Headlines for Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Transportation Officials Discouraging Travel West of Salina
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas transportation officials are discouraging travel to central and western Kansas as a massive winter storm continues causing extreme travel problems. The Kansas Department of Transportation says snow and high winds have forced many highways to close west of Salina. That has resulted in hotels filling up and tractor-trailers being stranded along highways. As of Tuesday afternoon westbound Interstate 70 was closed from Salina to the Colorado border, while eastbound I-70 was closed from the Colorado state line to Hays. The Transportation Department says several other highways in northwestern Kansas are closed, while highways in the southwest part of the state are snow-packed and icy. KDOT district engineer Jeff Stewart says there is little to no visibility on parts of I-70 and things are even worse north of the interstate.
Kansas Tax Collections $7M Below Expectations Last Month
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is reporting that it collected about $7 million less in taxes than anticipated in January, with corporate income and sales taxes falling short of expectations. Monday's report of a shortfall came as legislative budget committees prepared to discuss proposals for closing a projected shortfall approaching $200 million in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Department of Revenue says the state collected $535 million in taxes last month instead of the $542 million that was forecast in November. Since the current fiscal year began in July, the state has collected $3.38 billion in taxes. That's $26 million less than anticipated. The department noted that personal income tax collections exceeded expectations in January but not for the entire fiscal year.
State Lawmakers Criticize University of Kansas Bond Issue
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are criticizing an arrangement in which the University of Kansas borrowed hundreds of millions in out-of-state bonds to build facilities without the approval of the state Legislature. The university used Wisconsin-based Public Finance Authority to issue nearly $327 million in bonds last month and set up a private corporation to serve as the debtor so it wouldn't have to seek legislative permission. University officials say they followed the law. The Wichita Eagle reports that House Republicans are drafting legislation to prevent state universities from making similar arrangements in the future. House Speaker and Republican Representative Ray Merrick criticized the arrangement as avoiding legislative oversight and public view. The money will finance the construction of buildings on the Lawrence campus, including a science building, dormitory and student union.
Kansas House GOP Testing Support for Supreme Court Changes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans in the Kansas House plan to test support this week for changing how state Supreme Court justices are selected. House Speaker Ray Merrick said Monday that GOP leaders want to see "where people are" on the issue. House Republicans have scheduled caucuses for today (TUE) and Wednesday to discuss changing the judicial selection process. Governor Sam Brownback has repeatedly called for changing how the justices are selected. He calls the current system undemocratic, but changing it will require amending the state constitution. Under the current system, a nominating commission screens applicants for Supreme Court vacancies and submits three finalists to the governor and he selects one of them. Some Republicans want to abolish the commission and have the governor make the appointments directly, subject to state Senate confirmation.
Kansas AG: Debate Over Courts to Continue Until Voters Decide Issue
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Derek Schmidt says questions about how Kansas Supreme Court justices are chosen will remain until the state's voters decide the issue. The Republican attorney general spoke Tuesday to a caucus of GOP Kansas House members. The chamber's Republican leaders are trying to build support for changing the process for selecting justices. Conservative Republicans argue that the current system is undemocratic. But changing it requires voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution. A nominating commission led by attorneys screens applicants for Supreme Court vacancies and names three finalists. The governor must pick one, and legislators have no role. Supporters of the current system contend it minimizes partisan politics in the selection process. They contend conservative GOP Governor Sam Brownback and his allies want to control the courts.
Kansas Lawmakers of Both Parties Seek Transparency Reform
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are pledging support of legislation that seeks to make state government more transparent. Republican state Representative John Rubin and Democratic state Representative John Wilson signed a pledge to support these efforts. The pledge was drafted by Open Kansas, a nonprofit that supports government transparency. The organization says Kansas was among 11 states to receive a failing grade when the Center for Public Integrity rated state transparency last year. One of the Senate bills would address a loophole in the state's records law that allows officials to conduct public business on private email. Another would change the Open Meetings Act so public bodies have to disclose more information when they go into closed sessions. A House bill would enable live audio streaming of committee hearings.
Kansas Senators Consider Overhauling Juvenile Justice System
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several supporters speak out in favor of a bill that would amend the Kansas juvenile justice system and allow low-level offenders to be placed in community-based programs instead of detention centers. District court judges were among those testifying Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice in support of the measure, which also proposes creating a team to review cases with the input of families and educators. Megan Milner, deputy superintendent of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex, told lawmakers that placing children in detention centers could introduce trauma that would alter their emotional well-being. She recommended any court decisions take into consideration a child's normal development. Hearings on the bill are scheduled to continue through Thursday.
