Headlines for Monday, February 8, 2016
Kansas Senate Panel Approves Bill to Balance State Budget
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill that would balance the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The measure approved Monday by the Ways and Means Committee would eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the $16.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year. The committee's 9-2 vote sends the bill to the full Senate for a debate that could occur by the end of this week. The bill includes many of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to help close the budget gap by juggling funds and capturing unanticipated savings. The GOP-dominated committee also found an additional $32 million in savings in a program that provides death and disability benefits to the families of state workers.
Kansas House Education Chair Opposes School District Cuts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The chairman of the Kansas House education committee says his panel probably will not vote on a school consolidation measure. Republican Representative Ron Highland of Wamego, told the Topeka Capital-Journalthat he doesn't intend to move forward this year with a House measure introduced by Lansing Republican Representative John Bradford. The measure would pare down the number of Kansas school districts to around one per county. The Kansas Association of School Boards estimated the number of districts would drop from 286 statewide to 132. A hearing in Highland's committee attracted 41 opponents to the bill.
Kansas Senate Plan Would Hinder University's Bonding Move
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new budget proposal from Kansas legislators could force the University of Kansas to raise private funds to pay off construction bonds issued out-of-state. The Senate Ways and Means Committee added the measure Monday to a bill for balancing the state budget through June 2017. The provision would bar the university for two years from using state dollars or student fee funds to pay off the $327 million in bonds issued last month for construction projects. The university formed a nonprofit corporation which then had Wisconsin's Public Finance Authority issue the bonds. University officials contend they complied with Kansas law. Republican Senator Tom Arpke of Salina said lawmakers have had no oversight. He drafted the measure. Democratic Senator Laura Kelly of Topeka called Arpke's proposal an attack on the university.
Kansas Senate Panel Adds $2.4 Million to Mental Hospital Budget for Staff
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's mental hospital in eastern Kansas would receive an additional $2.4 million in its current budget to help boost its staffing under a proposal from a legislative committee. The Senate Ways and Means Committee added the money Monday for Osawatomie State Hospital as it debated other proposals for keeping the budget balanced through June 2017. The Department on Aging and Disability Services reported last month that 187 of the 483 positions at the hospital were vacant. The federal government decertified the Osawatomie hospital in December after a critical survey found that the hospital failed to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care or perform required safety checks. The department says the decertification is costing the state between $500,000 and $1 million a month in federal funds.
Kansas Legislators Endorse Public Safety Measures
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic legislators in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature are voicing their support for three bills designed to enhance public safety. One bill would use an additional fee on vehicle registrations to create a staffing fund for the Kansas Highway Patrol, which has about 80 fewer troopers than a decade ago. A second bill would require a minimum number of staff members at state agencies and facilities, while a third would prohibit selling or transferring firearms to anyone on the terrorist watch or no-fly list. Senator Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, says the proposed legislation would "immediately make Kansas families safer in their homes, on their roads and in their communities."
Kansas Governor Signs Measure Aimed at Keeping Courts Open
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has signed legislation to keep Kansas's courts open following a legal dispute involving their budget and the state Supreme Court's power. Brownback signed the bill Monday, and it will take effect on Thursday. The measure repeals a 2015 law threatening the court system's budget. That law said the judiciary's budget through June 2017 would be nullified if the courts struck down a 2014 law. The 2014 law stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts and gave it to local judges instead. The high court invalidated the 2014 law in December. GOP lawmakers who supported both laws have said they never intended to close the courts. Brownback said questions about judicial funding are now resolved.
