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Regional Headlines for Friday, March 15, 2013


Legislature Considering Changes to Local Elections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature is considering bills that would change local elections across the state. One bill before the Kansas Senate would allow local elections to be partisan and held in even-numbered years, while another would have them in odd-numbered years. The House bill calls for the local elections to remain non-partisan and be held in odd-numbered years. Local elections are currently held in the spring of odd-numbered years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Brad Bryant, deputy assistant secretary of state, says the changes are intended to increase voter turnout, although he acknowledged he had no data to prove that would happen. Supporters also said having the elections at the same time as national elections would save the state money. Opponents testified against allowing partisanship, saying most local issues aren't partisan.


Some Kansans' Unemployment Checks Will Be Reduced

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Labor says some Kansans will see a reduction in their unemployment checks. The department said Thursday that checks for Kansans receiving extended unemployment for 14 extra weeks will see their payments reduced 10.7 percent on or shortly after March 31. The reductions in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program are the result of $85 billion in federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1. The cuts mean states that administer unemployment payments are getting less money. Kansas currently qualifies for an unemployment program that provides up to 14 additional weeks of benefits to qualified people. The amount of benefits will be reduced but the 14-week period will not be affected.

Kansas Senate GOP Leaders Eye Turnpike-KDOT Merger

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in Kansas Senate say they're hoping to revive GOP Governor Sam Brownback's plan to merge the Kansas Turnpike Authority with the Department of Transportation. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said Friday she believes the Legislature doesn't have enough financial oversight of the 236-mile turnpike. Brownback argues that merging the authority into KDOT would produce savings. Under his plan, the secretary of transportation would become the authority's board chairman and CEO. The plan inspired fears that tolls would be used to plug unrelated budget holes. The administration says that's not in its plans. The House passed a bill this week to expand the specific authorization the two agencies have to contract with each other. Turnpike CEO Michael Johnston said it's the role of lawmakers to set policy.


Suspect Charged in Wounding of Kansas Deputy

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 26-year-old woman has been ordered held on $1 million bond on charges of attempted murder in the shooting of a Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy. KFDI-FM reports that Clara Crosser, of Gardner, was charged Friday and ordered to return to court for a preliminary hearing March 28. Crosser is one of two suspects in the shooting of a 33-year-old deputy who chased their vehicle Monday into Butler County. The deputy was struck by shotgun pellets in one eye and the upper body. He was released from a hospital Wednesday. A 35-year-old male suspect was wounded by a Highway Patrol trooper. The suspect has been moved from a hospital to the Sedgwick County jail. Crosser is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and seven other counts, including burglary and possession of methamphetamine.


Emporia District Expands Classroom Technology

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — More students in Emporia's elementary schools will be equipped with computers after the school board voted to spend nearly $100,000 on tablets for first- and fourth-graders. The Emporia Gazette reports the board approved bids of more than $44,000 for 140 Samsung Galaxy tablets for first-graders, and roughly $56,000 to buy 190 of the tablets for fourth-graders. Susan Brinkman was one of two board members opposing the purchase. Brinkman questioned whether the same amount of educational software is available on the tablet as on the Apple iPads she said are more commonly used in schools. The purchase will be covered from the Emporia district's technology fund. The district previously spent about $126,000 on Samsung Chromebook laptops for fifth- and sixth-grade students.

Man Allegedly Impersonating Officer Hits Colorado

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a man suspected of impersonating a sheriff's deputy while writing bad checks across Kansas has tried the ruse in Colorado. Investigators say 45-year-old Robert Helms of Pittsburg was spotted Wednesday at a grocery store in Walsh, Colo., about 18 miles from the Kansas border. He reportedly flashed a fake badge and credentials claiming to be a sheriff's deputy from Adams County, Kansas. There is no Adams County in Kansas. The KBI says Helms has written bad checks at convenience stores and other businesses across Kansas, usually in smaller towns. The KBI said in February that Helms had pulled the scam in 24 cities. He is a white man, 5-feet-7, weighing 190 pounds, with blue eyes and short gray hair. He sometimes wears round glasses.

Census Projects Slight Growth in Kansas Population

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show modest population growth in Kansas, with the Fort Riley area ranking as the state's fastest-gaining region. Census data released Thursday projects that Kansas gained about 15,500 residents from July 2011 to July 2012, bringing its population to almost 2.9 million. The projected growth was 0.5 percent. The Census Bureau also said 40 of the state's 105 counties gained population over the year. Census estimates said Geary and Riley counties had population growth of more than 3 percent. Both include portions of Fort Riley, where soldiers have been returning from overseas deployments. Geary County gained 2,600 residents, making its population about 38,000, for 7.4 percent growth. Riley County gained almost 2,400 residents, for a total population of nearly 76,000 and growth of 3.2 percent.

