Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bomb threat to anti-abortion activist came from same number used to threaten stores

A Wichita anti-abortion activist said Tuesday she’s been told that a bomb threat against her last month apparently came from the same person who threatened to blow up several stores in Wichita and Salina.

Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said an FBI investigator told her last week that the threatening call to her on Nov. 14 came from the same number used to call in threats against three K-Marts and a Walgreens the same day.

Sullenger said she was puzzled that she was targeted for a call since as far as she knows, she’s the only individual the caller threatened.

According to police, the caller had apparently threatened the stores in an attempt to extort them into loading money onto debit cards and giving them to him.

Sullenger said the call to her was more personal in nature.

“The guy called and said he was over at my house and gave me my street address,” she said. “He said he was ‘going to blow up my (expletive) house.’”

Wichita police swept the home with a bomb-sniffing dog and found nothing, Sullenger said.

She said the investigator told her that officers had contacted the owner of the phone number used for the calls, but are now pursuing the possibility that someone else “cloned” the number to another phone and used that to misdirect investigators.

Someone using the same number had also called Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, but he didn’t pick up and the caller didn’t leave a message, Sullenger said.

Brownback, Wagle: School finance ruling could trigger public fight over Supreme Court selection

Gov. Sam Brownback and Senate President Susan Wagle told a Wichita business audience Thursday that the upcoming session of the Legislature will hinge on how the state Supreme Court rules in a school-finance lawsuit – a decision that could push lawmakers toward trying a constitutional amendment to change the way justices are selected.

“If that (ruling) comes out at the first of the legislative session, that will probably dominate the legislative session,” Brownback said. “It will be about K-12 financing and whatever the court rules.”

The justices are currently considering whether to uphold a decision by a special three-judge panel, which ruled the state is underfunding schools and hasn’t met its constitutional obligation to provide suitable funding for public education.

Wagle – whom the governor called a called a “rock star and personal hero of mine” – projected that a decision requiring lawmakers to increase school funding would push the Legislature to go to voters with a constitutional amendment to change the way Supreme Court justices are picked.

“It will be a very tough year if we’re at odds,” Wagle said. “If we get that ruling down, what we’re going to do is focus on what is the role of the Supreme Court.

“Should they be interpreting law? Should they be appropriating money?” she added. “They aren’t elected and we’re real concerned that when they do analyze how much money is appropriate for K through 12 funding, they don’t get to hear all the other testimony we hear from the other groups in the state, whether it be transportation, corrections, higher ed, all the other entities we fund.”

Later, Brownback said that an order for increased K-12 funding could go as high as $500 million a year, money he says the state can’t afford.

And he hinted that could mean further cuts in state aid to the university system. This year, the Legislature cut about $60 million from higher ed for this budget year and next.

“There will be a lot of debate about higher education,” Brownback said. “Funding will be a major topic.

“I’ve been supporting stable funding for higher education. I think we ought to do that and then target our investment in key areas of growth – aviation, animal agriculture and medical sciences, certainly in the Kansas City area. Those I think will probably be key issues that will come up but it’s probably going to mostly pivot on what the Supreme Court rules.”

Brownback and Wagle made their remarks at an annual presentation by the governor to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.

In the past, the state has chosen appeals judges and Supreme Court justices through a “merit system” in which a panel of lawyers elected by the State Bar and laypeople appointed by the governor picks three nominees. The governor must select from those three finalists.

The Senate favors the “federal model,” in which the governor could appoint anyone he wants, with a confirmation vote by the Senate.

This year, the House and Senate passed a law to change the selection of appeals court judges to the federal system, which could be done with a simple statute change.

Brownback’s first appellate appointment under the new system went to his own office counsel, Caleb Stegall, who was quickly confirmed by the Senate during a special session in September.

But the selection of Supreme Court justices is spelled out in the state Constitution and changing that would require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Legislature, plus a public vote.

The Senate has already passed the proposed amendment, but it stalled in the House.

Kansas named among ‘most improved’ for energy efficiency, still trails most of nation

Kansas was named one of the “most improved” states in America for energy-efficiency programs, although the state remains in the bottom 10 with much room to improve.

The state rose from 45th among the 50 states and District of Columbia last year, to a tie with South Carolina for 39th on the annual scorecard of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The results were announced at a national telephone-based news conference held by ACEEE officials and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Overall, Kansas earned 11.5 out of a possible 50 points, a three-point gain from last year.

That was enough to put Kansas in the top-five most improved states, although it still lags way behind the national leaders, Massachusetts, with 42 points and California, 41 points. Wyoming ranked dead last with 5.5 points.

