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Headlines for Wednesday, March 5, 2014


KS Lawmakers Consider Loosening Liquor Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is preparing to consider a proposal to phase in sales of strong beer, wine and liquor at grocery and convenience stores. The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee's debate Thursday represents a key test for backers of the bill. Committee approval would send it to the House for debate. The measure allows liquor store owners to sell their licenses to other retailers in the same county, starting in July 2015. Kansas currently permits groceries and convenience stores to sell only weak beer. The bill would let them start selling strong beer in July 2017, wine in July 2020 and liquor in July 2024. Supporters said Wednesday the bill would promote competition and benefit consumers. Liquor store owners fear being pushed out of business.


Opponents of Death Penalty Fight to Block KS Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas death penalty opponents say a bill that would shorten the appeals process amount to a "leaky Band-Aid" on a broken system. The state Senate approved a bill last month setting a limit of three years and six months for the Kansas Supreme Court to hear and decide an appeal of a death penalty conviction. There is currently no time limit. Some legislators and the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty argued Wednesday that the changes would increase the chances an innocent person will be executed. Supporters say death penalty appeals take too long for the state to complete under the current structure. A House committee heard testimony on the proposal Wednesday. Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994 but has not carried out any executions.

Republican Group Shows Support for Gay Marriage

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A group of current and former Republican lawmakers say they support making same-sex marriage legal in Utah and Oklahoma because it's consistent with Western conservative values of freedom and liberty. A group that includes former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and former Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas plan to file a friend of the court brief Tuesday to a federal appeals court in Denver that is reviewing same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. A draft provided to The Associated Press shows they cite beliefs from former President Ronald Reagan and former Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Denver attorney Sean Gallagher, whose firm wrote the 30-page argument, says many Republicans are re-examining their stance on gay marriage. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has hearings in mid-April for both cases.


Landowners Get Key Legal Victory in Gas Condemnation Suit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has handed a key legal win to landowners battling a Nebraska gas firm in a lawsuit over the condemnation of more than 9,100 acres spanning three counties in south-central Kansas. The ruling Wednesday over ownership rights of the escaped storage gas is the latest turn in a decades-old legal fight stemming from gas seeping from the Cunningham Storage Field. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot granted partial summary judgment to the Kansas landowners. The judge ruled Northern Natural Gas must pay landowners "just compensation" for the value of storage gas, as well as native gas, which lies underneath their land. More than 173 property owners hold some property interest in the more than 40 tracts in Pratt, Kingman and Reno counties at issue in the federal lawsuit.


Kansas Lawmakers Mull New Rules for Microbreweries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a Leavenworth microbrewery is asking Kansas legislators to make it easier for him to distribute his beer to restaurants, bars and liquor stores. But the Kansas Beer Wholesalers Association argued Wednesday that the changes could kill off the state's craft brews. The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee had a hearing on a bill allowing microbreweries to distribute their own beer. Current law requires microbreweries to have wholesalers distribute their beer. Leavenworth microbrewery owner R.D. Johnson said it's difficult for small breweries to get their products distributed. But beer wholesalers' Executive Director Jason Watkins said past court decisions would require the state to allow major manufacturers to distribute their own beer, too. Watkins said they'd take over distribution and shut out craft brews.


Kansas State Senators Ponder Help for Home Brewers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Home brewers are asking a Kansas Senate committee to endorse a measure easing state restrictions on their craft so they can share their beer, wine and cider with friends and have it judged in contests. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday in favor of bill permitting home brewers to provide their products to guests or to judges at competitions, if the brewer isn't paid. The House overwhelmingly approved the bill last month. Kansas law permits home brewing if the beer, wine or cider is made only for the brewer or the brewer's family. Brew club members had been sharing their products with each other. But in 2012, state regulators told a Kansas City brewing club that the practice isn't legal.


Sedgwick County Agency: Flu Vaccine for Uninsured Adults Gone

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County Health Department has run out of flu vaccine for uninsured adults. The agency says the vaccine is still available for children, regardless of whether they're insured. Uninsured children are charged on a sliding fee scale based on family income. Remaining flu vaccinations can be administered at the health department's clinic in Wichita.

Runner in England Wins 65th Annual Pancake Race

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — An English runner won the 65th annual Shrove Tuesday pancake race, again beating the winner of the southwest Kansas leg of the race. The Leader and Times reports 20-year-old Devon Byrne of Olney, England covered the 415-yard course in a record time of 55.61 seconds. Byrne beat 25-year-old Summer Parsons, who won the leg of the race in Liberal, Kansas six hours later with a time of 63.5 seconds. It was Byrne's third win in a row. Byrne's mother, Leslie Byrne, also was a three-time winner of the competition in which Olney and Liberal women in aprons and head scarves run the course with a pancake in a pan. Olney has won the race 28 times, and Liberal has 36 wins.

