Headlines for Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Plan to Cut Medicaid Drug Costs in Kansas Draws Criticism
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Health care advocates in Kansas are strongly criticizing a proposal from Republican Governor Sam Brownback for decreasing prescription drug costs for the state's Medicaid program. They told the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday that the governor's proposal could deny needed medications to people with chronic conditions and severe mental illnesses. The committee took testimony on a bill eliminating the state's ban on so-called step therapy with prescriptions in the Medicaid program. In step therapy, patients are required to try less-expensive drugs first and have the treatment fail before obtaining more expensive prescriptions. Supporters say allowing Medicaid to use step therapy makes sense. Brownback's administration projects savings of nearly $11 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The state must close a projected $190 million budget shortfall.
Kansas Lawmakers Say New Power Plant for Statehouse on Hold
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The construction of a new power plant for the Kansas Statehouse and four nearby state office buildings has been delayed following bipartisan legislative criticism over how the project is being financed. Republican Governor Sam Brownback's office confirmed the delay in construction Wednesday after top GOP legislators said the project had been postponed because of lawmakers' questions. The Senate Ways and Means Committee also postponed a confirmation hearing for interim Administration Secretary Sarah Shipman. Her department developed the $20 million project. The new plant would replace a power plant in the Docking State Office building. The state plans to demolish the Docking building. The department is financing the new plan through a lease-purchase agreement. Lawmakers have said they have questions about it and weren't informed before it was finalized.
Kansas Governor Hopes Delay Will Be Short for Statehouse Power Plant
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is hoping there's only a short delay in starting construction on a new power plant for the Kansas Statehouse and four nearby government office buildings. The Republican governor's administration announced Wednesday that the $20 million project is temporarily on hold amid bipartisan legislative concerns about how it is being financed. The state is financing the project through a 15-year lease-purchase agreement with Bank of America, paying about 2.3 percent interest. Brownback said a number of legislators wanted additional information. He told reporters, "I said, 'Sure.'" But the governor also said the state could face penalties if it doesn't begin construction soon. The Department of Administration hopes to finish the plant this year. Brownback suggested the delay in construction would last only "for a couple of days."
Sedgwick County Seeks Dismissal of Voting Machine Audit Lawsuit
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge will hear arguments next month on the request to dismiss the lawsuit filed by a Wichita mathematician who is seeking to audit voting machine results after finding statistical anomalies in election counts. A hearing has been set for February 18 in Sedgwick County District Court. Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson wants the tapes to check the error rate on electronic voting machines used at a Sedgwick County voting station during the November 2014 general election. Sedgwick County contends it is statutorily prohibited from producing the voting machine tapes, which it contends are not open records. It also argued the issue was settled in an earlier lawsuit. But Clarkson's attorney, Randall Rathbun, disagrees. He said Wednesday issues raised in the past are not being litigated in this case.
Kansas Senate Panel Struggles with Medical Marijuana Measure
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee voted Tuesday to lessen criminal penalties for first- and second-time marijuana possession and sent the measure to the full Senate for debate. But the committee stripped out a proposal that would allow medicinal hemp oil to be used in treating certain seizure conditions. The Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee voted to forward the therapeutic hemp oil portion of the bill to the full Senate without a recommendation on whether it should pass. Justice Committee members said the measure should be forwarded to a committee that handles health issues. The House passed a single bill covering both subjects last year.
State Utility Consumer Advocate Office Without Lawyer
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The state agency that represents residential and small-business customers is without a lawyer. The lack of legal representation for the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board comes after the organization fired its interim consumer counsel, Niki Christopher. The firing is tied to a bill that was designed to keep the CURB board from shifting the agency's focus away from representing small consumers. Last month, board members discussed fighting new federal clean air regulations but later pulled back from the proposal. The bill also would have nullified a CURB board order prohibiting Christopher from discussing utility issues with legislators and reporters.
Interest-Only Payments Concern Kansas Lawmakers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers say they want more control over state finances after the Department of Transportation issued $400 million in bonds and arranged to only pay interest for the first decade. Senate President Susan Wagle said that she and her colleagues "have serious heartburn'' over aspects of recent deals. The Wichita Eagle reports that Wagle also raised concerns about a $19.9 million lease-to-own deal that the Kansas Department of Administration negotiated. Wagle, a Wichita Republican, says lawmakers will be pursuing legislation to "ensure legislative oversight over principal and interest payments, collateral agreements and long-term leases.'' Governor Sam Brownback's spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, says the Departments of Administration and Transportation acted "well within their legal scope of authority.''
Kansas Lottery Seeks to Sell Tickets from Vending Machines
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Lottery is seeking permission from legislators to sell tickets from vending machines. A hearing on the bill scheduled for Wednesday before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee was postponed indefinitely while the bill is refined. Lottery officials believe eliminating the state's ban on electronic ticket-dispensing machines would boost sales and provide additional revenues for the state. The bill also would repeal a ban on lottery advertising at college sporting events, though ads still would be barred at high school events. The Kansas Constitution once banned all lotteries, but voters approved an amendment in 1986 to allow one operated by the state. That provision later allowed legislators to authorize a single state-owned casino in each of four communities.