Crews Assessing Kansas Winter Storm Damage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State and federal teams have begun assessing the damage in Kansas from winter storms that hit the state in February. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management says the crews began fanning out across the state March 11. Kansas has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damage assessments in 41 of the state's 105 counties. The storms hit Kansas over a 10-day period, leaving more than 2 feet of snow in some areas and contributing to six deaths. State officials said the costs incurred by various units of government include snow removal and debris cleanup.

Suspicious Fire Destroys Playground in Winfield

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — For the second time in five years, a playground at a Winfield park has gone up in flames. Fire officials say a fire late Thursday at the Island Park playground is considered suspicious. No one was injured. The same playground was destroyed by fire in 2008. A 17-year-old Winfield boy was sentenced to probation after admitting to setting the fire. The park was rebuilt by volunteers in 2009.


KU Student Campaigning for Smoke-Free Campus

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas student has begun a push to ban smoking throughout the Lawrence campus. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that sophomore Ashley Hrabe, of Salina, has been involved with the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition since she was in high school. The university already bans smoking inside or within 20 feet of any campus building. Hrabe wants to prohibit smoking anywhere on campus. Hrabe met this week with faculty, student and staff leaders at a University Senate committee meeting. The Journal-World reports she already has the support of some leaders of the Student Senate. Several details would have to be worked out, including enforcement and whether people could smoke in their cars. Hrabe hopes that eventually, the use of smokeless tobacco will also be banned.


KC Fire Department Changes Response Rules for Gas Leaks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Fire Department has enhanced its procedures for responding to gas leaks like the one that preceded a recent fatal restaurant explosion. Fire Chief Paul Berardi said Thursday that a battalion chief and a fire truck equipped with gas level monitoring equipment will be sent on any call involving possible natural gas leaks. The Kansas City Star reports that firefighters will also stay on the scene until the risk is resolved and consult with gas utility experts to determine if evacuations are necessary. The new procedures weren't in place when firefighters responded February 19 to a call of a gas leak an hour before an explosion and fire destroyed JJ's Restaurant, killing one woman and injuring 15. The blast occurred after an underground gas pipe was ruptured.


3 Ordered to Stand Trial in Colorado Quintuple Slaying

DENVER (AP) — Three Colorado men have been ordered to stand trial on charges of murder, robbery and arson in the stabbing deaths of five people in a Denver bar. The judge ordered the men to be held without bail. The ruling was issued Friday. Twenty-two-year old Dexter Lewis, 27-year-old Joseph Hill and 24-year-old Lynell Jonathan Hill are charged in the October slayings at Fero's Bar & Grill. The Hills are brothers. The robbery netted $170. A federal agent testified that an informant told him Lynell Hill needed money to cover costs in an unrelated court case. The victims were 63-year-old Young Suk Fero, 21-year-old Daria M. Pohl, 44-year-old Kellene Fallon, 29-year-old Ross Richter and 45-year-old Tereasa Beesley. Richter was from Overland Park. The others were from the Denver area.


Soldier Charged with Murder in Girlfriend's Death

FORT CARSON, Colo. (AP) — The Army has filed murder charges against a Fort Carson soldier accused of killing his soldier-girlfriend during a Valentine's Day quarrel in a Colorado motel. Fort Carson announced Friday that Sergeant Montrell Mayo is charged with premeditated murder and murder in the death of Corporal Kimberly Walker. The 28-year-old Walker was from Cincinnati and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. Friends of Mayo's said she was visiting Mayo at the time she was killed. Walker's body was found in an off-post motel in Colorado Springs. Civilian prosecutors say they turned the case over to the Army at the Army's request. The 24-year-old Mayo is from Greenville, South Carolina and is stationed at Fort Carson. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life without parole, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge.

2 KC Felons Get Long Sentences for Possessing Guns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two convicted Kansas City felons have been sentenced to lengthy terms in federal prison for illegally possessing firearms. U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson says 51-year-old Seab Nolen was sentenced Thursday to 16 years without parole as an armed criminal offender with nine previous felony convictions. Nolen was arrested last June after police responded to his home on a report of a disturbance involving a weapon. He pleaded guilty in October. Also Thursday, 37-year-old Jervonz Williams was sentenced to 19 years. He pleaded guilty in November to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prosecutors said Williams hit a woman in the head with a handgun last May and threatened to shoot her. He has five prior felony convictions.


