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Headlines for Friday, May 29, 2015


Kansas Governor Cancels Event for Announcing New Tax Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has cancelled a news conference he called to outline a new proposal for raising taxes to close a projected budget shortfall. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor was instead meeting with legislative leaders Friday evening. Republicans who control the Legislature have been divided over how to raise new revenues to erase the $406 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. They are considering increasing sales, tobacco and business taxes but can't agree on specific proposals. The Republican governor called a news conference for Friday evening but canceled it less than 40 minutes later, just before the event was to start. The state's budget problems arose after lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging as an economic stimulus.


Kansas Collects $6M Less in Taxes than Anticipated in May

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has collected $6 million less in taxes this month than anticipated, and disappointing sales tax collections are a key reason. The state Department of Revenue reported Friday that the state took in $536 million in taxes during May, when the official forecast predicted $542 million. The shortfall was 1.1 percent. Since the fiscal year began in July 2014, state tax collections have fallen short of the official prediction of $5 billion by about $10 million, or 0.2 percent. Sales tax collections in May were $175 million, or about $8 million less than expected. The shortfall was about 4.3 percent. But personal income tax collections exceeded expectations by about $12 million for the month. They were $278 million, about 4.6 percent more than the predicted $266 million.


Kansas House Approves Stripped Tax Bill to Speed Work on Plan


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has passed a stripped-down tax bill without debate to speed up work by lawmakers on a final plan for raising new revenues to close a budget shortfall. The bill approved on a 64-54 vote Friday would create a six-week amnesty program to encourage individuals and businesses to pay back taxes and settle tax disputes with the state. The $30 million expected from the program is far short of the projected $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the bill's contents weren't the point for Republican controlling the chamber. The vote would allow negotiations between the House and Senate on the final version of a tax plan. Lawmakers still will consider raising sales, tobacco and business taxes to fill the budget hole.


Key Kansas Lawmaker Denies Being Absent Due to Vacation 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A key Kansas lawmaker who has been criticized for his weeklong absence says he was away on family business and was not paid during that time. Republican Senator Ty Masterson from Andover said he was in Texas on family business and declined to give specifics for privacy reasons. Friday was the 99th day of the legislative session, which traditionally span 90 days or less each year. Lawmakers have been in a deadlock attempting to fill an estimated $406 million budget shortfall with tax increases. Masterson is chairman of the Senate budget committee and was rumored to be on vacation over the past week while receiving overtime pay. Administrative staff confirmed that he waived his pay, but the paperwork had not been processed due to the lack of a signature.


Kansas House Approves Changes to State's Liquor Laws 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a measure that would allow alcohol at state events at the Capitol and adjusts a number of liquor permit processes. The chamber voted 90-30 Friday to approve the bill, which also would allow patrons of art galleries to bring their own bottles of wine to painting sessions. Alcoholic beverages could also be consumed at farmers markets, state fairs and catered events on public property. It also would allow alcohol distributors to provide samples and let vineyards sell wine on their property. Republican Representative Joseph Scapa of Wichita said he opposed the bill because he believed some of its provisions could lead to an increase in underage drinking. The Senate approved the bill Thursday and it now goes to the governor.


Kansas Governor Urges Caution Amid Southeast Kansas Flooding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is warning people in southeast Kansas to be careful not to be caught in flood waters. Brownback said at a press conference Friday that several reservoirs in that part of the state are at flood stages and there is already flooding in low-lying areas. He urged caution, emphasizing that the situation could get worse with more rain expected. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared storms across the border in Oklahoma to be a major disaster. Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli said the state is still assessing the damage and attempting to project the impact of additional rains. He said state officials are coordinating with federal authorities and may seek federal assistance over the next two to three weeks.


Kansas Governor Signs Bill Giving Veterans In-State Tuition 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill that would give in-state tuition to all veterans, active duty members of the U.S. military and their families. Brownback signed the bill Friday and said it would help recognize the importance of their service. The measure also would allow employers to show a preference toward qualified veterans when hiring and would protect the jobs of military members that are temporarily called to active duty. Brownback said the reforms could help persuade the Pentagon to not reduce troop levels at Fort Riley in Junction City as a part of an across-the-board downsizing. The Army plans to downsize personnel from a war-time high of 570,000 to 450,000 at the end of 2017. Fort Riley employs about 25,000 military and civilian workers.