Kansas Among Several States Looking to Ban Sanctuary Cities
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are among those in several states considering measures to prohibit local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials. One bill would ban so-called sanctuary cities. The other would also withdraw state funding from cities that don't cooperate with immigration officials. It's the latest in a series of anti-sanctuary measures across the nation following the July killing of a San Francisco woman. The man charged is a Mexican man living in the country illegally. At least a dozen states, including Wisconsin and Florida, are considering similar legislation. State Representative Charles Macheers, a Shawnee Republican, said he wants to ensure Kansas communities comply with federal law. Some Kansas sheriffs began refusing immigration officials' requests after a federal court ruling on a woman's detention case in Oregon. The ruling said immigration detainers, which ask local police to hold immigrants suspected of living in the U.S. illegally for up to 48 hours, were not sufficient reason to keep someone in jail and were a violation of a person's constitutional rights.
Kansas Hunting Outfitters Targeted in Federal Investigation
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Court documents show a federal raid of a hunting lodge in the Flint Hills capped a months-long investigation that included the use of undercover hunters, GPS tracking of vehicles and camera surveillance. Federal agents executed the search warrant on January 26 on Eagle Head Outfitters Lodge in Grenola. Court documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas show authorities seized cameras, phones, photos, firearms, ledgers, waterfowl and other items. Its owner, Josh Hedges, did not respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment. The U.S. attorney's office said Monday that no charges have been filed. Prosecutors typically don't make charging decisions until months after searches. An affidavit shows agents are investigating allegations that include hunting out of season, killing more game than allowed, and illegally baiting fields with feed.
Kansas Bill Hearing Discusses Welfare for Lottery Winners
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters and opponents have weighed in on a proposed bill that would give the Kansas Department of Children and Families secretary the authority to cross-check lottery winnings against a list of welfare recipients. The department's economic and employment services director, Sandra Kimmons, said at a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing Monday that anyone who wins more than $10,000 would have to verify their income and resources to see if they're still eligible for poverty programs. Recipients who are excessively replacing their benefits cards would be reviewed by the department's fraud division. The agency would also verify the identities of all the household's adults. The Wichita Eagle reports that several groups oppose the bill. Amanda Gress of Kansas Action for Children says the bill creates barriers for children and families to participate in poverty programs.
Kansas Legislators Discuss New Child Pornography Penalties
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are discussing a House bill that that would create new penalties for transmitting and possessing nude photos of children between the ages of 12 and 19 years old. Republican Representative Ramon Gonzales of Perry introduced the bill last year in the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice. He called the measure an alternative to current laws that make first-time sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years old a felony. Those laws apply only to adults over the age of 18 and do not address the practice of sending to others sexually suggestive messages or photos, commonly known as sexting. Lawmakers heard testimony Monday about how the measure deals with transmitting and possessing nude images of children.
Overland Park Dinner Theater Cleans Up After Norovirus Outbreak
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - A suburban Kansas City dinner theater has spent $40,000 cleaning up after a norovirus outbreak sickened more than 600 people. The Kansas City Star reports that the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park brought in a commercial disinfecting and mold remediation company to do the work. State, city and county health officials oversaw the cleanup and have also have talked to staff about food-safety practices. Most of the people who were sickened attended the theater in mid-January. The theater holds about 625 people
Public's Help Sought in Kansas Parolee Death Investigation
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are seeking the public's help investigating the death of a parolee whose remains were found near Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports that James Labat was last seen alive by a relative June 25, less than two weeks after he was released on parole in Sedgwick County. A hunter found his remains in December in a wooded area, and they were identified using dental records. Captain Greg Pollock of the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says authorities are working to pinpoint Labat's movements after he was released from prison. The case isn't classified as a homicide, although Pollock says the circumstances are considered suspicious. A coroner's ruling says Labat's bones lacked any markings or injuries that would suggest how he died. Labat had several convictions for burglary and drug offenses.
Kansas Winter Wheat Crop Doing Well
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government report shows that the Kansas wheat crop is mostly weathering the winter well so far. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 55 percent of the crop is in good to excellent shape, with 37 percent in fair condition. About 8 percent is in poor condition. The federal agency noted that all of Kansas received some precipitation in January, with the heaviest amounts in the central portion of the state. Topsoil moisture was adequate across 81 percent of the state.
Jury Selection Begins in for Trial of Quadruple Murder Suspect in Kansas
OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — Jurors are being selected for the trial of a man accused in the 2013 killings of four people at a Kansas farm, including an 18-month-old girl. The selection process began Monday in the case against Kyle Trevor Flack. He is charged with capital murder in Franklin County in the shooting deaths of Kaylie Smith Bailey and her young daughter. He's also charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Andrew A. Stout and Steven White. Stout, White and Kaylie Bailey were found dead at Stout's farm in Ottawa, about 25 miles south of Lawrence. Bailey's daughter's body was found a few days later in neighboring Osage County. Flack has been in custody since shortly after the bodies were discovered. Authorities say jury selection could take two weeks.
