Headlines for Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Study Gives Kansas Officials Failing Grade for Transparency
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity gives Kansas a failing grade for government transparency. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit news organization ranked the state 42nd in the nation for openness in its report released Monday. The report cited the centralization of power in the executive branch, the Governmental Ethics Commission's inability to audit lawmakers' financial disclosures and use of private email addresses by Governor Sam Brownback and administration officials. The commission's executive director, Carol Williams, says her seven-person staff is large enough to ensure lawmakers are filling out the forms, but not large enough to audit the roughly 6,000 forms it receives each year. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the report "contains errors," and the report's assertions that officials are not transparent are disingenuous.
KS A-G Asks Kansas Supreme Court Justices to Recuse Themselves in Budget Case
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is asking all Kansas Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from a lawsuit involving the court system's budget. Schmidt announced Tuesday that the state filed a motion seeking the recusal because the justices have publicly opposed the law in question. Legislators approved a budget measure this year protecting a law that allows local judges to appoint chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts, rather than the state Supreme Court. The budget measure says if that law is struck down, the judiciary's entire budget is "null and void." Supreme Court spokeswoman Lisa Taylor says the justices will consider the recusal motion after District Court Judge Larry Solomon, who filed the lawsuit, responds. Schmidt also argues Kansas Court of Appeals judges should hear the case.
Miller Sentenced to Death for Jewish Site Killings
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri man convicted of fatally shooting three people at Jewish sites in Kansas has been sentenced to death. A jury convicted Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. in August of one count of capital murder, three counts of attempted murder, and assault and weapons charges. The same jury recommended that Miller be sentenced to death. On Tuesday, Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan followed that recommendation and ordered the death penalty. Miller is an avowed anti-Semite who admitted that he shot the three in April 2014 because he wanted to kill Jews before he died. None of the victims were Jewish. He has chronic emphysema and has said he doesn't think he has long to live. All of his victims were Christians.
Brownback: Kansas Has "Good Shot" at Meeting Revenue Targets
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas has "a good shot" at making its new revenue projections and avoiding a deficit in its current budget. Brownback told reporters yesterday (MON) that he's hoping a new fiscal forecast will hold and, "We'll be in fine shape." University economists, legislative researchers and officials in Brownback's administration issued the new forecast Friday. It slashed $354 million from projections for state revenues from now through June 2017. Brownback's budget director immediately announced $124 million in adjustments to the current budget to prevent a deficit. Legislative researchers now project cash reserves of less than $6 million at the end of June 2016. When a reporter noted that it's not much of a cushion, Brownback said, "I think we've got a good shot of being able to make that."
Hotels Brace for Severe Weather in Northwest Kansas
COLBY, Kan. (AP) — Some hotels are already seeing some wary travelers a day before a forecast for heavy snows and winds that could create blizzard conditions in northwest Kansas. A few people have extended their stay Tuesday at the Hampton Inn in Colby in anticipation of the coming storm. Hampton Inn front desk agent Debbie Martin says hotel employees are working hard to make sure all the rooms are ready in case Interstate 70 is closed. At the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Colby, front desk agent Shelby Klippert said they got 10 cancellations on Tuesday of room reservations. It has been mostly slow Tuesday with the chilly weather, but no snow. But she expects the hotel will get super busy once the storm hits, especially if the interstate is closed down.
Kansas Again Faces Possible Loss of All Federal Arts Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An advocacy group's leader is warning that Kansas is likely to lose its federal arts dollars early next year because the state isn't providing enough funding for arts programs. Kansas Citizens for the Arts Chairman Henry Schwaller IV said Tuesday that he expects the National Endowment for the Arts to withhold about $591,000 it had planned to send the state. An NEA official told state officials in a September letter that Kansas must boost funding for its Creative Arts Industries Commission by nearly $225,000 to get the federal dollars. Schwaller is a commission member. The NEA's letter told the state it has until January 15. That's four days after the Legislature convenes its next annual session. Schwaller said he's not expecting Governor Sam Brownback's administration to find the additional funds.
Officials: Economic Recovery Unbalanced in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Government officials and economists say economic recovery has not been uniform across Kansas since the recession, leaving some areas behind. Wichita State University economist Kenneth Kriz says a major amount of job growth since the end of the recession has happened in northeast Kansas in the Kansas City metropolitan area and the surrounding counties, including Lawrence. He says Topeka has seen slightly slower growth, and Wichita has not grown much at all. According to Kriz, Wichita has dealt with Boeing's decision in 2012 to pull its military manufacturing division out of Kansas, and other issues centered on the aviation industry have impacted the area's economy. The Lawrence Journal-World reports officials say the agriculture industry's consolidation, low wages and sales tax increases have factored into the slow economic recovery of the state's rural counties.