KC Teen Pleads Guilty to Attack on Elderly Couple

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City teenager has pleaded guilty to raping an 84-year-old woman during a break-in at the home she shared with her 93-year-old husband. The Jackson County prosecutor's office says 19-year-old Tony Putman will be sentenced May 15 after pleading guilty Friday to forcible rape, robbery and two counts of kidnapping. The attack happened last July. The woman told police she came home from running errands, heard her husband moaning and confronted an intruder who demanded money. The woman gave the intruder $400 in cash. He then raped the woman, took some jewelry and drove away in the couple's vehicle. Putman was arrested about 30 minutes later. Police said he claimed he had found the car on a street and that his mother had given him the jewelry to pawn.

Kansas Farmers Union Hosting Food Co-op Workshops

HIAWATHA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Farmers Union is holding a series of workshops focusing on food co-ops and how local family farms can feed their communities. The first workshop, on how to start an online food cooperative, will take place April 6 at Highland Community College's Klinefelter Barn in Hiawatha. The focus will be on providing people who enjoy locally produced food with information on forming partnerships and cooperatives. A second workshop exploring organization of food hubs is expected to be announced shortly. Several operations are modeling their approach on the Oklahoma Food Co-op, which brings consumers and producers together as owners of a cooperative. Together, the consumers and producers share the costs and risks, as well as the benefits.

Kansas Special Olympian Receives Special Honor

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence weightlifter will become the first Special Olympian to be inducted into the American Indian Hall of Fame. When 32-year-old Brady Tanner is inducted Saturday into the hall in Kansas City, Mo., he will join inductees such as Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills. Tanner has won hundreds of trophies and medals, including three gold medals in the 2011 World Special Olympic Games in Greece and numerous national titles. He has those accomplishments despite having a syndrome that slows growth and mental development and makes it difficult for him to speak. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Tanner has lifted weights a Haskell Indian Nations University for the past 12 years. His personal record for dead-lift is 575 pounds, while squat is 625 pounds and bench-press is 450 pounds.


Architects Oppose Bill to Alter Eisenhower Memorial

WASHINGTON (AP) — The American Institute of Architects is opposing an effort in Congress to eliminate funding and scrap the proposed design for a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower, saying lawmakers should not censor an architectural work. On Wednesday, Utah Representative Rob Bishop introduced legislation calling for a new design competition for the memorial. His office said he would seek to eliminate $100 million in future funding for the current design by architect Frank Gehry. The American Institute of Architects, representing 83,000 members, said Friday that it will "vigorously oppose" Bishop's legislation. The association's CEO, Robert Ivy, says Bishop's bill is "an effort to intimidate the innovative thinking for which our profession is recognized." The group says it is not passing judgment on whether the Eisenhower Memorial design is good or bad.


Oklahoma City to Stage Preseason games in Tulsa, Wichita

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder is announcing plans to play NBA preseason games in Tulsa and in Wichita. The Thunder said Friday that the team will play the New Orleans Pelicans — formerly the New Orleans Hornets — on October 17 at the BOK Center in Tulsa. The team says Oklahoma City will then play the Chicago Bulls at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita on October 23. This will be the fifth time the Thunder have played a preseason game in Tulsa and the second time they've played in Wichita. The Thunder will announce the remainder of its 2013 preseason schedule at a later date.


Kansas Senate Committee Approves $14B State Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has endorsed a state budget of more than $14 billion after trimming Republican Governor Sam Brownback's spending proposals for higher education. The Ways and Means Committee's action Thursday sends the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning in July to the full chamber. The Senate is expected to debate it next week. Brownback proposed increasing total spending of about 1.3 percent for the next fiscal year, bringing it to $14.6 billion. He recommended keeping spending on higher education flat. Committee members trimmed at least $40 million from the governor's recommendations. The reductions included almost $16 million from the higher education system. The committee wanted to rein in spending to leave room for income tax cuts.

Kansas House GOP Uncertain About Sales Tax Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Republicans acknowledge they're split over canceling a planned decline in the state sales tax. Several Republicans said Thursday they're willing to consider the idea if it allows the state to pursue more cuts in personal income taxes. But House Taxation Committee Chairman Richard Carlson says the proposal is unlikely to pass. The 6.3 percent sales tax is set to drop to 5.7 percent in July. The proposal to cancel it is part of Governor Sam Brownback's plan for following up on massive personal income tax cuts enacted last year. He wants to stabilize the budget while phasing in additional income tax rate reductions over the next four years. House Speaker Ray Merrick also doubts Brownback's proposal will pass but says he's counting votes.


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