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Headlines for Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Kansas Senate Rejects Plan to Raise Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a bill for raising taxes to close a projected state budget shortfall. Senate President Susan Wagle said after the chamber's action Wednesday that legislators will need to trim additional spending from the budget. The Senate voted 30-1 against giving the bill first-round approval after members spent hours whittling it down. The measure would have raised sales, tobacco and gasoline taxes. It also would have suspended a tax break enacted in 2012 for business owners and farmers as an economic stimulus. The bill initially would have raised $496 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1, more than enough to erase the budget shortfall. But after debate of the bill, the measure would have raised only about $350 million.


Kansas House Panel Advances Plan to Raise Taxes, Fix Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee has advanced a plan for balancing the state budget that increases the sales tax and reverses one of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's key economic policies.  The Taxation Committee voted 8-6 Tuesday to send a bill to the House for debate. The bill would narrow a tax break enacted in 2012 at Brownback's urging. The state exempted the profits of more than 330,000 business owners and farmers from income taxes. The committee's plan would raise $101 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1 by taxing those profits again. The plan also would boost the sales tax to 6.45 percent from 6.15 percent.  Lawmakers must close a projected $406 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. 


Kansas Senate Approves Proposal to Lower Sales Tax on Food 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a proposal from its top Democrat to decrease the state's sales tax on food to 5.7 percent from 6.15 percent. Senate Minority Leader and Topeka Democrat Anthony Hensley offered the proposal Wednesday during a debate on a plan for raising taxes to close a projected $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Senate approved Hensley's amendment 27-10 before continuing debate on the plan. The plan was advanced by Republicans and would increase the sales tax on most items to 6.5 percent from 6.15 percent. Critics say the move would hurt poor families, so GOP senators proposed dropping the rate on food to 6 percent. Hensley's deeper cut saves consumers an additional $27 million in the next fiscal year.


Kansas House Approves Revision of Land Annexation Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators have given final approval to a bill that would require cities and towns to get approval from counties before annexing land in some cases. The House approved the measure on a 106-7 vote Tuesday. The Senate approved the measure last week, and it goes next to Governor Sam Brownback for his possible signature. County commissioners would have to approve any proposed annexations by cities when the property is not adjacent to the city's existing territory. Republican Representative Steve Huebert of Valley Center said the bill would put the nail in the coffin of some disputed land annexations in the state. An earlier version of the bill was rejected by the House because of changes that would have required counties to approve all proposed annexations.


Brownback Examining Possible Worker Furloughs Amid Budget Row

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback's office is looking at perhaps furloughing state workers if the Legislature does not pass a balanced budget in the coming weeks. Brownback's spokeswoman, Sara Belfry, said Wednesday that the office is working to determine when it would have to inform state workers they would be furloughed if a budget is not passed on time. Legislative researchers say that the state is legally obligated to approve a budget by June 7, but salary payments would not necessarily be disrupted if it comes later in the month. Kansas faces a $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and lawmakers have not agreed on a means to fill it. The Legislature already is in overtime on its 90-day session. Wednesday was its 97th day.


Kansas Senate Rejects Changes in How State Taxes Vehicles

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposal that would overhaul how the state taxes cars, pickups and SUVs. Senators voted 27-5 on Wednesday to strip the proposal from a plan for raising taxes to close a projected $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The proposal was included in the plan by the Senate tax committee at the urging of Chairman and Wichita Republican Les Donovan. He is a car dealer. The proposal lowers the property taxes collect annually on vehicles by changing how they're valued. Critics said the proposal would reduce revenues for local governments. The state also collects its 6.15 percent sales tax each time a vehicle is sold. Donovan contends the property tax decreases would encourage extra sales, boosting revenues.


Groundbreaking Held for NBAF 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Nearly seven years after Manhattan, Kansas, was chosen as the site for a national research center focusing on deadly animal diseases, federal and state officials were helping break ground Wednesday on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. The price tag for the plant on the Kansas State University campus initially was estimated to be $451 million when it was awarded to Manhattan in late 2008. It has since ballooned to $1.2 billion, which federal officials have attributed to changes in the lab's design to mitigate the possibility of a release of deadly pathogen. The center also weathered a financial crisis in which opponents called for funding to be cut after a federal report questioned the wisdom of constructing such a laboratory in Tornado Alley.


