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Regional Headlines for Friday, February 21. 2014


Top KS House Dem Calls for Shorter Legislative Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top Democrat in the Kansas House is calling on leaders of the Legislature's Republican majorities to shorten lawmakers' annual session by 20 days. House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said Friday that the GOP-dominated Legislature isn't doing anything to create jobs, rein in local property taxes or boost funding for public schools. He says it should therefore go home early and save taxpayers money. His proposal is to shorten the session to 70 days from its traditional 90 days. That would save $1.3 million in costs. Davis also is running for governor, hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Sam Brownback. Senate President and Wichita Republican Susan Wagle said Davis appears to be eager to ramp up his campaigning against a popular GOP governor.


KS Bill Would Allow 8-Year Driver's Licenses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is considering a bill that would allow state residents to renew their driver's licenses for eight years, rather than the current six years. Members of the House Transportation Committee were supportive of the idea Thursday, saying it was partly in response to long lines at driver's license offices in the state. The bill also would allow drivers over 70 to renew their licenses every five years, rather than four years currently required by state law. However, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports that committee members were open to keeping the four-year requirement for older drivers, and to the possibility of 10-year licenses.


KS Senate Panel Wants to Limit Open-Records Fees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee wants to limit the fees charged by state and local agencies when they when fulfill requests to produce public records. The Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a records-fee bill on a voice vote Thursday, sending the measure to the full Senate for debate. The state's Open Records Act says agency fees must be reasonable, but agencies still can demand hundreds of dollars. The bill says that if a request can be met in less than an hour of staff time or less than 25 pages, the documents are to be provided free of charge. The bill limits fees for copies and staff time after that. The League of Kansas Municipalities opposes the measure, saying local governments should set fees based on their costs.

Legislators Mull KS Renewable Energy Regulation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are considering changes in a state energy regulation to balance the interests of utility companies with those who use renewable fuel sources. At issue is a practice known as net metering, in which individuals or businesses generate their own electricity and sell excess power to a utility company. During periods of peak demand, credits earned from selling excess power can be used to offset the cost of higher utility bills, such as during summer months. Senate Utilities Committee Chairman Pat Apple said Thursday lawmakers want to make sure that utility customers aren't subsidizing the cost of providing energy during peak demand to renewable energy producers. Committees in both the House and Senate are studying proposals on the issue.


Van Crashes into Pizza Hut in Northeast KS

WATHENA, Kan. (AP) — Witnesses say a northeast Kansas man may have suffered a medical problem before driving his van into a Pizza Hut restaurant. KQTV reports that the crash happened Friday afternoon in Wathena. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the 45-year-old Leavenworth man was driving east on U.S. 36 when his van drifted into the westbound lanes, hit a ditch and vaulted across the parking lot into the Pizza Hut. No one inside was hurt, but a group of Doniphan County officers had just finished a lunch meeting and witnessed the accident. Another witness, Wathena firefighter Bob Ryser, says the driver was talking afterward but seemed confused and appeared to have suffered a medical problem. The driver was taken to a hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri.


Owners of Russell Stover Candies Considering Sale

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The family that owns Russell Stover Candies and Whitman's Candies is exploring a possible sale for the businesses. The Kansas City Star reports that the Ward family, which bought Russell Stover in 1960, has hired the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs to assess the value of the businesses and consider the family's options. A spokesman for the Ward family, which owns the boxed-candies businesses, says no sale is imminent. The company says the Russell Stover and Whitman's brands represent half the sales of boxed chocolates and sugar-free candies. They are sold in nearly 40 company-owned stores and through 70,000 wholesale distributors in the United States and Canada.

Worker Injured in Attack at Topeka School

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An 18-year-old student at an alternative school in Topeka is facing juvenile charges following an attack on a paraprofessional. The incident happened Wednesday at Capital City School, which serves students with behavioral and emotional issues. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the victim, who is in her 60s, suffered rib and shoulder injuries when she was shoved against a wall. She remained hospitalized in intensive care Thursday. The female student was booked into the Shawnee County jail on suspicion of aggravated battery and disorderly conduct. She was also reported to have struck another staff member while she was being taken into custody.

Topeka Couple Stuck in Midst of Ukraine Violence

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka couple and their new family are stranded near the violence that has erupted in Ukraine. Don and Lisa Jenkins went to the Ukranian capital of Kiev to bring home four children they have adopted. However, they can't leave until they receive final paperwork so the children can receive their visas. The violence has closed down many government offices. Dan Jenkins told The Topeka Capital-Journal that he, his wife and the children are holed up in an apartment less than a mile from the violent protests. He says they can see smoke from the scene of clashes between protesters and the government. The children are three teenage girls and a 9-year-old boy. Jenkins says they don't know when — or if— they will get the necessary paperwork.

Flu Season Winding Down in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — State health officials say this year's flu season is winding down in Kansas, and this season won't be as severe as last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Kansas has gone from having widespread flu to regional flu. Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says the flu was the direct cause of death of 25 people so far this year. That compares with 58 Kansans last year. The Wichita Eagle reports that deaths with flu or pneumonia as a contributing factor also dropped, from 919 last season to 477 this season. And deaths attributed soley to pneumonia dropped from 469 last season and 258 this season. The flu season is from September to May.

