Posts tagged with Kansas

Update to labor laws could prevent youths from doing certain tasks

From driving tractors to vaccinating calves, farm families worry that changes to federal laws governing what work youths can get paid to do on the farm could change their way of life.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed changes to the rules that prevent young workers from being paid to do certain tasks in the agriculture industry. Those laws, known as agricultural hazardous occupations orders, hadn’t been updated since 1970. The intent is to bridge the gap between rules for farms and the more stringent rules that youths not working in agricultural settings have to follow.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said.

But farmers, including those in Douglas County, say family farming isn’t like any other industry. And those rules would go beyond changing how farmers do business to eroding the fabric of farming communities.

“I think there are a lot of families who couldn’t do what they do if they don’t have their kids helping them,” Brenna Wulfkuhle said.

Wulfkuhle, who with her husband, Mark, operates Rocking H Ranch three miles south of Stull, has three daughters under the age of 16. The family also employes a high school student. For Wulfkuhle, there is much in the proposed changes that raises concerns.

“To me, there is a lot of integrity and a lot of just good work ethic that comes from kids that are raised in agriculture or work in an agriculture background,” Wulfkuhle said.

Confusion about changes

Children of parents who own or operate a farm would still be exempted from the new regulations. But what isn’t clear are what rules apply to youths who work on their grandparents’ or aunt and uncle’s farm, rented land or on a farm that is part of a business entity, corporation or partnership. And that last item is an issue for many local families who have turned farms into corporations for estate-planning purposes.

“We are one of the smaller farms in Douglas County as far as conventional agricultural,” said Clint Hornberger, a fifth-generation farmer in southern Douglas County. “We do operate as a corporation. We formed in the ’80s to make the transition from one generation to the next a whole lot easier.”

Hornberger said that when he was growing up, he was paid 25 cents for every calf he bottle fed. It wouldn’t come to much more than $3 a day, but under the proposed changes he doesn’t think that would be allowed to work because the family farm is under a corporation.

“If they figured out a way to enforce some of the proposed changes, I think it would (negatively) influence the ability to learn about agriculture and learn about an industry that has a lot to offer,” Hornberger said.

Here are some of the other changes:

• Paid workers younger than 16 couldn’t operate almost any power-driven equipment, such as tractors, ATVs and grain elevators. The worker also couldn’t ride as a passenger on farm machines when they are being driven on public roads.

• Paid workers younger than 16 couldn’t help with certain animal related chores, such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating or treating sick or injured animals. They also couldn’t help herd animals into feed lots or corrals when on horseback or using trucks or ATVs.

• Paid workers younger than 16 couldn’t work inside a grain silo or bin or manure pit.

• Those 18 or younger would be prohibited from working at grain elevators, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.

Denying kids lessons

For Wulfkuhle, putting restrictions on what farming kids can do limits the lessons they learn from growing up around agriculture. Along with instilling the basics of hard work, Wulfkuhle said, it also passes down the knowledge of how to farm.

Right now, her girls, ages 15, 13 and 10, help with many of the tasks that she fears might not be allowed under the changes, such as vaccinating cattle, sorting cattle in small areas and moving farm machinery in the fields.

Wulfkuhle grew up on a dairy farm where she milked cows before and after school. In high school, she participated in a supervised occupational experience program, working at a greenhouse and local vet.

One of Wulfkuhle’s biggest concerns is that the proposed changes would limit what students can do when they participate in such a program. One of the men hired on Wulfkuhle’s farm began his work through a supervised occupational program as a junior in high school. That was almost a decade ago.

“It is very difficult to start in agriculture without a little bit of background and a little bit of a foundation,” she said.

Both Wulfkuhle and Hornberger don’t shy away from the risks the occupation can bring.

“Our job is dangerous,” Hornberger said. “But part of growing up around that environment is learning the dangers at a young age so you can stay away from them.”

The vast majority of young workers are the owner’s children, relatives or neighbors, Hornberger said.

“Around here, the youths that are working in agriculture are all very much a part of the community. They are not a stranger, someone that someone doesn’t know on a personal level. To think we as ag producers or employers would put them in danger is kind of preposterous.”

By Christine Metz

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Hollywood Casino set to open Feb. 3

Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway announced Monday that it would open to the public on Friday, Feb. 3, pending final regulatory approvals by the state of Kansas and the Kansas Lottery Commission.

