Headlines for Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Kansas Tax Collections $11M Short of Expectations in October
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas collected nearly $11 million less in taxes than anticipated in October, and the shortfall worsens the state's budget picture. The state Department of Revenue reported that Kansas collected $446 million in taxes last month. The state's official fiscal forecast had predicted $457 million in taxes. State officials say disappointing sales, corporate income and oil and gas tax revenues were largely to blame for the shortfall. The disappointing tax collections report comes days before state officials and university economists plan to meet to issue new revenue projections. Since the current fiscal year began in July, tax collections have fallen more than $78 million short of expectations.
Kansas Prisons Full; Official Outlines $27M Expansion Option
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's corrections secretary has outlined a proposed $27 million expansion of a maximum-security prison outside El Dorado as an option for dealing with crowded prisons in Kansas. Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts told a joint legislative committee Monday that by mid-2018, the state expects to have 9,400 male inmates in its custody. That would be about 7 percent, more than its capacity. He told the committee that the number of female inmates will also exceed capacity by then. The secretary outlined a proposal to add 512 beds to the El Dorado prison. Roberts also said Kansas could increase the amount of time inmates receive off their sentences for completing drug and education programs.
Kansas Panel Favors Pay Increases for Corrections Officers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative study committee recommends that Kansas legislators hunt for state funds to boost the pay of corrections officers in state prisons. The proposal Tuesday from the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight will go to the House and Senate budget committees once the full Legislature reconvenes in January. The committee made the recommendation after Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts said turnover at prisons and juvenile correctional facilities is a serious problem. Roberts said pay is the main issue, with officers at state prisons starting at $13.61 an hour. Each 1 percent increase in pay would cost nearly $1 million a year. Committee Chairman and Republican state Representative John Rubin of Shawnee said lawmakers take the money from elsewhere in the budget and suggested trimming aid to public schools.
Kansas Official Seeks to Save Funds to Treat Drug Offenders
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Sentencing Commission's executive director worries that looming budget problems will pressure the state into cutting funding to treat drug offenders and divert them from prison. Executive Director Scott Schultz told a legislative committee Tuesday that first- and second-time drug offenders who complete treatment programs are far less likely to have another conviction. He said the state also can save nearly $21,000 per offender per year by not putting them in prison. Schultz said he's worried about preserving the nearly $6.6 million a year in funding because of the state's budget situation. State officials and university economists are expected Friday to issue a new, more pessimistic forecast for state revenues. Spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Governor Sam Brownback's administration has not made any firm decisions about budget issues.
Kansas Raises Rents on Agencies in State Office Buildings
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas has recently raised the rent by more than 25 percent for agencies housed in state office buildings. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Monday that the Department of Administration began charging higher rents this summer. According to documents obtained by the newspaper, rent was increased about 27 percent for the current fiscal year, beginning July 1, compared to the previous year. That is a jump from $15.25 per square foot in fiscal year 2014 to $19.40 per square foot in fiscal year 2016. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said fewer tenants in the Docking State Office Building, which sits west of the Statehouse, are part of the reason for the rent increase. He said the department had agreed to reduce rates for two years to help agencies with their budgets, and the two-year period was up.
Kansas Supreme Court Adopts New Child Support Guidelines
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Child support payments for noncustodial parents in Kansas are expected to increase up to 3.5 percent next year under new guidelines adopted by the state Supreme Court. The court announced Monday that it adopted updates recommended by a 14-member committee that spent a year reviewing child support guidelines that took effect in 2012. The new guidelines take effect in January and will be used by district court judges to set parents' payments. Federal law requires states to update their guidelines every four years. The new guidelines won't affect existing court orders unless a parent seeks to have his or her obligations modified.
Royals Fans Gather for Kansas City Celebration
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City officials estimate half a million people attended festivities for the World Series champion Royals. Streets were clogged Tuesday for the downtown parade and rally at Union Station. Most area schools cancelled classes and many employers excused their workers so they could attend the event. The local transit authority estimated its shuttles carried more than 100,000 people to downtown from several staging areas around the city. Officials say some people had to wait as long as three hours for a ride. Royals Manager Ned Yost raised the World Series trophy as his vehicle turned into Union Station, prompting loud cheers from the crowd. World Series MVP catcher Salvador Perez later had the trophy as he walked through the crowd, taking selfies and pictures with fans along the route. Christian Colon, who hit in the go-ahead run in the Royals' 7-2 win over the New York Mets in the championship game, told WDAF-TV that he was not surprised by the turnout. Colon said it was great to see everyone's smiling faces and hear their thank-yous. Despite the heavy turnout, Police Chief Darryl Forte says that as of 4:30 pm, there had been only three arrests during the celebration — and they were for minor incidents.
