State budget crisis sobers Legislative Coffee gathering

Area lawmakers speak to constituents Saturday morning inside the Sunset Zoo Educational Center in Manhattan for the first “Legislative Coffee” session of the year. (Staff photos by Brady Bauman)

Rep. Tom Phillips summed it up best for his colleagues Saturday morning, when speaking in front of constituents for the first “Legislative Coffee” session of the year inside the Sunset Zoo Educational Center in Manhattan.

“We’ll just have to see how this plays out — I’ve never seen anything quite this challenging,” the Manhattan Republican said, speaking about the state’s budget woes. “But, we got to do it. I just keep telling myself, like (K-State football coach) Bill Snyder says, ‘Keep sawing the wood,’ and that’s what we got to do.”

The event, organized by the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, is a longtime staple in the Little Apple and allows legislators to answer prepared questions from constituents in a panel setting.

Phillips and Democratic Rep. Sydney Carlin — also of Manhattan — were present, along with Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego and Rep. Susie Swanson of Clay Center, who are both Republicans. Democratic Sen. Tom Hawk of Manhattan was also present.

Phillips, Carlin, Swanson and Hawk supported Wednesday’s efforts to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax bill that would have restored income taxation to pre-2012 levels. Highland, however, differed, and voted in support of Brownback’s veto.

The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.

Rep. Susie Swanson of Clay Center, center, speaks to constituents Saturday morning inside the Sunset Zoo Educational Center in Manhattan. Also pictured, from left, Sen. Tom Hawk, Rep. Ron Highland, Rep. Sydney Carlin and Rep. Tom Phillips.

“We got to just keep working at this until we figure it out,” Phillips continued. “It’s just too darn critical to all of you and to our children to fix this situation for our state. I do remain optimistic and we’re going to have to make tough decisions — and they’ll probably be the very decisions that could be the reasons why we’re elected out of office.

“But you can’t make leadership decisions based on political careers. It’s time to be leaders in the state and do what we think is right.”

 

Highland said he wants compromise and more information.

“What we need to do is work together and figure out what’s best for the people and what’s best for the state of Kansas,” Highland said. “Does that mean it’s going to be exactly what I want? Absolutely not. And will it be exactly what someone else wants? No. We will have to compromise. But we’re not to that stage yet.

“We do not know how much money is needed. Once we get that information, then we will sit down and look at a plan not only for the short term, but for the long term for our state.”

Hawk followed with a referral to recent comments by Riley County Commission chairman Ron Wells, who aired his frustrations with the state Thursday concerning the substantial decline in funds the state is statutorily-required to transfer to cities and counties.

“For our county commissioners, I want you to know I do support the demand transfer(s),” Hawk said. “But before we can do the demand transfer that sends the money back that we agreed to send back to our counties to reduce our property taxes, we have to have a structural budget fix.

“We have to get the state’s house in order.”

The concealed carry of firearms on college campuses was also brought up to lawmakers. Starting July 1, public universities in the state must allow anyone 21 or older to have concealed firearms on campus in buildings that don’t have security measures, including metal detectors.

“I didn’t vote for that bill when it first came through, particularly in light of the fact we have removed all training for concealed carry — it’s not appropriate to allow concealed carry in our university buildings,” Phillips said.

Carlin said college campuses are for learning and that pressures students face in school mixed with the concealed carry of firearms is a dangerous mix. Swanson said Gen. Richard Myers, the president of Kansas State University, is against the measure and added that if concealed carry isn’t allowed on Fort Riley, it shouldn’t be allowed in classrooms.

“They’re not allowed to carry concealed guns on post — why’s that?” she said. “Gen. Myers is opposed to carrying guns on campus and also I believe our police department is opposed to it, so those would be my guiding principals there.”

Highland, who is on the Federal and State Affairs Committee where gun laws are discussed, said concealed carry on campus is a difficult issue.

“It’s very emotional for people,” he said. “And I can guarantee you of the 600 emails I received in one day (about it) they were half and half. Those that are for implementing a law that would restrict, and then those who were adamantly for allowing this.”

When it came to funding for public education, lawmakers said much of what happens next depends on what the state Supreme Court will rule on the ongoing lawsuit against Topeka in terms of financial adequacy.

Begrudgingly, Phillips said another year of block grant funding may be in the cards.