Kansas Governor Signs Bill on Work After Retirement 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill that rewrites the rules for teachers, school administrators and other public employees who return to work after retiring. The governor signed the bill Friday and said at a news conference that it would strengthen the pension system. Public employees currently are allowed to retire but return to work and earn up to $20,000 a year while drawing their pension benefits. Schools regularly use the program for hard-to-fill positions. The program expires at the end of June. The bill would make changes to the program after extending it for a year. The changes are designed to prevent workers and employers from setting up post-retirement jobs before a worker retires. Also, workers would be allowed to earn $25,000 in their post-retirement jobs.


Brownback Signs Bill on Emissions Reduction Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill that would require Kansas legislators to sign off on any plan for reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Brownback signed the bill Thursday flanked by administration and legislation officials concerned with energy and environment. The bill is a response to a new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing power plants' greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. States that don't submit a plan to the EPA will have a federal plan imposed upon them. The measure authorizes the state's health and environment secretary to draft a plan for reducing such emissions, and an 11-member legislative committee would have to approve the plan before the state could submit it to the EPA.


Kansas Governor Signs Deal on Renewable Energy Mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a compromise between the wind energy industry and critics of the state's green energy mandate. The deal signed Thursday would remove a requirement that renewable resources account for 20 percent of utilities' capacity to generate electricity by 2020. Green energy companies agreed to let the mandate become a nonbinding goal. Legislators in return dropped a proposal to impose a 4.33 percent tax on the electricity generated from renewable resources. The agreement also would give all new green energy projects tax-free status for their first 10 years and require them to pay commercial property taxes thereafter. Renewable power plants are currently given a lifetime exemption from property taxes. 


Topeka Inmate Files $2M Lawsuit over Jail Injuries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas man has filed a $2 million lawsuit against the Shawnee County Jail claiming it failed to provide proper medical attention for a broken bone in his foot and subsequent head injury. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports 34-year-old Junction City resident Jason Dixon filed the lawsuit in a handwritten petition May 13. Dixon is being held on a federal hold order and pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine. Dixon says he broke the bone while playing basketball in plastic flip-flops after being stepped on by another inmate, then later hit his head when he fell trying to get to his cell's emergency button. Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert says his office hasn't been served with the lawsuit.


Man Charged in Lawrence Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A 33-year-old man is charged with second-degree murder and felony theft in the death of a Lawrence man who was found bleeding outside a fast-food restaurant on Memorial Day. Joshua Lee Back of Oskaloosa was charged Thursday in stabbing death of 45-year-old Tracy Dean Lautenschlager. Court documents indicate Back stole a truck from a woman who lived at the home where police believe the stabbing occurred. 6NewsLawrence reports police went to a Lawrence McDonald's Monday after someone reported seeing a man bleeding outside the restaurant. Lautenschlager died later at a hospital. Back was arrested near Basehor Wednesday after a police chase. His bond was set at $750,000 and his next court appearance is June 24.


66-Year-Old Kansas Man Dies After Report of Smoke at Home 

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A 66-year-old Emporia man is dead after firefighters found his body inside his smoke-filled home. The Emporia Gazette reports firefighters were called to the Emporia home just before 4:30 am Thursday on a report of smoke coming from the building's attick. A neighbor told emergency responders he thought the man was still inside the home but would not come out. The victim is identified as Roger Fowler. An Emporia Fire Department spokesman says foul play was not suspected.


Olathe Teen Ties for 1st Place in National Spelling Bee 

OXON HILL, Maryland (AP) — The National Spelling Bee ended in a tie for a second straight year Thursday night when Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas and and Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, were named co-champions. The spelling bee hadn't ended in a tie for 52 years — until last year. Now it's happened for an unprecedented two years running. The 13-year-old Vanya of Kansas is the first sibling of a past champion to win. Her sister, Kavya, won in 2009. Vanya's final word was "scherenschnitte," which means the art of cutting paper into decorative designs. 14-year-old Gokul was named the co-champion after he correctly spelled "nunatak." It means a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice. Vanya and Gokul each will receive more than $37,000 in cash and prizes. 


Oklahoma Police Officer Shot; Injuries Not Life-Threatening 

Investigators say an Oklahoma police officer who was shot in the head during a traffic chase sustained injuries that aren't life-threatening. Authorities say three men shot the Oologah police officer during a Thursday night chase that began in Rogers County, Oklahoma, and ended in Kansas. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said Friday that the officer, who has not been identified, was transported by medical helicopter to a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he is recovering from his wounds. The incident began when the officer tried to stop an SUV. Investigators say that during the chase, someone inside the SUV shot at the officer. Police arrested two suspects — 23-year-old Cesar Rios and 20-year-old Roxanna Mendoza — Thursday night in South Coffeyville, Oklahoma, which is just south of the Kansas border. Authorities say a third suspect, Alejandro Garcia, was captured Friday near Liberty, Kansas.


