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Headlines for Monday, March 24, 2014


UPDATE: House GOP Leaders Offer KS School Funding Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas House are proposing a new measure to satisfy a state Supreme Court ruling to increase funding for public schools without policy changes on charter schools. Speaker Ray Merrick said Monday the plan is similar to one he rejected last week. That measure contained provisions that would have expanded state charter school laws. Merrick says the new bill would increase school spending by about $129 million to address two deficiencies deemed unconstitutional by the court in its March 7 ruling. Merrick said the House Appropriations Committee is likely to begin reviewing the proposal on Tuesday. Senate GOP leaders say Monday they hope to finish the framework of a school spending bill soon, but don't have a timeframe yet for introducing a measure.


Party-Switching Limit Bill Now in Kansas Governor's Hands

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback has until March 31 to decide the fate of the Kansas GOP's plan to make it harder for voters to switch parties before primary elections. The Legislature delivered a bill containing the GOP plan to Brownback on Friday. He has 10 days under the state Constitution to sign the measure, veto it or let it become law without his signature. The bill prohibits voters registered with a political party from switching their affiliation between the June 1 candidate filing deadline until after results from the August party primaries are certified. Current law allows voters to change their registration up to two weeks before the primary. Republicans contend the change would protect the integrity of party contests. Democrats have said the bill would restrict voting rights.


Kansas House Approves Health Care Compact Membership

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — House members have approved a bill that would allow Kansas to join a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from the federal health care overhaul. The measure was approved 74-48 on Monday, sending the measure to the Senate. The compact would allow member states to set health care policy while retaining federal health care dollars, but only if Congress votes to approve the compact. The compact would allow participating states to exempt themselves from other federal rules in addition to the health overhaul's regulations The compact could have implications for some 450,000 Kansas residents who participate in the federal Medicare program. Supporters say giving Kansas more control over Medicare would ultimately help senior citizens, while critics of the compact say residents could lose benefits and pay higher costs.


Senate Leaders Spar over Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate Minority leader has raised questions about the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee's decision to send education bills to other committees for consideration. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, says Education Committee Chairman Senator Steve Abrams has bypassed his own panel with some education bills, including a charter school bill and a measure overhauling teacher licensure. The Topeka-Capital Journal reports Hensley emailed his concerns to the Senate committee and included a list of school finance bills that went to the Education Committee last year. Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican, says Senate Leadership placed many of the bills in the Ways and Means Committee and the teacher licensure bill's in the Ways and Means Committee because it'll end up in an omnibus bill.

Autism Coverage Bill Moves Through Kansas House

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators are making progress on a measure that would mandate that insurance companies provide health coverage and treatment for Kansas children diagnosed with autism. The issue has been the topic of debate in the Statehouse for several sessions and is moving closer to reality. Coverage would help families cope with the cost of providing treatment for autistic children. The House voted 114-3 on Friday to send the bill to the Senate where its passage was uncertain. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that during debate on the House floor that supporters argued the autism mandate was needed to bring Kansas in line with other states. As advanced by the House, the measure would set requirements for the number of hours autistic children would receive services, as well as age limits.


KS Senator Named to Utility Commission

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas state senator has been appointed by Governor Sam Brownback to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Corporation Commission, effective immediately. State senator Pat Apple, a Louisburg Republican, was named to the commission Monday. He replaces Tom Wright, a Topeka Democrat whose four-year term expired March 15. Apple will resign his legislative seat if his appointment is confirmed by the Senate. Apple has been in the Senate since 2005. He is chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee and a member of the Senate committees on taxation, confirmation oversight and commerce. The KCC regulates natural gas, electricity, telephone and transportation operations in Kansas, including setting rates charged by utilities. Earlier this year, Brownback named former Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, to the commission.