“I feel that I would rather extend the block grants for one year, as opposed to being pressured to make a bad decision on a bad bill,” he said. “If we need a little bit more time to write the correct bill or a better bill, I say let’s do that and not put ourselves boxed into a corner where we have to vote on what I think could be bad legislation.”

Lawmakers also voiced support for an increase in the state gas tax to help pay for road improvements, but all admitted it would be a tough sell in the statehouse.

Carlin also voiced support for greater internet access in the state, especially for rural communities.

Still, the state’s budget hole was a dark cloud in the room, even though all expressed their optimism about the new blood elected to the legislature in November. The continued budget deficits blocked out the bright shining sun the governor has often described when speaking about the Sunflower State’s finances.

“This is a tough, tough year,” Swanson said. “We have some huge decisions to make that have an impact on every Kansas citizen. In terms of the career politician mentality — I was retired for seven years before I got this job. I was a happy grandma.

“If I don’t get re-elected, I’ll be a happy grandma again. I’m going to make the votes I think need to get made to get our state turned around.”

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Rental ordinance approved

Many citizens of Manhattan came out both in support and against an ordinance on rental property registration at Tuesday’s city commission meeting. Rental property owner Richard Hill, among others, spoke out against the ordinance which he says would impose regulation on rental property owners, requiring them to register each rental property they own. Hill pointed to disarray with landlords and distrust with the city.Austin Fanistil, asked why the ordinance is being proposed in the first place.
 After almost 2 hours of public comment from citizens both in support and against the ordinance, commissioner Mike Dodson said “We’ve had a lot of information and a lot of discussion trying to balance the interests across the entire community. I think we’re pretty darn close.”
City officials indicate the ordinance is meant to ensure rental properties meet code so that students and other residents in the community live in safe and healthy environments. The sentiment expressed by Dodson seemed to be reiterated by other commissioners which ultimately resulted in a unanimous approval of the first reading of the ordinance.

Commissioner Wynn Butler also said this is the closest compromise the city has come to on the issue.

After listening to public comments, Mayor Usha Reddi had this to say said this isn’t the first time they’ve discussed it as the matter has come up for several years but she described the current proposed ordinance “as about as simplified as it can be.”

While commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, many stated the ordinance needs better clarification before it is implemented.

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Wamego woman reported missing

The Wamego Police Department is requesting assistance in locating Becky Jo Walton. Walton is a 37 year old white female with brown hair and she is about 5 feet 4 inches in height. She was last seen on Sunday, February 19 at her home in Wamego and her family reported her missing Tuesday, February 21. Her vehicle is at her residence.

Anyone having information regarding her whereabouts is requested to contact Wamego Police at (785) 456-9553 or their local law enforcement agency.

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Chinese scientist living in Manhattan found guilty of stealing trade secrets

WASHINGTON – A federal jury returned guilty verdicts today in the case of a Chinese scientist, who was charged with conspiring to steal samples of a variety of rice seeds from a Kansas biopharmaceutical research facility.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord of the Justice Department’s National Security Division and U.S. Attorney Tom Beall of the District of Kansas made the announcement.

Weiqiang Zhang, 50, a Chinese national residing in Manhattan, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property.

Evidence at trial established that Zhang worked as a rice breeder for Ventria Bioscience in Junction City. Ventria develops genetically programmed rice to express recombinant human proteins, which are then extracted for use in the therapeutic and medical fields. Zhang has a master’s degree in agriculture from Shengyang Agricultural University in China and a doctorate degree from Louisiana State University.

According to trial evidence, Zhang acquired without authorization hundreds of rice seeds produced by Ventria and stored them at his residence in Manhattan. The rice seeds have a wide variety of health research applications and were developed to express either human serum albumin, contained in blood, or lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein found, for example, in human milk. Ventria used locked doors with magnetic card readers to restrict access to the temperature-controlled environment where the seeds were stored and processed.

Trial evidence demonstrated that in the summer of 2013, personnel from a crop research institute in China visited Zhang at his home in Manhattan. Zhang drove the visitors to tour facilities in Iowa, Missouri and Ohio. On Aug. 7, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found seeds belonging to Ventria in the luggage of Zhang’s visitors as they prepared to leave the United States for China.