Pipeline Company Requests Suspension of Keystone XL Review
TORONTO (AP) — The company behind the Keystone X-L pipeline says the reason it's asking the State Department to suspend its review of the project is that it needs time to work with Nebraska officials on the route that the pipeline would take through the state. But foes of the pipeline say the company is really just hoping to delay the review process until after the presidential election -- in hopes that a Republican will win and will approve the project. The move came as the Obama administration appeared to be increasingly likely to reject the permit application for the pipeline before leaving office in January of 2017. Democratic candidates, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, oppose the project. Republican candidates support it. But the head of TransCanada, Russ Girling, denies that the request for a pause in the review has anything to do with an anticipated rejection by the Obama administration. The company says it's asking for the delay while it tries to secure approval of its preferred route through Nebraska, in the face of legal challenges. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama still intends to make a decision about the pipeline before leaving office. And Earnest says it's important to consider what is motivating the company's request for a delay, which he says "seems unusual."
Kansas University Endowment Donates a Record $184M
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas University Endowment gave the university $184 million during fiscal year 2015, which is a record amount for the endowment. Endowment President Dale Seuferling says the current fundraising campaign and major construction projects on campus contributed to this year's increase. University spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson says for fiscal year 2015, more than 6,500 students and 190 endowed professors and faculty received support from endowment money.
Former President Clinton to Speak in Pittsburg, Kansas
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Pittsburg State University says former President Bill Clinton will be speaking at the university later this month. Pittsburg State President Steve Scott said Tuesday that Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak November 23 at the university as part of a speaker series. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that tickets for the event will go on sale Monday. Clinton, who served as president from 1993 to 2001, is also scheduled to speak at the University of Kansas the same day when he receives the 2015 Dole Leadership Prize.
Authorities Find 3 People Dead at Southeast Kansas Home
FREDONIA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating after three bodies were found outside a home in southeast Kansas. Wilson County Sheriff Pete Figgins says deputies found a married couple and another male relative dead Monday night outside a rural Fredonia home. The discovery was made after another relative asked the deputies to check on their welfare. Figgins says deputies are not actively looking for any suspects at this time. Figgins declined to release the names of those killed Monday or how they died until autopsies are completed. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is assisting with the investigation. Fredonia is a town of about 2,400 residents located about 150 miles southwest of Kansas City. Figgins noted that the community is small and expressed his condolences to the families, saying he also hurts.
Trial Date Set for 4 in Protests Against Westboro Baptist Church
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Four members of a motorcycle group that demonstrates outside the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka have pleaded not guilty to picketing during a religious event. In September, four members of the group were ticketed because they were carrying an American flag, which is considered a banner under a city municipal code regarding picketing. The group, called Journey 4 Justice, says it uses the flag to shield people from signs held by Westboro Baptist church members that condemn homosexuality and predict doom for the nation. The church often pickets outside the funerals of U.S. service members. The trial is set for December 7 in Topeka Municipal Court.
Celebration Leads to $10K in Damage in Lawrence
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Lawrence say a crowd caused thousands of dollars in damage when they took down a football goal post at the University of Kansas after the Kansas City Royals' World Series win. The Lawrence Journal-World reports a crowd broke the lock to a gate at Memorial Stadium, took down a goal post and threw it into a lake late Sunday after the Royals' beat the Mets in the World Series. The goal post had been replaced inside the stadium Monday. University police Captain James Anguiano says the department is investigating the incident, which led to about $10,500 in damage. He estimates several hundred people were involved in the incident. Jim Marchiony, the university's associate athletic director, says university officials are disappointed the celebration involved vandalism.
Weather Radar Picks Up Flurry of Fireworks After Royals Win
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City erupted in a half-hour flurry of fireworks Monday night after the Royals won the World Series, and the National Weather Service has radar images to prove it. Meteorologist Jared Leighton says the NWS radar in Pleasant Hill, about 45 minutes southeast of Kansas City, shows the most intense fireworks activity was downtown, near the Power & Light District, starting just after 11:30 pm. He says smoke from the fireworks showed up better on the radar Monday night than it would have during the Fourth of July because the air is cooler and the radar beam stays closer to the ground. Kansas City Police Chief Daryl Forte tweeted a photo of fireworks around midnight and said they were a big part of celebrations happening all over the city.
Mott Would Be First Transgender Kansas House Member
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — If she's selected by a small group of Topeka Democrats to replace a retiring member of the state House of Representatives, 57-year-old Stephanie Mott would be the first transgender member of the Kansas Legislature. Mott began living as a woman full time in 2007 and has since become one of the state's leading advocates for transgender rights. The Wichita Eagle reports Mott is in the running to replace Representative Harold Lane, who announced his retirement in October. Mott faces competition for the post from Carolyn Wims-Campbell, an executive member of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP and the first African-American to serve on the Kansas Board of Education. The committee will vote on Lane's replacement November 14.
Task Force Calls for Accreditation for Jackson County Jail
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A special committee appointed to study operations at the Jackson County (Missouri) Detention Center has released its final report with several suggestions for improvement. The Kansas City Star reports that the Department of Corrections Task Force released its report on Monday. The report listed several recommendations, but task force members said the most important is for Jackson County to take steps to immediately to have the jail become accredited by the American Correctional Association. According to Alvin Brooks, a former city councilman who led the task force, the jail's accreditation was allowed to lapse nearly 20 years ago and is the underlying cause of many of the facility's current challenges. Other recommendations from the task force include higher pay and more training for jail guards, and improving the internal health care system for prisoners.
