Wichita tops housing rankings and gives us all something to agree on, too | The Wichita Eagle

One of the only points on which most Wichitans can agree — surely must agree — is that the cost of housing here is pretty reasonable.

SmartAsset confirms it.

The personal finance technology company ranks Wichita No. 8 on the list of best cities for a first-time home buyer.

More than 82 percent of conventional mortgage applications get funded in Wichita, making it the second-best city for high loan funding rates.

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Wichita also is No. 3 on the list for the ratio between incomes and housing costs.

However, Wichita doesn’t rate so well with growth in home values.

"Wichita had seven negative quarters between 2012 and 2017, the most among our top 25 cities," the study said.

Renters aren’t left out either. In a separate study, SmartAsset found that Wichita is No. 10 on the list of cities where it’s most affordable to live alone.

The study says the average renter in a one-bedroom apartment or a studio pays about $567 monthly. The catch there is that only 13.7 percent of places are one-bedroom units or studios.

For people who can find those units, the study says they need to make only about $1,650 a month to live comfortably.

Fortunately, it also says the average full-time working Wichitan makes more like $3,440 a month.

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.

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High wind slows Wichita construction projects


While the wind is a pain for most people, its something else for construction companies.

Scott Casevold is Vice President with Key Construction. He says the high winds mean expensive rented equipment sits idol at constructions sites. Not only can that add up, but it can cause projects to fall behind schedule.

"It’s something you’ve got to expect in Wichita, Kansas. Unfortunately, it just seems like it’s worse this year than normal," Casevold said.

He says the large crane at the Cargill headquarters site in Old Town is off limits. It’s halted important beam work that needs to be taken care of.

"The wind is also impacting one of the largest construction projects in Wichita. The President of Wildcat Construction says they have plenty of work that needs to be done, but due to the wind, all of the cranes are sitting still.

The equipment manufacturers and OSHA regulations take wind speed into consideration. Casevold says if the wind is blowing more than 25 miles per hour a lot of the equipment can’t be used due to safety reasons.

"I think it’s bad because you know the weather is nice. But, I’m kind of glad that they’re not able to use them because it’s kind of scary too, you know, the way the wind blows," Wichita resident Glenda Foster said.

Casevold is hopeful mother nature starts cooperating soon, so the company can complete its projects by the deadline.

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Kansas trio convicted in plot to bomb Somali immigrants

From left, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein were convicted of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived in Garden City, Kan. The three men, who called themselves “the Crusaders,” face life in prison.

WICHITA, Kan. — Federal jurors convicted three men Wednesday of plotting to blow up an apartment complex where Somali refugees live and pray in Garden City, Kansas. The domestic terrorism verdict came at a time when threats against religious and racial minorities are rising nationally, and the case drew interest from the highest levels of the Justice Department.

“The defendants in this case acted with clear premeditation in an attempt to kill people on the basis of their religion and national origin,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “That’s not just illegal — it’s immoral and unacceptable, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

The men, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, all of whom are white, appeared stoic as the verdicts were read at the federal courthouse in Wichita. Defense lawyers had tried to convince jurors that their clients were manipulated by the FBI, and had been unfairly targeted for exercising their rights to own guns and speak freely.

“He was a member of a militia. He loved his guns. This was a lifestyle,” Melody Brannon, a lawyer for Allen, told the mostly white jury. “The government tried to criminalize that lifestyle.”

The trial, which played out over about a month, focused on a period before the 2016 presidential election when a paid FBI informant infiltrated a militia group that included the three men and secretly recorded hours of their conversations.

Politics were front and center throughout the trial, with defense lawyers portraying the FBI as a bullying-government force that used its informant to steer their clients from hateful speech to violent plotting. The courtroom critiques of the FBI came after a series of condemnations of the bureau by President Donald Trump, who overwhelmingly carried Kansas in 2016.

Prosecutors, who built much of their case around the informant’s secret recordings, said that the men planned to carry out the bombing on Nov. 9, 2016, a day after voters selected a president.

