Headlines for Monday, January 18, 2016
Uncertain State Finances Weigh on Some Lawmakers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Repeated misses in Kansas's monthly revenue projections have clouded the state's ability to balance its budget and some lawmakers are thinking the process could use reform. Governor Sam Brownback's latest spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in July projects a $190 million budget gap. He believes that can be bridged by such measures as juggling state funds and selling off assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority which will soon be privatized. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since the Legislature passed Brownback's plan to slash personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 in hopes of stimulating the economy. Since then, the state's month-to-month revenue estimates have been volatile. State Senator Jeff Melcher, a Republican from Leawood, says it's time to get outside help with financial modeling.
Documents Reveal 'Appalling' Overtime at State Hospital
LARNED, Kan. (AP) — Internal reports show that employees at one of Kansas's state mental hospitals have racked up significant overtime hours. The Topeka Capital-Journal obtained four weeks of overtime data for the hospital's nursing department covering much of December. The paper says its analysis shows that in recent weeks more than half of all employees in Larned State Hospital's nursing department have worked overtime. Hundreds of workers have accumulated more than eight hours of overtime during a single week. And some have logged more than 40 hours of overtime in that span. The new leader of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services — which oversees state hospitals — told employees this past week that he wants to cut nursing vacancies in half. The agency says it's taking steps to improve.
Historic Railroad Association Battling Vandalism, Thieves
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An association that operates a historic railroad in northeast Kansas has suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damages from vandals and other intruders over the past several years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Midland Railroad Historical Association hauls around 25,000 passengers between Baldwin City and Ottawa each year. It also showcases multiple historic pieces of train equipment. General Manager Allen Kinsley says that last week, a passenger car built in 1916 was vandalized yet again. The car was taken out of service years ago and sidelined until some wheel work could be done. Since it's been out of service, the car has been frequently visited by vandals and thieves looking for scrap copper. He says damage estimates exceed the insurance policy maximum of $30,000.
Oklahoma Refrains from Tough Measures on Wastewater Disposal Amid Surge in Earthquakes
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma and Kansas changed their drilling regulations amid a rise in the number of earthquakes last year, but only Kansas has seen a marked drop in the number of quakes. An Associated Press analysis shows that between late 2014 and late 2015, the number of earthquakes in Kansas fell by 60 percent. Oklahoma's rose 10 percent over the same period. Kansas regulated how much wastewater could be injected into the ground after its use in oil and gas drilling. Oklahoma only put limits on how deep the wastewater could go. Scientists say they fear that Oklahoma's trend of having more, smaller earthquakes could be setting a course for a larger, more destructive quake.
Report: Kansas Grocery Dollars Cross State Lines Due to Food Tax
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new study shows high sales taxes on groceries in Kansas have people crossing state lines to shop. The study from Wichita State University's Kansas Public Finance Center says the trend hurts low-income families, rural grocery stores and local governments. The researchers analyzed the latest available food sales data and estimated that Kansas lost $345.6 million in food sales in 2013. The data does not include last year's sales tax hike that boosted the Kansas food sales tax to one of the highest in the nation. The state's largest county, Johnson County, suffered the biggest losses with an estimated $93 million loss in food sales. Kansas is one of only 14 states that taxes groceries. Nebraska and Colorado do not tax groceries. Missouri's food tax is 1.2 percent and Oklahoma's is 4.5. Both lower than the 6.5 percent tax in Kansas..
Program Seeks to Help Kansans with Winter Energy Bills
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The state will begin accepting applications this week for the energy assistance program. The Kansas Department for Children and Families says it will start accepting applications Tuesday for its annual Low Income Energy Assistance Program to help qualifying households pay winter heating bills. The agency says the primary groups assisted are people with disabilities, older adults and families with children. Income eligibility requirements are 130 percent of the federal poverty level. The agency says that nearly 48,000 households received an average payment of $412 last year. The energy assistance is a once a year benefit.
US Air Force Officer Dead in Non-Combat Incident in Qatar
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A U.S. Air Force officer from Kansas has died in a non-combat related incident while serving in Qatar. The Department of Defense says 42-year-old Major John D. Gerrie died Saturday in Al Udeid Air Base. The cause of death was not immediately released. DOD says Gerrie was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel. He was assigned to the 453rd Electronic Warfare Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Gerrie is a native of Nickerson, Kansas.
Entrepreneurship Networking Event Spreads to Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A national networking event for businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups is coming to Wichita. KWCH-TV reports that the program, called 1 Million Cups, is a weekly gathering that allows business owners, start-ups, or anyone with an idea they want to pursue meet and talk. The program will be free and open to the public every Wednesday from 9 to 10 am starting February 10 at Wichita State University's Old Town location. People in Wichita will present their ideas to the audience and then engage in a question-and-answer session. The program started in Kansas City and is now in 80 cities across the U.S. The program's representatives say they have seen 1 Million Cups improve business life across the county, and they expect to see similar results in Wichita.
