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Regional Headlines for Friday, March 30, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas Budget Agreement Unravels Just Before Vote 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An agreement among Kansas legislators over a proposed $14.1 billion state budget has unraveled. House negotiators backed away from the compromise spending plan shortly before their chamber was supposed to vote on it Friday. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, then announced that his chamber would not vote before lawmakers adjourned in the evening for their annual spring break. The issue was how to cover $25 million in unexpected costs faced by the state's 286 school districts. The House had proposed diverting money from highway projects, an idea not in Governor Sam Brownback's budget recommendations or approved by the Senate. The budget agreement called for lawmakers to address that issue when they return from their break April 25. But House negotiators wanted senators to reconsider, and senators didn't.


Kansas Governor Hopeful About Plan for New Arts Group

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is hopeful that legislators will establish a new Creative Industries Commission but says the funding for it must be responsible. Brownback made his comments Friday after House and Senate negotiators agreed on a bill outlining the structure of the new commission. The bill merges the Arts Commission and Film Services Commission, as Brownback has proposed. But lawmakers were considering a proposed state budget that included $700,000 for the new commission for the fiscal year beginning in July. That's $500,000 more than Brownback proposed. Brownback would say only that funding needs to be at a responsible level, without specifying a figure. Brownback has argued that arts programs need to rely more heavily on private dollars. Last year, he vetoed the Arts Commission's entire budget.


UPDATE: Speaker Says Kansas House Won't Debate Immigration

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Speaker Mike O'Neal doesn't plan to have the Kansas House debate immigration issues this year. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, commented Friday after the House sided with him and blocked debate on an immigration bill. The bill requires companies holding contracts with state or local governments exceeding $5,000 to use the federal E-Verify database to determine whether new employees are in the U.S. legally. The vote was 91-31 against a request from Representative Charlotte O'Hara, an Overland Park Republican, to remove the bill from committee. A proposal to require state agencies -- but not private companies -- to use E-Verify cleared committee Thursday. But O'Neal said he's sure a debate wouldn't be confined to that narrow proposal. Majority Republicans are split, and O'Neal said an immigration debate would be contentious.

Kansas House Blocks Gambling Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ There won't be a debate in the Kansas House over a bill to modify the state's 2007 gambling laws. Members voted Friday against bringing a bill out of the Federal and State Affairs Committee and forcing debate before the full chamber. The vote was 20 short of the required 70 needed to force the debate. The effort was launched by Representative Bob Grant, a Frontenac Democrat, who along with Representative Doug Gatewood, a Columbus Democrat, have sought to make changes in the law lowering the minimum investment required for constructing a casino in Cherokee or Crawford counties. State law requires the investment to be $225 million, which developers have been unwilling to pay because of the economy and proximity of American Indian casinos just across the Oklahoma border.

Judge Sides with ACLU in Kansas Abortion Insurance Ruling

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union has won a legal round in its efforts to overturn a Kansas law restricting abortion insurance coverage. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson on Thursday sided with the American Civil Liberties Union in rejecting the state's request to dismiss a key claim over equal protection of the law. The ACLU contends the Kansas law discriminates against women because men can buy full comprehensive coverage for all their health needs, but women need to buy a separate policy to add abortion coverage. It contends the purpose of the law is to inhibit women from getting abortion care. Robinson said the ACLU might be able to show at trial that Kansas imposed an undue burden by creating a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.


Kansas Jobless Rate Holds Steady in February

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas unemployment levels remained flat in February, with the jobless rate holding steady at 6.1 percent. An economist with the state Department of Labor said Friday the seasonally adjusted rate and overall employment report did not indicate significant change from January. The jobless rate was 6.9 percent in February 2011. The agency said eight of 11 industry sectors reported gains in the past 12 months, with the professional and business services industries adding 11,900 jobs, an 8.2 percent increase. Overall, the economy has added 21,300 private sector jobs. Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee said the February numbers alone suggest a "lukewarm" labor market. But she says the growth over the past year has been healthy. Initial unemployment claims were down in February, as were continuing benefit claims.


$325M Westar Project Enters Critical Stage 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Westar Energy has temporarily shut down a unit that generates more than half of the Lawrence Energy Center's power to make environmental upgrades. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the work is part of a $325 million effort that started in 2009 to reduce the amount of pollutants coming from the plant. This spring, the utility entered into the heart of the work at Unit 5, which typically generates 64 percent of the plant's 585 megawatts of electricity. Crews are working to complete the construction before Westar heads into the demanding summer season. Work on the pollution upgrades is expected to wrap up in 2013. The project is designed to reduce the fine particle, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions coming from two of the plant's three coal-burning units.