Grand opening festivities will begin about 11 a.m., the casino announced.

Bob Sheldon, general manager for the casino, said the contractor, Turner Construction, has worked diligently to get the casino open as early as possible in February, and the weather the past year has cooperated with the construction.

Construction will continue until the opening, however, as contractors complete the final touches. For example, he said, while one of the casino’s restaurants is complete with carpet, tables, booths and lighting, the other still has concrete floors — though Sheldon said that restaurant should be finished within a week.

“It all kind of comes together at the end; it’s not like we’re building walls anymore,” Sheldon said.

Hollywood Casino will offer 2,000 slot machines and 52 table games with more than 100,000 square feet of gaming space on a single casino floor. The casino will feature five restaurants, including Final Cut Steakhouse, a fine dining restaurant; Epic Buffet; and Turn 2 Lounge, a sports bar overlooking Kansas Speedway.

Another current project for the casino is the installation of hundreds of televisions and other projection screens and video technology, including a serpentine wall in the foyer that will play movie trailers. Sheldon said the casino was in the middle of the process of installing the slot machines, which must be individually tested by the state.

As for the 2,000 full-time positions at the casino, Sheldon estimated that about 95 percent of the employees had been hired.

“Not all of the folks that we’ve hired have started work yet, but they will over the course of January,” Sheldon said, explaining that employee orientation training began for some employees this week.

Sheldon said the casino planned to have a ribbon cutting on its opening day, but details of the festivities still were being worked out. He said the casino would begin updating its website, Twitter and Facebook pages as information becomes available.

Hollywood Casino is expected to attract four million guests a year from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and beyond. It will have an estimated economic impact of $220 million annually.

By Caroline Boyer

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Kansas officials outraged, saddened by announced Boeing departure

Kansas political leaders Wednesday expressed outrage and disappointment over Boeing Co.’s announcement that it was closing its Wichita defense plant, sending more than 2,160 jobs to three other states.

“No one has worked harder for the success of Boeing than Team Kansas,” Gov. Sam Brownback said.

Boeing plans to shut down the Wichita plant by the end of 2013 to cut costs. “In this time of defense budget reductions, as well as shifting customer priorities, Boeing has decided to close its operations in Wichita to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and drive competitiveness,” said Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for the Boeing Defense, Space & Security facility in Wichita.

But less than a year ago, Kansas officials were applauding after helping Boeing secure a $35 billion contract from the U.S. Air Force to replace its refueling tankers. The contract had originally been awarded to Boeing arch rival EADS but Boeing protested the decision and under pressure from Kansas officials the Pentagon reopened the bidding process. Boeing had promised Kansas 7,500 jobs with an overall economic impact of $390 million.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., remembered that fight.

“Boeing’s chairman sat in my office 22 months ago during that battle and promised me, then-Senator Brownback and Congressman (Todd) Tiahrt that if we won the fight to get the tanker contract back, Boeing would stay in Wichita,” Roberts said.

“The chairman again promised the entire delegation the work would remain in Wichita just last February, when the tanker contract was settled in Boeing’s favor,” he said.

In addition to fighting for Boeing in the halls of Washington, D.C., Kansas political leaders have helped the company in Topeka and Wichita, providing Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers with numerous incentives in the form of tax breaks, research dollars, workforce training and lobbying might.

Boeing’s departure should teach state officials a lesson, said Kansas Democratic Chairwoman Joan Wagnon.

“We should all learn that throwing money at wealthy corporations to attract or retain jobs doesn’t guarantee loyalty or longevity,” Wagnon said.

“We need a new approach to economic development that invests first in our schools, our people, our roads and communities,” she said.

State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, described Boeing as the “poster child of corporate tax incentives” getting tax breaks at every level of government.

“It is outrageous we will not be getting the 7,500 jobs promised by Boeing when they got the Tanker contract,” he said. He said Kansas will be less trusting of corporate promises in the future.

Boeing said it was moving future aircraft maintenance, modification and support to its plant in San Antonio, Texas, and engineering work to Oklahoma City. Work on the Air Force refueling tanker will be performed in Puget Sound, Wash. The company said the 24 Kansas suppliers on that program will continue to provide parts as originally planned.

But Charles Krider, business professor at Kansas University, said it will be difficult for suppliers and related companies to stay in Kansas, far away from the tanker work.

Krider called the loss of Boeing a “big blow, particularly since the state worked so hard to work with Boeing to get the tanker contract.”

