Headlines for Friday, May 22, 2015
Kansas Senate Leaders Cancel Debate on Tax Increases
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate have cancelled a debate over raising taxes to close a state budget shortfall. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce other top Republicans said they did not expected any bill to pass Thursday. But Bruce said GOP leaders were canceling the debate because proposed amendments to the bill weren't ready. The bill would increase the state's sales, cigarette and gasoline taxes to help fill a projected $406 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. The measure also would suspend an income tax exemption for more than 330,000 business owners and farmers for two years. The exemption would be replaced with a less lucrative tax credit against businesses' payrolls.
Kansas House Gives Secretary of State Increased Power over Election Fraud
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill that would give Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach the power to prosecute election fraud. The chamber's 67-55 vote Thursday sends the measure to Governor Sam Brownback. Kobach has sought prosecutorial authority on election fraud cases since taking office in 2011. The bill would also stiffen penalties for election fraud crimes. Several lawmakers have questioned the necessity of the bill, saying there are relatively few recorded instances of election fraud. Others expressed concern that Kobach might bring charges when prosecutors believed people did not intentionally break the law.
Kansas House Approves Multiple Election Changes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a measure that would move local elections to the fall in odd-numbered years. The chamber voted 64-58 Thursday to send the bill to the governor. Supporters say the move would boost voter turnout because people are used to voting in the fall. Critics say it would force elected school board members to take office in the middle of fiscal years, which could disrupt the budgeting process. The measure also would cancel the state's presidential primaries. Legislators have canceled the past five primaries because of their cost, opting for caucuses funded by the Republican and Democratic parties. The bill also would bar general election candidates from dropping out of a race unless experiencing "severe medical hardship."
Kansas Lawmakers Negotiate Agreement on State University Tuition
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators for the Kansas House and Senate have agreed on a bill that would limit increases in tuition at state universities. The plan would keep spending on the state's higher education system flat during the next fiscal year, avoiding reductions even with a projected budget shortfall. The budget agreement would prohibit the state Board of Regents from increasing tuition at state universities more than 2 percentage points above inflation as measured by the consumer price index. The figure would have been 2.8 percent for 2014.
Emergency Room at Topeka VA Hospital Could Reopen Soon
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An emergency room at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Topeka might be reopening soon. William Patterson, a regional Veterans Affairs director, told two Kansas members of Congress this week that the emergency room at Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center is expected to reopen by the end of this month. The emergency room was closed in January 2014 because of understaffing problems. Jim Gleisberg, spokesman for the VA Eastern Kansas Healthcare System, said Colmery-O'Neil officials haven't set an exact date for reopening but it's getting close. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Senator Jerry Moran and Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins will tour Colmery-O'Neil Tuesday to meet with director Rudy Klopfer, visit with patients and get an update on the emergency room.
Missouri Man Sentenced to 56 Years for Dog Expert's Slaying
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 52-year-old Missouri man is sentenced to more than 55 years for bludgeoning to death a well-known Kansas dog breeder whose body was found several days after he was killed. Darrell Lee Broxton of Kansas City, Missouri, was sentenced in Wyandotte County District Court on Friday to nearly 56 years in prison for the December 2012 slaying of Peter Belmont. The 69-year-old victim was killed in his Kansas City, Kansas, home. The retired high school art teacher was nationally known for breeding, raising and showing Afghan hound dogs. Broxton was convicted in February of intentional second-degree murder, burglary and two counts of theft. Jurors were shown evidence that Broxton was investigated for a similar homicide in 1996 in Ocala, Florida. Broxton had been paroled in May 2012 after serving time for burglary.
Kansas Senate Approves Bill to Strengthen 'Webcam' Abortion Ban
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill aimed at allowing the state to enforce a ban on what critics call "webcam" abortions. The option allows women to talk with a doctor through an Internet video connection and be prescribed abortion inducing drugs. The procedure can only used by women who are no more than nine weeks into their pregnancy. The Kansas law would require a doctor who provides an abortion-inducing drug to be present in the room when a patient takes the drug. The state hasn't been able to enforce the 2011 law because two abortion providers filed a lawsuit against it. The new bill makes technical changes in the law that legislators say will make it easier to enforce. The Senate's unanimous vote sends the measure to the House.
Westar Energy Rates Increase to Cover Environmental Costs
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Westar Energy plans to increase its rates starting in June to cover the costs of its environmental projects. The Kansas Corporation Commission on Thursday approved a $10.8 million increase in Westar's environmental cost recovery rider, for a total of about $68.6 million. The increase will cost the average customer about an extra $4.07 a year. The increases are for environmental upgrades at Jeffrey Energy Center, Lawrence Energy Center, Tecumseh Energy Center and Gordon Evans Energy Center, a natural gas plant near Colwich. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports tariffs are approved with a simplified process that doesn't require the public hearings involved in a general rate increase. No groups opposed the tariff amount.
Kansas House Balks at Alternative to Foster Care
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas House members are uneasy about a proposal to allow parents to temporarily give up custody of their children to others as an alternative to putting the youngsters into foster homes overseen by the state. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the proposal emerged from negotiations between the House and Senate. But the House rejected the measure and its move forces additional negotiations if a bill is to pass this year. Supporters said the bill would set up a less expensive alternative to foster care by allowing parents to designate someone they trust to care for their children for up to a year. But critics said the system would be unregulated and the risk of troubled parents giving custody to irresponsible adults would be too high.
New Wichita Airport Terminal to Open Next Month
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A new terminal at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport will open June 3. City and airport officials announced Thursday that the first flight will leave from the new $160 million terminal early on June 3, and the first plane is scheduled to arrive later that morning. A $40 million parking garage with 1,200 stalls will open May 27, as will a rental car center. Construction of the new terminal and parking garage was funded through federal grants and surplus airport revenue and fees and did not involve any local tax money.
Haskell Indian Nations University Halting Football for 2015
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Haskell Indian Nations University is suspending its football program for 2015 because of a lack of funds. The Lawrence-based school made the announcement Thursday. The university's President Venida Chenault announced the cost-cutting move at a meeting of summer students, faculty and staff. Haskell officials said last month that many of the university's athletics teams would start competing independently after the dissolution of the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference. The university's football team competed as an NAIA independent school and finished last season with a 0-9 record.