Headlines for Thursday, July 2, 2015
Kansas Might Not Issue Pension Bonds, Despite Legal Authority
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas might not issue $1 billion in bonds to boost the long-term health of its public pension system even though state officials have given the final go-ahead. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and top GOP legislators signed off Thursday. It was a formal step required by a law enacted in April authorizing the debt. But officials with the state agency handling the transaction told Brownback and the lawmakers that market conditions might prevent it. The law says the state can't issue the bonds if it would pay more than 5 percent interest to investors. State officials said they'd be able to obtain a rate of 4.95 percent now. Backers of the move believe the pension system will earn far more on the new funds than it would pay on the bonds.
Kansas Governor Pondering Religious Objections Legislation
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback says he's considering proposing a new religious objections law for Kansas following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage across the nation. Brownback on Thursday also defended the state's refusal so far to allow gay and lesbian spouses to change their last names on driver's licenses or to file joint income tax returns. The governor said his administration wants to make sure such changes are handled correctly. Brownback has been a strong supporter of the state's ban on same-sex marriage that was reinforced by a 2005 amendment to the Kansas Constitution. The governor said religious liberties need to be protected. As for legislation next year, he said, "We're looking at that." Gay-rights leader Tom Witt said Brownback is defying the high court ruling.
Lawsuits Involving Gay Marriage Cost Kansas Taxpayers $100K
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general's office says legal disputes involving the state's gay marriage ban have cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 over the past 18 months. The figures released Thursday cover expenses from three lawsuits but not staff time for Attorney General Derek Schmidt's employees. Schmidt filed a petition in October with the Kansas Supreme Court to block county court clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Because Schmidt sued Johnson County's chief judge, the state was required to pay $50,000 for the judge's defense. Schmidt dropped the case Tuesday. Kansas spent more than $45,000 in a still-pending state court lawsuit seeking to force the state to allow same-sex couples to file joint income tax returns. Schmidt's office reported $4,400 in expenses from a federal lawsuit challenging the gay marriage ban.
Kansas Governor Signs Bill Clarifying New Property Tax Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill clarifying that a new law aimed at reducing local property taxes doesn't take effect until 2018. Brownback's office announced Wednesday that he had signed the measure. It resolves a conflict between two versions of the law contained in separate bills increasing sales and cigarette taxes to balance the state budget. One version said new limits on cities and counties in levying property taxes would take effect July 1 and the other, in 2018 as intended. Cities and counties generally won't be allowed to spend an increase in property tax revenues above the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index without voters' approval. If cities and counties can't spend the extra revenues, they'll have to drop their property tax levies.
Kansas AG Plans to Appeal Ruling Blocking Anti-Abortion Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt plans to appeal a state district court judge's ruling blocking the state's first-in-the-nation ban on a common second trimester abortion procedure. Attorneys representing Schmidt filed a notice Wednesday in Shawnee County District Court that they intend to ask the Kansas Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling last week from Judge Larry Hendricks. The law was model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee and was to take effect Wednesday. It would have barred doctors from using forceps, clamps or similar instruments on a living fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued Schmidt on behalf of two Kansas abortion providers. Hendricks ruled that the law placed too much of a burden on women seeking abortions.
Kansas Appeals Court Declares City's 'Driveway Tax' Illegal
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Court of Appeals says a so-called "driveway tax" imposed by a Kansas City suburb is illegal under a state law limiting the taxing power of cities. A three-judge appeals panel ruled Thursday. It rejected arguments from Mission that its levy is a transportation fee that doesn't run afoul of limits on the power of cities to impose excise taxes. It's based on how many vehicles come and go from a property. Groups representing building owners and managers challenged the levy. The appellate panel said it's a tax because almost every property owner must pay it to raise revenues for general road repairs. The ruling can be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.The city's budget this year is $17.5 million and it expects the tax to raise $775,000.