“We do this to improve all states, whether it’s the leaders or the followers,” said Steve Nadel, executive director of ACEEE.

“The Department of Energy has supported the scorecard program since 2008 and is really very pleased to do so,” Moniz added. “It’s a critical tool for us to unite leaders, for energy policy makers being called on to make informed decisions about energy efficiency; and entrepreneurs and business leaders as well, who of course are confronted with making investment decisions.”

In the rankings, Kansas earned higher-than average marks for state-led initiatives, scoring five out of a possible seven points in that category.

Analysts cited the Efficiency Kansas program that provides loans for upgrading heating, air conditioning and other systems. They also praised the state for leading by example with energy efficiency requirements for public buildings and motor fleets.

The state also showed improvement for promoting energy efficient building codes.

But energy-efficiency programs through the state’s utilities ranked near the bottom of the scale, scoring half a point out a possible 20.

“The state reported well below-average levels of investments and savings for electricity and natural gas energy efficiency programs,” the Kansas section of the report said. “There is significant room for growth in this policy area.”

Regents approve big tuition increases; blame Legislature for cutting university funding

TOPEKA — Complaining that the Legislature forced their hand, the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a sweeping package of tuition increases for the state’s public universities.

The tuition increases include:

Pittsburg State — 7.4 percent increase overall, 4.4 percent of which is to cover the reduction in state support.

University of Kansas — 4.9 percent overall, 2.5 percent to offset lost state support; For KU Medical School, 7.3 overall, which does not cover the 12 percent state cut.

Fort Hays State — 3.4 percent overall, 2.5 percent due to state cut.

Emporia State University — 6.5 percent overall, 6.4 percent to offset state cut.

Wichita State University — 8 percent overall, 3.5 percent to offset state cuts.

The votes on all the increases were unanimous and regents one after another lashed the state Legislature for a package of cuts passed in the budget in the after-midnight hours on June 2.

The regents noted that Kansas’ main competitors, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska, all increased funding for their university systems this year.

“The only state in the area that was decreased is our state,” said Regent Dan Lykins

Tax plan headed to governor with provision to help south Wichita tornado victims

TOPEKA – In one of the final acts of the 2013 legislative session, the House of Representatives and the Senate on Sunday sent a long-awaited tax bill to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

The bill, which walks back some of the tax relief from last year’s tax bill, is projected to increase state tax revenue by $777 million over the next five years, compared to current law.

It does that by setting the state sales tax at 6.15 percent – lower than the current 6.3 percent but higher than the 5.7 percent that the rate would have reverted to under a 2010 law that established a three-year emergency sales tax increase to help the state through the recession.

The bill also cuts income tax rates, but simultaneously phases down the value of most tax deductions, which nearly offsets the tax relief gained from the lower rates.

Supporters largely acknowledged that they had gone too far with last year’s tax cuts, leaving the state unable to pay for vital services without revisions this year.

The final version of the tax bill also contains a provision, inserted at the last minute, to allow county commissions to abate taxes on homes and mobile homes destroyed in natural disasters.

That was added in response to a situation that arose last year when tornado victims in south Wichita were charged a full year of property taxes for houses and mobile homes destroyed in April.

The bill is retroactive to the beginning of 2012, so Sedgwick County commissioners can now abate the disaster victims’ taxes if they choose to do so.

The fight over the tax bill had been the hangup that forced an expected 80-day session to run 99 days.

Although the bill passed the House early Sunday, which would have been the 100th day, the session will go in the books as 99 because the Legislature worked straight through and technically didn’t adjourn its Saturday deliberations.

In the end, the tax battle became less a financial issue than a clash of governing philosophies.

Democrats railed that the bill represented a shift in the tax burden from wealthier taxpayers and businesses to the bottom 60 percent of state taxpayers.

Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, urged his Republican colleagues to listen to their ordinary working-class constituents.

“How many of them said ‘You know what? I want you to go to Topeka. I am sending you to Topeka because I want you to raise my taxes. I want that $777 million tax increase.’”

Republicans were adamant that the state needed to protect the zero-income tax rate granted to certain types of businesses last year and keep cutting income tax rates – even if it means higher sales taxes – to spur business growth.

The tax plan doesn’t touch the centerpiece of last year’s plan, the complete elimination of income taxes on owners of limited liability companies, farms, sole proprietor businesses and corporations organized under Subchapter S of the federal tax code.