Abortion Rights Advocates Hold Reproductive Health Care Rally
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion rights organizations, students and Kansas House members are rallying against legislation banning access to reproductive health care. Representatives from Planned Parenthood, Trust Women and United for Reproductive & Gender Equity are pushing a House bill that would repeal a ban on so-called telemedicine abortions. The measure would allow women to undergo medically-induced abortions without a physician being present. Katie Knutter, a representative from Trust Women, says the bill would help save time and money for many women who travel several hours to reach her clinic in Wichita. Monday's rally comes after hundreds of anti-abortion advocates rallied outside the Statehouse last month on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Legislatures Consider Special Protections for Gun Industry
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A gun-dealers trade group is pushing legislation in several conservative states to restrict what it says is discrimination by financial institutions. The National Shooting Sports Foundation initiated legislation in Kansas, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri over the last year after hearing from gun businesses that allege they've been unfairly denied financial services, including by insurance companies. Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, called the effort a "solution in search of a problem." He says guns are big business in the U.S., and insurance companies are going to compete for it. Other companies and organizations also are opposed, saying if such anti-discrimination laws are needed, they should be extended to other legal businesses, not to one industry.
University of Kansas Student Newspaper Sues Administration
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The student newspaper at the University of Kansas has filed a federal lawsuit accusing university administrators of approving funding cuts to the newspaper that were enacted after an editorial critical of the student senate. The University Daily Kansan's leadership is accusing university officials of approving funding cuts to the newspaper made by the student senate in violation of the newspaper's freedom of speech protections. According to the lawsuit, the student newspaper ran a 2014 editorial highlighting "inadequacies" in the student senate election code. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the lawsuit alleges that university officials later approved newspaper funding cuts sought by student senators to punish the newspaper's leadership for the unflattering coverage.
Kansas Bill Would Require Taped Interrogations and Compensate Wrongfully Convicted
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Law enforcement would be required to record some interrogations under a bill introduced by Representative Ramon Gonzalez, a Perry Republican. The legislation mandates recorded interrogations of suspects arrested for capital murder, first-degree murder and second-degree murder. Gonzalez says the bill is "partly" a response to the wrongful conviction of Floyd Bledsoe. The northeast Kansas man spent nearly 16 years in prison for a killing his brother eventually admitted to committing. He was sentenced to life in prison but released in December, 2015 after a DNA test and suicide notes indicated his brother, Tom Bledsoe, killed Zetta Camille Arfmann in 1999. Alice Craig, Bledsoe's attorney with the Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas, supports recording interrogations. Representative Gonzalez also introduced a measure that would make Bledsoe eligible for about $235,000 in state compensation. The bill would allow people wrongfully convicted to bring suit in state court within two years of their release. Compensation is allocated using a formula based on the federal minimum wage and time spent in prison. Under the formula, Bledsoe would be eligible for $235,248. The payments would come out of the state's general fund.
Kansas Saw 5 Percent Growth in Number of Businesses in 2015
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas secretary of state's office says the number of businesses in the state grew by 5 percent last year. Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office reported Monday that Kansas had about 179,000 businesses at the end of 2015. That's about 8,600 more than at the end of 2014. Kobach's office noted that a record of nearly 17,300 businesses formed in Kansas last year. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has pointed to annual records for new business formations each year since 2011 as a sign that his tax-cutting policies are boosting the economy. But the secretary of state's report also showed that a growing number of businesses also dissolved, withdrew or forfeited their right to remain active in Kansas. More than 15,600 did so last year, up slightly from 2014.
2 Kansas Universities List Campus Sex-Offenders Online
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - While two universities in Kansas provide online lists of registered sex offenders enrolled or employed on campus, most require that the basic information be provided directly by campus police. Of the state's six state universities, only Kansas State and the University of Kansas make the information easily accessible online. Only Kansas State includes mugshots with the list. At Wichita State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State universities, the schools' websites direct people to the campus police stations to see the list. To see a photo of the offender, a person would have to go to the state's online public offender registry at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Kansas Children's Cabinet Members Criticize Leader
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Members of the Kansas Children's Cabinet criticized the leader of their group for excluding them from recent funding recommendations for early childhood programs. The recommendations come in a document that says they are "from the Kansas Children's Cabinet." But group members said they didn't vote on them. Amanda Adkins, the group's chairwoman, says she needed to move quickly in order to get the recommendations to lawmakers during the budget process. Cabinet members didn't express opposition to the recommendations themselves, and in some cases praised them. But Children's Cabinet member Representative Valdenia Winn called for more conversation and discussion with the group before a recommendation takes place.