Report: 'Everest' Leading Wheat Variety in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report ranks the popularity of winter wheat varieties in Kansas. The National Agricultural Statistics Service said Thursday that "Everest" continued to be the leading wheat variety seeded in Kansas. It accounts for 14.3 percent of the planted acres for 2014, the same percent as the previous year. Developed by Kansas State University, Everest topped the list in the eastern two-thirds of the state. A wheat variety called TAM 111 is the second most popular variety with 11.6 percent of the acreage. It is the leading variety planted in western Kansas. In third place was the variety called T 158, with 5 percent of the planted acreage. The wheat variety report is funded by the Kansas Wheat Commission.


Southeast KS Losing Emergency Shelter for Families

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — An emergency shelter for homeless families in 11 southeast Kansas counties is expected to close at the end of March. The CHOICES shelter in Pittsburg is operated by the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program and serves about 300 people a year. Officials of the nonprofit organization announced plans for the closing this week. They cited a steep cut in Community Services Block Grant funding from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. Program officials told The Morning Sun in Pittsburg the shelter has depended on the block grant to cover its annual shortfall of about $190,000. The nonprofit is looking at ways to house people who have depended on the shelter. Officials said they also wanted to give the shelter's employees adequate notice that their jobs will be ending March 31.


Child Porn Found at Accused Coach's Home

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Police say they have found child pornography at the southwest Missouri home of a middle-school football coach accused in the kidnapping and killing of a 10-year-old girl. Search warrants released Friday by Springfield police say they found a three-ring binder containing pornographic photos of young children at the home of 45-year-old Craig Michael Wood. Officers also seized computers, cameras, 15 guns, 30 video recordings and a hat believed to have been worn by fourth-grader Hailey Owens. Wood is accused of snatching the child as she walked home from her best friend's house this week. Neighbors said they watched in horror and unsuccessfully gave chase as Hailey was pulled into a pickup truck that quickly sped away. His public defender said Friday Wood plans to plead not guilty.


KS Man Charged with Murder in Police Chase Death

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 28-year-old Kansas City, Kansas man is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a woman who was struck by his vehicle during a police chase. Christopher Bradley Stewart also was charged Thursday with felony fleeing to elude police and interference with a law enforcement officer. Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman says the murder charge was filed because someone was killed during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony. Police say Stewart was fleeing from police Monday when he ran a stop sign and collided with a car driven by 62-year-old Graciela Olivas of Kansas City, Kansas. Stewart was being held on $1 million bond. Gorman's office wasn't sure if he had obtained an attorney. Stewart was scheduled to make a first appearance on Friday.


Man Charged in Death of Fan at Arrowhead Stadium

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a Kansas City Chiefs fan in an Arrowhead Stadium parking lot. Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced the charge Friday against 23-year-old Joshua T. Bradley of Independence. He was arrested early Friday and is being held on $75,000 bond. Smithville resident Kyle Van Winkle died after being confronted by a group of fans on December 1, when he was found in the wrong vehicle in the parking lot. Police say the Jeep looked like one that Van Winkle rode in to the game. Peters Baker said Friday that Bradley hit Van Winkle more than once during the confrontation. An autopsy found that Van Winkle died from a blow to the head.


Ex-KC Pastor Pleads Guilty to Child Molestation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Kansas City church pastor pleaded guilty to child molestation and sexual misconduct involving a 13-year-old girl. Fifty-nine-year-old George L. Spencer on Thursday was sentenced to a total of seven years in prison for groping and sodomizing the girl in February 2012. Spencer was an associate pastor at Greater Works CME Church in south Kansas City. Court documents indicate he committed the crimes in his office while the girl's mother and grandmother were attending Bible study at the church. The Kansas City Star reports that the church's pastor told Spencer the next day to turn in his keys and not return. Spencer was arrested in March 2013 in New Orleans and extradited to Missouri.

Truman Medical Center President/CEO to Retire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The president and CEO of Truman Medial Centers in Kansas City plans to retire, effective July 18. John W. Bluford III, who turns 65 on May 1, has worked at the medical centers since 1999. His retirement was announced in a news release Friday. The health system said Bluford is working with a committee of its board members and University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine appointees to ensure a smooth leadership transition. Peggy Dunn, chairman of the board of directors, says Bluford and the board have been working on a succession plan for several years, and a search committee will begin immediately looking for Bluford's replacement. She says a successor will be identified before Bluford leaves.


Chiefs' Dorsey Says Franchise Tag Use Unlikely

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs general manager John Dorsey says he does not anticipate using the franchise tag to keep one of the team's free agents, something they've done each of the past three seasons. After speaking at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, Dorsey addressed the Chiefs' tentative plans with a small group of local reporters. The Chiefs are poised to lose several key players, including Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and Pro Bowl punt returner Dexter McCluster. Also scheduled to become unrestricted free agents are starting safety Kendrick Lewis, starting defensive end Tyson Jackson and part-time starting offensive linemen Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. Dorsey did say that he's having "ongoing conversations" with representatives of all of the Chiefs' free agents. The free agency period begins March 11.


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