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Headlines for Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Person Tells AP: FBI Examines Brownback Ally

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A person familiar with the inquiry says the Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining whether Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's former chief of staff and a firm he helped found are trading on ties to Brownback to benefit themselves and others. The person said the FBI has been looking for several months into the activities of Brownback confidante David Kensinger and Parallel Strategies, formed last year. The person said the FBI had interviewed multiple people. The person is not in law enforcement and insisted on anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly about the FBI's inquiry. The FBI declined comment. The investigation was first reported by The Topeka Capital-Journal. Kensinger declined comment Monday. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the administration has had no indication of an inquiry.


Estimate for Aid to Kansas Classrooms Drops by $12M

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A school funding plan enacted recently in Kansas is expected to provide $12 million less than previously thought for public school classrooms. The State Department of Education is apologizing for what it says is confusion surrounding its estimates. Republican legislators pushed the plan earlier this month, and GOP Governor Sam Brownback signed it into law last week. Supporters said it provides an additional $73 million for Kansas classrooms. The new total is $61 million. Both figures include $25 million in aid during the next school year for equipment or capital improvement projects. Supporters of the plan had relied on figures issued by the department on April 6. Those figures were revised April 17. Brownback aides said they didn't know about the revised estimates when he signed the bill.


Kansas Legislators Review Social Service Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative oversight committee is raising questions about trends in state programs to provide health and social services for eligible residents. Tuesday's discussion by the committee includes reviews of cost estimates for providing health care for the poor and disabled, as well as temporary assistance to low-income residents. Legislators are asking whether the cost estimates are related to changes in state policy for cash assistance programs and the new KanCare Medicaid system. KanCare is administered by three private insurance companies. Kansas privatized the program in 2013 to reduce the growth of health care costs, which are shared by state and federal sources. The oversight committee will also hear concerns about KanCare in the afternoon from consumers and advocacy groups.

State Eases Replacement of Lost Documents

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Revenue is taking steps to help residents replace critical documents lost in Sunday's tornadoes. The agency is waiving fees on replacement driver's licenses, vehicle titles and vehicle registrations for residents of Cherokee, Bourbon and Linn counties. An executive order signed Monday by Gov. Sam Brownback also waives the fees for replacement birth certificates and marriage licenses issued by the state health department. Dozens of buildings were destroyed and 25 people were injured Sunday in the Cherokee County town Baxter Springs by an EF2 tornado with winds of 130 mph. Parts of Bourbon and Linn counties were hit around the same time by an EF1 tornado.

Kansas Media Fights to Open Court Records

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Media advocates say they are concerned Kansas courts are closing more records and hearings to the public. The Kansas Press Association and the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government point to recent instances where hearings or court records were closed in high-profile cases, including quadruple murders in Parsons and in Franklin County. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a 1981 Kansas Supreme Court ruling laid out specific rules judges must follow before closing any pretrial proceedings or sealing records. Advocates say those rules have not been followed in recent cases. A bill before the Legislature would unseal the court records used to establish probable cause to obtain a search or arrest warrant. It has been approved by the House and might be discussed during the wrap-up session, which starts Wednesday.


Kansas Lawmakers Blasted at Legislative Forum

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — Some Kansas lawmakers at a legislative forum endured more than an hour of criticism from teachers and their supporters over a new law that eliminates teacher tenure. About 200 people packed Derby City Hall Monday night to attend the south-central Kansas legislative forum. Most spoke against a provision in a new school funding law that they said removes protections for teachers from unreasonable firings. They also criticized lawmakers for enacting the provision with no public hearings or notice. The Wichita Eagle reports after listening to the complaints, Representative Jim Howell, a Republican from Derby, said he doesn't think the reaction to the law is as negative as the forum indicated. He says teachers organized the turnout and didn't represent the opinions of the entire community.