Tensions Remain Between Legislators, KU

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Tensions between some Kansas lawmakers and the University of Kansas continue to factor into negotiations over the higher education budget. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that some university defenders say the disagreements stem from the perception of the Lawrence community and campus, which is often seen as liberal in an otherwise conservative state. Those tensions have been evident as the university tries to convince legislators to increase funding for certain projects, including a new building at the medical center campus in Kansas City, Kansas. Some legislators say the university has hurt itself by being slow to recognize the reality of the state's budget problems. University officials say despite setbacks in this year's budget requests, the school's relationship with lawmakers remains strong.

Kansans Brace for Flood Insurance Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some Kansas officials, real estate agents and homeowners say the changes to the debt-raddled National Flood Insurance Program don't match reality in the rarely flooded state. For many years, the federal government offered subsidized flood insurance on homes and businesses constructed in the days before there were many rules about building close to the water. But premiums collected haven't been sufficient to cover the payouts, leaving the program $24 billion in debt. Errol Wuertz, a real estate agent in Hays, said Washington should be more realistic in its approach. Congress acted in 2012 to replace the funding, and even after a recent overhaul, more than 40 percent of the nearly 5,550 policyholders in Kansas will see annual increases.

22-Car Accident in Lenexa Leaves 8 Injured

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — Light early morning snow caused slick conditions that led to a 22-vehicle highway accident yesterday in suburban Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports eight people sustained minor injuries after 22 vehicles were involved in the accident on a ramp along Highway 69 and Interstate 35 early Sunday. Dispatchers reported the icy ramp caused drivers to lose control. Numerous other accidents also were reported in the Kansas City metropolitan area Sunday morning, most of them in southern Johnson County, due to the slick road conditions.


Wheat Breaks Dormancy as Winterkill Fears Grow

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Scant rain across most of Kansas has led to declining soil moisture levels as the condition of the winter wheat crop continues to decline. In its weekly update, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that less than half of Kansas is reporting adequate soil moisture supplies. The agency rated the condition of the emerging winter wheat as 21 percent poor to very poor. About 46 percent is in fair shape with 31 percent rated good and 2 percent excellent condition. Below-normal temperatures have slowed wheat development. Justin Gilpin is the CEO of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Gilpin says growers throughout the central corridor have been reporting freeze damage. The winterkill stems from subzero cold in January when there was little snow to provide a protective cover.


Inmate Accused of Smuggling Drugs in Prosthesis

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man being held on a probation violation is now accused of smuggling drugs into jail inside his artificial leg. The Saline County sheriff's office says deputies became concerned when the 33-year-old man slurred his speech while complaining Sunday about missing breakfast. Authorities said tests showed the Salina man had been taking drugs. Sheriff Glen Kochanowski says the inmate is accused of hiding prescription drugs and methamphetamine inside his prosthesis. The man had been taken into custody in early March on four suspected probation violations. Prosecutors will now decide whether to charge him with drug offenses as well.


Central Kansas Town Has More Jobs Than Workers

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — Business recruiters in the central Kansas town of McPherson say there are more jobs than people to fill them, and fixing that problem might be out of their reach. The McPherson Sentinel reports the worker shortage gives employees the upper hand in some cases, but in the long run having abundant options could end up hurting those who jump from job to job. Recruitment director Kasi Morales says the city has been able to pull in workers from surrounding areas, but it would be better to attract more people to live in the community. Another business recruiter, Nick Longhofer, says low wages and scheduling issues are factors that keep employers from filling positions. Beyond addressing those problems, he says there isn't much employers can do.

KCC Doing Energy Audits of Rural Grocery Stores

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission is conducting energy audits at several rural grocery stores to determine how the stores can maximize efficiency. Ryan Freed, director of the KCC's energy division, says the audit information goes into recommendations about what energy improvements a store can make, and how long it would take them to pay off. Freed told The Topeka Capital-Journal the stores getting the energy audits aren't required to adopt any of the recommendations. Mark Balocca, one of three owners of the Perry Lecompton Thriftway, says they applied to be one of the audited stores at the suggestion of their bank. Balocca says the results will give them evidence to show their bank if investing in energy efficiency measures will pay off through lower utility bills.