“I think we’ll have a very positive impact with new companies moving to the state of Kansas near Lawrence and KU and Wichita, near K-State, near Pittsburgh and near Hays, with businesses that provide very well-paying jobs that they (workers) can afford to send their children on to higher education,” said Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, chairman of the House Taxation Committee and the driving force behind the tax bill. “I think this will grow the state and bring those jobs to the state.”

Among the key provisions of the tax plan:

– The top income tax rate for those earning more than $30,000 a year would be reduced from 4.9 percent to 3.9 percent over five years. Rates for the under-$30,000 bracket will drop from 3 to 2.3 percent.

– As rates drop, the plan also phases down the value of tax deductions. While charity giving would still be fully deductible, the value of other deductions will be gradually be cut down to 50 percent by 2018. Gambling losses would no longer be deductible.

– Standard deductions used by lower-income taxpayers who don’t itemize would be set at $5,500 for single-parent families and $7,500 for married couples filing jointly. That’s a smaller deduction than the $9,000 level that was part of the 2012 tax plan.

– The plan would partially restore a food-sales-tax rebate program for the working poor.

– After 2018, growth of government would be capped at 2 percent a year, with any additional revenue being diverted to buying down the income tax rate.

The Legislative Research Department estimates that the new tax plan would generate deficit spending of $95.8 million to $182 million a year from 2014 to 2018 – deficits that would be covered from state reserves.

Gov. Sam Brownback and other Republicans are confident that increased business, jobs and commerce spurred by income tax cuts will offset those projected revenue losses.

State budget finalized on Senate vote; universities and Wichita job-training facility take a hit

By Dion Lefler

Eagle Topeka Bureau

TOPEKA – Kansas universities and the National Center for Aviation Training in Wichita took a fiscal “haircut” in the final state budget that passed out of the Legislature on Sunday.

The $14.3 billion budget passed with a $56.1 million cut to public universities over the next two years and a $2 million cut in state support of NCAT, the aviation job training program at Col. James Jabara Airport.

The budget does protect several Wichita-area priorities, including $5 million a year each for low-cost airline service to Mid-Continent Airport and the National Institute for Aviation Research.

Those allocations are set for the next two years.

However, the budget trims state aid to regents universities by $23.3 million in 2014 and $32.8 million in 2015, including salary reductions and a 1.5 percent cut in general fund support.

In the Senate debate, Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the cuts made a mockery of Gov. Sam Brownback’s university tour earlier this year.

While touring the state’s campuses, Brownback had said he would maintain current funding for higher education.

“Now we’re looking at a budget that I guess the governor’s going to sign, after he said he was going to hold higher education harmless,” Hensley said. “What are we to believe in this state when we have rhetoric that does not match the action?”

That drew a strong response from Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who said it’s incorrect to pan Brownback for statements he made on the college tour because he fully intended to keep university funding whole when he said that.

“I think anyone who knows the man knows he is sincere,” Masterson said.

The budget reduces NCAT’s state support from $5 million to $3 million.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, questioned whether that was a wise policy at a time when job creation is a high priority.

“It’s one of the very successful programs we have here in our state and across the nation,” McGinn said. “Lots of states come and look at this facility and try to figure out how to copy it … I just think it’s a bad time to be taking money from a facility that has a 98 percent placement rating.”

Masterson said it could have been worse.

“There was even discussion about taking it all at one point when they were looking for cuts, but we rejected that and we felt this would be more appropriate to hold them at three (million dollars),” he said.

Jason Watkins, the lobbyist for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and a former legislator, said it was disappointing that NCAT got cut, but that the appropriation was set for one year only and he thinks there’s a good chance the funding could go back up to $5 million next year.

He said the Chamber is pleased that NIAR and the affordable airfare program got full funding for two years.

In addition, the budget includes $750,000 in funding for the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch, the juvenile correctional facility at Lake Afton that was threatened with closure last year during a Sedgwick County budget crunch.

It also includes a proviso prohibiting the University of Kansas from cutting back its medical resident program in Wichita.

Budget negotiators did drop a proviso that would have earmarked $87,000 to support two professional golf tournaments, the Air Capital Open in Wichita and the National Public Links Championship in Newton.

Budget negotiators removed that language after being criticized for supporting golf tournaments when priority state services were being cut.

However, that doesn’t mean the tournaments won’t get the money. It’s still in the budget and could be provided in the form of economic development grants because of the tournaments’ impact on community commerce.

The Senate vote was cliffhanger and the budget didn’t pass until about 2 a.m.

Initially, it came down at 19-16, two votes short of passage.

That triggered a “call” of the Senate, in which senators were required to stay in their seats and the doors to the chamber guarded while attempts were made to track down missing members.