Bank of America Selling 11 Kansas Branches

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Bank of America plans to sell 11 branches throughout Kansas, including two in the city of Great Bend. The Wichita Eagle reports  the branches are being sold to four Kansas-based banks. A Bank of America spokeswoman told the newspaper Tuesday the branches being sold are located in Caney, Coffeyville, Emporia, Great Bend, Hays, Hutchinson, Independence, Lindsborg, McPherson and Salina. The spokeswoman, Diane Wagner, said Bank of America occasionally sells branches whose closings would leave employees with few job opportunities and customers with no banking center nearby. The Eagle listed the buyers of the 11 branches as Lyon County State Bank in Emporia; Commercial Bank in Parsons; First Kansas Bank in Hoisington; and First Bank Kansas in Salina. The sales are expected to close this summer.


Keystone XL Pipeline Supporters Seek Senate Vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline are seeking a swift election-year Senate vote on legislation to approve the project that environmentalists oppose strongly and the Obama administration has delayed indefinitely. Pipeline advocates in the Senate, including several Democrats on the ballot next fall, hold a clear majority. They also may command more than the 60 votes needed to overcome blocking tactics by opponents, but appear to be short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override any veto by President Barack Obama. Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana chairs the Senate Energy Committee and says she will seek a vote in a few weeks. Republicans want the vote to occur as part of the debate on energy-efficiency legislation or as a stand-alone bill.


Kansas Woman Sentenced in Prescription Drug Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Manhattan woman has been placed on two years' probation for her role in a conspiracy to distribute prescription drugs at a northeast Kansas pain clinic. The U.S. Attorney's office says 30-year-old Sarah Harding-Huffine was sentenced Monday. She pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to unlawfully distribute prescription drugs from the Manhattan clinic of Dr. Michael Schuster. Harding-Huffine admitted illegally writing prescriptions for Oxycodone and other controlled substances on blank forms that Schuster signed and left for his staff when he traveled outside the country. Harding-Huffine was not a licensed health care provider and did not have a federal drug registration number. Schuster pleaded guilty earlier this year to unlawfully distributing controlled substances. He was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

US Attorney for Kansas Plans 2 Speeches This Week

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The top federal prosecutor in Kansas is speaking later this week in Hutchinson and El Dorado about law enforcement's role in promoting equal justice and opportunity. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom's office says he will speak at 6:45 pm Thursday at Hutchinson Community College. The event is a Law Day commemoration sponsored by the NAACP. Grissom also plans to speak at a meeting of the Butler County Bar Association at noon Friday at Butler Community College in El Dorado. Grissom was nominated as U.S. attorney for Kansas by President Barack Obama in 2010. He supervises a staff of about 100 people, including about 50 assistant U.S. attorneys.


Ex-Employee Accused of Theft from Cabela's

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former employee of a Wichita sporting goods store is accused of stealing merchandise and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The U.S. Attorney's office says 25-year-old Garrett T. Alley was indicted Tuesday on one count each of possessing stolen merchandise and stolen ammunition. Prosecutors said Alley worked at Cabela's in Wichita for seven months, beginning in December 2012. The indictment alleges he stole more than $5,000 worth of merchandise, including clothing, optics and binoculars, plus more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition. Court records did not list an attorney for Alley, and no phone number could be found in Wichita under his name.


Emporia State to Create Honors College

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Emporia State University is planning a new Honors College to attract top students to its campus. The school announced in a news release Tuesday that a new education bill signed by Governor Sam Brownback includes $1 million for the Honors College. Gary Wyatt, an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was named to a one-year appointment as director of the Honors College. Emporia State officials say they envision the college offering honors students a mentoring program, separate living arrangements, additional scholarships, travel and leadership opportunities. Wyatt begins his new position on June 8, and will spend the summer helping to plan the Honors College. Some enhancements to current honors programs are planned for the fall but the Honors College is expected to begin in fall 2015.

Dust Blamed for Fatal Car Accident in Kansas

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says blowing dust caused an accident that killed a man in central Kansas. Thirty-year-old Brandon H. Stein of Great Bend died Monday afternoon in an accident on U.S. 56 about seven miles west of Great Bend. The patrol says Stein's vehicle collided with the trailer of a semi-trailer truck that had stopped in the eastbound lanes of the highway because of visibility problems caused by the dust and other accidents. The Great Bend Tribune reports that responders reported zero visibility when they tried to reach the accident, prompting authorities to close the highway from Great Bend to Pawnee Rock.