“They wanted to send a message to the people living there that they’re not welcome in Garden City, they’re not welcome in southwest Kansas, they’re not welcome in the United States,” Tony Mattivi, a federal prosecutor, said during closing arguments.

The men, who called themselves “the Crusaders,” were arrested about four weeks before Election Day and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against rights, which the Justice Department considers a hate crime. Wright was also charged with lying to the FBI. The three men were found guilty on all counts and face up to life in prison when they are sentenced in June.

The trial came amid a national escalation in threats against religious and racial minorities, especially Muslims, according to the FBI and organizations that monitor hate crimes.

“It is now approaching the level of hate violence against the same communities that we saw in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT: South Asian Americans Leading Together, a national advocacy organization.

Ifrah Ahmed, a Somali resident of Garden City, said she found out about the verdicts when the police chief sent her a text message. Ahmed said she relayed the news to elders in the Somali community.

“I had faith that they were going to do what was right,” Ahmed said of the jurors. “Now we can all actually move on from it and bury it and know that justice is served.”

Prosecutors portrayed the Kansas defendants as aspiring domestic terrorists who planned to bomb the Somali apartments only after considering other attacks — on elected officials, churches that helped refugees and landlords who rented to immigrants.

Defense lawyers suggested that their clients had merely engaged in idle talk inspired partly by the 2016 election.

The case forced jurors to decide when hateful rhetoric escalated from legal speech to evidence of a violent plot. Expletive-filled recordings of the men played before the jury contained repugnant, bigoted language, the defense lawyers said, but not a federal crime.

“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said James Pratt, a lawyer for Stein, who acknowledged that his client referred to Muslims as “cockroaches.”

Stephen R. McAllister, the top federal prosecutor in Kansas, rejected the suggestions of a First Amendment infringement. “I don’t view this as a prosecution of speech at all,” McAllister said.

Still, defense lawyers emphasized that the men lacked the ability or commitment to carry out such an attack. Pratt said his client was “all hat, no cattle,” meaning he was a big talker and little more.

“Unfortunately for Patrick,” Pratt said, “the government was willing to provide the cattle.”

Garden City is a racially diverse place about 200 miles west of Wichita with around 27,000 residents. Many Somalis and other immigrants have moved to the area to work at a nearby meatpacking plant.

The apartment complex that prosecutors say was targeted is a center of Somali life in Garden City. Many refugee families live in units of the complex; others come to pray in a makeshift mosque inside one unit.

Moussa Elbayoumy, who chairs the board of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the verdict affirmed his faith in the system.

“The instance was troubling, was concerning. People were afraid,” Elbayoumy said. “But after that, they put this behind them and moved on with their lives.”

— (The New York Times)

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KVC will be going into a vacant former medical building in north Wichita – Kansas City Business Journal

A former orthopedic center building in north Wichita has a new owner.

Tony Utter of Utter Commercial Real Estate told the Wichita Business Journal that a deal closed earlier this month for the sale of the vacant building to KVC Hospitals, a Kansas City-area juvenile psychiatric health provider. Utter represented the seller, DBB Holdings Inc.

“It’s a building that’s been vacant for more than 15 years,” Utter said. “I think I’m the fourth broker for the building. I was asked to take it on 15 years ago, but the owners were asking too much and I was in the early stages with my business, so I didn’t.”

“I’m excited about it. This is a building with an unusual, cool appearance and it’s built as solid as it gets.”

Featuring two stories and more than 29,000 square feet, the former Kansas Orthopedic Center building sits at 1507 W. 21st St. N., just east of 21st and Amidon streets.

Lauren Lueck, director for strategic initiatives for KVC Hospitals, confirmed the organization is bringing a psychiatric center to the north Wichita location, but said a timeline for when it might open has not been set.

Once up and running, Lueck says, the hospital will serve minors between the ages of 6 and 16 and will be staffed around the clock.

“We’re still in the planning stages, but we saw an opportunity to come to Wichita and we took it,” Lueck said.