Teen Arrested in School District's Network Outages

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 16-year-old boy is in custody in northeast Kansas, suspected of causing sporadic outages in a school district's computer network since mid-February. The Junction City Police Department says the student was arrested Tuesday afternoon on 10 counts of illegal activities with computers. He was expected to be held in a juvenile facility pending a first appearance in Geary County District Court. Police say the Junction City school district began experiencing unexplained network outages on February 13th. District officials notified police Tuesday morning that their technology specialists had traced the problems to the student.


Kansas Majority Leader's Wife Contests DUI

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The wife of Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce claims in a court petition over her arrest for driving under the influence that she was unlawfully stopped and never refused to take a breath test. Sarah Bruce was arrested in December on suspicion of DUI. She is charged with refusing the request of law enforcement to submit to a preliminary breath test and operating a vehicle while the alcohol concentration in her breath was .159. Kansas's legal limit is under .08. The Hutchinson News reports Bruce claims in her petition in Reno County that the officer unlawfully stopped her before asking her to take the test, and a physical disability prevented her from giving a complete breath sample. The Kansas Department of Revenue has determined law enforcement acted reasonably.


KS Woman Sentenced for Embezzling from Bank

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — One of four women charged with embezzling money from a southwest Kansas bank has been sentenced to three years of federal probation. The U.S. Attorney's office said 60-year-old Linda Wise, of Ulysses, must also pay nearly $25,000 in restitution under the sentence she received Wednesday in federal court. Wise pleaded guilty earlier to one count of theft, admitting she stole money from Western State Bank in Ulysses while working there from late 2010 to March 2013. Three other Ulysses women who also worked at the bank await sentencing later this month. Those defendants were also accused of staging a hold-up in 2010 to cover up the embezzlement of more than $84,000. Prosecutors said all four women embezzled nearly $25,000 in the years after the fake robbery.


Wichita Renames Airport to Honor Eisenhower

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita's main commercial airport will soon be known as the "Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport." The City Council voted Tuesday to rename Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to honor the former president, who grew up in Abilene. It will cost the city about $140,000 to change signs at the airport. It wasn't immediately clear when the new name would be posted. Two city radio personalities started a petition drive to rename the airport in October. Supporters said it would bring recognition to the city and honor a Kansas native who led during wars and difficult times. Critics said Eisenhower had no direct connection to Wichita and money spent on the change could be put to better use.

ESPN Leader to Give Landon Lecture

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The president of ESPN will join three college athletics executives in delivering a Landon Lecture next month at Kansas State University. ESPN's John Skipper is also CEO of Disney Media Networks. He'll be joined for the April 2 lecture by Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, retired University of Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Kansas State President Kirk Schulz. Schulz is also a member of the NCAA executive committee and its board of directors. Kansas State athletics director John Currie will moderate the lecture. The Landon Lecture is named for former Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who was the 1936 Republican nominee for president. The lecture series was established in 1966 to bring in speakers to discuss issues facing business, politics and international relations.

KS Couple Still Waiting to Leave Ukraine with Adoptees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka couple trying to bring their four adopted children home from Ukraine remain stuck in the capital city of Kiev, awaiting passports from the new government. Don and Lisa Jenkins, who also have two grown sons, went to Ukraine in early February to finalize the adoptions of three teenage girls and a 9-year-old boy. But the process has been derailed first by violent protests, then by the installation of a new government. Don Jenkins told WIBW Radio on Tuesday that some of the Ukrainian officials who could have helped have fled. Jenkins said money is getting "a little scarce" while he and his wife and the four children wait for the children's passports to come through. He says the U.S. Embassy has been unable to help.

Judge Says No New Trial in Wichita Teen's Murder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County judge says he won't order a new capital murder trial for a Wichita man convicted of killing a 14-year-old girl. Elgin "Ray Ray" Robinson is serving a life sentence for the 2006 strangulation of 14-year-old Chelsea Brooks. The Wichita Eagle reports that District Judge Patrick Walters this week denied Robinson's motion for a new trial. Robinson argued that his trial lawyers failed to provide him with an adequate defense. Prosecutors said the claim was groundless. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Robinson's convictions for capital murder and other charges in 2012. Brooks disappeared on June 9, 2006. Her body was found less than a week later in a Butler County field.

Finney County Voters Approve Sales Tax Issue

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Finney County voters approved extending a quarter-cent sales tax, with most of the revenue intended for a new county building. Unofficial results showed the issue passed Tuesday by 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent. The Garden City Telegram reports unofficial voter totals indicated less than 7 percent of eligible voters decided the issue. The county plans to use the sales tax revenue to construct a Correction Services Center, at a cost not to exceed $6.6 million. The building will house court services, youth services and community corrections. The quarter-cent sales tax has generated about $1.8 million a year since it was approved in 1997. It was set to expire in July.

Hutchinson Woman Leaves $226,000 to Animal Shelter

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 93-year-old Hutchinson woman who died in May left a lasting legacy to her city's animal shelter. Hutchinson city officials say they were caught off guard by the $226,000 donation from Eula Fray. KAKE-TV reports that Fray lived most of her life in Hutchinson, where she worked as an insurance company secretary. She was divorced, with no children and no living family when she died. The Hutchinson City Council voted Tuesday to spend the donation on several shelter projects, with $134,000 going into a reserve fund for the shelter.

