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Headlines for Monday, January 4, 2016

Kansas News Headlines From the Associated Press
Kansas News Headlines From the Associated Press

Kansas Tax Collections $27M Short of Expectations Last Month 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is reporting that it collected $27 million less in taxes than anticipated in December with both individual income and sales taxes falling short of expectations. The shortfall in tax collections reported Monday complicates the state's budget picture as legislators prepare to open their annual session next week. The state Department of Revenue said Tuesday the state collected $599 million in taxes last month instead of the $626 million projected in a fiscal forecast issued in November. The shortfall is 4.4 percent. Since the current fiscal year began in July, the state has collected $2.84 billion in tax revenues. That's $19 million less than anticipated. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since personal income taxes were dramatically cut in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.


Kansas Legislature's Leaders Want Shorter, Quieter Session 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans are hoping the Kansas Legislature can close a projected state budget deficit quickly this year and avoid the infighting that made last year's session the longest ever. Education funding is also an issue. But leaders of the two chambers' GOP majorities aren't sure how far they'll get in drafting a new formula for distributing more than $4 billion in state aid to public schools. Lawmakers are waiting for the Kansas Supreme Court to rule in an education funding lawsuit against the state from four school districts. The Legislature convenes January 11, and its agenda is packed with issues. But Republican leaders said their goal is to wrap up the year's legislating in less than the traditionally scheduled 90 days after last year's session lasted a record 114 days.


Draft Report: Overhaul of Kansas School Funding Needed


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative committee's draft report says Kansas needs a "complete overhaul" of its system for funding public schools. The report posted online Monday is for a joint committee studying school funding issues. The report says the state's formula for distributing more than $4 billion in aid annually should be redesigned to focus on individual students. The report also suggests some expenses, including transportation and food services, could be handled regionally to save money, or even turned over to private companies. The report also suggests the state consider whether accepting federal dollars is worth the cost of complying with federal rules. The Republican-dominated committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday to review the report and decide whether to forward its recommendations to the full Legislature. Lawmakers open their 2016 session next week.


Kansas Faces Severe Shortage of Prison Guards

ELLSWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Unemployment is down and wages are up in Kansas — except for corrections officers. They are leaving state prisons in droves because of low pay. It's creating a public safety crisis that legislators will have to deal with on top of plugging a budget hole. Their starting pay is about 33 percent less than the state's average hourly wage of $20.20. Their overall wages are about a quarter lower than the national average. The annual turnover rate is up to nearly 30 percent. Governor Sam Brownback says he favors higher wages for corrections officers but state spending will be pinched by at least $160 million in the next fiscal year.


Tornado Activity Increases in Kansas in 2015

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The National Weather Service says its preliminary data shows Kansas had 124 confirmed tornadoes in 2015 — 83 more than in 2014. The number of tornadoes last year tied for the fourth highest number since 1990. Eric Metzger, a meteorologist in Wichita, Kansas says moisture from a strong El Nino was a possible factor in 2015's higher number of tornadoes. Metzger said that while 124 tornadoes are above normal, Kansas experiences between 70 and 110 tornadoes every year. The 2015 preliminary data is subject to changes, and official statistics will be released in six or eight months.


Congressman Faces 2 Primary Opponents in Kansas 1st District

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp has attracted two opponents in this year's GOP primary. Huelskamp is running to continue representing the 1st District of western and central Kansas. Roger Marshall is a Great Bend obstetrician and hospital CEO. Alan LaPolice is a teacher and farmer from Clyde who ran against Huelskamp in the 2014 primary. The two agreed that the problem isn't Huelskamp's policies on issues such as the budget, health care and agriculture but his style. They argue that he simply can't work well with others. Hueelskamp believes his political fortunes shifted when the U.S. House named a new speaker and says he has gained some clout among fellow Republicans but says he doesn't plan to tone down the firebrand conservatism that has made him a tea party favorite even if his combative style irritates some Republicans back in his district. 


More Rainfall in 2015 Leads to Drop in Water Use Violations

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) —  State officials say abundant rainfall in 2015 helped reduce the number of water use violations in Kansas. Data from the Kansas Department of Agriculture show 10 Kansas farmers were fined last year for tampering with a water meter or falsifying a water use report. The Hutchinson News reports that about 20 others were fined for overpumping for the second or third time. Some other cases are still being completed by state officials. Lane Letourneau, water appropriations manager for the state, says the rain helped people implement better water management strategies. He also credited a program that allows irrigators to use more water during drought years and bank water during wet ones.


Kansas Capitol's Cafe Changing Ownership After 39 Years 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A concession stand on the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse is changing hands after 39 years. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Kathy Dawson and her colleagues are expanding their dining business. They already run the cafeteria in the basement of the Docking State Office Building. Eventually, that cafeteria will be closed to make way for implosion of the building. They're taking over for Don Wistuba. He's been blind since birth and has operated the Statehouse concession stand since 1976. He's said his business has declined because offices once housed in the Capitol have moved to other buildings and because lobbyists provide free food to legislators. Dawson also has been blind since birth. Blind people are given priority in operation of vending facilities in federal and state government buildings.