KVC Hospitals mainly work with children and teens who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and feelings of violence, according to the organization’s website. Along with Prairie Ridge Hospital in Kansas City, KVC also runs Wheatland Hospital in Hays.

KVC Hospitals is part of Olathe-based KVC Health Systems.

Kansas City’s Largest Private-Sector Employers

Ranked by Local FTE employees

Rank Name Local FTE employees 1 Cerner Corp. 12,890 2 HCA Midwest Health System 9,924 3 Saint Luke’s Health System 8,123 View This List

An empty former orthopedic center building near 21st and Amidon in north Wichita is getting a new tenant.

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Wichita school district has new plan for elementary students with behavior problems | The Wichita Eagle

Starting this fall, the Wichita district will have a new option for young students struggling with behavior problems.

Bryant Opportunity Academy — located at the former Bryant Core Knowledge Magnet Elementary near Ninth and West — will serve about 100 kindergarten-through-sixth-grade students "who need a more highly structured, controlled environment," said Terrell Davis, executive director of public affairs and special projects for the Wichita district.

Students could attend Bryant for a few months or for years, depending on their needs, Davis said. They would be referred there by administrators at their assigned schools.

The school will have smaller classes and focus more attention on behavior and character development, Davis said. It also will employ additional counselors and social workers to serve students and their families.

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"We’ve been looking at areas of need, both academically and in terms of behavior," Davis said. "And one of those areas is kids who just need additional structure and a hands-on approach.

"We’re looking at school differently for a group of kids who . . . may not have learned how to play school," he said. "This is a way to think outside the box to serve those kids."

The new academy, approved unanimously by school board members during a recent meeting, comes as the Wichita district is experiencing a substantial increase in behavior problems among its youngest students.

According to district data, the number of discipline incidents in elementary schools — including suspensions, detentions and trips to the principal’s office — increased from 8,762 four years ago to nearly 13,500 last school year – an increase of more than 53 percent.

Districtwide over the same time period, the number of discipline incidents increased about 11 percent, while enrollment in Wichita schools fell about 1 percent.

Last spring, a local teachers union official said out-of-control kids were disrupting classrooms and driving some teachers out of the profession, and she urged district leaders to address the problem.

The new Bryant Opportunity Academy is part of Superintendent Alicia Thompson’s multi-year plan to turn around discipline problems in elementary schools. Beginning last fall, all Wichita elementary school students also began getting daily lessons on social and emotional skills as part of Second Step, a character education curriculum.

Currently, elementary-age students with severe behavioral problems are referred to Greiffenstein Alternative School in south Wichita, which serves children with emotional disturbances or those who have been suspended or expelled from other schools. Most Greiffenstein students qualify for special education services.

Davis said the new Bryant Opportunity Academy will serve regular- and special-education students from across the district. Transportation will be provided. The school will operate on an early-start schedule — 7 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. — like other special schools and secondary magnets.

But it won’t be just another alternative school, Davis said.

"We don’t like to use the term ‘at-risk’ to describe our students. We use the term ‘opportunity,’" he said. "We really believe every child has the opportunity for greatness and success. . . . They may come from different places and have different needs, and we just need to meet them wherever they are."

Neil Guthrie, assistant superintendent for student support services, said Bryant Opportunity Academy will be a "middle ground" for students who may have behavior issues in regular classrooms but who don’t require Greiffenstein’s intensive special-education services.

For example, Guthrie said, many children arrive in Wichita schools from homes of poverty or traumatic situations, including substance abuse, violence, hunger or neglect. Some act out aggressively and require more focused lessons on self-control and anger management.

"Having the right students in the right places for the right reasons is really important," he said. "This really gives us the opportunity to have support in a smaller setting for students who need those caring adults to work with them."

Bryant Elementary, previously a core knowledge magnet, was one of five schools the district closed in 2012 as part of budget reductions and a reconfiguration of attendance boundaries. In 2013, when a fire damaged much of College Hill Elementary, the district temporarily relocated that school to the Bryant building in west Wichita.

