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Regional Headlines for Friday, January 10, 2014


ACLU Seeks to Return Voter Lawsuit to KS Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union wants a federal judge to send a lawsuit over Kansas's enforcement of its proof-of-citizenship requirement for voters back to state court. In a motion filed Thursday, the ACLU said the lawsuit raises questions only about whether policies pursued by Secretary of State Kris Kobach violate the state constitution, leaving no federal court jurisdiction. The ACLU filed the lawsuit last year in Shawnee County District Court for two voters and the gay-rights group Equality Kansas. They want to block Kobach from imposing different election rules based on whether voters register with state or national forms. The national form doesn't require proof of citizenship. Kobach contends the case hinges on the interpretation of federal laws, and he had it moved to federal court.

Professors Want Regents' Social Media Plan Suspended

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — More than 80 professors in Kansas are asking the Board of Regents to suspend a new social media policy. The University of Kansas and Kansas State University professors signed a letter to the regents, expressing "continued concern" about the policy. They say the policy prevents faculty and staff at the state's universities from exercising their freedom of speech. The regents are reviewing the policy, which they passed in December. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the professors want the policy suspended while that review proceeds. The policy authorizes university administrators to fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interests of the university or its ability to efficiently provide services, among other violations.

KS AG to Seek Tougher Medicaid Fraud Penalties

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Derek Schmidt says he will ask Kansas legislators to strengthen the state's penalties for Medicaid fraud. The Republican attorney general outlined his proposal Thursday during a stop in Wichita. Schmidt's office is the state's lead agency against fraud in Medicaid, which helps pay for health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. He said his office gained 15 criminal convictions and recovered $33.7 million in the latest fiscal year from people guilty of defrauding the program. Schmidt is proposing higher fines for the crime. He also wants people convicted of Medicaid fraud to serve prison time instead of the current sentence of probation. The 2014 legislative session begins Monday.


Former KS Police Chief to Get New Trial

McPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a former police chief convicted of 15 counts of sexually molesting three girls. Forty-two-year-old Michael Akins Jr. was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to two life terms. He was police chief in the central Kansas town of Inman when he was charged. The Supreme Court reversed the convictions Friday, citing misconduct by the assistant attorney general who tried the case in McPherson County. The high court said the assistant attorney general improperly stated comments and opinions that the jury could have construed as evidence. Defense lawyer Dan Monnat told KWCH-TV that he expects to seek Akins's release on bond pending the new trial. Akins has been held at an out-of-state prison because he is a law enforcement officer.


KS Town's Housing Director Admits Theft

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The former head of the housing authority in a small Kansas town has admitted stealing nearly $7,700 in federal funds. The U.S. Attorney's office says 53-year-old Debra L. Savage, of Linn, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of theft from a federal program. Savage was the executive director of the housing authority in Linn, a north-central Kansas town of about 400 people in Washington County. In her plea, she admitted using a housing authority credit card for personal expenses of nearly $7,700 between December 2009 and December 2012. Savage faces maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 at her sentencing, scheduled for April 4.


US Postal Service Seeking to Close Historic Topeka Office

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. post office that has anchored the north end of Topeka's downtown since the 1930s could become another casualty of declining mail volume. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday it wants to vacate the historic building and put it up for sale. Plans call for relocating retail customer services to a new, smaller leased space in the same ZIP code. Internal operations would move to nearby postal facilities. A community meeting on the proposal is scheduled at 4 pm Tuesday in the post office auditorium. The Postal Service is attempting to streamline operations after losing billions of dollars in recent years, including $15.9 billion in fiscal year 2012.


KS Guide for Statehouse Interns Drops Some Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The new guide for legislative interns at the Capitol does not contain proposed restrictions ranging from the amount of perfume and the number of earrings interns can wear. Numerous rules suggested last week for inclusion in the 2014 intern handbook by Representative Peggy Mast, an Emporia Republican, were edited out. According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, a rule asserting "inappropriate" photographs and language had to be deleted from personal social media sites also has been removed from the document. Staff members of Democratic lawmakers raised questions about the intern fashion regulations that exceeded limits for legislators. Civil rights attorneys also took issue with the boundaries on social media expression for interns. The interns begin work at the Statehouse on Monday.


Kingman Police Chief Resigns, City Manager Fired

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas police chief who was under investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has resigned, and the city manager was fired the next day. Kingman city officials announced Thursday that 37-year-old Marc Holloway resigned as chief January 3. On Thursday night, the city commission voted to fire city manager Frank Soukup. Commissioners declined after the closed meetings to explain why Soukup was fired. He had been city manager since January 2006. The city asked the KBI in October to investigate Holloway and he was placed on administrative leave in November. The city officials and KBI have refused to discuss what prompted the investigation. The KBI has finished its investigation. Kingman city attorney Greg Graffman says no decisions have been made on whether charges will be filed.


