Monthly Archives: March 2011

Senate passes budget bill after zig-zag on officials’ salaries

TOPEKA — In a budget debate marked by frayed nerves, confusion and course reversals, state Senators voted to reduce a planned cut in their own pay, and then later restored it to where they started.

But while the Senate’s budget bill would reduce lawmaker pay by 7.5 percent starting in July, the governor, other statewide elected officeholders, judges and department heads would get only a 2.5 percent pay cut.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee had recommended a 7.5 percent pay cut for all of those officeholders. Read More »

Senate comes down heavy on metal theft

TOPEKA — In an effort to cut down on metal theft and the damage it does to utilities and other businesses, the state Senate today approved a bill to require scrap dealers to register with their local government and keep detailed records on customers.

House Bill 2312 also establishes strict eligibility requirements for scrap dealers and specifies that scrap yards cannot accept wire of the type used by utilities if the identifying sheathing is burned or stripped away.

It also changes the calculation of penalties for metal theft. At present, the cost of the crime is based on the value of the stolen metal. Under HB 2312, it would be based on the cost of restoring the damage to the property. Read More »

Governor signs bill to keep criminologists in the lab and out of the witness box

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback today signed a law designed to allow criminologists from the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center to file investigative reports in writing, without having to testify in court.

Backers of House Bill 2057 said it is designed to speed court proceedings and free up more time for investigative work, by giving the criminologist reports from the Sedgwick County lab and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Laboratory the same status in court as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Highway Patrol.

Lawyers who want to have the county criminologists testify in person will still be able to bring them to the witness stand, officials said.

Timothy Rohrig, director of the Sedgwick County lab, said it will help free up some investigative time and streamline some proceedings, especially when his scientists have to go out of town, but he doesn’t expect a huge impact on the center’s operation.

He said most of the local lawyers already work closely with the lab and are usually willing to accept written reports as evidence.

However, he said it does take his scientists about half a day to testify in court, between their actual testimony and waiting for their turn to speak.

“If you’re four hours down in court, that’s four hours you’re not on the (laboratory) bench,” he said.

The forensics lab performs a variety of duties, including coroner services, DNA analysis and testing to determine whether substances seized by police are actual illegal drugs.

The center employs 37 people. That includes 17 laboratory scientists and three pathologists, who are the ones who testify in court cases, Rohrig said.

Brownback praised the local facilities in a news conference today.

“They do a high quality job and we’re attempting to utilize them on an equal par with the state facilities,” he said.

He added that it will help make investigations more efficient.

“Time issue can be a portion of it, but to me it opens up more options,” Brownback said. “If you’re a DA or a county attorney and you’re close by Sedgwick County or Johnson County and it just makes more sense and you’re used to working with them on something, do it, instead of going to the state laboratory facilities.”

Longwell and Meitzner leading the way with campaign cash

Jeff Longwell, the incumbent in northwest Wichita’s fifth district, and Pete Meitzner, a candidate running in east Wichita’s second district, out-raised their opponents between Feb. 18 and March 24, according to recently filed campaign finance reports.

Longwell raised $16,461 compared to Lynda Tyler’s $3,625. Tyler enters the final days of campaigning with $908. Longwell has $16,301 left to spend. Longwell spent $42,261 defending his seat during the reporting period, while Tyler spent $3,716.

Among people giving a maximum $500 contribution to Longwell are: Key Construction co-founder David Wells, developer Jay Maxwell, attorney Mark Hutton, theater owner Bill Warren and health club owner Rodney Steven II.

Among Tyler’s top contributors are: oilman Wink Hartman, contractor Don Rutherford II, retiree Ronald Davis, retiree James Garvey and retiree John Stevens.

Meitzner drew $43,322 in contributions compared to Charlie Stevens’ $26,926. Meitzner has $21,640 left to spend. Stevens has $17,282. Meitzner spent $32,459. Stevens spent $22,920.

Among Meitzner’s top contributors are: Developer Jay Russell, theater owner Bill Warren, Key Construction co-founder David Wells and developer Dave Burk.

Among Stevens’ top donors are: Attorney Mark Kahrs, investor John McKay, developer Stephen Clark and oilman Wink Hartman.

Campaign finance reports are due at the end the day today.

Advocacy groups present petitions against legislator who made ‘feral hogs’ comment

Peck

TOPEKA — Representatives of immigrant advocacy groups met at the state Capitol today to deliver Internet petitions they said were supported by more than 55,000 people seeking the resignation of Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro.