A mission statement for Bryant Opportunity Academy says the new school will "give students the opportunity to learn and demonstrate responsible behavior, to express feelings and needs appropriately, to develop positive self-esteem, and to improve academic functioning."

District officials say they don’t yet have an exact cost for the new academy, because they’re still hiring teachers and other staff. It will be funded in part with additional money Wichita received as part of a new school finance formula, which targets more funding for at-risk students.

Claudio Flores, assistant principal at Northwest High School, will be principal at Bryant Opportunity Academy, Davis said.

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Prosecutor: KS Men Said Mosque Bomb Plot Would ‘Exterminate Cockroaches’

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The plot to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants in western Kansas was just the beginning of a plan by three militia members to “exterminate cockroaches,” a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.

“Defendants wanted to send the message Muslims are not welcomed here — not in Garden City, not in Kansas, not in America,” prosecutor Risa Berkower said.

The comments were made during opening statements in the trial of Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction for allegedly planning to detonate truck bombs in the meatpacking town of Garden City, 220 miles (350 kilometers) west of Wichita. Stein also faces weapons-related charges and Wright has an additional charge of lying to the FBI.

The three men, who were indicted in October 2016, have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have argued the men formed a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force that came to be known as “the Crusaders.” Wright is quoted in a wiretap transcript as saying he hoped an attack on the Somalis would “wake people up” and inspire others to take similar action against Muslims.

“The evidence will show that these weren’t just words,” Berkower said. “These hours of planning were not just talk. It was action.”

The government plans to present evidence that the men manufactured homemade explosives and tested them. It also plans to present testimony showing the men tried to recruit other members of the Kansas Security Force to join them, and warned them not to tip off law enforcement about the plan. Some militia members will testify they didn’t like Muslims either but refused to join the plan to kill people

But Dan Day knew the plan would go forward and innocent people would die, Berkower said. He struggled with what to do, prayed about what to do. And then he contacted the FBI, and later agreed to wear a wire.

“It was the hardest scariest thing he had done in his entire life,” she said. “He agreed even though he was scared.”

Attorneys for the three men are expected to make their opening statements later Thursday.

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An arranged marriage brought her to Wichita. Georgie Porgie brought her renown. | The Wichita Eagle

Kim Suey Wong came to Wichita in 1947 as a new bride after her husband — in the traditions of both their upbringings of Buddhism and Confucius — enlisted the services of a matchmaker in China.

She was the 10th woman Wayne Wong and his mother interviewed. She was born in 1929, the year of the snake; he was born in 1922, the year of the dog.

She was not quarrelsome. She followed the old ways. A deal was struck.

Together, they embarked on a 71-year journey that took them from the poorest of restaurant workers to restaurant entrepreneurs and investors.

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Mrs. Wong, retired co-owner of Georgie Porgie Pancake Shoppe — one of Wichita’s most popular restaurants in the 1970s and 1980s — died Tuesday, Feb. 27. She was 89.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. on Monday at Old Mission Mortuary, 3424 E. 21st St.

Kim Suey Yee was born in Daixing Village, China, on Feb. 7, 1929.

“They were happy and successful and loved each other all these years,” Edward Wong said of his mother.

His sister Wilma Wong said that early on her parents formed a partnership.

“Both of them worked together,” Wilma Wong said. “Dad had the savvy to go out and seek opportunities. Dad was the one who spoke English and laid the groundwork for the restaurant. She learned how to wash dishes and would learn from existing cooks on how to cook and prepare meals.”

She would study weekly grocery ads in the newspaper and put a checkmark by the pictures of items she wanted the family to buy, Edward Wong said.

She taught herself how to speak and eventually write English.

Her husband, Wayne Hung Wong, was a “paper son.” At the turn of the 20th century, when U.S. laws prevented Chinese immigrants from entering the country legally, some came illegally with false papers identifying them as sons of Americans.

