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Regional Headlines for Friday, February 10, 2012



Governor Brownback Gets Deal on New Congressional District Remap

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says he's struck a deal with Republican legislative leaders to settle a key issue in congressional redistricting. The deal is likely to result in a plan that helps the state's senior Republican congresswoman. Brownback told The Associated Press on Friday that he wants to keep the northeast Kansas community of Manhattan in the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Kansas. He said both Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, and House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, have agreed. The Senate has approved a plan expanding the 1st District of western and central Kansas so that it includes Manhattan — something officials there don't want. Morris supported that plan, but many Republicans complained it would leave Republican Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins with a slightly more Democratic district.

Proposed State Abortion Ban Blocked By House Committee Chair

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A leading anti-abortion legislator is blocking a push to enact a constitutional amendment that would ban on abortion in Kansas. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer's decision highlights a split among abortion opponents over tactics, and it frustrated the group advocating the "personhood'' proposal. Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, said Friday he won't have a Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment, which is sponsored by 25 fellow House members. He said he doesn't believe the proposed constitutional amendment would withstand a court challenge and could lead to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could hamper abortion opponents' attempts to enact new restrictions. But the Personhood Kansas Committee, the Wichita-area group promoting the proposed amendment, strongly disagrees. Chairman Bruce Garren said he's surprised Kinzer won't agree to a hearing.


Kansas House GOP Issues Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — House Republican leaders are proposing a plan to cut Kansas income taxes, removing one key objection to an earlier proposal from Gov ernor Sam Brownback. The plan outlined Friday calls for reducing the rates in all three individual income tax brackets, with emphasis placed on the lowest bracket. However, unlike Brownback's plan that eliminated the earned income tax credit for the poorest households, the House plan cuts the rate from 18 percent to 9 percent. Under the plan, all incomes would pay less in taxes. House Tax Chairman Richard Carlson of St. Marys said the plan is less expensive than the governor's, costing the state $41.7 million to implement compared to the $89.9 million in Brownback's plan. Carlson said the bill will be introduced Monday and hearings would begin soon.

KS Supreme Court Affirms Judgment in Wichita Murder Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The state's highest court has upheld the capital murder and aggravated kidnapping convictions of a Wichita man paid to kill a pregnant 14-year-old girl. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Theodore Burnett is not entitled to a new trial in the 2006 death of Chelsea Brooks. The Wichita teen was nine months pregnant when the father of the baby paid Burnett $200 in cash and $150 in crack cocaine to kill her. Brooks disappeared on June 9, 2006. Her body was found six days later in a shallow grave in Butler County. Everett Gentry testified Elgin Ray Robinson Jr. wanted to kill Brooks because she carried his child, and feared her parents would charge him with statutory rape. Gentry said he was driving the car when Burnett strangled Chelsea.


Kansas House Approves Bipartisan Redistricting Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Power in the Kansas House is likely to shift next year from rural parts of the state to the Kansas City area after members overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill Thursday for redrawing their districts. The House's 109-14 vote means the new district lines specified by the bill are likely to become law, starting with this year's elections. The bill goes next to the Senate. But the Senate's approval is considered a formality because by tradition, neither chamber alters the other's plan for redrawing members' districts. The bill had the support of House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, and Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.


Kansas House Chair Trims Teacher Rating Measure from Education Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal from Governor Sam Brownback to post teacher evaluations on school district websites has been trimmed from a House education bill. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that Republican House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand decided to take the action after a hearing Thursday. Under the proposal, the formula for the rankings would be based 50 percent on student achievement growth, 40 percent on input from supervisors, peers, parents and students and 10 percent on the teachers' contributions to the profession. The State Board of Education would define the exact criteria. Teachers rated ineffective two years in a row would not be allowed to teach and schools could fire them if professional development opportunities had been provided. The proposal would also offer $5,000 bonuses for some highly rated teachers.


Committee Rejects Augmented Funding for Public Broadcasting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has rejected a request from public broadcasters to restore $800,000 in state funding. Governor Sam Brownback's budget proposal included $600,000 for public broadcasting, a cut from the current $2 million state appropriation. A House budget subcommittee restored $800,000. But Thursday, the full House Appropriations Committee removed that $800,000 and returned the state appropriation to $600,000 for the next fiscal year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports State Representative Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican, said government needs to get out of public radio. Others said the state's financial problems required them to make difficult funding cuts. But several western Kansas legislators said their constituents depend on public radio and public television. Others said public television's emphasis on early learning and children's programming was a service to the state.