Kansas Officials Approve $4.2M in Emergency Aid for 25 School Districts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback and top legislators have approved $4.2 million in emergency aid for 25 public school districts after trimming back their requests. Brownback and eight top lawmakers reviewed the requests Monday under a school funding law enacted earlier this year. They approved a previous round of aid in August. The districts sought $6.5 million for greater student numbers, unexpected drops in property tax revenues or other reasons. Brownback and legislative leaders approved 66 percent of their requests. The Wichita district sought $980,000 for additional teachers and classroom aides for an influx of refugee children. The amount was reduced to $367,000 because of uncertainty about refugee numbers. The meeting came three days after the Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the funding law complies with the state constitution.
Ted Cruz Files for Kansas GOP Caucus
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Senator Ted Cruz has filed for the Kansas Republican Presidential caucus. KSN-TV reports that Cruz is the fifth presidential candidate to file for the Kansas presidential caucus, which is scheduled to be held in March at about 95 different caucus locations around the state. Other candidates who have filed for the Kansas caucus include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Property Taxes on the Rise in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Property taxes are expected to increase this year for patrons of most Kansas school districts. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports (link is external) that the projected increases come as the Kansas Supreme Court considers whether public schools are underfunded. Homeowners in most of the state's districts saw their bills for supporting schools shrink last school year after an influx of court-ordered aid to schools. The average drop in property taxes among 286 school districts was 2 mills. This year, preliminary data from the Kansas State Department of Education indicates the average rate is expected to rise by 1.8 mills. Some superintendents say a controversial change in the state's financing of K-12 education is the reason. Other school leaders in western Kansas say the oil and gas industry is a key factor.
Kansas Lawmakers Urged to Create Mental Health Network
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee is being urged to authorize creation of a network of emergency observation and treatment facilities for people having a mental health crisis as an alternative to sending them to jail or a state hospital. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Overland Park police officer Tom Keary and Leawood police officer Ken Whiteside have urged the interim committee to create the network of special hospitals or clinics for people that encountered by officers and decline voluntary placement. Facilities would handle involuntary commitments ranging from 48 to 72 hours so that individuals can be quickly stabilized and more informed decisions about treatment can be made. Several legislators agreed that a gap exists in the state's safety net for people with mental health issues, but expressed concerns about the network's feasibility.
Kansas Education Board to Oppose Bill Allowing Nonstudent Sports Recruitment
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education says it will oppose a bill that would allow high schools to recruit athletes from home schools and private schools. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Senate Bill 60 was introduced in the state Legislature last year. The bill states any student who is a resident of a school district must be allowed to participate in any activities the district offers, regardless of whether the student attends a school in that district full time. Gary Musselman, executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, argues that the bill is similar to requiring universities to allow any college-age student play on their sports teams, even if they are not enrolled at the school. The bill was passed in the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.
Former Sales Manager Sentenced in Kansas for Bribery
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former sales manager for the company that makes Glock firearms has been sentenced to 1½ years in prison for bribery. The office of the U.S. Attorney for Kansas says 44-year-old James Craig Dutton, of Acworth, Georgia, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud Glock. The office says Dutton, who was an assistant national sales manager for Glock, accepted bribes and kickbacks from a Kansas gun dealer. Dutton was sentenced Monday. Co-defendant John Sullivan Ralph, III, was sentenced earlier to 18 months after pleading to conspiracy. The prosecutor's office says Ralph owned Olathe-based Global Guns & Hunting, Inc., and that Ralph admitted paying about $900,000 to Glock employees in exchange for preferential treatment.
University of Kansas Plans Town Hall on Race
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is planning a town hall meeting to discuss race and other matters after recent protests and resignations at the University of Missouri. University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned Monday amid pressure from students who said the school responded inadequately to racial problems. The university's Chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin also stepped down Monday. KU officials say the town hall is set for tomorrow (WED) afternoon in the Kansas Union. University of Kansas officials say the goal of the meeting is provide a chance for students, faculty and staff to discuss race, as well as respect and responsibility. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Tammara Durham, vice provost for student affairs at KU, will moderate the forum.
Topeka Billboards Seek Information on Homicide
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The family of a Topeka homicide victim have put up two billboards in hopes of getting information leading to an arrest in the case. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Juan Solis was shot and killed in 2013 during what police said was a home invasion. The victim's mother, Dina Garcia, wants the billboards to remind people that her son's killer remains at large. She says she also hopes that a $20,000 reward will help convince anyone with information to come forward. Family and friends have been raising money for the reward, which has increased since Solis's death. Garcia says a third billboard will go up in a couple of weeks.
USDA Expects Record Soybean Crop, Third-Largest Corn Crop
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — With most of this year's corn and soybeans harvested, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is boosting its expectations for the size of the crops. An update Tuesday says farmers are expected to produce a record soybean crop totaling 3.98 billion bushels, up 1 percent from last year. That's based on 95 percent of the crop harvested. Illinois looks to remain the nation's leading soybean producer with 550.5 million bushels, followed closely by Iowa. The corn crop will be the third-largest in USDA records at 13.7 billion bushels, based on 93 percent harvested. Iowa maintains its corn production lead with 2.49 billion bushels. The abundance is sending downward prices that are already below production costs. Farmers who rent land will struggle to make a profit. Consumers shouldn't see much effect.