Hillary Clinton to Speak at La Raza Conference in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has announced plans to speak at an upcoming conference in Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that Clinton will address the National Council of La Raza's annual conference in Kansas City on July 13. The conference is being held at the Kansas City Convention Center from July 11-14. Janet Murguía, the organizations president and CEO, said in a release Thursday that thousands of Latino community leaders are expected to attend the event. She says the group wants to hear Clinton's vision for the country and her thoughts on the issues of greatest concern to our community.
Investigators Say Illegal Explosives Found Near Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Federal, state and local authorities are investigating the manufacture of illegal explosives in the Topeka area. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working with Topeka authorities and the Office of the Kansas Fire Marshal in the investigation into homemade explosive devices and equipment to make illegal explosives. Kevin Doel, a spokesman for the fire marshal's office, said in a release Thursday that criminal charges for the use of explosives are being forwarded to district courts, and the investigation is ongoing. The ATF says illegal explosive devices are often made and lit around the Independence Day holiday, putting people at risk of injury. Doel says it's illegal to make, sell or distribute explosives without a license in Kansas.
Lawrence Police Seek Help in Locating Man, 38
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence Police are asking for the public's help in finding a 38-year-old man reported missing last month. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Phillip Owen Morgan was reported missing June 11 and was last seen at his Lawrence home on June 5. Police said Thursday they don't suspect foul play but are concerned for Morgan's welfare. He's described as a white male with short brown hair and brown eyes. He has a short-cropped beard and regularly wears bandanas, baseball caps, or stocking hats and sunglasses. Morgan also has burn scars on both forearms.
Storms Leave Damaged Businesses in Kansas City Area
LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — A strong storm swept across Missouri overnight, with torrential rain and two apparent tornadoes that caused damage in the Kansas City area. National Weather Service meteorologist Jared Leighton says it was likely a tornado that hit Lee's Summit Wednesday evening, with another likely tornado just southwest of Pleasant Hill. Lee's Summit police report damage to several businesses at a strip mall, with several vehicles also damaged. Minor damage was reported at Lee's Summit North High School, where volunteers selling fireworks had to run for cover. Parts of the state received more than 5 inches of rain, including Jefferson County, near St. Louis. About 60 residents were evacuated from two mobile home parks. In Columbia, several water rescues were necessary after flash flooding caused by heavy rain.
Wichita Hospital Sees Spike in Patients Using K2
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita hospitals are reporting an increase in patients being treated after smoking synthetic marijuana, often called K2. Wesley Medical Center said Wednesday it had treated 15 patients since Sunday with reactions to the drug. The Wichita Eagle reports that Via Christi also reported recent cases but did not have a specific number. Ashley Lunkenheimer, emergency department manager at Wesley, says the patients this week ranged in age from 17 to 22. She says the patients have been dropped off by frightened friends and police sometimes find them wandering the streets. She says K2 patients are often combative and many can't remember taking the drugs. Some can't even remember their names. Lunkenheimer says she suspects the patients might have used a dangerous batch of K2.
Confederate Flag Removed from Park in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita park official has taken down a Confederate battle flag from a park. Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said Thursday the flag will stay down, at least temporarily. The Wichita Eagle reports that city officials are expected to meet with veterans groups Monday to discuss the flag's future at the John S. Stevens Pavilion at Veterans Memorial Park, where the flag has flown with several other flags since 1976. A plaque at the site says the 13 historic flags were chosen to commemorate "the diversity of purposes and peoples who have contributed to this Country's enrichment." Longwell says the city council has received several emails and calls since the issue surfaced after the recent shootings in South Carolina. The shooting suspect has been seen in photographs with the flag.
Donations Pour in After Hutchinson Emergency Shelter Closes
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A deluge of donations is raising hope that an emergency overnight shelter in Hutchinson could reopen. The NOEL Lodge, a shelter operated by New Beginnings Inc., closed without warning Tuesday after a federal grant that helped fund it was not renewed. Shelter director Juan Gonzales says nearly half the $21,000 needed to reopen on a month-to-month basis has already been raised. Gonzales says the goal is to raise enough money to operate for three months, then seek more donations to ensure the shelter's future. The Hutchinson News reports the state said the shelter didn't have its grant renewed because its application was missing information and it didn't meet the minimum threshold for consideration. The shelter had received the federal Emergency Solutions Grant for 20 years.