2 Plead Not Guilty in Salina Homicide

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Two suspects have pleaded not guilty to charges arising from the death of a 27-year-old Salina mother of four. The Salina Journal reports that 25-year-old Joel Heil and 33-year-old Dane C. DeWeese, of Abilene, entered their pleas Friday and had dates set for their trials in Saline County District Court. The men are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Kristin Tyler, who was missing for two weeks before her body was found May 9 off Interstate 135 in rural Saline County. DeWeese's trial is set for March 24 and Heil's trial is scheduled for May 7.


Wichita Firm Gets $20M to Build Drone Hangar

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita firm has won a $20 million federal contract to build a maintenance hangar for drones at Fort Riley. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Law Company was awarded the contract by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The company will build a 40,000-square-foot hangar at the northeast Kansas Army post for Gray Eagle drones. More than 100 soldiers are assigned to the unit responsible for operating, flying and maintaining the unmanned aerial vehicles. The Gray Eagle is designed for several tasks, including surveillance, target acquisition and communications. Fort Riley now has four of the drones but is expected to get more.


Report: U.S. Growers Planted Fewer Winter Wheat Acres

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The first government forecast of the growing season shows U.S. farmers planted fewer acres of winter wheat for harvest this year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Friday that the 41.9 million planted acres are down 2 percent from last year. Seeding for the 2014 winter wheat crop began in August. Plantings of hard red winter wheat, used to make bread, were estimated to be up 2 percent at 30.1 million acres. Significantly more hard red wheat acres were seeded in Colorado, Montana and North Dakota. Those helped offset large acreage decreases in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Utah had a record low acreage, while North Dakota seeded a record high number of wheat acres. Kansas planted 8.8 million acres of winter wheat, down 7 percent from a year ago.


Wichita Woman on Bike Killed in Hit-and-Run; Suspect Arrested

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a suspect has been arrested in a fatal hit-and-run involving a bicyclist. Thirty-nine-year-old Kristina R. Brown died Thursday when she was hit from behind by a truck while riding her bike in southeast Wichita. A man who was riding his bike with her was not injured. Police say a witness followed the truck as it drove away and was able to provide police with information that led to the driver. The truck belonged to a tree trimming service and the business owner helped police locate the driver. A 35-year-old man was booked into jail on charges of involuntary manslaughter, driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.


Reward Offered for Ring Stolen from Dying Woman


WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Members of the Wichita Crime Commission are offering a $2,000 reward for the return of the wedding ring stolen last month from an unconscious woman at a fast-food restaurant. The robbery has sparked widespread outrage. The reward announcement Friday was attended by the dying woman's husband and Wichita leaders. Danielle Zimmerman was pulling into a Taco Bell on December 29 when she suffered a brain aneurysm. While unconscious, someone took her purse, a cellphone and wedding ring. The 43-year-old Wichita woman died the following day. Her husband, Kris Zimmerman, said Friday that he should have been the last one holding his wife's hand while she was dying, not someone stealing the ring off her finger. He says finding the ring would help bring closure to the family.


Growing Concerns over Missouri Execution Drug Sourcing


ST. LOUIS (AP) — As Missouri prepares for its third execution in two months, a chorus of concerns is raised about the secretive process of obtaining the lethal drug. The source of the pentobarbital used in Missouri executions remains a mystery. The Missouri Department of Corrections gets it from a compounding pharmacy but won't reveal details, saying the secrecy is justified because the drug maker is part of the execution team. Democratic state Representative John Rizzo of Kansas City says he will file legislation Monday for a year-long moratorium on executions and appointment of a special commission to investigate Missouri's process. Attorneys for death row inmates have asked U.S. attorneys to intervene. Even a federal appeals judge has expressed outrage. A Corrections Department spokesman says the procurement process complies with all laws.


Sentencing for Selling Fake Goods is March 10

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman will be sentenced March 10 in federal court for selling fake luxury goods at her shop. Glenda Sue Morgan, owner of The Fabulous Store, pleaded guilty in October to one count of trafficking in goods bearing counterfeit designer labels such as Prada and Chanel. Her sentencing has been postponed until March 10. Morgan faces maximum penalties of a $2 million fine and 10 years imprisonment. But prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of the federal guidelines. Investigators seized 400 replica items with a retail value of $14,000 from Morgan's shop. Those goods would have been worth $140,000 had they been genuine.


Corps: Missouri River Will Get More Water in 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Slightly more water than normal is expected to flow into the Missouri River this spring, but the dams along the river should have room for it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says several of the reservoirs remain below normal because they are still recovering from the 2012 drought. So the Corps' Jody Farhat says the reservoirs should be able to safely handle the 26.1 million acre feet of runoff expected this year. That forecast is slightly above normal runoff of 25.2 million acre feet. The Corps adjusts the amount of water released from dams along the river in response to conditions. Last year, releases along the water were limited because the Corps was conserving water as the region recovered from drought. That affected barge traffic on the river.


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