Brownback Economic Adviser Arrested on Suspicion of Drunk Driving
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The executive director of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's Council of Economic Advisors has been arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Shawnee County jail records show that Stanley Ahlerich, executive director of the Kansas Governor's Council of Economic Advisors, was arrested early Saturday on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Ahlerich was released about an hour later on $1,000 bond. The Topeka Capital-Journal reportsthat Ahlerich, of Winfield, has led the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors since Brownback formed the group in 2011. The council provides the governor with economic insights from assessments of local, national and global business conditions and trends.
Festival Celebrating Kansas Travel to Road Trip in 2018
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A spring festival in Kansas is planning to take its fun on the road starting in 2018. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Sampler Festival of the state's products, music, food and places will travel from city to city in 2018. Director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation Marci Penner said that the festival's purpose is to inspire travel in Kansas, so the festival should actually do the traveling. Penner said that if it's a success, the idea could spread to a road trip two or three times a year. The Kansas Sampler Festival will be in the same format it has used in for nearly three decades in Winfield this May and in 2017.
Plaque Honors Kansas Boy Who Died at Alabama Airport
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A plaque has been unveiled at an Alabama airport where a northeast Kansas boy died when he was hit by a falling flight information sign. The Kansas City Star reports that Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport unveiled the plaque last week. It honors Luke Bresette, of Overland Park, who was 10 years old in March 2013 when he was killed by the falling sign. His family, returning home from a trip to Destin, Florida, was walking by when the free-standing flight information board toppled over. Two of Luke's younger brothers also were hurt. Luke's father, Ryan Bresette, says the family appreciated the airport's gesture. He described the plaque as "absolutely beautiful.'' The family has settled a wrongful death lawsuit.
Kansas Man Sentenced for Embezzling More than $6 Million
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for embezzling more than $6 million. The U.S. attorney's office says 46-year-old Kenneth Voboril, of Overland Park, was sentenced Monday for wire fraud and filing a false tax return. He pleaded guilty previously. The Commodity Specialists Company in Overland Park hired him in 2005 to run its subsidiary, TransMaxx, which brokers trucking deliveries. Voboril admitted through his plea to creating fake companies and billing CSC for deliveries that never occurred.
Man Sentenced to Prison in Death of Man Struck by Truck
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted of running over and killing a Wichita man trying to retrieve a stolen truck has been sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison. The Wichita Eagle reports that Edward Ladish was sentenced Friday in the death of 25-year-old Shawn Palmer. Ladish was found guilty last year of second-degree murder, aggravated battery and theft. Prosecutors say Palmer and his brother saw Ladish driving the truck on July 5, 2014, at a south Wichita convenience store. Police say when Ladish tried to drive away, the brothers held onto the truck. Palmer eventually fell off and was run over. He later died of his injuries. His brother was treated for his injuries.
Grand Jury Investigation Costs Cherokee County $28,000
GALENA, Kan. (AP) - Cherokee County spent about $28,000 on a grand jury investigation that led to charges that were ultimately dismissed. The county budgeted $50,000 for the investigation in 2015 after opponents of plans to build a landfill in Riverton petitioned for the investigation. Another $50,000 was set aside in the 2016 budget before the charges against the Galena officials were dismissed. The Joplin Globe reportsthe Galena mayor and six current or former Galena City Council members were indicted on a misuse of public funds charges. The charges were dismissed in September. A petition seeking the grand jury probe was started by opponents of the Galena council's 2014 plan to establish a landfill in Riverton. The county spent about $28,306 on fees for lawyers and others during the grand jury investigation.
Kansas Woman Pleads Guilty to Abandoning Grandson
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Wichita woman accused of abandoning her 5-year-old grandson while fleeing a Kohl's store after a shoplifting incident has pleaded guilty in the case. The 41-year-old grandmother pleaded guilty Friday to one count of contributing to the misconduct of a child or deprivation by encouraging the child to become or remain a child in need of care, and one count of theft after prior convictions. She is scheduled to be sentenced next month. Prosecutors say she tried to steal clothing from the store before fleeing, leaving the clothes and her grandson behind in June.