Kansas Gambling Regulators Approve Kansas Crossing Development
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas gambling regulators have given final approval for a business partnership to begin building a casino in southeast Kansas for the state lottery. Don Brownlee, executive director of the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, says the four-person commission approved the contract for Kansas Crossing at a meeting Thursday. He says three commissioners voted in favor of the contract, and one commissioner abstained. The $70-million casino will be built south of Pittsburg and is expected to employ 300 people, and feature slots, table games, a 100-room hotel, a restaurant and a 600-seat capacity entertainment center. Brownlee says the Kansas Crossing group also has casinos in Dodge City and Mulvane. Bruce Christensen, lead investor and Kansas Crossing developer, says preparation on the new casino is expected to begin Friday.
Kansas Woman Reaches $132K Settlement over Gun Sale
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas gun dealer sued for selling the shotgun a man used to kill himself and his son has reached a $132,000 settlement.Elizabeth Shirley sued the owners of a Baxter Springs gun shop, claiming negligence in preventing the 2003 sale of the gun to her husband's grandmother when her husband, Russell Graham, a felon, was at the sale. Graham used the shotgun to kill his son and himself that day.The Kansas Supreme Court later ruled firearms dealers must use the highest degree of care in preventing gun sales to felons, sending the case back to Cherokee County.The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said Wednesday the case was settled. A lawyer for the gun dealer says the settlement was for $132,000 and his clients admit no liability.
Zebra Mussels Found in Wellington Lake
WELLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — Wildlife officials say troublesome zebra mussels have been found in a lake in south-central Kansas. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism said Wednesday that well-established populations of invasive zebra mussels have been found in multiple locations around the 675-acre Wellington Lake in Sumner County. The department says there's no way to completely rid a lake of zebra mussels, which are usually introduced into lakes after attaching themselves to boats or from bait buckets. Zebra mussels can produce huge populations in a short time. Their vast populations can clog intake pipes and prevent water treatment and electrical generating plants from drawing water. The department says that in 2012, Council Grove and Osage City experienced temporary water shortages from zebra mussel infestations.
Kansas City Delays Action on Diocese's Plan for Housing
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City officials have again delayed action on a controversial plan to build housing near Rockhurst University. The city council's planning department voted Wednesday to postpone a vote on the project until July 22. The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph wants to build an 85-unit residential building for students at the Catholic college on the site of an old Catholic school. The Kansas City Star reports that the St. Francis Xavier parish is opposed because it wants to find another use for the old school. The plan commission has rejected the plan three times since 2012, citing neighborhood and parish opposition. Diocese attorney Mike White argued Wednesday it would cost too much to refurbish the old school. He said student housing is the most financially sensible use for the land.
Clerk Shoots Teenager for Allegedly Trying to Steal Cookies
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City store clerk has been charged after a teenager was shot while he allegedly was shoplifting some cookies. Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutors say 26-year-old Mohammed Abdi was charged Wednesday with armed criminal action. Police say he shot a 16-year-old in the leg Tuesday at a Pic N Save store as the teen was walking out the door. Witnesses told police Abdi shot the teenager, who was found injured on a sidewalk outside the store. The Kansas City Star reports that video surveillance shows the boy walking toward the exit as Abdi pulls a gun from his waistband and fires a shot. Online court records do not indicate that Abdi has an attorney.
Dodge City Library Receives Grant to Explore Latino History
DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Dodge City Public Library, in partnership with the Kansas Humanities Council, has received a $10,000 grant for projects exploring local stories of Latino history and culture. The Dodge City Globe reports the library has received the "Latino Americans: 500 Years of History" grant as part of the American Library Association's initiative to explore the history and experiences of Latinos in the U.S. According to the association, more than 200 organizations around the country have received funding for this initiative.