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Headlines for Monday, July 6, 2015

News from around the region...mostly compiled by the Associated Press and the KPR Newsroom

Some Kansas Same-Sex Couples Already Receiving Benefits 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — State employees who are married to someone of the same sex can't yet put their spouses on their health insurance policies, but local government workers in Lawrence have been doing it for years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the city of Lawrence, Douglas County and the Lawrence School district all offer family benefits to employees, their spouses and domestic partners, regardless of gender or whether the couples are legally married. Assistant Douglas County administrator Sarah Plinsky says offering benefits to domestic partners meant family health coverage and other benefits were not a right or incident of marriage. Still, she says the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide will make those benefits policies easier to administer and less costly for the families.


Disaster, Damage Numbers Rise in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials are declaring more disasters in Kansas in recent years. But it's unclear whether severe weather is more common, because weather watchers are doing a better job of documenting some events, such as small tornadoes. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed 29 disasters were declared in Kansas from 2004 to 2013, the last year included. The rest of FEMA's history, from 1953 to 2003, showed 27 disasters in Kansas. There also was an upward trend in weather-related damage, including from non-disaster events. Kansas state climatologist Mary Knapp says a flood or tornado that wasn't a disaster in earlier decades might be one if the same thing happened today, if there are more homes and businesses in harm's way.


Investigators Looking for Cause of Kansas Inmate's Death 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State and local authorities are investigating the death of a 50-year-old inmate in his cell at the Shawnee County Adult Detention Center. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Christopher Alan Clark was arrested at 12:57 am Sunday by Topeka police on drunken driving and other charges. Clark was found dead shortly after 8 pm Sunday, 15 minutes after he was seen standing at his cell door. The cause of his death had not been determined early Monday. First responders administered CPR and used a defibrillator for about 16 minutes before Clark was pronounced dead. He was arrested on charges of felony driving under the influence, failure to submit to a drug or alcohol test, refusal of a breathalyzer test, failure to yield to an emergency vehicle and a defective tag light.


Wichita School District Again Opts Out of Free-Meals Program

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita school district is again opting out of a program that gives schools in high-poverty areas the option to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost to families. The Wichita Eagle reports the district had considered implementing the program at one middle school and five elementary schools. But director of operations Darren Muci says the district decided not to move forward after seeking guidance from the Kansas State Department of Education. One issue is families don't complete the standard free-lunch application at participating schools. In Topeka, which uses the program, many didn't fill out an alternate form that's needed to secure state funding for serving at-risk students. The Topeka district may have lost about $330,000 in state aid last school year as a result.


KU Hospital Uses $12.5M Grant to Improve Rural Health Care

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Hospital is teaming up with 14 small hospitals and medical centers in the western part of the state to makeover rural health care. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the effort is part of a three-year, $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center. The grant enabled the hospital to create the Kansas Heart and Stroke Collaborative. The effort puts into place more prevention, consistent emergency protocols, telemedicine, follow-up care and teamwork. If the effort meets its goals of saving lives and reducing health care costs, it could become a model for heart and stroke care in rural areas. Prevention efforts will roll out in September. They'll include smoking cessation programs and high blood pressure and cholesterol treatments.


UPDATE: Tentative Plan Reached  to Keep Amtrak Line Running in KS, MO 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Amtrak officials say a tentative agreement has been reached that would keep the Southwest Chief passenger train running in Kansas and Missouri. Amtrak had threatened to shut down or reroute the Southwest Chief in Kansas and to stop the River Runner service between Kansas City and St. Louis. The dispute involved funding federally-required safety systems designed to prevent accidents caused by human error. A rail company that routes trains through the Kansas City metropolitan region said it could not afford to install the positive train control systems. Federal law requires that the system be installed by the end of the year. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in a statement Monday that a tentative agreement was reached to keep the trains running. He said details of the agreement are not final.


Businessman Sentenced to Prison over Pollution, Deception 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a Kansas metal finishing business has been sentenced to four months in prison followed by six months of home detention for discharging untreated wastewater into a city sewer. C&R Plating and its 56-year-old owner, Kevin L. Cline, were also ordered Monday to pay $281,503 in restitution. The company was fined $10,000. They pleaded guilty in December to one count of violating the federal Clean Water Act by introducing pollutants into the water treatment system of the north-central Kansas community of Minneapolis. Cline admitted he submitted fraudulent samples and reports to conceal the dumping, and acknowledged he was responsible for high levels of zinc found in the city's sewer. The city's sewer system discharges into the Solomon River via Lindsey Creek and an unnamed tributary.


2 Injured After Car Explodes on Kansas Expressway 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas father and son were injured when their car exploded. The explosion Sunday near Topeka had such force the roof of the car was peeled back. Authorities say Jacob Schell and his 4-year-old son, Roman, were injured in the explosion. Jacob Schell's brother, Alex, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that the car exploded because of fireworks inside. He said the family had been celebrating the Fourth of July and the two victims were headed home when fireworks they had in the car went off. They were flown to the University of Kansas Hospital, where their conditions were not immediately available. The Kansas Fire Marshal is investigating.


Kansas City Officials See No Middle Ground in Wage Debate 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City officials are nearing their self-imposed mid-July deadline for coming up with a plan to raise the local minimum wage, but so far there is no consensus on what needs to be done. The Kansas City Star reports that the City Council delayed a decision six weeks ago on a minimum wage hike in the hopes of finding a middle ground between advocates for $15 an hour and business groups that oppose the idea. Mayor Sly James says the two sides "just talk past each other" during weekly round-table discussions on the subject. Council members say they will try to adopt some type of minimum wage increase in response to a petition drive calling for a public vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.