That is how Wong came to Wichita in 1935.

He was 13.

In the seven decades since then, he fought in World War II as a decorated soldier, earned his U.S. citizenship, raised four children, worked as a restaurant and real estate entrepreneur and wrote a book about the couple’s experiences.

As a teenager, Wayne Wong studied for school and worked at the Pan-American Cafe, living in a room above it. He had little female nurturing.

“There were no Chinese women in the city of Wichita at that time,” he told The Eagle in 2006. “Not until after World War II, when the Chinese veterans brought their wives to Wichita to start their families and raise children. . . . Until then the tiny Chinese community in Wichita was what we called a ‘bachelor’s society.’ ”

He enlisted in the Army on Nov. 6, 1942, and was assigned to the 987th Signal Operations Company in Camp Crowder, Mo. The 987th was organized to provide communication services between American and Chinese troops.

It was the Army’s only Chinese-American unit; Wong served as its supply sergeant.

He was honorably discharged on Dec. 21, 1945, and awarded the Bronze Star, the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal, the China War Memorial Ribbon, the World War II Victory Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.

When he brought his wife to Wichita, the couple first lived in an apartment above the Pan-American. They saved and eventually bought a modest house on Market Street.

“Back in those days, children would go to Joyland,” Edward Wong said. “We went to Joyland and found silver dollars in Easter eggs. Mom and Dad collected those and used that money to put on the down payment for the house.”

The couple bought Georgia Porgie’s, near Central and Woodlawn, in 1972 and continued to operate it until 1990, when they retired.

“I learned to have honor, respect and integrity in what we do,” Edward Wong said. “She installed that in us and she always encouraged us to be fair to the other party when we were doing a deal or bargaining. She would encourage us to imagine being on the other side of the table.”

His parents, Wong said, always called the United States “Geem San.”

“Back then, all Chinese people called the United States ‘Geem San’ — that meant golden mountain. They thought the United States was the golden mountain. That you came over here and picked up gold off the streets and lived a comfortable life.”

Mrs. Wong is survived by her husband, Wayne, of the home; daughter, Linda; son David (Lillian); daughter Wilma (late husband, Ronnie Yee); son Edward (Shawna Kerns) his children Erik, Kimberly and Kevin Wong and their mother Jean; and Shawna’s children, Curtis and Brandon.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation can be made to the Kim Suey Yee Wong Endowed Library Fund 610128, Wichita State University, 1845 Fairmount Street, Wichita, KS 67260-0002.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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Pivot Point: South-central Wichita proving good neighbors lead to great things | The Wichita Eagle

They call themselves “SoCe Life,” and while the nickname might take a while to catch on, neighbors in south-central Wichita are making a difference in improving the area in which they live.

That’s the goal of any homeowner’s association, but the SoCe neighborhood — Kellogg south to Pawnee, Washington west to the Arkansas River — is roughly two square miles of residents bringing out the best in themselves and finding it in others.

The neighborhood statistically is one of the city’s highest in adult joblessness and housing vacancies, and lowest in median income. But that hasn’t stopped neighbors from coming together.

Susanne Phillips, a 21-year SoCe resident, said the neighborhood has become safer, friendlier and more fun. Neighbors collaborate on projects, walk other’s dogs when needed, and look out for one another the way neighbors everywhere should be doing (but often don’t).

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SoCe is a model for how neighborhoods assemble and make the best of themselves. Here’s hoping a NoCe, WeCe, EaCe and other Wichita areas follow.

Kirk Seminoff: 316-268-6278, @kseminoff

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Kevin Mullen focuses on close-up work with Wichita’s needy | The Wichita Eagle

In his professional life, Kevin Mullen builds nice homes and neighborhoods for people who can afford them. In his personal life, he helps feed people who can’t.

Mullen considers himself lucky in both respects.

“Some of us lead a very sheltered life,” says Mullen, the president of Ritchie Associates, who became active in the Lord’s Diner a decade ago. “I’m one of them. There’s just so much joy in helping people, watching people come up and get a meal and see the smile on their face. You know you’re actually doing something.”