The FBI’s Little Rock, Arkansas, Field Office and Kansas City, Missouri, Field Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas investigated the case. Trial Attorney Matt Walczewski of the National Security Division, Trial Attorneys Brian Resler and Evan Williams of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask of the District of Kansas prosecuted the case.

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Meth-related investigation in Junction City draws out HazMat crews

Joshua Grilliot

Nicholas Bird

The HazMat incident in Junction City KMAN’s been reporting on since early Thursday morning apparently involved methamphetamine.

A news release from the Junction City Police Department indicates the Junction City/Geary County Drug Operations Group, assisted by the Riley County Hazardous Materials Response Team executed a search warrant in the 1300 block of Spring Hill Rd. after a month long investigation into the Manufacturing of Methamphetamine occurring at the residence. The Manhattan Fire Department and Junction City Fire Department also assisted with the Investigation.

Two people were arrested and charged with unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine including Joshua Grilliot, 24, and Nicholas Bird, 38, both of Junction City.They were confined without bond at the Geary County Detention Center pending their first appearance in Geary County District Court.

The Drug Operations Group seized components used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, meth, and drug paraphernalia.
The Junction City Fire Department indicates they were called to the scene at about 3:10 p.m. Wednesday.The fire department provided support for the Regional Hazardous materials response team from the Manhattan Fire Department and requested JCFD for emergency rescue of personnel during entry to the structure and for providing decontamination support for personnel and equipment. The JCFD was released from the scene at 8 PM.

No injuries or damage was reported. The Fort Riley Fire Department assisted with coverage for the Down Town District from JCFD Fire Station 1.

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State GOP convention welcomed with protest Friday night in Manhattan

Protesters gathered Friday night across the Flint Hills Discovery Center, where a welcome reception was held for the 2017 Kansas GOP Convention. (Staff photos by Brady Bauman)

Friday night the Kansas GOP held its welcome reception inside the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan to kickoff its 2017 convention.

But state Republicans weren’t just welcomed by a dinner and drinks. They were also welcomed by over 100 protesters across the street on Manhattan’s Blue Earth Plaza.

“We’re really humbled by all the people who came out tonight and stood here in solidarity for the people in our state,” said Jessica Kerr, who is a board member for the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice. “When I think about, I think about what the GOP in Kansas represents, and that’s an experiment that has ultimately hurt the lives of people in our state, and they basically have been really hostile to the idea of a government that takes care of its people.”

Protesters hold up a banner advocating for Medicaid expansion in Kansas Friday night at Manhattan’s Blue Earth Plaza during the welcome reception of the 2017 Kansas GOP Convention.

MAPJ orchestrated the protest and one of its larger banners advocated for the expansion of KanCare — the state’s Medicaid program. Kansas is one of 19 states that has not yet accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid to adults with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Protesters also showed displeasure with the concealed carry of firearms on college campuses, which is set to be allowed on July 1, by chanting “No guns on campus!” Kansas State University President Richard Myers has voiced similar disagreement with the law. There was also chants against President Trump’s attempt to ban travel to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries and his proposed wall along the U.S./Mexican border.

“These folks inside here, having their cakes and their drinks,” Kerr said, referencing those inside the Flint Hills Discovery Center, “they want to take this agenda to the national stage. And I think that as we’ve tried to export this logic of divestment and austerity, people decided they had a different agenda.

“We really just want to express our descent that it hasn’t been good for Kansans, and it’s not good for the country as a whole.”

Inside the Discovery Center, Kansas GOP Chair Kelly Arnold declined to go on record with KMAN when asked about the protest. He shrugged off the display and said he was aware a protest was going to happen and bolstered security for the reception.

Kerr said protesters came from Lawrence, Kansas City and Topeka, as well as the Manhattan community.

“We are watching,” she said, when asked about the potential for more protests in the future.  “Our consciousness has been opened. We are voters, we are organizers, we’re students, we’re families and we’re watching were this is going in our state, and we’re going to be there.”

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Manhattan Regional Airport to accept larger planes, make security modifications

On Thursday, the City of Manhattan notified American Airlines that Manhattan Regional Airport (MHK) would accept larger aircraft and make necessary airport security modifications to begin service with those larger planes on May 5.

The issue was discussed at Tuesday’s Manhattan City Commission meeting, with commissioners expressing concern about the quick timeline and costs associated with making the security changes. However, City Administration has identified a recommended funding plan to allow the changes to occur.