Topeka Man Faces June Hearing in Girl's Killing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge will decide this summer whether there is enough evidence to try a 28-year-old Topeka man in the sexual assault and killing of an 8-year-old neighbor girl. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the preliminary hearing for Billy Frank Davis Jr. is set for June 12 and 13. Davis faces a host of charges, including capital murder, in the March 13 killing of Ahliyah Irvin. The capital murder charge could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Family said Ahliyah was sleeping when she was snatched from her apartment. Her body was found after a brief search of her housing complex. Later that day, Davis was found hiding in a creek bed. Davis is jailed on a $10 million bond. His attorney's office has declined to comment.


K-State Student Hits Police Car; Accused of Drunken Driving 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas State University student has been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after hitting a police car and another vehicle. The Manhattan Mercury reported that the crashes happened early Thursday. Lieutenant Josh Kyle says an officer saw the 24-year-old suspect drive into a yard. The officer was on foot and attempted to stop the driver. Instead, the officer said the suspect drove through more yards and hit a parked vehicle. Kyle said the officer radioed for back up. The suspect's vehicle eventually failed to stop at an intersection and struck a marked Riley County Police Department vehicle. The officer inside the police car and the suspected drunken driver were treated at a Manhattan hospital and released.


University of Kentucky Freshman Named AP Player of the Year; KU Player Comes in Second

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis is The Associated Press' college basketball Player of the Year, the first Kentucky player and second freshman to win the award. He received 43 votes Friday from the 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Balloting was done before the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-10 player from Chicago is the Southeastern Conference's Player, Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.6 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent. His block total is a school record and third best for a freshman. Thomas Robinson of the University of Kansas was second with 20 votes, and Draymond Green of Michigan State received the other two votes. Jimmer Fredette of BYU won the award last season.


Controlled Burn Planned As Part of Nature Project Near Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A few employees at Alcoa Aerospace Center in Hutchinson were hoping to conduct a controlled burn north of the plant to help establish an area of native grass and wildflowers. The Hutchinson News reports that wind would determine whether the burn happens. Production manager Roger Regehr says the idea is to make the field more colorful and nice to look at for people using a quarter-mile gravel walking path. Production at the plant has significantly increased over the past year. Company officials have established several sustainability goals, including completely eliminating waste it sends to the local landfill. Regehr says the controlled burn is necessary to allow flowers in the field to better develop. He says he plans to do a similar project around his home near Inman.


Soldier Suspected in Afghan Killings to Undergo Psychiatric Exam

SEATTLE (AP) — The attorney for the soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians says the military is planning to conduct a comprehensive mental health evaluation of his client. John Henry Browne says at a Friday news conference that officials would likely travel to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth to conduct the assessment of his client, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Browne says the military initiated the evaluation and that it will take place within the next two months. He says it will likely delay the overall legal process involving Bales. Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. The military says he left his base in southern Afghanistan and went on a shooting rampage through two villages on March 11.


Wichita Man Hospitalized after Lightning Strike

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 64-year-old Wichita man has survived being struck by lightning. The Wichita Eagle reported that the man was taken to an area hospital for what are described as non-life-threatening injuries. Dispatchers received the call about the lighting strike at 9:26 pm Thursday. The National Weather Service says the odds of being struck by lightning in a person's lifetime are one in 10,000. Over the last 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 55 reported lightning fatalities per year. The National Weather Service said that only about 10 percent of people who are struck by lightning are killed.


Wrong-Way Crash in Kansas Kills California Man

LOUISBURG, Kan. (AP) _ A California man has died after a car he was driving was hit by a vehicle going the wrong way on a divided highway in northeastern Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol identifies the victim as 57-year-old Scott Klein of San Clemente, California. The crash happened around 5:30 am Thursday on U.S. 69 in Miami County, just west of Louisburg, Kansas. The patrol says a van driven by a 45-year-old woman from Drexel, Missouri was heading northbound in the southbound lanes when it hit the car driven by Klein. Troopers said the van crossed a grass median and traveled more than a mile in the wrong direction before the crash. Other motorists had called 911 reporting a minivan driving erratically, but the crash occurred before officers could locate the van. The van's driver had serious injuries.