Captain Phillips to Speak in Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The man portrayed by actor Tom Hanks in the Oscar-nominated movie "Captain Phillips" is scheduled to give a lecture in Hutchinson later this year. The Hutchison News reports that Captain Richard Phillips is to deliver the Dillon Lecture in Hutchinson on September 23. Phillips was captain of the commercial ship Maersk Alabama when Somali pirates seized the ship in 2009. He was rescued by the Navy Seals after being held at gunpoint on a lifeboat. Hutchinson Community College's 2014 lecture series also includes journalist Laura Ling on April 1 and NASA engineer Adam Steltzer on November 14.

University of Kansas Seeks International Students

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is partnering with a Massachusetts company to recruit international students to the university. Shorelight Education, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will recruit international students into a new program at KU. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the new Academic Accelerator Program will be a 12-month, three-semester course of study meant to introduce international students to Kansas and U.S. culture and college curriculum. It will combine courses from the College of Arts and Sciences with auxiliary language instruction. Shorelight will share tuition and fee revenue from the new accelerator program plus a small percentage of tuition as students progress through the university. Sara Rosen, vice provost for academic affairs, declined to say how much each party receives from the agreement.

Nuns Give $2.5 Million to Newman University

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The order of nuns who founded Newman University in Wichita has given $2.5 million to the university. University officials announced the gift Tuesday from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. University spokeswoman Kelly Snedden says the money will be used to fund science and health care initiatives, which includes a proposed new science building. The Wichita Eagle reports that the order founded the university 80 years ago. It is the only university started by the order. The Catholic school trains teachers, nurses, and graduates trained in technology, among other professionals. It has recently put a greater emphasis on science and health studies. The money from the Adorers comes from the order's endowment and will be used over five years.


Landowners File Lawsuit over Missouri River Floods

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A group of farmers and business owners is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming the agency mismanaged the Missouri River since 2006 and contributed to major flooding in five states. The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims some plaintiffs experienced extensive damage — particularly during the extended 2011 flooding that devastated hundreds of thousands of acres of mostly farmland in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Corps officials did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday morning. Outside experts who reviewed the 2011 flooding said the Corps did the best it could in dealing with record amounts of water that flowed into the 2,341-mile-long river after unusually heavy spring rains in Montana and North Dakota.


Kansas City's Union Station Ends Year with Surplus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After years of struggles, Kansas City's Union Station appears to be on solid financial footing. Station officials say the downtown Kansas City landmark ended 2013 with a $1.8 million cash surplus — the fourth year in a row with a seven-digit surplus. The Kansas City Star reports the year-end numbers were approved Tuesday. The surplus was attributed in part to the "Real Pirates" exhibit and success of first-run movies on the digital 3-D Extreme Screen. Science City recorded a 17 percent increase in revenue and attendance and revenues were up almost 25 percent at the planetarium. The station continues to struggle with capital costs, including $600,000 this year to replace escalators this year. The station had struggled financially since voters approved a special tax to refurbish it in 1999.

Man Admits Leaving Fake Bomb on Independence Bus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A western Missouri man has admitted placing a phony explosive device on a public bus out of frustration with unreliable service. The U.S. Attorney's office says 37-year-old Scott Gene Bradley, of Independence, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to committing a hoax. A driver for the Independence public bus service found the device last August under a passenger seat. Investigators said it consisted of a cellphone taped to a black metal box, with a wire running from the phone into the box. Authorities determined the device was harmless. They also traced the phone to Bradley, who told agents he was frustrated with several aspects of his life — including the failure of the bus to run on schedule. Bradley faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.


Rockhurst Plans $25 Million Classroom Building

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rockhurst University plans to erect a $25 million classroom building that will provide its 3,000 students with the latest technology. The Catholic university in Kansas City plans to break ground on the 68,000-square-foot building this week. It is scheduled to open in fall 2015. The building will be named for the Very Rev. Pedro Arrupe, the late superior general of the Jesuits, who operate Rockhurst. The Kansas City Star reports that the classroom building is the latest phase of a $54 million master plan that started in 2010 when the college received an anonymous $10 million gift, the largest in its history. The first phase was a parking garage. Rockhurst decided to pursue the classroom building after a successful $25 million fundraising campaign.


Pork Thief Nearly Chokes to Death at Butcher Shop

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita say a man needed hospital treatment after stuffing his mouth with cooked pork and nearly choking to death at a butcher shop. The incident happened Monday night at Carniceria El Guero, near downtown Wichita. Employees said the 51-year-old man entered the shop, started grabbing handfuls of cooked pork and stuffed the meat into his mouth. The man soon began to choke and collapsed to the floor. Some employees gave the man first aid until an ambulance arrived. Paramedics revived the man and took him to Via Christi St. Francis Hospital.


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