Body Found Near NE Kansas Lake May Be Kidnapping Suspect
LARKINBURG, Kan. (AP) - Jackson County officials say a body found near the Nebo State Fishing Lake is believed to be that of a suspect in a December Topeka kidnapping. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a hunter discovered the body Sunday afternoon about one-half mile south of the lake near Larkinburg. Jackson County Sheriff Tim Morse said that the dead person is believed to be a 32-year-old suspect in a December 23 kidnapping. The Jackson County Deputy Coroner transported to Kansas City for an autopsy. The cause of death remains under investigation.
Cherokee County Seeks Federal Flood Buyout Program
COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — A Cherokee County official says the owners of 27 flood-prone homes in the southeast part of the county may be eligible for a federal buyout estimated to cost about $1.1 million. Jason Allison, the emergency management director for Cherokee County, said the county has contacted the Kansas Division of Emergency Management to see if Cherokee County residents are eligible for federal help. The Joplin Globe reports that according to the National Weather Service, the Spring River crested at 31.8 feet in Baxter Springs early December 29, 2015, beating the previous record by about 10 feet. The county says about 50 homes were affected and about half of those were destroyed or received substantial damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide 75 percent of the funds, but the buyout programs are administered by states and local communities.
Retired Kansas Police Officer Facing Federal Fraud Charges
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A retired Kansas law enforcement officer who was paid more than $56,000 to train other offices armed engagement practices is facing federal embezzlement charges. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 51-year-old Kevin P. Vaughn of Wichita is accused of falsifying reports to make it look like his company had completed 15 eight-hour classes the company agreed to provide. Vaughn retired in March 2015 after 28 years with the Wichita Police Department. He is charged embezzling Department of Homeland Security funds, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors say the incidents happened from April through June of last year. Vaughn is facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the fraud counts and one year in prison on the embezzlement count, if convicted.
Elephant Relocation Program Facing Some Opposition
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Some conservationists are opposing the planned relocation of 18 elephants from Swaziland to zoos in the United States, though a U.S. official says the animal transfer can be done humanely and is permissible under international law. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month approved the relocation of 18 elephants from the southern African country to Dallas Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. The service's associate director, Robert Dreher, told The Associated Press during a recent visit to South Africa that he recognizes the "humanitarian concerns" of people who oppose the elephant export. However, he says it does not threaten conservation of the species and adds that zoos play an important role in educating the public about wildlife and threats to it.
Manhattan to Host Centuries-Old Book with Shakespeare Plays
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A nearly 400-year-old collection of William Shakespeare's plays is making a stop in Manhattan. An exhibition featuring a "First Folio" of the Bard's plays goes on display Thursday at Kansas State University. The exhibit last through the end of the month. The folio was assembled by two of Shakespeare's actors in 1623 and is an original printing of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. Included are plays such as "Macbeth," ''Julius Caesar" and "The Tempest." Of about 750 copies made originally, it's estimated 233 remain. One site in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico was chosen to host the traveling exhibit. The tour is organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association.
2 Killed in Fatal Car Crash in Suburban Kansas City
LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say two 18-year-olds have died in a crash in the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit. Police said in a news release that the crash happened Monday when the driver of a northbound vehicle was attempting to pass another vehicle. Upon encountering an oncoming southbound vehicle, the driver attempted to return to the northbound lane. But the passing vehicle skidded sideways before it was struck broadside by the southbound vehicle. Two passengers in the passing vehicle died, one at a hospital and one at the scene. They were identified as Courtney Rardin and Nathan Giron, both of Lee's Summit. The driver of the passing vehicle is listed in serious condition. The driver of the southbound vehicle was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. The crash is under investigation.
Consultant Rejects Compromise Plan for Kansas City Airport
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A consultant for airlines that use the Kansas City airport says a plan to renovate the airport is unacceptable. Lou Salomon, chief operating officer of AvAirPros, said Tuesday a plan submitted by Crawford Architects did not address the airport's future needs for such things as gates, concessions and room for larger aircraft. City and aviation officials have been discussing for more than four years a plan to demolish the airport and replace it with a single terminal. Some citizens want to keep the current three-terminal design. Crawford suggested expanding Terminal A and doing similar work on Terminal B in the future. The Kansas City Star reports that Salomon told the Kansas City Council's airport committee the plan would cost about $984 million, not the $672 million estimated by Crawford.
NJCAA Men's Basketball Tournament to Stay in Hutchinson
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - A national end-of-season basketball tournament that has been played in Hutchinson for more than six decades will be there for 25 more years. The Hutchinson News reports the National Junior College Athletic Association on Monday announced the annual Division 1 men's tournament will remain at the Sports Arena until 2041. Hutchinson has hosted the tournament since 1949 but last year the organization suggested it might move if the aging sports facility wasn't fixed up. Local voters approved a .35 percent sales tax increase last April that will fund a $29.5 million renovation of the arena. Economic development officials say the annual tournament brings about $1.3 million into the community.