No New Applications for Kansas 'Innovative School Districts' Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas program that waives state laws and regulations for participating schools will remain its current size in 2016. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that no school districts applied to join the Coalition of Innovative School Districts for the coming year. The Legislature created the coalition in 2013 as a deregulation program meant to remove barriers to better school performance. The coalition includes six districts, while up to 20 percent of the state's 286 public school districts are eligible to join. Senator Steve Abrams introduced the legislation creating the program and says the low participation rates are not cause for concern. Among the program's critics is the Kansas National Education Association, which says the program doesn't address the real obstacle to innovation in Kansas schools, which KNEA says is insufficient state funding.


Commission to Discuss Zoning Changes for Lawrence Shopping Development

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The Lawrence City Commission will decide whether to make land-use and zoning changes that would allow for a new 250,000-square-foot shopping development. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the commission will meet Tuesday to discuss the KTen Crossing project planned on the city's south side. Commissioners must agree to rezone about 60 acres from residential to commercial before a North Carolina-based development group can move forward. The city's comprehensive plan must also be altered to reflect commercial use. The issue was originally scheduled to go before commissioners December 8 but was pulled from the agenda because one commissioner could not attend. The developer hopes to break ground on the project this summer. The shopping center could open as soon as fall 2017.


Purdue University Bus Catches Fire in Kansas; No Injuries 

BREWSTER, Kan. (AP) — About 60 Purdue University students are safe after their charter bus caught fire in western Kansas. Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman Tod Hileman says the bus was headed to Colorado for a ski trip when it caught fire Monday on Interstate 70 about 5 miles east of Brewster. No one was injured. The Salina Journal reports that a bus from Brewster High School picked up the students. They spent much of the day in the school's gym shooting baskets and waiting for another chartered bus to pick them up. Hileman says the bus was one of four traveling together to Colorado when the fire occurred. The cause of the fire is unclear. Hileman says it destroyed the inside of the bus and damaged the outside.


Missing Teens to Return to Dad, but Investigation Possible 

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah authorities say two teenage girls found after more than year on the run with their mother will return to their father's care, though they may investigate abuse allegations against him. Orem, Utah police Lieutenant Craig Martinez said Monday that police had long suspected 16-year-old Sydney and 15-year-old Danielle Wolferts were in hiding with their mother, but couldn't track her down until someone called 911 early Sunday morning. Brian Wolferts of Topeka has legal custody of the girls, and his lawyer says the abuse allegations have already been investigated and aren't true. Attorney Ron D. Wilkinson says the girls haven't been in school or gotten therapy they need. Mother Sonja "Michelle" Wolferts tells KUTV news in Salt Lake City that she moved around the area, staying with friends in an effort to protect her daughters.


Kansas City's Country Club Plaza Sold 


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, the city's premiere shopping and entertainment district, has been sold for only the second time since it opened in 1923. The current owner, Highwoods Properties, announced Monday it had reached an agreement to sell the Plaza for $660 million to a joint venture between Taubman Centers and The Macerich Company. The sale is expected to close February 1. The Kansas City Star reports that Taubman and Macerich will be 50/50 owners. The 55-acre shopping district includes 18 properties, both retail and office space. The Taubman company, based in Broomfield Hills, Michigan, owns and manages 23 shopping centers in the United States and Asia. Macerich is a real estate investment trust with interests in 50 shopping centers and malls throughout the United States.


Wichita Drone Operators Must Register Drones with FAA 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Anyone who wants to fly a drone in and around Wichita will likely have to register with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is requiring the registration of recreational drones that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds before they are flown. Drones are not supposed to be flown within five miles of an airport unless the operator contacts the airport first. The Wichita Eagle reports almost the entire Wichita metropolitan area is close to some type of public or private airport or heliport. Drone pilots must register by February 19 and show that registration, either on a printout or on an electronic device, when they fly their drones. FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory says the requirements are intended to keep drones a safe distance from planes and helicopters.


Kansas Cotton Crop Hurt by Losing Ground to Other Commodities 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas cotton farmers are seeing better yields, but the crop is losing ground to other commodities. The Hutchinson News reports that cotton continues to lose acreage to corn, milo and other crops in Kansas. Acreage for cotton spiked at more than 115,000 in 2006. But the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reports that the forecast for 2015 was 15,000 harvested acres, down 48 percent from 2014. Cotton production in Kansas was forecast at 24,000 bales in 2015, down 50 percent from 2014. But the crop is doing well where it's still being grown. Custom cutter Steve Keimig says yields in southern Kansas have been helped by the perfect mix of sun, heat and rain. Cotton has been growing in southern Kansas for about two decades. 


Hearing Set for Southeast Kansas Man Accused of Shooting at Police

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — A preliminary hearing is scheduled for next month for a man shot and wounded by police in southeastern Kansas after he allegedly fired at them. The Parsons Sun reports that 24-year-old Kenneth J. Jones of Parsons remains jailed on $1 million bond in Montgomery County. That's where he's charged with attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault on a law officer. Court papers show that the felony counts relate to a November 5 confrontation between Jones and Coffeyville police, who were not injured.


