervened after the operator, Deseret Health Group, said it was financially insolvent and couldn't make payroll. He said a new operator agreed to take over a Deseret facility in Wichita. Attempts to reach officials at the company's Utah headquarters were unsuccessful Tuesday. Telephone calls went unanswered. Besides the Utah and Kansas facilities, Deseret also operated in Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Kansas Governor, Leaders Meet Amid Work on Tax Proposals
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has met with top GOP leaders as the Kansas Legislature continues its discussions about raising taxes to erase a state budget shortfall. Brownback had a private session Tuesday morning with Senate President Susan Wagle, House Speaker Ray Merrick and the majority leaders in both chambers. Their gathering came before the Senate tax committee convened to discuss revenue-raising proposals. The House Taxation Committee also had a hearing on a bill to narrow a tax break for business owners and farmers enacted in 2012. Brownback championed the policy as an economic stimulus. Brownback and lawmakers must close a budget shortfall projected at $406 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Tuesday was the 93rd day of the Legislature's annual session, three more than leaders traditionally schedule.
Kansas Attorney General Appoints New Civil Litigation Chief
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has picked a former state Bar Association president to lead the division in Schmidt's office that handles civil lawsuits. Schmidt announced Monday that Dennis Depew has been appointed deputy attorney general. Depew is from Neodesha in southeast Kansas and has had a private law practice for more than 30 years. He served as the Kansas Bar Association's president in 2013 and 2014. He also serves on Neodesha's board of education. He was a member of the board from 1985 to 1999 and was re-elected again in 2009. The division Depew leads is the principal defender for the state, its agencies or its employees when they are sued. Depew replaces Jeff Chanay, who was promoted last year to chief deputy attorney general.
Kansas Senate Bill Threatens Funding for Biosciences Agency
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas agency that nurtures biosciences companies would be abolished under a bill being considered by a legislative panel. The Senate Ways and Means Committee had a hearing Monday on a bill to transfer the Kansas Bioscience Authority's functions to the state Department of Commerce. The authority distributes research grants and invests in Kansas-based life startup companies. The governor has recommended providing $13 million for the bioscience agency and other related research initiatives for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Former state Budget Director Steve Anderson testified in favor of the bill and said the state should not compete with private investors. The executives of several companies that have received funding from the authority testified against the bill. They said it would force some tech startups to leave the state.
Kansas Governor Signs Bill Overhauling Unemployment Program
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is setting a new cap on benefits for unemployed workers and overhauling the collection of taxes from businesses to finance the aid. Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill making the changes during a Statehouse ceremony Monday. Lawmakers approved the measure late last month. The new law will take effect July 1. The maximum weekly benefit for workers will drop from 60 percent to 55 percent of the state's average wage. The new law also is designed to make the taxes paid by businesses more predictable by setting fixed rates. The state previously set rates annually based on what it thought was needed to finance benefits.
Kansas Governor Says Using Private Email, Cell is Simpler
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says he has been using private email and cell phones for official business since he was a U.S. senator. Brownback said during a news conference Monday that he began the practice while serving in the U.S. Senate from 1996 through 2010. He said there were situations where it was unclear whether the communication was private or official. The disclosure that the governor uses private phones and email has raised concerns because documents related to them aren't accessible under the Kansas Open Records Act. Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt recently recommended that lawmakers fix the private email loophole in the records law. Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita called the practice indefensible.
State Finance Council Gives 3 Kansas School Districts Extra Funds
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders have approved a total of nearly $302,000 in extra funding for three public school districts. Brownback and eight top lawmakers met Monday as the State Finance Council to review requests under a new school funding law. The council approved $134,000 for the Garden City district to cover a decline in tax revenues after a drop in property values. The council provided $139,000 to the Mulvane district south of Wichita for the same reason. The council also approved $28,000 in additional funding for the Twin Valley school district in Ottawa County. The money is earmarked to cover unexpected repairs. Under the law that took effect last month, districts submit requests to the Financial Council for extra funds to cover any unexpected expenses or shortages.
Bill for Helping KCK Racing Park Stalls in Kansas House
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill designed to revive a dog and horse racing park in Kansas City, Kansas, with slot machines has stalled in the Kansas House. Speaker Ray Merrick assigned the measure to the House Calendar and Printing Committee after the Senate approved it last week. Committee Chairman and House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey said Tuesday that he's not sure the panel will meet again this year. The bill would help The Woodlands in Kansas City, Kansas. It closed in 2008. A 2007 law allowed slots at dog and horse tracks but said the state would claim 40 percent of the net revenues. Track owners have said the state's share is too high for slots to be profitable. The bill would decrease the state's share to 22 percent for The Woodlands.
Heartland Park Pedestrian Bridge Collapses
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A pedestrian bridge at a Topeka race track has collapsed as a dump truck loaded with dirt crossed it. The Topeka Capital-Journal says that no injuries were reported Tuesday morning after the city-owned truck fell 15 feet and landed on its back end. City spokeswoman Aly Van Dyke says the driver indicated he had been told he could use the bridge. A small sign on the bridge says no vehicles larger than golf carts or quads are allowed. The collapse occurred as many workers were at the track preparing for the NHRA Mello Yello drag racing event to start Friday. City workers had been working on fire hydrants. Plans are being made for a contractor to evaluate the damaged bridge and another smaller bridge at the track for safety.