Shawnee County Approves Settlement with ACLU

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County has agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit over a jail policy that bans inmates from receiving books and publications in the mail. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that county commissioners Ted Ensley, Shelly Buhler and Mary Thomas unanimously approved the settlement during their meeting Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union represented Vermont-based Prison Legal News in a lawsuit filed last year against the Shawnee County Commission and the director of the county's corrections department. The suit contended that the ban violates the inmates' constitutional rights to free speech and other civil rights. With the settlement, the jail now will permit Prison Legal News, renewal notices for the journal, book fliers, order forms/catalogs and "similar types of mail" into the facility. The jail is prohibited from enforcing the previous policy and from making amendments that create more restrictions on publications protected by the settlement. County counselor Rich Eckert said the $75,000 settlement was a "very good settlement for Shawnee County" compared to similar lawsuits throughout the states. Most other cases settled for between $150,000 and $250,000, Eckert told commissioners. The most recent, he said, was in South Carolina, which settled for $600,000. "The difference between South Carolina and us is that we immediately recognized that our policy needed to be fixed," Eckert said. "South Carolina fought it vigorously and paid for that."


Judge: City of Lawrence Sidewalk Ordinance Unconstitutional

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence Municipal Court judge says part of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to obstruct traffic on sidewalks is unconstitutional. Judge Randy McGrath ruled Wednesday in the case of 54-year-old Robert Gilmore, who faced three misdemeanor counts after being accused of blocking downtown sidewalks last year. Gilmore is often seen in downtown Lawrence wearing a robe or bed sheet. The Lawrence Journal-World reports his mother says Gilmore is mentally ill. McGrath ruled that parts of the ordinance making it illegal to "continue to obstruct traffic" and forcing people to walk around someone are vague and unconstitutional. He ruled sections on leaving objects in a right of way and intentionally obstructing traffic are constitutional. The city has until February 22 to decide whether to appeal the decision.

Topeka Bank Officer Charged with $2.8 Million Fraud

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former vice president of Heritage Bank in Topeka has been charged with bank fraud for allegedly falsifying loan applications from otherwise unqualified buyers who were purchasing real estate from her as the seller. A criminal information filed Friday in U.S. District Court charges Jennifer Hughes-Boyles with bank fraud and seeks forfeiture of property and money connected with the crime. Prosecutors alleged the 40-year-old Topeka woman falsified tax return information, credit scores and other information to qualify buyers who were purchasing real estate property from her. The fraud caused the bank to fund about $2.8 million in loans. The charges allege her profit from the sales of real estate was more than $500,000. Her defense attorney, Ben Swinnen, declined to comment on the case.


Court Finds Kansan Competent for Trial over Threatening President

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has found a Kansas man competent to stand trial on charges of threatening the president of the United States. Today, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten set an April 3 trial date for Michael Scott Ramsey. The judge conducted a competency hearing for Ramsey yesterday. Ramsey is charged in a two-count indictment with making threats in 2009 and 2011 against Barack Obama. Thursday's hearing was held after Ramsey underwent a psychological examination and evaluation at a federal medical center. Officials determined he had the ability to understand the proceedings against him and assist in his own defense.


Missing Marshall County Man Found Dead 

FRANKFORT, Kan. (AP) — Marshall County authorities said they have found the body of a 77-year-old Frankfort man who had been missing for a week. Francis H. Kramer was last seen last Friday on his way to an area casino. The sheriff's department said Kramer's body was found Friday morning inside the car he had been driving in southern Brown County. An autopsy has been ordered, but foul play is not suspected.


Kansas AARP Opposes Westar Energy Rate Increase

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — AARP Kansas says it is opposed to a proposed settlement before regulators that would allow the state's largest electric company to increase its rates by $50 million. Topeka-based Westar Energy reached an agreement with the staff of the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, and other parties. Westar initially sought a $91 million rate increase, arguing it needed higher revenues to cover rising costs. The agreement for the smaller increase still must be approved by the commission, and it plans to start hearings on the proposal Monday. AARP Kansas Director Maren Turner said the agreement would allow Westar stockholders to earn excessive profits from rates paid by struggling families. The agreement would set the monopoly service provider's allowable profit at 10 percent.

