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Regional Headlines for Friday, January 24, 2014


Brownback: KS Economy Can Sustain Budget Goals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback remains confident that the Kansas economy will continue to show strength and generate revenues to fund his budget proposals. Speaking to reporters Friday, the governor says his administration's experience in the past three years in setting priorities and building reserves support his optimism. Brownback wants to increase spending in three areas in the current budget year — the state pension system, public schools and the state's share of Medicaid health care programs for the poor, elderly and disabled. Budget projections show the state eating into its cash reserves that were built over recent years. The declines are related to ongoing government expenses and cuts in the state income tax rates enacted in 2012 that reduced the amount of revenue Kansas collects.


Top GOP Lawmaker Responds to State of Judiciary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee's chairman is promoting a series of measures aimed at making the courts more efficient in response to a budget-focused address by the state Supreme Court's chief justice. Independence Republican Jeff King sent Chief Justice Lawton Nuss a letter Thursday, a day after Nuss gave the annual State of the Judiciary address. Nuss warned that the courts need another $8.3 million for the fiscal year beginning in July to avoid employee furloughs. King's letter urged the Supreme Court to back an increase in some court filing fees, expanded use of video conferencing in routine criminal hearings, more options for courts in collecting unpaid fees and streamlined appeals of rulings from non-lawyer magistrates. A spokeswoman said it wasn't clear Nuss has seen the letter yet.


Kansas House Speaker Appoints Kindergarten Study Panel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — First-term Republicans have a majority on a new Kansas House committee studying GOP Governor Sam Brownback's proposal for full state funding of public schools' all-day kindergarten classes. House Speaker Ray Merrick announced the appointments of the nine committee members Friday. Brownback wants to phase in an $80 million increase in spending on all-day kindergarten classes over five years. The study panel is chaired by freshman Republican Representative Jerry Lunn of Overland Park, with fellow GOP freshman Ron Highland of Wamego as vice-chair. Also appointed were freshman Republican Reps. Sue Boldra of Hays, Mark Kahrs of Wichita and Charles Macheers of Shawnee. The other Republicans are Steve Huebert of Valley Center and Ron Ryckman Sr. of Meade. The Democrats are Ed Trimmer of Arkansas City and Valdenia Winn of Kansas City.


Changes Coming to Two KS Mental Health Facilities

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has announced changes to a mental health clinic in Kansas City, Kansas and the Osawatomie State Hospital. The governor said Thursday that 111 positions previously located at the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kansas are being permanently moved to the Osawatomie hospital. Rainbow Mental Health will become a 24/7 crisis stabilization center to help keep people with mental illnesses or substance abuse out of jails or hospitals. Rainbow has been a six-bed crisis care center since 2011, when 30 of its beds were moved to Osawatomie. After some renovations, the center will open in April as a six-bed crisis observation unit for stays of less than a day and a 10-bed crisis stabilization unit for patients staying up to 10 days.

5th Kansas District Leaves Main Teachers Union

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Teachers in a southwest Kansas school district have joined teachers in four other districts in leaving the state's main teachers union. Teachers in Spearville, which is near Dodge City, voted on Wednesday to leave the Kansas National Education Association. They will join the Association of American Educators, which provides services but does not bargain for teacher contracts. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the other districts that have decertified in the past year are Deerfield, Caldwell, Vermillion and Rolla. The Kansas State Department of Education website says Spearville employs about 30 teachers. The five districts that decertified employ about 145 teachers. The KNEA says it still has about 25,000 members in Kansas. The Kansas affiliate of the AAE says it has about 1,300 members.


KS High Court Upholds Hugoton Homicide Verdict

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a southwest Kansas man in the August 2009 stabbing death of his mother. In a unanimous decision Friday, the court rejected arguments that Michael Maestas Jr., of Hugoton, received an unfair trial because of the prosecutor's comments in closing arguments in Stevens County District Court. The high court concluded the prosecutor did mischaracterize testimony from Maestas's sister but said the incorrect statement was not intentional. Justice Dan Biles also wrote that the evidence against Maestas was overwhelming. Maestas was arrested after calling 911 to report he had stabbed his mother, Lorenza, in their Hugoton home. The Supreme Court also rejected arguments that Maestas should have been confined to a state mental hospital rather than sentenced to prison.


Soaring Propane Costs Spur Calls for Scrutiny

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Propane prices in the Midwest have soared in recent days, leading consumers, retail suppliers and political leaders to ask whether there is more at play than supply and demand. The spike has been blamed on a supply problem caused by farmers using propane-fueled equipment last fall to dry wet grain, as well as a bitterly cold winter and the temporary shutdown of a major supply pipeline in December. But Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has asked the Federal Trade Commission for more oversight of the propane market "to prevent possible anti-competitive behavior or illegal manipulation." Terry Davis, owner of Country Propane in Milo, Iowa, says his average residential customer would have paid about $800 to fill up a 500-gallon tank two weeks ago. On Friday, the cost soared to about $2,000.


Kansan Pleads No Contest to Felony Murder

ERIE, Kan. (AP) — A second defendant has pleaded no contest in last year's arson death of a southeast Kansas woman. The Chanute Tribune reports Brian Shields entered the plea to felony murder Thursday in Neosho County District Court. Co-defendant Michelle Voorhees pleaded no contest January 15 to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Shields. Both were accused in the smoke inhalation death of 36-year-old Cristy Wiles. Wiles's remains were found last February 6 in the rubble of a Chanute home. Prosecutors said the defendants went to the house to retrieve property stolen from Voorhees. County Attorney Linus Thuston said the two ran out of the house after Shields placed a pipe bomb on a mattress and lit the fuse. The device did not explode, but set fire to the house.