Man Who Escaped from Kansas Police Custody Found in Missouri
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man who escaped from custody in Kansas City, Kansas, last week has been found. Police Chief Terry Zeigler says 29-year-old Ted W. Taylor was found in Kansas City, Missouri. KCTV-TV reports he was charged with felony possession of a firearm and criminal discharge of a firearm on May 9. Taylor, who was in the custody of the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office, was checked out by the police department in Kansas City, Kansas, so that he could help them with an unrelated investigation. He escaped while in their custody. According to Zeigler, Taylor was not handcuffed at the time because he was cooperative with detectives while being interviewed.
Groups Host Event Aiming to Help Children Dealing with Loss
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Three Kansas organizations are joining forces to help children who are dealing with a loss in their lives. Hospice and Homecare of Reno County, Horizons Mental Health Center and Reins of Hope are hosting the annual "Kids Kamp" next month. The event is free and open to any child age 6 to 17 who has experienced a loss. The sessions will be held on four consecutive Thursday mornings on June 4, 11, 18 and 25. Each three-hour-long session begins at 8:30 am. Hutchinson Regional Medical Center said in a news release Monday that space is limited and advanced registration is required to attend.
Police: 17-Year-Old Robbed While Trying to Buy Puppy
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 17-year-old Wichita boy has been robbed while trying to buy a pit bull puppy. Local media outlets report the victim told police that he requested information about pit bull puppies on Facebook. Lieutenant James Espinoza said someone the victim knew responded and gave him an address for where a transaction would happen. Espinoza said the victim went to the location Monday morning, where two people told him to go to the back of the house. Once there, the suspects pulled out a gun and took the $150 the victim had brought to buy the puppy, as well as his shoes and a chain necklace. The victim left the area uninjured. According to Espinoza, the suspects may be people the victim knows from school.
Report: Widespread Rains Boost Kansas Wheat Crops
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The latest government snapshot of Kansas crops shows an improving winter wheat crop amid widespread rains. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 30 percent of the crop was still in poor to very poor condition, a slight improvement compared to a week ago. About 41 percent of the wheat is reported in fair condition, with 27 percent rated as good and 2 percent as excellent. About 86 percent of the state's winter wheat crop has headed and 5 percent has colored. Kansas growers have now planted about 78 percent of their corn crops and 17 percent of their soybeans. Sorghum planting trails at 6 percent. About 1 percent of the sunflowers have also been planted.
Judge Sets Hearing in Boeing Retirement Settlement Case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A federal judge has set a hearing over a proposed $90 million settlement in the lawsuit by former Boeing workers over retirement plan benefits after the sale of the company's Wichita operations. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Monday scheduled the fairness hearing for August 19 in federal court in Wichita. The class-action lawsuit covers former Boeing workers who were participants in the company's retirement plan in June 2005. The settlement covers Boeing workers who had at least 10 years of vested service and were between the ages of 49 and 55 at the time they went to work at Spirit AeroSystems or its predecessor Mid-Western Aircraft systems. Belot preliminarily approved the settlement last week. The hearing in August will help determine whether the court gives it final approval.
Advocacy Group Says Kansas City Has 1,324 Untested Rape Kits
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A national rape victim advocacy group says Kansas City has 1,324 untested rape kits. The nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation released information Tuesday about testing backlogs in five cities. It says it hopes the cities will "take aggressive and comprehensive steps toward rape kit reform." Kansas City police said in a written statement that priority is given to testing the kits of people who want their cases prosecuted. The statement says around half of the untested kits belong to people who aren't ready to go to court, although police hang onto the evidence in case the reluctant victims change their minds. Police say other reasons for not testing evidence include when prosecutors decide charges aren't warranted, the suspect agrees to enter a plea or the assault occurred outside the city's jurisdiction.
Salina Commission Gives Preliminary Approval for Downtown Project
SALINA, Kan. (AP) - The Salina City Commission has approved the first step in a process that could lead to a multi-million dollar overhaul of the city's downtown area. The commission on Monday approved using both sales tax revenue, or STAR bonds, and tax increment financing districts to help pay for the improvements. Deputy City Manager Mike Schrage says the proposed project is a long process and the commission's approval is was necessary before several other steps could be taken. The Salina Journal reports the preliminary plans for the project include a field house, an apartment complex, a family entertainment center, two museums, a hotel and room for several retail and entertainment venues. The project would cost an estimated $122 million and could create nearly 840 jobs.
Rafael Furcal Retires After 14 Major League Seasons
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former National League Rookie of the Year Rafael Furcal is retiring after 14 major league seasons. The 37-year-old signed a minor league contract with Kansas City during spring training, and the Royals placed him on the voluntary retired list Tuesday. He hit .240 with one double in 25 at-bats for Class A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. "To play in the major leagues for 14 seasons was a dream come true," Furcal said in a statement. "I love the game, but at this point, I don't feel like I can play up to my standards anymore and want to spend more time with my beautiful family." A three-time All-Star who won a World Series title with St. Louis in 2011, the 37-year-old shortstop hit .281 with 311 doubles, 113 homers and 314 steals for Atlanta (2000-05), the Los Angeles Dodgers (2006-11), the Cardinals (2011-12) and Miami (2014). He won the rookie award with the Braves in 2000. An All-Star in 2012, Furcal missed the 2013 season after right elbow ligament-replacement surgery that March. He appeared in nine big league games last year, leaving what turned out to be his finale on June 21 after injuring his left hamstring.