Peck invoked the anger of interest groups and attracted nationwide media coverage after a comment he made in a March 14 meeting on controlling feral hogs: “Looks like to me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem.”

The group of about 12 delivered the petitions to Gov. Sam Brownback and House Speaker Mike O’Neal. The petitions were the product of a “Dump Peck” Internet movement by Presente.org, a national online advocacy group that promotes the political empowerment of Latinos. The petitions demanded Peck’s immediate resignation and also asked that “those in the Kansas state and National Republican Party who do not agree with his views call for his resignation now and hold him accountable for his hateful rhetoric.”

“Rep. Peck’s words were dangerous,” said Lalo Munoz from the Latino Informational Network of Kansas. “There is no place in our Kansas State Legislature for someone who uses offensive words to endanger and create fear in our communities. Kansas is better than this.”

Read More »

Firefighters union endorses Brewer and Longwell

The Wichita firefighters union endorsed Mayor Carl Brewer and District 5 council member Jeff Longwell for re-election, the union’s political action committee announced this afternoon.

Union officials interviewed each candidate for roughly an hour about their views on the safety of firefighters and the public. Earlier this week, the union’s PAC backed Pete Meitzner in east Wichita’s District 2, James Clendenin in southeast Wichita’s District 3 and Joshua Blick for District 4 in the southwest area.

House forwards corporate group’s EPA “train wreck” resolution to Washington

TOPEKA — When it came to criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency, the only question for the Kansas House members today was whether to use the term “mandate” or “train wreck.”

They picked “train wreck.”

House Resolution 6008 claims that EPA’s air-quality regulations are harming the national economy.

It urges Congress to defund EPA’s air-quality efforts and prohibit the agency from regulating emissions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases that scientists say are contributing to global climate change.

HR 6008 — including the term “train wreck” is essentially a word-for-word copy of a resolution offered to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Washington-based organization claims to have 2,000 state legislators across the country as members. It is largely funded by oil, chemical and corporate interests, including foundations controlled by Wichita-based Koch Industries. Read More »

House speaker shoots an air ball on KU legend Danny Manning’s NBA career

O'Neal

TOPEKA — Speaker of the House Mike O’Neal blew a layup on a basketball question in his own trivia contest today.

Each morning, O’Neal throws House members a trivia question, usually a point of state history or politics. The first representative to provide the right answer wins a candy bar.

Today, O’Neal asked which two NBA teams University of Kansas basketball legend Danny Manning played for.

He announced that the right answer was given by Rep. Mike Burgess, R-Topeka — the Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks.

A few minutes later, after getting a message from Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, O’Neal acknowledged that his answer was incorrect.

Manning

Ballard correctly pointed out that Manning in fact played for seven NBA teams: the Clippers, the Hawks, the Phoenix Suns, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Utah Jazz, the Dallas Mavericks and the Detroit Pistons.

“I stand corrected; thank you Rep. Ballard, O’Neal said.

Manning is now an assistant basketball coach at KU.

Burgess, part of a back-row alliance of representatives who pool their knowledge and take turns claiming the candy, speculated that the Manning question was probably supposed to have been to name the first two teams Manning played for.

Manning played for only a partial season in Atlanta, between long stretches with the Clippers and Suns.

Kobach immigration bill stays stranded in committee

Smith

TOPEKA — The House just soundly defeated a motion to pull Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Arizona-style immigration bill out of committee and bring it to the floor.

The motion by Rep. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, would have breathed new life into House Bill 2372, which is stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would require local and state police to detain and check immigration status of people they come in contact with if there is reason to believe that the person is in the country illegally. It also would have required employers to use a federal database to confirm the legal residency of new employees and make it a state crime to harbor undocumented immigrants or encourage them to come to or reside in the state.

The rare motion to take the bill out of committee was voted down 84-40. It would have needed 70 votes to pass. Read More »

Sedgwick County’s jail population in February down from 2010

Sedgwick County Jail

Sedgwick County’s jail population for February was down slightly from the same month the year before, county manager William Buchanan told commissioners this morning.

The average daily population at the jail in February was 1,541 compared with 1,556 in February 2010. Buchanan said the slight reduction could be due in part to the county charging cities jail fees for housing inmates facing municipal charges.

The number of inmates in work release was down slightly last month, at 117 compared with 133 in February 2010.

Buchanan said people only can be on work release if they have a job, and the economy could be affecting the work release program as fewer jobs are available in the community.