Cherokee County Works to Refine Voter Rolls
COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas county is working to cull its list of registered voters of people who have died or moved out of the county. The Joplin Globe reports that Cherokee County is starting a mass mailing to refine the county's list of registered voters. Kansas state election numbers say Cherokee County has 102.6 percent of its voting-age population registered to vote. Two other counties — Lane and Rawlins — also have more than 100 percent voter registration. Census estimates from 2009 to 2013 put the number of people eligible to vote in Cherokee County at 15,970, or about 570 fewer than the 16,540 actual people registered to vote. County Clerk Rodney Edmondson says the county will start printing the voter cards Thursday and mail them out gradually.
Missouri Man Killed in Weekend Skydiving Accident in Kansas
OSAGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri man is dead after a skydiving accident in Kansas in which his parachute became entangled with that of another skydiver over the weekend. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports 54-year-old Mark Leslie Jungk of Platte City, Missouri, was a longtime jumper with SkyDive Kansas, which offers jumps from the Osage City Airport. SkyDive Kansas owner Jen Sharp says the accident happened around 4:30 Saturday afternoon near the airport when the victim collided with another skydiver in mid-air shortly after jumping out of a plane. She says both jumpers were experienced skydivers and were licensed. Sharp says one jumper was able to release and open his reserve parachute, landing safely, while Jungk couldn't do that because there was too much entanglement.
UPDATE: Congress Votes to Ban Transfer of Guantanamo Detainees to U.S.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has passed a $607 billion defense bill that bans moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States — something Barack Obama has been trying to do since he was sworn in as president. The Senate's vote of 91 to 3 gave final legislative approval to the measure. The House has already passed it with a veto-proof majority, 370-58. Obama does not like the Guantanamo provisions. But so far, the White House has not threatened to veto the bill. The legislation has become a lightning rod for debate over whether the president needs congressional approval to move some of the remaining 112 detainees from the U.S. detention center in Cuba to the United States, or if he could do it with an executive order.
Senate Bill Would Ban Guantanamo Bay Detainees from U.S. Mainland
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate is expected to pass a bill that bans moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States — something Barack Obama has been trying to do since he was sworn in as president. The Senate plans to vote today (TUE) on the $607 billion defense policy bill, which passed the House last week, 370-58. While current law and the new bill prohibits Obama from moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, lawmakers are voicing opposition to the prospect that Obama could do it through executive action. The Pentagon is expected soon to release a report that addresses the possibility of housing some of the remaining 112 detainees in Colorado, Kansas or South Carolina prisons. Congress has repeatedly thwarted Obama's effort to fulfill a campaign promise to close the prison.
Protesters March in Kansas City for Higher Wages
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Protesters have been marching in Kansas City to protest low wages for certain workers. The Kansas City Star reports that a rally began early Tuesday at a fast-food restaurant in mid-town Kansas City. The rally is scheduled to last all day and end this evening at City Hall. The protest is expected to be among others planned across the U.S. to advocate for higher wages for an estimated 64 million American workers who make less than $15 an hour.
Developers in Wichita Attend Hearing on Fraud Charges
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two downtown Wichita developers deny allegations that their investors were defrauded. The Wichita Eagle reportsthat David Lundberg and Michael Elzufon, proprietors of Real Development Corporation, are in Sedgwick County court for a preliminary hearing this week on dozens of counts of fraud alleged by the Kansas securities commissioner. Judge Ben Burgess says six days have been reserved for the proceedings before Burgess decides if the case will move to trial. The charges were brought by the state Securities Commission, which says investors in the development company claim they've been defrauded. A commission official testified that the developers "misused" investors' money. But lawyers for Elzufon and Lundberg told the judge that investors were not defrauded, and that real estate investments are inherently risky.
Jackson County Budget Recommends Jail Guard Pay Raise
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Jackson County (Missouri) officials are recommending a pay increase for corrections officers at tthe county jail. The Kansas City Star reports that wages for guards would increase from $11.45 an hour to $12.60 and then to $14.55 after one year on the job if Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders's 2016 budget recommendations he submitted Monday are approved by the County Legislature. Sanders has also proposed more training for guards, expanded medical care for prisoners and hiring an ombudsman to better mediate prisoners' complaints. He also calls for the upgrade of the detention center to keep it viable while officials decide whether to replace it. Sanders created a task force in late August when he revealed the FBI was investigating the alleged use of excessive force by jail guards at the facility. The proposals would add $2.7 million to the Corrections Department budget.
The Confederate Flag Will Fly No More at Wichita Park
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita Park Board members have voted to keep the Confederate flag from flying at Veterans Memorial Park. The Wichita Eagle reports that Mayor Jeff Longwell ordered the flag removed in July after acknowledging community feedback to a June shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina, church. The accused shooter in that incident posted photos with the flag on social media. The Park Board on Monday recommended the flag be replaced with the Kansas flag. They also approved a Reconciliation Memorial to address the diverse sides of the Civil War. Board members say the conference-room meeting was standing room only. They say there was heated debate between those on both sides of the issue. The Confederate flag had been in the park near downtown since 1976.