Family Questions Woman's Death in Kansas Jail

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — It started when a Kansas Highway Patrol officer pulled over two Kansas City, Missouri sisters for speeding near the Colorado border and found a small amount of marijuana. Three days later, one woman lay dying in a northwest Kansas jail cell as the other frantically tried to revive her. Now, Joy Biggs is mourning Wednesday's death of her sister, 58-year-old Brenda Sewell. Family members demanded answers Friday as to why after Monday's arrest the women were held in a Goodland jail without being able to make a phone call or get adequate medical care. Biggs says her sister spent Tuesday vomiting but was not taken to the hospital until that evening when she started throwing up blood. She was sent back to jail an hour later. The next day she was dead. Goodland police say they are investigating.


Security Increased at Lawrence City Hall Meetings

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Security has been increased at Lawrence City Hall after some city commission members received threatening emails. Commissioner Bob Schumm says the emails arrived about three weeks ago from a resident upset with a proposed rental licensing and inspection program. He says the threats included going to commission members' homes with a gun. The Lawrence Journal-World reports two uniformed police officers now attend commission meetings, which used to have only one officer attending. It's unclear if the changes are permanent but Mayor Mike Dever says he expects the changes to be temporary. The commission is scheduled to take a key vote on the rental licensing and inspection program at its February 4 meeting. Police have contacted the person who sent the email. No charges have been filed.

Man Sentenced to Life in Wichita Homicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who was one of six people charged in a shooting death has been sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-two-year-old Kyle Beltz will be eligible for parole in 20 years. He was also Thursday to a concurrent 67 months for attempted possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Beltz took part in the death of 33-year-old Ronald Betts, who was shot while trying to sell marijuana. The Wichita Eagle reports Beltz lived in the house where the sale was to take place. Prosecutors say three people came to the home intending to steal the drugs, rather than pay for them. Everyone in the room was armed and a shootout began, killing Betts.


Wichita Restaurant Owners Set to Change Pleas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The operators of a Wichita restaurant have told a judge that they plan to change their pleas on federal charges of employing people who are in the country unlawfully. A court notation Thursday in the case against Yong Lin and his wife, Zhuo Mei Weng, sets a hearing February 12 for both of them in Wichita. The U.S. Attorney's Office says it has reached tentative agreements for guilty pleas. The couple was indicted last year on charges of conspiracy and harboring people who are in the U.S. unlawfully. Prosecutors brought the case after federal agents and local police searched the World Buffet Grill and three Wichita apartments. A 12-count indictment alleges they paid workers in cash and failed to complete employment eligibility forms.


MO Man Pleads Guilty in Death of Highway Worker

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man has pleaded guilty to the drunken driving death of a Missouri Department of Transportation worker on Interstate 70. KMBC-TV reports that 36-year-old David Murdick pleaded guilty Friday to involuntary manslaughter. Murdick, a lawyer from Blue Springs, was charged in the death of Clifton J. Scott in Independence on September 21, 2012. Witnesses said the 50-year-old highway assistance worker was taking photos of an earlier accident around 3 am when Murdick sped through cones and flares and hit the victim. Prosecutors said tests taken hours later showed Murdick with a blood-alcohol content of .184. Murdick faces five to 15 years in prison. Sentencing is set for March 7.


Couple Gives $1.25 Million to KU Business School

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A couple from California has pledged $1.25 million toward a fund for a new building for the University of Kansas School of Business. The university announced Thursday that the pledge from Kent and Missy McCarthy, of Rancho Mirage, California will be paid over five years. The couple has already given $2.5 million in various gifts to the business school in the past. Kent McCarthy, who graduated from the Kansas business school, created an investing class that has helped attract students to the university's finance program. Missy McCarthy received her bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in social work from the university.

KC Council Rejects Charter Reforms

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Council has decided against pursuing approval for charter changes to expand the mayor's power and redraw council districts. The council voted Thursday against asking voters to decide on the recommendations from a Charter Review Commission. The Kansas City Star reports one rejected proposal would have dissolved the six existing council districts and created 12 smaller districts. Supporters said the city's six council districts are so large, that they favor well-financed candidates. Opponents said the current balance of six in-district and six at-large seats has worked well since the 1960s. The council also nixed a recommendation to give the mayor the power to fire the city manager without approval of at least six council members, as is now required.


Lawrence Event Celebrates Annual Raptor Migration

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence event will give people a chance to learn more about eagles during the raptors' annual migration. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kaw Valley Eagles Day is planned from 9 am to 3:45 pm Saturday at Free State High School. Sponsors include the Jayhawk Audobon Society, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Lawrence school district. Experts will provide wildlife talks while children can participate in nature-inspired activities. Jayhawk Audubon Society president Gary Anderson says one of the most popular Eagles Day activities is dissecting owl pellets, which owls regurgitate after eating something they can't digest. Guests also can attend ranger-led eagle viewing field trips at 10:35 am and 3 pm. Eagles tend to stay in the area around this time of year.


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