Mullen grew up in Hutchinson, earned an accounting degree from Kansas State University and worked as a CPA for three years before going into the real estate development business with Jack and Dave Ritchie. Today he and Jack Ritchie are partners.

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Their company has transformed east Wichita, creating dozens of developments with thousands of homes in them over the past three decades. Tallgrass, Wilson Estates, Lakepoint, The Waterfront, Garden Walk … the list goes on, literally, with the company’s newest developments, Brookfield and Firefly.

As good as he is with numbers, Mullen’s real satisfaction comes from seeing his company take an empty landscape and fill it with a thriving neighborhood, using as much of the landscape’s creeks, woods and natural features as possible. Maybe it’s a link to his father, Robert, an architect and artist.

“We feel like our model of neighborhoods have changed the way Wichitans think when buying a home,” Mullen said.

Mullen has not joined many boards through his life. He describes himself as direct, driven and not inclined to talk situations to death. However, he accepted an invitation to join the board of the Lord’s Diner in 2009, after the recession left him with a little time on his hands. He helped the organization expand from its original site on north Broadway into a second location in south Wichita and three mobile food trucks, increasing the number of meals served daily from about 500 to 2,500.

Twice a month, he dishes up food at the truck parked at the Atwater neighborhood center in northeast Wichita. On those nights, he says, he’s just one of 6,000 volunteers from all faiths and backgrounds who pitch in to make the Lord’s Diner work.

He recently left Lord’s Diner board and joined the board of Catholic Charities. True to his nature, he plans on doing more listening than talking while he figures out where he can do the most good. He’s also been active in developing the Stryker Soccer Complex in northeast Wichita and helping Kapaun Mount Carmel, which his children attended, build a new gym.

Mullen said any success he’s experienced would have been impossible without his partner, Jack Ritchie, and his wife of 43 years, Nancy, another K-State Wildcat with whom he has four children and six grandchildren.

“I like to believe that my family and company have made Wichita a better place,” he said. “It’s a team effort. It’s not about me.”

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Animal rescue groups fight fee proposal


Walk through the halls of the Wichita Animal Shelter, you’ll probably notice a lot of animals waiting for adoption. Some of them are running out of time, facing possible euthanization in a matter of days.

That’s where rescue groups come in, many of them go through area shelters to foster animals in jeopardy. Those groups are scrambling now, facing fees that might put them under.

“I thought it was the lazy man’s way out of a deficit, honestly,” said Sarah Coffman, Founder and President of Wichita Animal Action League.

She’s referring to House Bill 2477, which would triple the fees that foster homes have to pay to care for and look after animals. Organizations like her’s usually pay for those fees so volunteers don’t.

Last year, it cost WAAL $490 to license 49 foster homes. If the fees go higher, it would cost $1500 and only if they don’t add more volunteers during peak rescue seasons.

“My fear if this goes through, is that I’m going to be paying so much more in state licensing fees, I’m not going to be able to rescue as many animals,” she said.

The organization rescued 504 animals last year. If the proposed fees were in effect, they would have only been able to save approximately 168.

But lawmakers said they wrote the bill to level the playing field and that the measure will ensure thorough inspections of shelters, breeders and pet stores are thorough and complete.

“I don’t like higher fees, but sometimes you have to look at that in order to be able to do the inspections that are needed. Inspections for animal welfare,” said Representative Kyle Hoffman, chair of the Committee on Agriculture.

Hoffman went on to say that there have been proposals to add penalties to breeders who don’t answer inspectors when they arrive at facilities, but called it unfair to the breeding industry.

Opponents to the bill are now pushing for other sources of revenue. They said they fear that if the bill goes through they won’t be able to continue their work.

“It seems a little discriminatory against rescues and shelters,” Coffman said. “Against nonprofit organizations who are trying really hard to save lives, save the city money and reunite owners on a shoestring budget.”

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