Floodgates on HorseThief Reservoir Dam Open Following Heavy Rain 

JETMORE, Kan. (AP) — Heavy rains this week have caused officials to open the floodgates on the HorseThief Reservoir dam in southwest Kansas for the first time since it was built in 2009. Manager Joshua Hobbstells The Hutchinson News that there's concern some campsites around the 450-acre lake may be flooded with the weather forecast calling for more rain. Hobbs says the lake is nearly full since torrential rains pushed the water level up some 11 feet. He says they received reports of up to 10 inches of rain at locations within the watershed. Around six campers were in the park on Thursday, and some were debating leaving, but all the cabins in the park remained rented for the weekend.


9 States Back Utah Ruling Tossing Federal Prairie Dog Rules 

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nine states are stepping into a lawsuit over the Utah prairie dog in favor of a ruling that animal activists say threatens to undermine the Endangered Species Act. The attorneys general asked an appeals court on Thursday to uphold a ruling striking down federal protections for the Utah prairie dog on private property. They argue states should manage animals that live only within their borders. But federal attorneys counter that most protected species live only in a single state and courts have long upheld federal authority to manage them. They are appealing a ruling from U.S. District Judge Dee Benson, who sided with Utah residents who said prairie dogs were overtaking their town. Thursday's friend-of-the-court brief was signed by attorneys general from Utah, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.


Kansas Man Sentenced for Deadly Crash 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 28-year-old Kansas man has been sentenced to more than 20 years in the death of an 8-year-old girl who was killed when he crashed into her minivan while fleeing from police. Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman says Tyrone Murphy Jr. was sentenced Friday to 251 months. He pleaded no contest in February to one count of intentional second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery. Prosecutors say Murphy fled from a traffic stop in April 2014, ran a red light and struck the minivan of a family coming home from church. The crash killed Jasmine Rodriguez, who had just given her first confession. Toxicology tests showed Murphy had cocaine, marijuana and alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. He was initially charged with first-degree murder.


Topeka Zoo Makes Youngest Bears Available for Public View 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — For the first time, the Topeka Zoo has made its youngest bears available to the public for viewing. Topeka media outlets report Valor and Independence were out for public viewing Thursday in the Hill's American Black Bear Woods exhibit. Zoo director Brendan Wiley said they had the opportunity to be acclimated to the exhibit space on Tuesday and Wednesday. Independence, nicknamed "Indie," arrived at the zoo last May from Oregon. Valor, or "Val," came to the zoo from Alaska in August. Both are thought to have been born around the end of January 2014.


Demolition of Towers to Begin at Great Bend Hospital

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — The towers of the former Central Kansas Medical Center in Great Bend are set to be demolished. The Hutchinson News reports the towers of the hospital, which became St. Rose Ambulatory and Surgery Center in 2011, will begin coming down Monday. The demolition is part of the ongoing reorganizing and downsizing of the campus. A remodeled building reopened as the new St. Rose Health Center several weeks ago.


Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament Returns to KC

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Big 12 Conference is keeping its men's basketball tournament in Kansas City, Missouri into the next decade. The Sprint Center in Kansas City has annually hosted men's basketball since 2010. The new agreement reached Thursday extends the arrangement through 2020. The tournament was a sellout in each of the past two seasons, averaging more than 18,000 fans a game there. The women's tournament was in Dallas this year, and it was previously announced Oklahoma City would host in 2016. Pending final negotiations, that arrangement will extend to 2019. Big 12 Baseball is returning to Oklahoma City next year, and conference officials said final negotiations are pending for that to also extend through 2020.


Big 12, Big Money: Schools Share Record $252M in Revenue 

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Big 12 schools will split up a record $252 million in revenue, the ninth year in a row of increases. The revenue total for the 10 schools, up from $220 million last year, was revealed Friday at the end of the conference's spring meetings. Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech will get average full shares of about $25.6 million for the 2014-15 academic year. Third-year league members TCU and West Virginia didn't get full shares, but will next year. West Virginia gets about $23 million, and TCU will receive $24 million. The revenue doesn't include third-tier broadcast rights, such as the $15 million a year Texas gets from ESPN for the Longhorn Network.


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