Three of them were out of state, but Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, was located after about 20 minutes and cast the 20th “aye” vote.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth changed his vote, giving the measure the necessary majority and clearing the way to end the session.

The House passed the bill Saturday afternoon, also on a close vote that required a call.

After Fitzgerald voted, freshman Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, injected some levity into what had become a grueling process.

He told Senate President Susan Wagle he was going to switch his vote from yes to no, which would have prolonged the stalemate.

But then he added: “I wouldn’t do that to you. I just want out of here.”

Senate passes anti-abortion bill after bitter debate touching on Taliban and slavery

TOPEKA – After a second bruising debate in a week on abortion, the state Senate has given its final approval to a bill that defines human life as beginning at fertilization and that bans abortion for sex selection.

With allusions to the Taliban terrorist group on one side and the Dred Scott decision that once upheld black slavery on the other, the debate on a conference report on House Bill 2253 careened through bitter issues argued Monday when the Senate approved and passed a prior version of the bill.

The bill returned to the Senate four days after a 29-11 vote to approve all of its provisions except for the language on banning sex-selection abortions. That was added into the final bill by a House-Senate conference committee after Monday’s vote.

The Senate had earlier approved a bill banning sex-selection abortion, but it stalled in the House. The conference report will force an up-or-down floor vote in the House.

In addition to the provisions on sex-selection abortions and when life begins, the bill also would:

• Establish a statutory mandate that abortion doctors must provide controversial medical information to women who are seeking an abortion, specifically of a theorized link between abortion and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute has called that a “false alarm” and said it’s not supported the scientific evidence.

• Ban women from deducting any abortion expenses from their state income taxes.

• Eliminate damage to a woman’s mental health as justification for allowing a mid- to late-term abortion.

• Prohibit paid agents or volunteers connected to abortion providers – including Planned Parenthood – from providing any information on human sexuality to students in public schools.

• Require clinics that perform abortions to provide women with detailed information on gestational development.

• Require abortion providers to provide patients with a directory of anti-abortion alternative programs.

During Friday’s debate, Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, said any abortion at any stage of pregnancy “results in a dead human child.”

He also characterized the Roe vs. Wade decision that protects a woman’s right to an abortion as “probably the worst decision ever to come out of this Supreme Court or any Supreme Court, including the Dred Scott decision.”

The Scott decision in 1857 ruled that African-Americans were not citizens, could not become citizens and could be bought and sold as merchandise. The ruling hardened positions on both sides of the slavery issue and helped lead the country into Civil War.

Fitzgerald also objected to a statement in Monday’s debate by Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, who accused anti-abortion Republicans of pushing “narrow Taliban-like philosophies on our state’s persons.”

“I particularly would like to point out the backhanded disrespect that is being paid to the pro-life people with the assertion the other day of being Taliban-like, which I think is unconscionable and intolerable, and with the assertion that the pro-life groups have no regard for the children already born,” Fitzgerald said.

That prompted a backhanded apology from Haley.

“If some … who are committed so far to this issue have taken any offense by my comparison to their view as Taliban-esque, then I would offer that apology for the good of the future of our next three years working together,” he said.

However, he also said: “That’s a glaring example and maybe I’ll recede because it’s so harsh, but it does bring into crystal clear focus how many people feel repressed, especially women, by some of the views that emanate from this chamber … that are telling women that they cannot do with their own bodies.”

Also, Haley, an African-American whose family was profiled in the historical book and television mini-series “Roots,” said Fitzgerald’s comparison of Roe v. Wade to the Dred Scott decision was misplaced.

“Comparing a woman’s right to choose to bad history like our country’s racism, or our country’s classism or elitism – which we’re known for here in Kansas still – is not a direct analogy,” he said.

House breaks with Senate on alcohol bill, Capitol stays ‘dry’

TOPEKA – The Kansas House has decided that the Capitol will stay “dry,” at least for now.

Hours after the Senate approved a measure to allow alcohol under the dome under certain circumstances, the House sent the bill back to a committee for a rework.

The provision, part of Senate Substitute for House Bill 2199, was proposed to allow drinking in the Capitol during official functions, such as a planned party to celebrate completion of the renovation of the Capitol building.

But the House sent it back to a conference committee of Representatives and Senators after a ruling that an unrelated part of bill dealing with home beer brewers had been improperly added to the catch-all measure.

The rules decision came after an impassioned plea on the floor by Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane.

DeGraaf railed against another part of the bill, which would allow automatic wine-dispensing machines to be used under limited circumstances at state-owned casinos.