Kansas Man, 44, Gets Prison for Sex Crime
HOUSTON (AP) — A Kansas man must serve 15 years in federal prison for flying an Ohio girl to Texas, taking her on a spring break cruise and having sex with her. Paul Francis Grimm of Goddard, Kansas, was sentenced Tuesday in Houston. The 44-year-old Grimm pleaded guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for criminal sexual activity. Grimm knew the 15-year-old girl when he lived in Ohio. Prosecutors say Grimm had an online relationship with the teen, paid for her March 2014 flight from Cleveland to Houston, drove her to Galveston and they took a Caribbean cruise. Grimm was arrested when the ship returned and an officer checking disembarking passengers noticed the man and girl had different last names and weren't related. Grimm still faces child pornography production counts in Kansas.
Wichita Man Charged with Killing Wife
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been charged with murder in the shooting death of his wife. The Wichita Eagle reports that Pierre Ross Washington is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the October 28 death of 26-year-old Diana Washington. Police say Diana Washington was killed at a Wichita park. Authorities have not said what led to the shooting. Washington's next hearing is November 17. He's being held in Sedgwick County Jail on $500,000 bond. He told the judge Monday when he was charged that he plans to hire his own defense attorney but didn't yet know whom.
Teacher Resigns After Anti-Bullying Video Upsets Parents
CONWAY SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — A Conway Springs teacher has been asked to resign after showing students an anti-bully video that depicts a dystopian society in which homosexual children bully heterosexual children. Conway Springs Middle School social studies teacher Tom Leahy is on leave and said he likely won't return to teaching because the controversial video "upset too many people." Leahy said he showed the independent film "Love Is All You Need" to three eighth-grade history classes as a lesson in tolerance last month. Showing the video was a response to an assignment Leahy gave his students to create a colony. At least one group rejected gay people in its colony. The Wichita Eagle reports the school board is expected to accept the teacher's resignation at its Nov. 9 meeting. The newspaper's calls to several board members weren't returned Monday.
Sedgwick County Inmates Checked Less Frequently Due to Staffing Shortage
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The frequency of inmate checks at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita has decreased amid low staffing levels and a policy change. The Wichita Eagle reports previous jail policies called for what are referred to as "physical rounds" to be conducted every 30 minutes. The checks require a deputy to visually check to ensure that every inmate is secure. The new policy says inmate checks should be reasonably spaced throughout a deputy's shift and not more than two hours apart in maximum-security areas. Sheriff Jeff Easter said in October that jail staffing was down to 67 from a full staff of about 300.
4 Living Ex-Presidents Join Eisenhower Memorial Commission
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The four, living ex-U.S. presidents are all now on a committee working to commemorate President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission announced Monday that ex-president Bill Clinton had joined Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush on the commission. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas announced in September he would lead a private fundraising campaign to collect $150 million for a national memorial to Eisenhower on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Congress first approved a national memorial to Eisenhower in 1999. It has been stalled by debates over its design and the Eisenhower's family opposition to architect Frank Gehry's design. Dole and Senator Pat Roberts say they are determined to get the memorial funded and constructed in the near future.
Corn Trade Lawsuits Against Syngenta Reach 2,000
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — About 2,000 farmers, grain handlers and corn exporters have filed lawsuits against Swiss biotechnology company Syngenta now that a federal judge has ruled their cases have merit and will move forward. The lawsuits allege Syngenta's introduction of Agrisure Viptera, a new genetically modified corn seed, interrupted trade with China in 2011, costing the U.S. corn industry an estimated $1 billion to $3 billion. More than 1,860 cases have been filed since December from 22 states. The cases have been consolidated before a Kansas City, Kansas judge. Syngenta argues it had no duty to protect farmers from a drop in corn prices but the judge has ruled the law requires manufacturers to exercise reasonable care not to create a risk of widespread harm.
Hold Continues on Construction of Southeast Kansas Casino
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Construction of a state-owned casino in southeast Kansas won't resume for a while. Kansas Crossing spokeswoman Carrie Tedore told ThePittsburg Morning Sun the company will report on the status of a lawsuit involving the casino at the end of November, and a decision will be made then on whether to seek another 90-day extension on completing the casino. Castle Rock Casino, which submitted a competing bid for the casino, filed a lawsuit against the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission and the Kansas Gaming Facility Review Board, arguing the board didn't follow state law in awarding the casino contract.
Appeals Seek to Halt Execution of Missouri Inmate
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Barring a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Missouri is set to execute a man convicted of killing three people during a robbery in Columbia in 1994. Ernest Lee Johnson is scheduled to die this evening (TUE) and would be the seventh person put to death in Missouri this year. Johnson had part of a benign brain tumor removed in 2008, and a recent MRI revealed up to 20 percent of his brain tissue was also removed. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court claims the tumor and damage, combined with the execution drug, could cause a painful seizure. A second appeal, to the Missouri Supreme Court, claims Johnson's life should be spared because he is mentally disabled. The Missouri Attorney General's office says both claims are without merit.