KU Vice Provost Candidates to Give Presentations

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas says four finalists for vice provost for diversity and equity are scheduled to give public presentations. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the candidates will also take questions from faculty, staff and other members of the university over the next two weeks. Only two of the candidates have been publicly identified so far. DeBrenna Agbenyiga is associate dean for graduate studies in the College of Social Science at Michigan State University. Her presentation was scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Kansas Union. The other finalist identified by the university is Gilbert Brown, associate dean in the College of Education at Missouri State University. His presentation is scheduled Wednesday afternoon at the Hall Center Conference Hall. The other candidates are scheduled for presentations March 31 and April 3.


Father of 1992 Murder Victim Still Hopes Killer Will Be Found

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The father of a woman killed at a Wichita bridal shop in 1992 says he no longer believes police will catch his daughter's killer while he is still alive. Bob Trendel's daughter, Patricia Smith, was one of two women who police believe were killed by a suspect who came to be known as the I-70 killer. The other woman killed in April 1992 was the bridal shop's owner, 32-year-old Patricia Magers. Authorities linked the slayings to four others reported at Indiana and Missouri strip malls near Interstate 70 in 1992. But Wichita police say there are no suspects and little evidence to go on in the killings. The suspect has not resurfaced.


Million-Dollar Powerball Ticket Sold in Northeast KS

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Lottery says that someone is holding a Powerball ticket worth $1 million. The ticket for Saturday night's drawing in the multistate game was sold in the northeastern part of Kansas. Lottery officials said Monday it matched the first five numbers in the drawing, but not the Powerball. Saturday's numbers were 13-28-31-55-58, Powerball 15. A single ticket sold in Missouri hit the jackpot of $96.5 million. Holders of winning tickets have one year to claim their prizes. Kansas law allows winners to remain anonymous if they choose.

Oil & Gas Company Gets $600 Million Credit for Fracking Expansion

DENVER (AP) — Lario Oil & Gas says a $600 million credit facility it has negotiated with Wells Fargo and others gives it flexibility as it expands in regions where hydraulic fracking has created an oil boom. In a statement released Monday by its Denver office, Lario said Wells Fargo and JP Morgan were the joint lead arrangers of the facility, and that Bank of America, US Bank and Regions Bank were participating in the financing syndicate. Lario says it is seeking to expand drilling in West Texas's Permian Basin, the Mid-Continent of Kansas and Oklahoma, and the Bakken patch, which has drawn thousands of people to eastern Montana and western North Dakota since 2008. Lario president and CEO Mike O'Shaughnessy says hydraulic fracturing is unlocking the area's vast resources.


Calls to AAA Increase 5 Percent This Winter

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — AAA in Kansas says the number of drivers needing assistance this winter rose 5 percent. The organization reports 22,103 drivers called the AAA Roadside Rescue Team in Kansas for help between December 21 and March 20. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that's a 5 percent increase over the winter of 2012-2013. AAA says calls for dead batteries increased the most, rising by 16 percent, while calls for towing, pulling out stuck cars and opening doors for drivers who locked themselves out stayed at about the same level as the previous year.

Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale set for April 11-12

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Organizers of the traditional Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale, which often draws thousands of people, are preparing for this year's event on April 11-12. The sale, along with a festival and benefit auction, will be held at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson. The event is organized by 70 Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish congregations. The Hutchinson News reports the sale celebrates the role Mennonites played in Kansas history. More than 5,000 Mennonites settled in the state as part of an influx into the United States from Russia between 1874 and 1884. They began communities at Goessel, Inman, Buhler, Moundridge and elsewhere in central Kansas. Organizers say last year's event raised $469,000. The money helps provide basic needs and community development across the world.