“Why is that?” DeGraaf said. “Because we profit from state-owned casinos.”

Moments later, he asked “What’s next? Fountains with flowing alcohol where you can just go in and drink it?”

A number of House members applauded that suggestion.

The bill had appeared to have sufficient support to pass, after a procedural motion to send it back to committee failed 67-50.

Earlier Friday, the Senate voted in favor of the bill 29-10.

The only issue that got much attention there was the provision on drinking at the Capitol, which touched off a lengthy debate about the role of the Capitol in public life.

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, said she feels that the Capitol belongs to the people and should be available for public events such as art openings and concerts, where it would be appropriate to have alcoholic beverages in a controlled environment.

“We’re not opening up the Statehouse so we can stash flasks in our desks,” she said.

Others, however, balked at the idea, saying that allowing alcohol would diminish the gravitas of the center of the state’s government.

“This building is dedicated to the people’s business,” said Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg. “It is not for rent, it is not for sale.”

Senate President Susan Wagle said the only event currently proposed to be alcohol-optional would be a celebration of completion of the long-running renovation of the Capitol.

She said she and Gov. Sam Brownback are hoping to use the rededication party as a fund-raiser to benefit a Kansas charity. “We want to open it (the Capitol) up and show it off,” she said.

The Capitol renovation project is in its final stages and expected to be completed this year.

The bill would allow alcohol to be served at Capitol events with the approval of the Legislative Coordinating Council, a group of House and Senate leaders.

The bill also would make several other changes in alcoholic beverage laws, primarily in allowing some liquor licensees to provide free samples or coupons for free drinks.

The bill will go to the House for final consideration.

Poet laureate to keynote Holocaust memorial

Mirriam-Goldberg

Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg will give the keynote address at an April 8 service in Topeka to commemorate victims of the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.

Mirriam-Goldberg will speak on the topic: An Unanswered Letter, An Unanswered Call for Help: What the Holocaust Shows Us About Caring Enough to Take Action.

In their quest for racial purity, German dictator Adolf Hitler and his followers killed 6 million Jewish people in a systematic campaign of terror and prison death camps.

The Nazis also targeted and killed hundreds of thousands of others the regime considered “undesirables,” including Romani people — then known as gypsies — the developmentally and physically disabled, and homosexuals.

Gov. Sam Brownback is also scheduled to present a proclamation at the ceremony, which is set for 1 p.m. April 8 at the Kansas State Historical Museum, 6425 SW 6th Street, Topeka.

The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Appeals Court: Legal Colorado marijuana still a no-no in Kansas

You can still get busted for possession of pot in Kansas, even if you got it legally in another state, the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The court took up the question of whether out-of-state marijuana can be legally possessed here because it’s likely to come up more and more often, now that 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for medicinal use.

Voters in two states, Colorado and Washington, passed initiatives in November legalizing pot for recreational use as well.

The ruling comes in response to a case in which a Colorado man was acquitted of possession of marijuana because he had obtained the pot legally under a doctor’s prescription, which has been allowed in Colorado since 2000.

The defendant, Troy James Cooper – who lawfully used marijuana under a doctor’s prescription in his home state – was acquitted of a possession charge after he was arrested in Ellsworth County. Cooper was visiting family and friends and the marijuana was found during a routine traffic stop.

The trial court acquitted Cooper on the grounds that the prosecution violated his constitutional protections under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment and impermissibly infringed on his right to travel from state to state.

The state Attorney General’s office took the case to the Court of Appeals as a “question reserved.” The process is used as a way to get a higher court to rule on a legal question of broad statewide interest to offer guidance for future arrests and prosecutions.

It doesn’t affect the outcome of the trial case, so Cooper is still off the hook as far as his charges go. Lawyers from the Attorney General’s office were the only ones to file briefs in the Appeals Court case.

Based on their argument, the appellate court ruled: “The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not bar the enforcement of Kansas criminal statutes prohibiting possession of marijuana against someone traveling through or staying temporarily in this state even though that individual possesses marijuana in conformity with another state’s law allowing its use and possession for medical purposes.

“In those circumstances, the right to lawfully possess the marijuana rests on state law and therefore is outside the scope of the (federal) clause.”

However, the Appeals Court did caution that its ruling was narrowly applied to the 14th Amendment question.

“We … express no opinion on other constitutional rights or protections that conceivably might afford a defense to a person prosecuted under the Kansas Criminal Code for possessing marijuana legally through another state’s laws permitting its use as a medication,” said the opinion written by Judge G. Gordon Atcheson.