He said that the federal defense budget is under a great deal of pressure, and that defense-related plant closures will probably happen in other parts of the country too.

He disagreed with the notion of ending economic incentives for businesses to come to Kansas. “It’s hard to have one state or one city disarm in that battle as long as surrounding states are doing it,” he said.

Kansas has long been fighting other states to maintain its aircraft manufacturing sector.

Last year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom Brownback supports for president, signed into law a bill that gave Boeing a big tax break on aircraft temporarily located in Texas for manufacturing or assembly.

At that time, Perry said, “HB 3727 makes it easier for companies like Boeing to have cost certainty when it comes to their tax bill, helping them commit to doing more business in this community and our state.”

Boeing Defense, Space and Security President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Mullenberg said, “Our partnership with the state of Texas enables us to offer enhanced capabilities to our military and commercial customers, and supports Boeing’s goals to grow and become more competitive.”

Brownback and other Kansas officials on Wednesday said they would continue to work to expand aircraft manufacturing in the state, focusing on commercial aircraft production. Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary Pat George said Kansas was well-positioned to grow in this area.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the decision by Boeing was “beyond disappointing.”

Davis added, “This is why I call upon Governor Brownback and legislators from both political parties to commit to make the creation of jobs our first priority this legislative session, invest heavily in job training so Boeing workers can receive the training they need to find new jobs and to promise these workers and the other Kansans without jobs that we will not reduce unemployment benefits by one penny.”

By Scott Rothschild

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Kansas health department reports first cases of flu, urges vaccination

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Friday that it has identified the first cases of flu this season.

The cases were two adults from northwest Kansas who are in the same workplace and who did not receive a vaccination. Five co-workers also were ill with symptoms of the flu.

KDHE Secretary and state health officer Robert Moser urges everyone to get a flu vaccination, noting that it’s not too late.

“Although flu activity is now low, it normally rises during the holidays before peaking around February,” he said. “Influenza can continue to circulate through spring, and the flu can be unpredictable.”

Anyone 6 months and older is recommended to receive an annual flu vaccination. Additional ways to avoid spreading influenza include covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands and staying home when sick.

Flu symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and dehydration; influenza may also worsen other chronic conditions.

Older people, pregnant women, young children, and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious complications from the flu.

Influenza was documented as a cause of death for 31 Kansans in the 2009-2010 flu season and for 14 last year. However, flu is often not listed on death certificates because laboratory tests may not show flu by the time pneumonia or other complications develop, state epidemiologist Charles Hunt said.

“The actual numbers of influenza-related deaths are likely much higher and can vary substantially from year to year,” Hunt said.

For more information, visit www.kdheks.gov/flu.

By Karrey Britt

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When it comes to meth, stats and officers tell different stories

Look at the statewide numbers, and it’d be tempting to conclude that the methamphetamine scare has come and gone in Kansas.

Methamphetamine incidents, which include drug lab seizures and discoveries by law enforcement, have decreased in Kansas in the past decade: from 847 in 2001 to 159 so far in 2011. In Douglas County, such incidents are rare, averaging a little more than three per year since 2006, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

And while the state ranks 14th nationally in such incidents, Kansas is nowhere near neighboring Missouri, which leads the country with more than 1,700 so far in 2011.

Talk to law enforcement agencies in southeast Kansas, and they’ll tell a different story.

“It’s just everywhere,” said Christopher Williams, a detective with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re just drowning in it.”

Montgomery County has seen methamphetamine incidents more than double so far in 2011 compared with 2010, which ranks it second in the state, behind Labette County.

It’s not just the incident numbers that reflect how big the problem is, said David Groves, sheriff for Cherokee County. Groves said he sees the effect of methamphetamine use in other crimes associated with the drug, such as sex crimes, burglaries and other thefts.

“It’s plagued our county,” Groves said. “We deal with it every day.”

‘They’re very crafty’

Law enforcement officials in several of the rural Kansas counties that lead the state in methamphetamine incidents attribute increases to the ease with which the drug can be made.

In the last few years, Labette County Sheriff Robert Sims said they’ve seen what is referred to as “one-pot” or “shake and bake” methamphetamine-producing methods. Sims said you could drive around his county and in 15 minutes, legally obtain the needed ingredients, which are then added into a plastic bottle and shaken up, starting the chemical process to make methamphetamine.