Kansas Couple Ordered to Stand Trial in Sex Assault 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka, Kansas, couple has been ordered to stand trial on charges that they sexually assaulted a child since 2008. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 37-year-old Kenneth Seel and 34-year-old Tiffany Seel are to stand trial on felony counts of rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child, sodomy and endangering a child. Kenneth Seel was ordered on Thursday to stand trial on 12 counts. His wife was bound over in October for trial on 11 felony counts and a misdemeanor battery count. Both Seels have pleaded not guilty. Tiffany Seel's trial tentatively is scheduled to begin on Jan. 25, while her husband's trial is set for May 23.


Survey Shows Signs of Midwest Economic Slowdown

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Figures have dropped for a fifth straight month in a survey of supply managers in nine Midwest and Plains states, providing continuing evidence of a regional economic slowdown. A report issued today (MON) says the overall Mid-American Business Conditions Index dropped to 39.6 in December from 40.7 in November. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he blames manufacturing losses linked to the strong dollar and economic weakness among trading partners. The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests economic growth. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.


Interfaith Organization Raises Concerns Over Police Shootings 


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An interfaith organization is calling on Kansas City police to address police shootings. The Kansas City Star compiled a database and determined that police had been involved 47 shootings since 2005. The newspaper found that Kansas City ranked third per capita behind St. Louis and Cleveland in fatal police shootings. Nearly 60 percent of those killed were black, although police say race is not a factor in the use of deadly force. Rabbi Doug Alpert of Congreation Kol Ami called the numbers "very disturbing." Alpert is head of the criminal justice task force for More2, a Kansas City interfaith social justice organization. He said Kansas City may need a civilian monitoring committee to look at police shootings or some involvement from the Department of Justice.


Body of Missing Country Singer Recovered from Oklahoma Lake 

PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says the body of a missing country singer from Arkansas who disappeared during a severe storm has been recovered from an Oklahoma lake. The patrol says its Marine Enforcement Division recovered the body of 29-year-old Craig M. Strickland Monday morning in Kaw Lake, located 8 miles east of Ponca City just south of the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. Strickland and a friend, Chase R. Morland, were reported missing on December 27 during a duck hunting trip on the Kay County lake. The pair's capsized boat was found the same day. Morland's body was recovered from the lake a day later. Strickland is the lead singer of the Arkansas-based country-rock band Backroad Anthem. The patrol says Strickland's body was recovered within an area known as Bear Creek Cove.


Kansas City to St. Louis Amtrak Service Resumes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri is operating again, now that floodwaters have subsided. Amtrak officials say the service resumed Sunday, four days after high water that reached the tracks at some locations forced the passenger service to be halted. Amtrak provides twice-daily service across Missouri.


Woman Robbed in Wichita Hotel Room

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are investigating after a 19-year-old woman reported being robbed at gunpoint inside her hotel room. The Wichita Eagle reports the robbery was reported early Saturday at a west Wichita hotel. Wichita police Sergeant Joe Kennedy says the victim told police she answered the door to two men who were acquaintances of hers. He says shortly after they were let into the room, the two men pulled out handguns and demanded money. After the robbery, the two men got into an SUV and left. No injuries were reported.


Kansas Farmer Offers Reward After Cow Mutilated

CANTON, Kan. (AP) - A central Kansas farmer is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to anyone responsible for killing and mutilating one of his cows. John Shearer tells KWCH-TV that he was feeding his cattle on New Year's Day in McPherson County when he found one of the cows dead, its eyes gone. It's unclear how the animal was killed. Shearer says the family's veterinarian found an injection mark on the cow's neck. The animal's death came roughly two weeks after a farmer in Harvey County found one his bulls dead, its sex organs removed.


Chiefs Beat Raiders 23-17, Enter Playoffs on Winning Streak

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and Kansas City defenders sacked Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr six times, as the Chiefs held on for a 23-17 victory over Oakland Sunday. The Raiders (7-9), had the ball with 1:34 left. But the Chiefs defense sacked Carr one last time, and the clock expired before they came close to a go-ahead touchdown. The win gives the Chiefs a franchise-best 10 straight wins entering the postseason. The Denver Broncos also won Sunday defeating the San Diego Chargers, so the Chiefs head to Houston next weekend to play the Astros as the fifth seed in a wild card round. 


KU Men's Hoops Team Moves to No. 1, Will Face No. 2 Oklahoma 

The Universities of Kansas and Oklahoma moved to the top two spots in The Associated Press college basketball poll and the Big 12 schools will meet Monday night. Kansas (12-1) received 44 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel on Monday while Oklahoma (12-0) got the other 21. It will be the 40th time the top two teams in the poll have faced each other. Maryland and Virginia both moved up one spot to third and fourth while Michigan State, which was No. 1 for the last four weeks, fell to fifth. North Carolina, Arizona, Providence, Kentucky and Xavier completed the Top Ten. Kansas is the fourth school to be ranked No. 1 this season, joining North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State.


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