Kansas Bill Would Mandate Compensation for Wrongful Convictions
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new measure in the Kansas Legislature is aimed at compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes. It was inspired by the case of a man whose murder conviction was recently vacated. Representative Ramon Gonzalez of Perry presented draft legislation to the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice last week. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Gonzalez works as a special prosecutor for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. He spent several months reopening an investigation into the 1999 murder of Camille Arfmann in Oskaloosa. Floyd Bledsoe spent 16 years in prison for Arfmann's murder but had his convictions vacated by a Jefferson County judge in December after new evidence implicated his brother. Gonzalez says other states allow compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
State to Measure Kindergartners' Academic Readiness
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's education department is planning to develop a system to measure the academic readiness of kindergartners. The Kansas State Board of Education voted to instruct the State Department of Education to develop a system designed to identify children who need extra support in their early education. Jim McNiece, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the state board, says the state has long recorded education outcomes but has not concentrated on children who need help when they are young. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the board also adopted a five-point framework for school accountability designed to help individual children. Education commissioner Randy Watson says the state will have to rework its accreditation system to fit the new framework.
Document Proving WWII Military Sex Slaves Now Housed at KU Library
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 1945 report proving that Japan had government-controlled brothels during World War II has been added to a University of Kansas library. Longtime university history professor Grant Goodman was a 20-year-old second lieutenant in the Army's Military Intelligence Service when he translated the report about the brothels — some featuring enslaved "comfort girls" from across Asia. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that decades later and before his 2014 death, Goodman shared the document with the world in an article. The attention is credited with contributing to Japan's 1993 formal apology to former prostitutes now known as "comfort women." Just last month, Japan for the first time pledged government money — $8.3 million — to a foundation supporting the few remaining sex slaves from Korea, now in their 80s and 90s.
Leavenworth Residents Identified as Crash Victims
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified a man and a woman killed in a fiery crash in Kansas City, Kansas. Police on Monday said the victims were 65-year-old Howard C. Levite and 47-year-old Erica L. Cortez, of Leavenworth. They died early Friday when their speeding vehicle left the roadway, hit a tree stump and caught on fire. The accident remains under investigation.
Salina Loses Only Air Carrier
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina's only air carrier has ceased operations in Kansas and other locations because it says there's a shortage of airline pilots in the United States. The Salina Journal reports SeaPort Airlines informed Salina officials of the move over the weekend. SeaPort staff and equipment at Salina Regional Airport are expected to be gone by Wednesday. The airline also has stopped service at Great Bend, Kansas City, Missouri, and airports in California and Mexico. SeaPort's Essential Air Service contract to provide subsidized service at Salina was set to expire in the spring and Salina already was working to land another carrier.
Teacher Hired Despite Pending Child Porn Investigation
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man charged with child sex crimes was hired as a Wichita teacher last fall after a background check failed to uncover that he resigned from a southwest Kansas community college amid a child pornography investigation. Sixty-two-year-old Steven Thompson, of Wichita, was charged this month with three counts of sexual exploitation of a child in Finney County, where he previously was a computer science instructor at Garden City Community College. Garden City Police Captain Randy Ralston says school officials reported in September 2013 that child pornography was found on Thompson's work computer. Wichita schools officials say that nothing showed up on the background check because Thompson hadn't been charged when he was hired.
Kansas City Royals Complete $17.5M, 2-Year Deal with Lorenzo Cain
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals finalized their $17.5 million, two-year deal with Lorenzo Cain on Monday, buying out the All-Star outfielder's final two years of arbitration. Cain will receive $6.5 million this season and $11 million next season. The 29-year-old Cain is coming off the best year of his six-year career, hitting .307 with 16 homers and 72 RBIs. He also was second in the American League with 28 stolen bases, and he became the first Royals player since 2011 to eclipse 100 runs scored. The result of that landed Cain third in voting for the AL MVP award. Cain also started all 16 postseason games in center field, batting .258 with two doubles, a homer and 11 RBIs as the Royals won their first World Series championship since 1985.
Eagles Hire Pederson as New Head Coach
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles have hired Doug Pederson to be their coach. Pederson was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs in the team's last three seasons. Pederson accepted the offer to become Philadelphia's coach last week. The team had to wait for the Chiefs to be eliminated from the playoffs before making it official. Pederson started nine games as quarterback for the Eagles in 1999. He replaces Chip Kelly, who was fired one game before completing his third season. The Eagles interviewed six candidates, including two-time Super Bowl champion Tom Coughlin.
Oklahoma Tops AP Top 25 Hoops Poll; KU Drops to Number 3
Oklahoma didn't just move to the top of The Associated Press Top 25, the Sooners are a unanimous No. 1. Coming off a week with two 2-point wins, the Sooners (15-1) received all 65 first-place votes from the national media panel on Monday. It is Oklahoma's first time at No. 1 since the final two weeks of 1989-90. Kentucky was a unanimous No. 1 for 12 weeks last season. Oklahoma becomes the fifth school to be No. 1 this season, joining North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State and Kansas. North Carolina jumps three spots to No. 2 while Kansas, which lost to West Virginia last week, dropped two places to No. 3. Villanova is fourth followed by Xavier, West Virginia, Maryland, SMU, Iowa and Texas A&M.