“It’s revolutionized a lot of the process,” said Sims of advances in production, which no longer require sophisticated equipment or expertise in drug making. Sims also advises caution when examining the statistics, as one confiscated shake and bake bottle could be categorized as one incident, as could a large lab discovery that would produce a large quantity of methamphetamine.

Regardless of the method, methamphetamine makers still need a steady supply of pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter cold medication, and are finding ways around a Kansas law that limits purchase of the substance. A 2005 law limits the amount of pseudoephedrine one person can purchase in a month, and purchases are tracked by pharmacies — who share information with law enforcement.

Loretta Severin, drug strategy coordinator for the KBI, says that the pseudoephedrine law has helped curb methamphetamine production in Kansas. But the increase in shake and bake and one-pot methamphetamine production, which require smaller amounts of pseudoephedrine, is a cause for concern statewide.

“It’s definitely starting to spread,” she said.

Regardless of state laws, methamphetamine producers will get creative.

“They’re very crafty,” Severin said. “They’re making do with what they can get.”

It leaves law enforcement in a constant — and thus far losing — game of keeping up with methamphetamine, Sims said.

“I think it’s going to be a continued problem,” he said.

By Shaun Hittle

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When it comes to meth, stats and officers tell different stories

Look at the statewide numbers, and it’d be tempting to conclude that the methamphetamine scare has come and gone in Kansas.

Methamphetamine incidents, which include drug lab seizures and discoveries by law enforcement, have decreased in Kansas in the past decade: from 847 in 2001 to 159 so far in 2011. In Douglas County, such incidents are rare, averaging a little more than three per year since 2006, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

And while the state ranks 14th nationally in such incidents, Kansas is nowhere near neighboring Missouri, which leads the country with more than 1,700 so far in 2011.

Talk to law enforcement agencies in southeast Kansas, and they’ll tell a different story.

“It’s just everywhere,” said Christopher Williams, a detective with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re just drowning in it.”

Montgomery County has seen methamphetamine incidents more than double so far in 2011 compared with 2010, which ranks it second in the state, behind Labette County.

It’s not just the incident numbers that reflect how big the problem is, said David Groves, sheriff for Cherokee County. Groves said he sees the effect of methamphetamine use in other crimes associated with the drug, such as sex crimes, burglaries and other thefts.

“It’s plagued our county,” Groves said. “We deal with it every day.”

‘They’re very crafty’

Law enforcement officials in several of the rural Kansas counties that lead the state in methamphetamine incidents attribute increases to the ease with which the drug can be made.

In the last few years, Labette County Sheriff Robert Sims said they’ve seen what is referred to as “one-pot” or “shake and bake” methamphetamine-producing methods. Sims said you could drive around his county and in 15 minutes, legally obtain the needed ingredients, which are then added into a plastic bottle and shaken up, starting the chemical process to make methamphetamine.

“It’s revolutionized a lot of the process,” said Sims of advances in production, which no longer require sophisticated equipment or expertise in drug making. Sims also advises caution when examining the statistics, as one confiscated shake and bake bottle could be categorized as one incident, as could a large lab discovery that would produce a large quantity of methamphetamine.

Regardless of the method, methamphetamine makers still need a steady supply of pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter cold medication, and are finding ways around a Kansas law that limits purchase of the substance. A 2005 law limits the amount of pseudoephedrine one person can purchase in a month, and purchases are tracked by pharmacies — who share information with law enforcement.

Loretta Severin, drug strategy coordinator for the KBI, says that the pseudoephedrine law has helped curb methamphetamine production in Kansas. But the increase in shake and bake and one-pot methamphetamine production, which require smaller amounts of pseudoephedrine, is a cause for concern statewide.

“It’s definitely starting to spread,” she said.

Regardless of state laws, methamphetamine producers will get creative.

“They’re very crafty,” Severin said. “They’re making do with what they can get.”

It leaves law enforcement in a constant — and thus far losing — game of keeping up with methamphetamine, Sims said.

“I think it’s going to be a continued problem,” he said.

By Shaun Hittle

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Highway Patrol reports no fatalities in traffic accidents over holiday weekend

With no fatalities from traffic accidents, the Kansas Highway Patrol is declaring that the Christmas holiday weekend was a fairly safe one.

In 2010, two people died during the holiday travel weekend. But there were no such incidents on Kansas highways between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26 of this year.