Amendment Would Establish Hunting, Fishing Rights in Kansas Constitution
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Lawmakers are considering an amendment that would give Kansans a constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap wildlife. The Wichita Eagle reports that the measure will be added to the November ballot if it obtains a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate. The resolution had a hearing before the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs on Tuesday. National Rifle Association lobbyist Travis Couture-Lovelady says it's important for those rights to be spelled out in the state constitution because Kansas residents may become "disconnected" from the state's "hunting heritage" as the population becomes more urban. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism also voiced support for the measure.
Kansas Bill Would Require Schools to Allow Shooting Clubs
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Shooting clubs that use BB guns and other air guns could hold practices and competitions in schools under a bill in the state Legislature. The Weapon Free Schools Act would be amended so air guns wouldn't be considered weapons. Schools also would not be allowed to prohibit organizations from conducting activities just because they "include the possession and use of air guns by the participants.'' Representative Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican, introduced the bill in response to a controversy in the Derby school district surrounding a shooting club. After operating at Oaklawn Elementary for 30 years, district leaders forced the club off campus. The Kansas Association of School Boards cited liability concerns.
Topeka High School Security Heightened
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Topeka Unified School District 501 responded today (WED) to what administrators called a non-specific and non-credible threat by heightening security at Topeka High School and asking staff at the rest of the district’s schools to be alert. The district is working with law enforcement officials to investigate the threat, which came via email shortly after 11 am. The school district's communications director told the paper that security will be increased for a few days at Topeka High “out of an abundance of caution.” Topeka High's principal said via phone that the school is taking the matter seriously, but the building wasn’t locked down and students were not sent home. USD 501 is also reportedly in contact with other local schools on the matter.
Norovirus Outbreak Linked to Overland Park Dinner Theater
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Health officials are investigating after a norovirus outbreak sickened more than 100 suburban Kansas City dinner theater audience members. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a news release that the people who contracted the gastrointestinal illness attended one of the two January 17 performances at the New Theater Restaurant in Overland Park. Four have laboratory specimens to confirm norovirus. Symptoms of norovirus include vomiting, diarrhea, fever and body aches. People who attended a January 17 theater performance are asked to take part in a confidential online survey from the KDHE, even if they didn't become ill. The agency says it hasn't had reports of illnesses from people who attended the theater on other days. Health officials say the New Theater Restaurant is cooperating fully with the investigation.
KU Unblocks Limited Info About 2 Disciplined Fraternities
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas has unblocked limited information about two fraternities that were placed on probation for hazing. But the Lawrence Journal-World reports that most of the information it sought when it initially requested documents from the school in October remains redacted. The paper raised concerns in December about the redactions with an open records appeal. The university responded by provided a slightly less-redacted version of one of the five documents initially given to the newspaper. But the newspaper reported that all information remains hidden about the nature and severity of hazing behaviors by the Delta Tau Delta and Phi Beta Sigma fraternities. The fraternities have said some members have been disciplined. The university says it met its obligation under the law to provide information without compromising student privacy.
University of Kansas Hospital Plans Expansion
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - University of Kansas Hospital officials say they are planning to expand a new patient tower, even before the structure is finished. Construction of the Cambridge North Patient Tower is underway in Kansas City, Kansas. It is expected to open in 2017, with 92 beds and 12 operating rooms. The plan was to eventually add four more floors. The Hospital Authority Board recently voted to begin building the four new floors as soon as the main building opens. CEO Bob Page says the new tower will be full as soon as the building opens. The additional floors are expected to open in 2018.
OSHA Investigates Man's 33-foot Fall at Kansas Power Plant
LA CYGNE, Kan. (AP) — Federal officials are investigating after a worker fell 33 feet at an east-central Kansas power plant. The U.S. Department of Labor said in a news release Wednesday that the worker was demolishing a filtration device called a precipitator when he fell Tuesday at KCP&L's La Cygne Power Plant. The release said the man remains hospitalized. He works for Brandenburg Industrial Service Company of Chicago. No one from the company immediately returned a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will lead the investigation. Judy Freeman, of OSHA, says falls are one of the leading causes of workplace deaths and injuries. But she stressed that they are "very preventable" when workers have proper protective equipment and training.
Sprint Closing Central Texas Call Center: 350 Jobs Lost
TEMPLE, Texas (AP) — Sprint plans to close a Central Texas call center next week with more than 350 employees losing their jobs. The wireless company announced the customer care center in Temple, Texas will shut down February 5. Workers were notified last Friday. Sprint, in a statement, said the company is focused on a creating a superior network, being the price leader in the wireless industry and providing a positive customer experience. The Overland Park, Kansas, company has said it's on track to cut $800 million in costs for fiscal 2015, which ends in March. Sprint on Monday said it had cut about 2,500 jobs since the fall, or about 8 percent of its workforce.
