Headlines for Monday, January 11, 2016
Kansas Lawmakers Convene Session With Budget Gap to Close
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators are facing a projected $190 million shortfall in the budget for the state's next fiscal year as they open their annual session. The Republican-dominated House and Senate formally convened today (MON) for the 2016 session. GOP leaders were hoping Republicans could avoid the infighting that made last year's session the longest ever at 114 days. Sessions are typically scheduled for 90 days, but legislative leaders say they hope this year's will be 80 or fewer days. The projected deficit is the gap between anticipated revenues and spending already approved under the $15.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Republican legislators last year closed a bigger shortfall by raising sales and cigarette taxes. Governor Sam Brownback has ruled out further tax increases this year.
New Leadership Chosen for KS House Republican Caucus
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in the Kansas House have elected Representative Dan Hawkins of Wichita as their new caucus chairman. Hawkins prevailed in a 60-29 vote Monday over Republican Representative J.R. Claeys of Salina. The chairman runs special caucus meetings for House Republicans, and Hawkins said he hopes to have them once a week. Hawkins replaces former Republican Representative Travis Couture-Lovelady of Palco. He resigned from the Legislature in December to become a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Hawkins also is chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee and will keep that position.
Family Type an Issue in Kansas Foster Care Study
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative study committee wants Kansas to consider a foster family's structure as an important issue in placing abused and neglected children in foster care. The committee approved a recommendation Monday that the Department for Children and Families use "evidence-based" factors in placing foster children. Conservative Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage backed the recommendation, and the panel's GOP chairman has said he believes children fare better in general with parents in so-called traditional marriages. Democratic Senator Laura Kelly of Topeka said the recommendation encourages DCF to discriminate against gays and lesbians. DCF faces allegations that it discriminates against gay and lesbian foster parents seeking to adopt the children in their care. DCF says it focuses on what's best for each child, and Republicans on the committee said that's their top concern.
Kansas to Consider Tightening Limits on Local Property Taxes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers will consider new limits on local property taxes this year. The Republican-controlled Legislature opened its annual session Monday. It enacted a law last year aimed at reducing annual increases in the property tax levies that cities and counties rely heavily upon to finance local services. The restrictions take effect in 2018. But Republican State Senator Jake LaTurner of Pittsburg has a new bill to tighten the restrictions and have them take effect in July. The Kansas Association of Realtors said imposing the restrictions earlier than planned is its top legislative priority. The idea also is supported by Americans for Prosperity. The anti-tax group is backed by billionaire political donors Charles and David Koch. Groups representing cities and counties plan to ask legislators to repeal the restrictions before they take effect.
Clinton Calls on Kansas to Expand Medicaid
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is calling on Kansas to expand its Medicaid program to provide health coverage for thousands of additional families. Clinton issued a statement Monday, hours before the Republican-dominated Legislature opened its annual session. The federal health overhaul championed by Democratic President Barack Obama encourages states to expand their Medicaid programs and promises the federal government will pay almost all of the cost. Clinton said expanding Medicaid also would help small rural hospitals. She said, "Health care for Kansas families should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few." Top Kansas Republicans have been skeptical that the federal government will keep its funding promises. Told of Clinton's statement, Kansas House Speaker and Stilwell Republican Ray Merrick dismissed it. He responded, "Hillary who?"
Top Democrats Predict Extension of Kansas School Funding Block Grants
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature's top Democrats are predicting that Republican lawmakers will extend a new process for funding public schools that's been criticized by many educators. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City said Sunday that they believe the Legislature's Republican majorities won't be able to pass another school funding law this year. The Legislature last year junked a per-pupil formula for distributing state funding to school districts, replacing it with a block grant system. The new law expires in July 2017, but Hensley and Burroughs predicted Republicans will try to extend it another year. Democratic lawmakers had a briefing on school funding issues from Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis at their caucus Sunday, a day before the Legislature opens its annual session.