ExpressJet Airlines notified MHK of its intent to begin operating on behalf of American Airlines with CR7 (65-seat) planes on the airport’s three daily flights to Dallas-Fort Worth. According to federal regulations, an airport must have a complete Airport Security Program if the airline’s aircraft have 61 or more seats. The CR7 planes will have more overhead and cargo space, an additional flight attendant, and Wi-Fi capabilities. The larger planes also will have the ability to accommodate larger group travel and will experience 5-10 minute quicker in-air flight times.

“The community has long had a desire to have larger aircraft for more legroom and luggage capacity, especially for Fort Riley troops,” said Airport Director Jesse Romo. “We are excited to be able to accept the larger aircraft. There are challenges associated with the security improvements, but we’re taking steps to ensure the long-term viability of air service at MHK.”

Manhattan Regional Airport recently opened the second phase of a terminal expansion project that addressed projected growth in the region. In addition to its Dallas-Fort Worth flights, American Airlines also operates daily flights to Chicago from MHK.

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Manhattan bicyclist injured in accident

 
A 20-year-old Manhattan man was taken to the hospital following a car bicycle accident which closed Seth Child and Anderson Avenue for close to two hours Thursday evening. Johnathan Crowder was southbound on a bicycle in the left hand lane on K-113 or Seth Child, just south of Anderson Avenue, when a 2003 Oldsmobile Alero driven by Jerry Marrow, 67, of Manhattan struck the rear of the bicycle.
Crowder was taken to Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan–Marrow and the 78-year-old passenger in his vehicle, Myong Illian of Manhattan, were not injured.
The accident was reported at 6:21 p.m. and Seth Child and Anderson were closed to traffic from about 6:30 until 8:13 p.m.

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Security and health club development discussed by Manhattan officials


With the construction of a new Genesis Health Club coming to Manhattan, the company’s CEO and attorney were both present at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting asking for a sales tax exemption on $6 million of material costs. Attorney at Law Korb Maxwell led commissioners in the discussion.

Total costs for the new health club are estimated at $12 million. Maxwell says the new facility will be approximately twice the size of the current one.

The sales tax exemption on the $6 million was approved by commissioners. The new Genesis Health Club is expected to bring an estimated $100,000 in sales tax revenue for the city along with a 20 year projected economic impact of $5 million dollars.

With the looming expiration date of the extension granted by the state, Manhattan City Attorney Katharine Jackson says the city must implement certain security renovations in the Municipal Courthouse to prevent visitors from concealing and carrying weapons on it’s premises.

The extension comes after Kansas Lawmakers made the decision that the conceal and carry of weapons in public facilities would be permitted except where adequate security measures were put in place to prevent doing so. Jackson says the renovations of the Municipal Courthouse will also improve more than just security measures.

Some of the security measures put in place will be things like metal detectors and designated entry and exit points in the courthouse. City Commissioners approved the security renovations by a vote of 5-0.

The Manhattan Regional Airport may be looking at receiving larger airplanes by May 5th, but funding the extra security measures required for larger airplanes may prove to be difficult.

Airport Director Jesse Romo told city commissioners that more intense TSA security measures are imposed on flights above 61 seats and those security measures require funding of approximately $315,000 this year and up to $1.5 million for every year after that.

All of the security measures would need to be in place in less than 90 days which causes concern for commissioners, considering discussion of the situation started Tuesday night. No decisions were made but commissioners supported going forward with the project after further consideration is given on how to reduce costs and where the funding will come from.

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Attempted manslaughter investigated in Junction City

A Junction City woman has been arrested in connection with a Sunday evening altercation in Junction City that sent a Junction City man to the hospital. According to a news release from Junction City Police late Monday afternoon, police were dispatched at approximately 7:33 PM to the 700 block of  W. 6th St. in reference to a subject that was bleeding.
Upon arrival Ama Horton,34, was located and found to have multiple stab wounds. Horton was interviewed and a suspect was identified. Horton was transported to the Geary Community Hospital by ambulance where he was treated and released.
Officers responded to the 600 block of Goldenbelt Blvd, and located evidence that the incident had taken place at that location.  Erica Kamphaus, 36, was located and taken into custody. Kamphaus was booked in to the Geary Community Detention Center on a no bond status, under the charges of Aggravated Battery and Attempted Involuntary Manslaughter pending first appearance in Geary County District court.

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