Westar Plans to Buy Wind Power from New Kansas Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Westar Energy says it plans to buy energy from a new wind farm to be built in Pratt County. The utility company announced Tuesday that it will buy the electricity generated at a a 200-megawatt facility built by an affiliate of NextEra Energy Resources. The Ninnescah wind farm is expected to be  operational by late 2016. The company said in a news release that the new wind energy purchase will increase Westar's renewable energy commitment to nearly 1,300 megawatts. The project is expected to create about $300 million in capital investment and about 200 temporary construction jobs.


Lawrence Pet Store Owners Vow to Rebuild After Fire 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The owners of a Lawrence pet store are vowing to rebuild it following a fire that killed an undisclosed number of animals and injured dozens more. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that fire department officials say they have yet to determine a cause in the Monday fire, which remains under investigation. Co-owner Sherry Emerson said in a statement posted on the business's website that the blaze broke out in the store's backroom, likely near the electrical panels. She said she would "not be announcing a death toll any time soon." While many fish, reptiles and arachnids survived the fire, Emerson said a number of mammals and birds died from the fumes. Snakes that died were removed from the store and will be buried.


Texas Woman Sentenced for Adoption Fraud 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Texas woman was sentenced to five years in federal prison for defrauding a Kansas couple in an adoption scheme. Thirty-five-year-old Chrystal Marie Rippey, of Marshall, Texas, was sentenced Tuesday for two counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors say Rippey admitted that she took $22,225 from a Shawnee, Kansas, couple who believed she was pregnant with twins and who wanted to adopt the children. The money was intended to pay for Rippey's living expenses. Prosecutors say the transactions were based on Rippey's false statements that she was pregnant and wanted to put her twins up for adoption.


Kansas Man Rescued After Trench Collapse 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man has been rescued after becoming trapped when a trench collapsed on him in Kansas City, Kansas. Kansas City media outlets report that wet soil caved in on the man while he was remodeling his home Tuesday. According to the man's son, he was buried up to his chest. Firefighters had to use a harness and rope to pull the man to safety. Fire department deputy chief Craig Duke said the man was trapped and compressed for so long, they were worried about circulation issues. Once the man was freed, he was transported to the University of Kansas Hospital for treatment.


Baby in Protective Custody After Unconscious Women Discovered

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A baby has been placed in protective custody after Wichita police say two women were found passed out in a home. KAKE-TV reports a 62-year-old man came home after work Monday afternoon and heard a baby crying in the living room. Wichita police say the man found two women, who live at the residence, unconscious. Police say two women...one 21 years old and another age 45... were taken to a local hospital for observation. According to police, the 21-year-old is the 7-month-old baby's mother. An investigation is ongoing.


Kansas Marijuana Bill Hits Roadblock in State Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill that would ease many of Kansas's marijuana laws has stalled in the Senate and likely won't be considered again this year.  Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said Tuesday the bill needs time for careful consideration and the chamber is currently attempting to wind down the session and focus on the state budget. The bill would decrease penalties for marijuana possession, order a study of industrial hemp production and allow limited sale of hemp oil to treat seizures. It passed the House in a surprise vote earlier this month and represents the most serious push in decades to liberalize Kansas's marijuana policies. Bruce says the Senate will seek to separate the different portions of the bill next year and discuss them individually. 


Kansas Agency Plans to Change Vehicle Renewal Notices 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Revenue is planning to change the way it notifies residents that they need to renew their vehicle tags. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the department wants to replace 2.6 million personalized vehicle renewal letters sent annually to residents with a generic postcard reminder. Revenue department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda says the move is aimed at saving money. The letter-to-postcard swap is expected to save the state around $500,000. The department is leaving it up to counties to absorb the cost if they want to continue the previous method of printing and mailing the letters.


Olathe Girl in National Spelling Bee for 5th Time

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Thirteen-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe is participating in the National Spelling Bee for the fifth and final time. Her sister Kavya won the event in 2009. The spellers will get their first crack at the national stage Wednesday. The semifinals and finals are Thursday. The Spelling Bee has a new component this year -- a test that examines comprehension and vocabulary skill.  Shivashankar says she misses the simplicity of the old format. Now, there are two semifinal rounds, and test scores determine who makes it to the finals. Vanya was eliminated at that stage last year. But this year, for the first time, the test scores will be announced, and spellers in the semifinals will know where they stand.


Yankees Beat Royals 5-1

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals 5-1 Tuesday night.  Yankees' pitcher Adam Warren (3-3) was perfect until the Royals' Mike Moustakas hit to right-center field with one out in the fourth. The only other hit Warren allowed was Paulo Orlando's homer in the sixth. While the loss marked the first three-game skid this season for the AL champion  Royals, New York won consecutive games for the first time since May 10-11.


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