Kansas House Has 4 New Members as Session Opens
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has four new members as the Legislature opens its annual session. The two new Republicans and two new Democrats were sworn in before lawmakers convened Monday. The newest is Republican Representative Chuck Weber of Wichita. He replaces Steve Brunk, who stepped down earlier this month to become the executive director of a Kansas affiliate of the conservative group Focus on the Family. Republican Representative Ken Rahjes of Agra has replaced Travis Couture-Lovelady after Couture-Lovelady became a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Democrats had two House members resign last year for personal reasons. Representative Ben Scott of Topeka replaced Harold Lane and Representative Henry Helgerson of Wichita replaced Carolyn Bridges. Helgerson served in the House from 1983 through 2000 and filled a Senate vacancy in 2004.
USDA Warns Sedgwick County About Asking WIC Recipients for Immigration Information
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal authorities are warning Sedgwick County officials that asking health clinic clients about their immigration status would violate federal rules. The Wichita Eagle reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the county that asking participants in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program about their legal status could put federal grant dollars for the entire county health department at risk. The county asked the state in October to block illegal immigrants from the WIC program, but there is no eligibility requirement based on immigration status. A regional WIC official says citizenship status has no bearing on eligibility so there's no reason for the county to seek that information.
Lawsuit Seeks Damages in Death of Kansas Legislator's Wife
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas legislator whose wife died last year after being struck by a car in a supermarket parking lot has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The Wichita Eagle reports that the lawsuit filed on behalf of Republican Representative Dennis Hedke, from the Wichita area, and the estate of his late wife, Annette Hedke. The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 from the man driving the vehicle and from the woman who owned it. The lawsuit says 23-year-old Christopher Schrader shouldn't have been allowed to drive because of his driving record and drug use. It also alleges negligence on his mother's behalf because she gave her son permission to drive the vehicle. Schrader is criminally charged in Hedke's death.
Kansas District to Begin Testing Students for Drugs, Alcohol
PERRY, Kan. (AP) — Students at a northeast Kansas high school must undergo random drug testing to participate in extracurricular activities. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the policy took effect last week at Perry-Lecompton High School as the new semester began. School officials say the goal is to provide students with an incentive to turn down illegal drugs or alcohol. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Doug Bonney says that since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities is constitutional. Bonney says the ACLU disagrees with the decision. Perry-Lecompton High School Principal Mike Copple says drug tests will cost the school $39 per test and alcohol screenings will cost $79 per test. He wouldn't say how much money was set aside for the testing.
Train Crashes with Tractor-Trailer in Northern Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A train has crashed into a tractor-trailer in the northern part of Topeka and injured the rig's driver. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the crash happened Monday afternoon. Kansas Highway Patrol Lieutenant Dennis Shoemaker says the truck halted at the stop sign but that the driver didn't hear the train's whistle. Shoemaker says the driver of the truck was "coherent and talking" following the crash. The driver was taken to a hospital in an ambulance. The crash is under investigation.
Late KU Librarian's Estate Gives $655K to KU Research Library
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The estate of a late librarian at the University of Kansas in Lawrence is doling out another gift of hundreds of thousands of dollars, this time to the university library where she worked. The Lawrence Journal-World says Ann Hyde has bequeathed $655,000 to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Hyde retired in 2000 after a long career as manuscripts librarian and died in June 2014. Her estate previously has donated nearly $500,000 to the Lawrence Humane Society and $230,000 to the Lawrence Public Library. As part of her job at the library, Hyde catalogued manuscripts and assisted people who were interested in researching them.
6 Kansas Citians Killed in Oklahoma Highway Crash
CHOTEAU, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says six people killed in a head-on auto collision in northeastern Oklahoma were all from Kansas City, Missouri. The names of the victims — which include at least two children — have not been released. An OHP report says the victims are 1 and 3-year-old boys, a 32-year-old man, a 34-year-old man, a 31-year-old woman, and a woman whose age was not known. A boy whose age was not known was hospitalized in serious condition following the crash. The OHP report says the seven were in a southbound van on U.S. 69 near Chouteau when the driver lost control on the wet highway shortly before midnight Friday. The van then crossed the median and was struck head-on by a northbound tractor-trailer truck.