Dogs Found in Wichita Trash Ready for Adoption

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two dogs found in a trash bin in Wichita have recovered and are ready to be adopted. The Wichita Eagle reports the two small dogs were found in the trash on February 13. They were thin, dehydrated and cold. It's unclear how long they were in the trash and how they got there. Boogie, a small brown mixed breed, and Bitsy, a black-and-tan miniature pinscher, have been putting on weight and are healthy now. Curt Farrington of K-9 Karma Animal Advocates, a Wichita dog rescue and adoption group, is trying to find homes for the dogs.

Kansas Seeking Inmate Released from Missouri Jail

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Corrections has been looking for an inmate who was mistakenly released from a southwest Missouri jail. KAKE-TV reports that KDOC handed 35-year-old Sean P. McKenzie over late last year to authorities in Vernon County, Missouri so he could stand trial on theft charges there. When those charges were dropped February 25th, Vernon County officials ran a check to see if there was any reason to hold McKenzie. Vernon County Jail Administrator Lt. Mike Buehler says McKenzie's file showed nothing indicating he needed to be held for Kansas, so he was released the day after the Missouri charges were dropped. Kansas Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay says McKenzie has several convictions in Kansas for theft, burglary and escape and should be considered dangerous.

Midwest Energy Plans 'Solar Garden' for Kansas

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Some Kansas customers of Midwest Energy will soon be able to use solar energy without having to install their own solar panels. Midwest Energy, based in Hays, says it has signed an agreement with Clean Energy Collective of Colorado to build a 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic array, or "solar garden." The exact location of the project has not been determined. The Hutchinson News reports the project will have about 4,000 solar panels spread across six acres. Midwest Energy spokesman Mike Morley says customers will contract with Clean Energy Collective to buy the panels, and then get credit on their bills equal to how much energy their panels create. Customers will be able to buy up to 26 of the 300-watt panels. The final costs haven't been determined.

Large Wind Farm Planned in NW Missouri

OREGON, Mo. (AP) — Construction is expected to begin later this year on a wind farm in northwest Missouri. Element Power officials say the operation near Oregon in Holt County will be the largest wind farm in the state. It will generate 200 megawatts of electricity at the Mill Creek Wind Farm. The power will be sold the Kansas City Power & Light. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that if construction goes as scheduled, the wind farm is expected to begin operating by the end of 2015. Scott Zeimetz, project manager for Element Power, says the company has not yet determined the size or number of turbines it will install on the farm. Construction will create 300 jobs, with 12 to 14 permanent full-time jobs available when the wind farm is operating.


Bowling Green Hires Shockers Assistant as Coach

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — Bowling Green State University has hired Wichita State assistant Chris Jans as its new head coach, replacing the fired Louis Orr. Jans has been Wichita State's associate head coach since 2011-12. He helped guide the Shockers to three straight NCAA appearances and to an unbeaten record and No. 2 ranking this season before a loss to Kentucky on Sunday. He spent seven years at WSU. Orr was fired on March 11 after seven years. The Falcons went 12-20 this season. Jans also has been an assistant at Illinois State, Idaho, Grand View (Iowa) and Elmhurst (Illinois). He was a head coach at Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College, winning a junior-college national championship in 1997-98, in addition to Independence (Kansas) CC, Howard (Texas) College and Chipola (Florida) JC.


Kansas Freshmen to Decide on NBA Futures

ST. LOUIS (AP) — After falling short in the NCAA tournament, a trio of Kansas players now faces the stay-or-go decision on the NBA that has been looming all season. Andrew Wiggins is almost certain to leave for the pros. He's projected as a lottery pick, perhaps first overall, even after a poor showing Sunday in a 60-57 loss to Stanford in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Seven-footer Joel Embiid is also a projected lottery pick. A back injury combined with soaring stock could leave Embiid and his handlers with no choice but to declare for the draft. Shooting guard Wayne Selden could also declare for the draft, though he's the most likely to return. If any of them come back, Kansas could be well-positioned for another March run next year.


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