Kansas City Business Owner Sentenced in Tax Fraud
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City business owner was sentenced to federal prison for failing to pay federal taxes he collected from his employees. Joseph Patrick Balano was sentenced Tuesday to two years and three months in federal prison without parole. He also was ordered to pay $493,443 in restitution. Balano pleaded guilty in August, admitting that he didn't pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $260,000 that he collected in employment taxes, along with more than $232,000 as his employer portion of the taxes. He was the owner of Global Employment Group, Inc., doing business as Staffing Connections (Global Employment) in Grandview and Kansas City. Balano admitted he used the unpaid taxes for personal expenses and expenses for family members, including gambling, mortgage payments and car payments.
Hutchinson Man Pleads After Shooting During Police Standoff
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson man has pleaded no contest to charges resulting from a standoff with law enforcement officers last August. Joseph Roman entered the plea Tuesday to 15 counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon. Another charge against Roman's father was dropped as part of the plea agreement. The Hutchinson News reports that the standoff began after Roman argued with his father and went into a garage. Roman pointed a shotgun at officers when they arrived and then closed the garage door. During a four-hour standoff, Roman shot a hole through the garage door and fired at officers again. Officers returned fire, hitting Roman in the hand, prompting him to surrender. Sentencing was scheduled for February 26.
Wal-Mart's Shutdown Creates New Food Deserts, Including One in Wichita
FAIRFIELD, Ala. (AP) — An Associated Press analysis shows that the closing of more than 150 Wal-Mart stores nationwide will create three food deserts in Alabama, Kansas and Arkansas. Stores slated to shut down Thursday will leave residents in parts of Fairfield, Alabama; Coal Hill, Arkansas; and Wichita, Kansas, without a supermarket. The federal government considers a neighborhood a food desert if at least a fifth of residents live in poverty and a third live more than a mile from a supermarket in urban areas, or more than 10 miles in rural areas. Another 31 neighborhoods in 15 states will also lack access to grocery stores after Wal-Mart's closures. But those aren't as impoverished. Wal-Mart says it has a good track record in needy neighborhoods and is offering help to the communities it's leaving.
Kansas Lawmaker Retracts Panel's Dress Code, Apologizes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas lawmaker has retracted a set of rules that banned, what he said was, inappropriate dress for women testifying before his committee. The rules barred low-cut necklines and short skirts. Republican state Senator Mitch Holmes issued a statement Tuesday morning apologizing and saying it was unacceptable for him to provide specific guidance about how women should dress in the Ethics and Elections Committee's rules without also producing similar guidance for men. Legislators in both parties strongly criticized the guidelines that said "low-cut necklines and mini-skirts" are inappropriate "for ladies." Holmes, the committee's chairman, apologized and said he "meant no offense." The Kansas Legislature's rules generally allow its committee leaders to set their own rules.
Wichita Firm Offers Proposal for Kansas City's Kemper Arena
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Two businessmen from Wichita are offering an alternative proposal for the future of Kansas City's Kemper Arena. The Kansas City Star reports the proposal from Rodney and Brandon Steven would compete with one submitted by the Foutch Brothers of Kansas City. The Steven brothers own Genesis Health Clubs, car dealerships and have a stake in several hockey teams. A consultant for the brothers, Greg Ferris, says they want to use the arena for smaller concerts, junior hockey club teams, indoor sporting events and smaller entertainment events. The Foutch Brothers want to use Kemper as a regional complex for amateur youth, family-oriented and adult sports. Kansas City Councilman Scott Taylor says a selection committee is expected to hear details of the proposals in February.
50-Year-Old Identified as Man Killed in Fight with Jailers
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have released the name of a man who died after fighting with two corrections officers as he was being booked into a central Kansas jail. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation identified the man Wednesday as 50-year-old Scott A. Brunson. The KBI said in a news release that Brunson was arrested Monday after Salina police officers responded to a disturbance and found an injured woman. The KBI says Brunson was transported to the Saline County Jail, where he was "allegedly involved in an altercation with jail staff." Brunson and two deputies were taken to a Salina hospital, where Brunson died early Tuesday. One of the deputies was treated and released, and the other was kept for treatment and observation. The KBI is investigating. No other information was immediately released.
No. 9 West Virginia Beats Kansas State, 70-55
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Mountaineers defeated the Kansas State Wildcats, 70-55 on Tuesday night, giving West Virginia a sweep of the season series. Jonathan Holton had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Mountaineers (17-3, 6-2 Big 12). Justin Edwards had 11 points and Dean Wade had nine points for Kansas State (12-8, 2-6). The Wildcats connected on only 20 of 57 shots and lost for the fifth straight time.