Kansas Could Gain Millions if Powerball Winner Sold Here
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas could be a big winner if someone buys the winning ticket to the $1.3 billion Powerball drawing in the state. The Kansas Lottery says a Kansas winner of Wednesday's jackpot would have to pay at least $40 million to the state. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that is far more than the state's current budget shortfall, which is more than $10 million. Lottery spokeswoman Sally Lunsford says if the winner took the one-time payout of $806 million, the state's tax of 5 percent would generate a bit more than $40 million. After federal taxes, the winner would still get $564 million. If the winner took the annuity payments, the state would withhold 5 percent every year. The state would reap millions but it would be spread over several years.
Baby Delivered but Mother Dies in Johnson County Accident
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - Police say a pregnant woman who was injured in a traffic accident delivered her baby before dying at a hospital. The accident occurred Sunday evening in Overland Park when a car ran a red light and hit a truck carrying two people. Those two vehicles went into another lane and hit a minivan carrying five people. The woman, who was 39 weeks pregnant, was among six people taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to critical. Overland Park police say child was delivered and the mother later died of her injuries. The woman's name has not been released. The child was in good condition early Monday. The driver of the vehicle that ran the red light was treated for injuries and taken to the Johnson County jail awaiting charges.
KC Royals Great Frank White Named as Jackson County Executive
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former Kansas City Royals second baseman Frank White has been chosen to serve as a Jackson County (Missouri) executive for the rest of the year. The Kansas City Star reports that White was chosen for the position Monday. If he decides to run for election and wins this fall, White would then go on to finish the final two years of former county executive Mike Sanders's term. Sanders announced late last year that he was resigning for personal reasons only a year into his third, four-year term. White won eight Gold Glove awards during the 1970s and 1980s at a time when the Royals were among the best teams in baseball. He later became a commentator on Royals broadcasts and managed the team's minor league franchise in Wichita.
Subject of Silver Alert Near Kansas City Found Dead in Cold
LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — A medical examiner will determine what killed an 89-year-old woman who walked away from her Lee's Summit home during bitter cold weather over the weekend. Police issued a Silver Alert Sunday for Jeannette Gauss, who was last seen at her home Saturday evening. Her body was found Sunday about 10 blocks from her home. Gauss had dementia, Alzheimer's disease and high blood pressure. Police say the cold weather likely contributed to her death because she left her home in a nightgown and no shoes.
Kansas City Couple Gives $2 Million to University of Kansas
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas will use a $2 million donation from a Kansas City, Missouri, couple to establish an architecture scholarship and to help a reading program for children. The university announced Monday it had received the gift from Michael Cummings and his wife, Pamela Miller. It said about $1.6 million will be used to establish the Michael A. Cummings Scholarship for architecture students, giving preference to architecture students from rural communities. The other $400,000 will go to Reach Out And Read Kansas City, a nonprofit program at the University of Kansas Medical Center that partners with doctors to provide books for children and encourage parents to read to them. Michael Cummings earned bachelor's degrees from Kansas in 1983. Pamela Miller earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Rockhurst University.
$7.5 Million Union Station Project Begins This Month in KC
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Work is scheduled to begin this month on a $7.5 million project at Kansas City's Union Station that will expand Science City and add a bridge from the front of the station to the parking garage. The Kansas City Star reports the project will create a space for a new, outdoor Science City exhibit and a plaza area for events. The bridge will improve access to the parking garage from Pershing Road. Union Station officials say it's the largest construction project since the station was renovated and reopened in 1999. Station president George Guastello says visitors will experience minimal inconvenience from the project. All attractions at the facility will continue to be available.
KU, Oklahoma Stay 1-2 in Men's College Basketball AP Top 25 Rankings
Kansas and Oklahoma, who played one of the season's best games last week, remain 1-2 in the men's Top 25 basketball poll by The Associated Press. The Jayhawks (14-1) beat the Sooners 109-106 in triple overtime. They received all but two first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. It is the second week at No. 1 for Kansas. Oklahoma (13-1) drew one No. 1 vote. It was followed by Maryland and Michigan State (16-1), which had the other first-place vote. North Carolina is fifth followed by Villanova, Xavier, Miami, Duke and SMU.