Wineries, Craft Breweries Experience Growth in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The thirst for Kansas-produced alcoholic beverages is growing, with wineries multiplying and the state's largest craft brewer experiencing a revenue boost of about 50 percent. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Tallgrass Brewery's revenue growth comes after a 60,000-square-foot call center in Manhattan was converted into a new brewery. Tallgrass founder Jeff Gill says the brewery is producing more than twice as much as it did in its former facility and eventually will produce even more. Much of Tallgrass's beer is distributed in other states with more developed markets for craft beer, but he says interest is growing in Kansas. Highland Community College winery expert Scott Kohl said that in 2010 there were about a dozen wineries in Kansas, and now there are about 35.


Straw Offers Second Paycheck to Growers Near Biomass Plant

HALSTEAD, Kan. (AP) — A second harvest is now under way over the stubble left in some western Kansas fields after wheat is cut. That straw represents an added income source for farmers. The Hutchinson News reports that some farmers burn the stubble after wheat harvest. Some disk it. Some plant the next crop right into it. But Courtney Wilson, harvest manager for Pacific Ag, wants farmers to know they're leaving a paycheck out in the field. Wilson's company can take residue left from harvested field and bale it up. It then hauls it to Abengoa's biomass plant in Hugoton, where it is turned into cellulosic ethanol. Wilson says his company plans to pay out $3 million to southwest Kansas farmers in the 100-mile radius of the facility.


Swiss Billionaire Donates $25,000 to Landon Nature Trail

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Swiss billionaire has donated $25,000 to help complete a 38-mile Kansas nature trail. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the gift comes from Hansjörg Wyss. Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy director Clark Coan says the billionaire-conservationist has promised more than half his fortune to the preservation of the American West. The donation will largely go toward a portion of the Landon Nature Trail in the Clinton Wildlife Area. The area needs limestone screenings, which are a type of gravel substitute, and additional work on a bridge. While the conservancy has received several large donations, Coan said more work remains before the Landon Nature Trail is complete. The trail stretches from Topeka to the Flint Hills Nature Trail just east of Pomona Lake in Osage County.


Interstate 35 in Clay County Reopens After Gas Leak
PLEASANT VALLEY, Mo. (AP) — Interstate 35 in Clay County near Liberty has reopened after being closed for more than four hours Monday. The highway was closed about 8:30 am Monday between Interstate 435 and Missouri Highway 152 because of a gas leak caused by a construction contractor. The highways reopened about 1:30 pm. The Kansas City Star reports a spokeswoman for Missouri Gas Energy said a contractor tore a hole in a steel pipeline near Pleasant Valley. The 18-inch tear sent gas into the air near the interstate. No injuries were reported and MGE says the problem did not cut off service to any customers.


Co-Owner of Kansas Recycling Company Fined $118K 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An owner of an El Dorado, Kansas, plastics recycling company has to pay the federal government $118,000 for storing hazardous air pollutants. Federal prosecutors in Wichita say 39-year-old Sean M. Riley of Andover, co-owner of Integrated Plastic Solutions, pleaded guilty earlier to aiding and abetting negligent exposure to a hazardous air pollutant. He has to repay the Environmental Protection Agency $118,000 and serve 18 months on probation. Prosecutors say Riley admitted the company stored paints and solvents that contained ethyl benzene, a hazardous air pollutant. His brother, Brian J. Riley, was also sentenced in May to three years on probation and the same amount of restitution after he was accused of allowing paints and solvents to be dumped on the company's grounds, releasing ethyl benzene.


Report: Wheat Harvest Nears Completion in Parts of Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government update shows the 2015 winter wheat harvest is nearing completion in some parts of Kansas, and making good progress everywhere else. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that harvest statewide was 79 percent finished. That is ahead of the 66 percent cut at this time last year, but still behind the 83 percent average for this date. The agency reported that as of Sunday 90 percent of the wheat fields in southeastern and central Kansas had been cut. South-central Kansas was close behind with growers there 88 percent done with cutting. Northwest Kansas trailed last with just 55 percent of the harvest finished there. Harvest elsewhere in the state ranged between 69 percent and 78 percent. About 95 percent of the Kansas crop is now mature.


Texas Man Sentenced to 10 Years for Seeking Sex with Minors 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 42-year-old Texas man who admitted traveling to Missouri to have sex with two minors faces 10 years in federal prison. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas City says John Paul Christian of San Marcos pleaded guilty earlier to two counts of attempting to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity and one count of traveling across state lines to engage in illicit sex. Prosecutors say Christian agreed to pay a man he thought was the father of two girls, ages 11 and 15, $400 to have sex with the girls. The man he was dealing with was actually an undercover detective. Christian was arrested last year after arriving at a Kansas City home where he thought the family lived. He was sentenced Monday to 10 years without parole.


Wichita State Getting $1M Federal Grant 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University is getting a $1 million federal grant for its new innovation campus. The Wichita Eagle reports that the grant from the U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration will go toward roads and water lines to support the Experiential Engineering Building, the first building at the new innovation campus. The department says in a release that the building will create 448 experiential engineering jobs within three years. Wichita State is scheduled to announce more details about the grant during a press conference Wednesday. Matt S. Erskine, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, and Wichita State University President John Bardo are scheduled to speak at the event.


Check Your Tickets:  Missouri Powerball Ticket Worth $70 Million 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Someone who bought a Powerball lottery ticket in Missouri has won the $70 million jackpot. The Missouri Lottery said in a release Monday that one Powerball ticket bought in Missouri matched all six numbers drawn Saturday night to win the $70 million jackpot. The winner has until December 31 to claim the prize. The lottery says it's the ninth largest jackpot prize won in Missouri. The jackpot winner can get the jackpot prize in 30 graduated annuity payments or in one lump-sum payment. The lottery says if no choice is made in two months, the jackpot is automatically paid in 30 payments.



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