Kansas House Hears Testimony on Youth Diverted from Mental Health Programs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 220 troubled young Kansans who have been diverted from psychiatric residential treatment facilities were the subject of a joint hearing before two House committees. The diversions occurred after the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services began reviewing the screening process for the residential facilities last spring. SRS acting deputy secretary Gary Haulmark said 25 of the 220 youths diverted from residential care from July 2011 to February appealed their diversions. Twelve of those diversions were overturned. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that all but 33 of the rest of the youths received some community-based mental-health service. But Linda Davis, of Manhattan, testified that her grandson attacked her after he was twice denied admittance to a residential treatment facility in favor of home-based services.

Congressman Seeks Delay in Eisenhower Memorial Construction

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Virginia congressman is asking a federal panel to reject a design for a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, saying the World War II general's family objects to it. In a letter Friday to the National Capital Planning Commission, U. S. Representative Frank Wolf said he is worried the approval process is being rushed and won't have public support.  Last month, The Associated Press reported the Eisenhower family was asking the commission to delay any final approval and have the memorial redesigned. Gehry has proposed a memorial park framed by large metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower's boyhood home in Kansas. Eisenhower as military hero and as president would be represented in stone on a smaller scale. The family says the design overemphasizes "Ike's" humble roots and neglects his accomplishments.

Sumner County Leads State of Kansas in Wheat Acreage, Production

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service says Sumner County was tops in Kansas for winter wheat production and acreage last year. The agency's report on wheat county estimates released Thursday shows Sumner County led the state in production with 10.5 million bushels. McPherson County was second with 8.9 million bushels, followed by Sherman County with 7.4 million bushels. Sumner County also led the state in harvested acres with 329,000 total acres. Harper came in second with 225,000 and Reno was third with 218,000 acres. However, the best yields came out of Miami County where growers were getting average yields of 57.6 bushels per acre. The worst average yields were in Morton County with 16.3 bushels per acre. Statewide, Kansas produced 276.5 million bushels of wheat last year, down 23 percent from 2010.


KC Mayor Wants $1 Billion for Infrastructure

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Mayor Sly James says the city needs $1 billion to fix its crumbling streets and infrastructure. James on Thursday asked the Kansas City Council to approve what would be the largest general obligation bond infusion in the city's history. He called for issuing $100 million in bonds every year for the next 10 years. Voters would have to approve such a large bond authority, and it probably would require annual property tax increases. In 2004, the city authorized $300 million in general obligation bonds for infrastructure improvements. The Kansas City Star reports the $300 million will be exhausted in May and the maintenance backlog remains. Council members made no commitment but praised James for his bold discussion of the city's maintenance problems.


Trial over KC transfer policy set for June 25
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A June 25 trial date has been set in a lawsuit over the unaccredited Kansas City School District's policy for allowing students to transfer to accredited school systems. Jackson County (MO) Judge Brent Powell set the trial date during a hearing Friday. Missouri law requires unaccredited districts to pay to send students to accredited districts. The Blue Springs, Independence, Lee's Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown districts sued the Kansas City district, arguing its plans for covering certain costs are vague and inadequate. A judge refused in December to block the transfers. But the suburban districts insist they won't accept students unless their policies governing out-of-district transfers are followed. One issue is that the Kansas City district wants to pay tuition in monthly installments. The surrounding districts want the money upfront.


Man Who Inspired 'Catch Me If You Can' Speaks in Salina 
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Salina business community has received some advice from the man who was the inspiration for the film "Catch Me If You Can." Frank Abagnale gained his expertise as one of the world's most famous con men of the 1960s. The Salina Journal reported he spoke Thursday at a business security seminar and to the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce. He says the best way to punish an embezzler is to file an IRS Form 1099 rather than a police report. He says the police and courts may well prosecute the crime, and the embezzler may be ordered to pay restitution — but court-ordered restitution is rarely paid. He says that one advantage of going to the IRS is that the business can write off the stolen amount.


Santorum Endorses Fracking, Condemns Keystone Decision

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is accusing President Barack Obama of actively seeking ways to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon. In a speech Thursday in Oklahoma City, Santorum drew connections between the administration's opposition to the Keystone pipeline project, which would bring oil from Canada through Kansas and other Plains states, and U.S. dependency on Mideast oil producers like Iran. Santorum says the U.S. will say it doesn't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon but will tolerate an Iranian bomb in return for stable global oil markets. The U.S. doesn't purchase oil from Iran, but its Asian allies Japan and South Korea buy Iranian crude. The Obama campaign says that the president has been leading an international effort to sanction Iran. Earlier on Thursday, Santorum endorsed hydraulic fracturing in a speech before hundreds of people at an Oklahoma City hotel. The controversial drilling technique has been dramatically expanded nationwide in recent years and is being tested by drillers in western Kansas.

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