Wind-Driven Dust Storms Plague Kansas Drivers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas highway officials are offering tips for motorists confronting dust storms and blowing smoke as high winds continued blowing across western and central areas Tuesday. Several collisions, one of them fatal, occurred Monday amid a dust storm on U.S. 65 near Great Bend. And a dozen vehicles were involved Sunday in accidents on U.S. 54 south of Liberal as dust reduced visibility to near zero. The Kansas Department of Transportation advises motorists to avoid driving through dust storms and smoke from spring burning when possible. If that's not possible, the agency says to pull off the road as far and as quickly as possible. Once off the road, KDOT says drivers should turn off all lights. That's because other drivers may mistakenly use a stopped vehicle's lights as a guide.


Prairie Chicken Hunting Could End in SW Kansas 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State wildlife officials may bar the hunting of all prairie chickens in southwest Kansas to help the state comply with the federal government's listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism said Tuesday that fewer than 100 lesser prairie chickens are taken each year, but the goal is to try to prevent any from being killed. An advisory commission will consider the proposal in June. The federal government in March declared the lesser prairie chicken as threatened because its numbers have dropped dramatically. Hunters seek the larger and darker greater prairie chicken but sometimes kill lesser ones. The hunting ban would affect all or part of 28 counties. The season is from November 15 through December 31.


Chiropractor Pleads Guilty to Medicare Fraud 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The former owner of a Kansas City chiropractic clinic has admitted fraudulently billing Medicare for nearly $3 million worth of nerve-blocking injections. The U.S. Attorney's office says 59-year-old chiropractor Michael Kelly Miller pleaded guilty Tuesday in Kansas City to one count of health care fraud. Prosecutors said Miller now lives in Temple Terrace, Florida and operates a clinic there. Miller admitted billing Medicare for the injections between February 2009 and December 2011 and receiving nearly $880,000 in reimbursements. The injections were intended to treat the pain of neuropathy, even though Medicare had no guidelines at the time on whether the therapy was medically appropriate. Miller's plea agreement calls for restitution of at least the $880,000 he received from Medicare, plus 15 to 21 months in federal prison.


Wichita Couple Sentenced for Harboring Illegal Employee

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita couple has been sentenced for harboring a Chinese teenager who worked at their restaurant. The U.S. Attorney's Office says that 33-year-old Yong "Tony" Lin was sentenced Monday to two years of supervised release. His wife, 29-year-old Zhuo Mei "Mandy" Weng, was sentenced to one year probation. Lin pleaded guilty in February to harboring the girl, who was in the United States illegally. Weng pleaded guilty to hiding the crime. The girl worked at the World Buffet Grill, which is now closed. Federal investigators said in September that Lin and Weng had at least three employees who they knew were in the U.S. illegally. They often paid those employees in cash and didn't follow laws on minimum wage and hours worked.

Thieves Take Everything - Even the Kitchen Sink

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Everything has been stolen — including the kitchen sink — from the kitchen of a model house in Kansas. Police say thieves stripped the kitchen of the Clayton Homes unit in south Wichita, taking all the upscale appliances, the wooden cabinets from the walls and, of course, the sink. General manager Kevin McCracken says the model unit was nearly ready for display when the theft occurred, sometime between 9 pm Sunday and 8 am Monday. KWCH-TV reports that the missing appliances, cabinets, counters and sink, along with the cost of repairing the damage, amounts to a loss of several thousand dollars.

Fish Caught Near KC Swam from Mississippi

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A paddlefish's lengthy trip from Mississippi ended when it was caught in the Missouri River near Kansas City. The Missouri Department of Conservation says biologists caught, tagged and released the fish in Mississippi's Moon Lake in March 2013. The fish was caught one year later near Levasy, Mo. The fish was about 4.5 feet long and weighed a little more than 21 pounds — about 6 pounds less than when it was tagged in Mississippi. Officials say another paddlefish tagged in Mississippi traveled even further up the Missouri River earlier to the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota. Paddlefish have a spoon-like snout and feed by filtering plankton. They can grow to longer than 7 feet and weigh more than 160 pounds.



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