Trial Begins in Kansas Teen Cheerleader's Death

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) _ Prosecutors have begun laying out their case against a Kansas man accused of killing a 14-year-old cheerleader. But his attorneys claim the case is built on circumstantial evidence. Opening statements Thursday in the trial of 38-year-old Adam Longoria offered jurors conflicting views of the strength of the capital murder case. The Great Bend man faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. Prosecutors told jurors Longoria asked several friends to lie about his whereabouts that night. The cited DNA evidence in his vehicle. His tennis shoes tested positive for gasoline. But the defense tried to cast doubt among jurors by telling them the state's case is not as strong as prosecutors want the jury to think.


Former Koch Lobbyist Leads Anti-Obama Ad Campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An outside group is blaming higher gasoline prices on President Barack Obama's energy policies, airing $3.6 million in ads in eight key states. The ads attack Obama's recent decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada. The ads aired by the American Energy Alliance seek to undercut Obama's message that he has increased oil drilling and pushed for renewable energy sources. The ads are running in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan. The organization's president is a former lobbyist for Kansas-based Koch Industries, an industrial firm whose top executives, Charles and David Koch, have been prominent supporters of conservative causes. Democrats say the organization is a "front group for big oil."


94-Year-Old Salina Flower Shop Worker Honored

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A 94-year-old Salina flower shop worker is being honored as the oldest still-working Kansan. The Salina Journal reported that George Aden is sure there's a worker who is older than him. But not according to the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Older Kansans Employment Program. They've checked the ledgers, and say he's it. Besides working two days a week at Designs by Cunningham, the retired bookkeeper volunteers at his church and spends time with friends at the Salina Senior Center. Aden says he loves his job and calls the flower shop "a relaxing place." When he decided at the age of 85 that he was done delivering flowers, his employers switched him to processing flowers. Four years ago he cut back to handling just the roses.


Kansas Legislators Break Off Talks over Tax Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers won't agree on the final version of tax-cutting legislation until they return in late April from their annual spring break. House and Senate negotiators suspended talks Thursday on working out their chambers' differences on bills reducing individual income taxes and eliminating the income tax for some businesses. They also remain divided on cutting the sales tax. The lead negotiators for both chambers said the talks are complicated because they want a package that doesn't create budget problems. The House and Senate have approved different versions of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for cutting income taxes. Lawmakers are set to adjourn Friday and return April 25th to wrap up the year's business.


Kansas Lawmakers to Vote on $14.1B Compromise Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators are preparing to consider a compromise $14.1 billion state budget drafted by negotiators for the House and Senate. The House was scheduled to vote first on the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Senate planned to take it up before lawmakers adjourned for their annual spring break. Three senators and three House members wrapped up their talks Thursday evening. However, negotiators left some decisions for a budget cleanup bill they'll consider later, such as longevity bonuses for state employees. Lawmakers return April 25 to wrap up the year's business. The measure includes nearly $13 million in spending on social services included by the Senate but not the House. But the budget is likely to cut overall spending about 4 percent.

**this story is being updated throughout the day. Please see above. 


Kansas Lawmakers to Vote on $14.1B Compromise Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A compromise $14.1 billion state budget before the Kansas Legislature could set up another confrontation with Governor Sam Brownback over arts funding. The House was to scheduled to vote first on the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Senate plans to take up the issue later in the day. The measure, drafted by House and Senate negotiators, includes $700,000 for a new Creative Industries Commission, which would merge the existing Kansas Arts Commission and the Film Services Commission. Brownback proposed the merger but recommended only $200,000 in funding. The governor has argued that arts programs need to rely more heavily on private dollars. Last year, he vetoed the Arts Commission's entire budget, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate funding for the arts. 

**this story has been updated. Please see above.


Kansas House to Vote on Possible Debate of Immigration Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas House members face a decision on debating proposals for cracking down on illegal immigration. The House was set to vote Friday on a request from Representative Charlotte O'Hara, an Overland Park Republican, to remove an immigration bill from committee and debate it. She needed support from 70 of the House's 125 members. The bill would require companies holding contracts with state or local government agencies worth more than $5,000 to use the federal E-Verify database to determine whether new employees are in the U.S. legally. A proposal to require state agencies -- but not private companies -- to use E-Verify cleared committee Thursday, but its future is uncertain. House GOP leaders have said they don't want to debate immigration this year because majority Republicans are split on the issue.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 

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