There also were fewer speeding tickets and warnings issued. Fewer people were ticketed or warned for failing to wear seat belts. And the number of motorist assists dropped.

The number of DUI-related crashes stayed the same as last year at three. And more people were arrested for DUIs this year — 22 in all.

Lt. Joshua Kellerman of the Kansas Highway Patrol said the snow that fell on much of the western half of the state early last week kept many people off the roads. And the bad roads made it harder for laws to be enforced.

But by Christmas Day, the state’s roads were cleared, Kellerman said.

“It is always great no matter what weekend,” Kellerman said of the zero fatalities. “But over Christmas, which is a time for family, it is even better.”

As for the upcoming holiday weekend, Kellerman said to expect to see more troopers out. And several areas in the state will have saturation patrols.

His advice is for people who have been drinking to find a sober driver for the ride home and for everyone to wear seat belts.

“It’s the best protection if you are involved in a crash,” he said.

By Christine Metz

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Kansas poverty report reveals bleak data

The Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, or KACAP, released its annual poverty report Wednesday that painted a grim picture of statewide economic trends.

The poverty rate for Kansas children rose from 18 percent to nearly 24 percent between 2009 and 2010, and 20,000 more Kansans fell into poverty during the same time frame.

“It’s at least honest,” said Jesyca Rodenberg, spokeswoman for KACAP, about the 2012 Kansas Poverty Report. “We have problems with our infrastructure.”

The report, unveiled at a press conference at the state Capitol, highlighted a wide variety of economic indicators, such as poverty rates, unemployment numbers and income levels, all of which took a negative spiral during the past decade.

The report included a variety of policy recommendations, such as an increase in affordable housing and job training, aimed at lawmakers, said Tawny Stottlemire, KACAP executive director.

Stottlemire said she hopes “policymakers will use the data and the facts and not the myths and stereotypes” about poverty.

Despite the bleak data, Rodenberg said it should serve as a wake-up call promoting swift and bold action on behalf of struggling Kansans.

“We woke, we drank our coffee, and now it’s time to go to work,” she said.

Statistical highlights

• Kansas unemployment rate has risen from about 4 percent to 6.5 percent between July 2007 and July 2011.

• The Kansas median income — $46,299 — is 6.5 percent lower than the national average.

• The poverty rate for children in Kansas rose from 18 percent to 23.7 percent between 2009 and 2010 and now outpaces the national rate of 22 percent.

By Shaun Hittle

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New Capitol dome will shine like a penny, cost a whole lot more

Plans are under way to replace the Capitol’s copper dome.

When complete, the dome will be as shiny as a new penny, but it will cost a whole lot more.

Try $10.3 million.

At a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Committee, Statehouse Architect Barry Greis gave a rundown of progress on the $296 million project to restore, renovate and add new space to the building.

Since the Capitol project started in 2000 at an initial estimate of $90 million, the project has had several expensive add- ons and cost overruns.

Preservation Committee member William “Bill” Wagnon asked why the dome needed to be replaced.

“We can’t stop the leaks,” Greis said. “They are significant.”

Then the committee questioned what the dome — now a patchwork of green blotches — would look like when replaced.

Greis said the new copper would be bright and shiny. Within a month or two, however, the copper will start to oxidize and turn a dull brown. He said it may take 30 years before the copper starts to turn green again.

Committee member Lana Gordon, a Republican legislator from Topeka, asked if the weight of the Ad Astra statue put a strain on the dome. Greis said the statue was well-supported and causing no problem to the roof structure.

Several committee members wanted to know what would happen with the old copper.

Some of it will be sold to a salvage company and some given to the State Historical Society, Greis said. Committee member Carol McDowell said some of the copper should be made into souvenirs and sold to help offset the cost.

The job of taking down the copper and replacing it may start next spring.

By Scott Rothschild

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Kansas leaders tout initiative to recruit and retain engineering students

State leaders on Wednesday announced the first funding — $1 million — for a program aimed at increasing the number of engineering graduates in Kansas.

The state funds will be divided evenly between Kansas University, Kansas State University and Wichita State University to conduct planning on ways to recruit and retain more engineering students.

Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary Pat George, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Ed McKechnie, Andy Tompkins, president and chief executive officer of the regents, and others were on hand for the announcement.

In future years, the program will provide $3.5 million per year in grant funding to each of the three schools and will require a dollar-for-dollar match provided by the universities. The future funding will come from state gambling revenue.

By Scott Rothschild

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