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Regional Headlines for Friday, May 17, 2013



Kansas Budget Negotiations Abruptly Halted

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiations on the Kansas budget for the next two fiscal years have come to an abrupt halt after senators demanded a final offer from the House that could lead to ending the 2013 session. The talks were scheduled to begin Friday morning, following three rounds of negotiations Thursday which saw legislators make steady progress. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson asked his House counterpart to move the process further along, seeking a final offer on higher education and a state employee salary cap that would pass the GOP-dominated House. But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said the request couldn't be accommodated and canceled Friday's meetings. Rhoades says he hopes to meet with House leaders and resume talks with the Senate on Monday.


Kansas GOP Senators Not Moving Much on Sales Tax Demands

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate aren't budging much on lowering the state's sales tax in July as part of a plan that also cuts income taxes. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said Friday she thinks Republican Governor Sam Brownback could veto tax legislation if it lets the sales tax fall below 6.2 percent. The Senate has approved Brownback's plan to keep the tax at 6.3 percent to stabilize the budget while pursuing income tax cuts. The House has passed legislation letting the fall to 5.7 percent as scheduled by state law. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag says the governor has not insisted on a specific sales tax rate, but has told lawmakers that the budget must be funded.


Staffer for Top Kansas House Democrat to Face Discipline over Tweets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top Democrat in the Kansas House says he'll discipline a staffer who's been posting disparaging tweets about Republicans legislators. House Minority Leader Paul Davis said Thursday that he'll take an unspecified "course of administrative action" against Tyler Longpine, his director of special projects. Longpine confirmed in a statement that he'd been posting messages under the Twitter social media tag John Brown's Ghost. Longpine said that Davis didn't know who was responsible for the tweets until Thursday. Longpine apologized and said he "should not have posted this content online." Davis called the tweets "unacceptable." A tweet Wednesday compared unnamed state senators to "My crazy wing-nut uncle." Other lawmakers have been disparaged by name. Longpine inadvertently posted a disparaging tweet Tuesday under both his personal tag and John Brown's Ghost.


Kansas Moves to Enact Law on Lobbying on Gun Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are close to approving limits on the use of state tax dollars to lobby federal, state or local officials on gun control issues. The Senate approved the measure on a 31-6 vote Friday. The House could consider the measure as early as Monday. House approval would send the bill to Governor Sam Brownback, who is a strong gun-rights supporter but hasn't said publicly whether he'd sign the measure. The bill would bar state and local officials from using state funds to prepare materials or broadcast advertising that promote or oppose gun control measures. They also couldn't hire lobbyists on the issue with state funds. Proponents of the measure say Kansans don't want their tax dollars used on lobbying. Critics said the bill is vague.


Fort Riley Set to Furlough Some Civilians

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Officials at Fort Riley have announced plans to furlough about one-third of the civilian workforce at the northeast Kansas Army post to save money this year. The plan follows this week's decision by the Defense Department to proceed with federal furloughs amid budget shortfalls. Fort Riley officials on Friday said about 2,400 civilians will be furloughed for 11 nonconsecutive days beginning in mid- to late July. Those affected are paid with funds appropriated by Congress. Contractors and civilians who are paid from other sources will be exempt. Post officials say there will be little to no effect on some services. But others will be slowed or reduced, including air traffic control at Marshall Army Airfield. Visitors are likely to see slower responses in such services as in-processing and housing.


Kansas Atty General to Lead Prosecution in Ottawa Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says his office will lead the prosecution of a man charged in four deaths on an Ottawa farm. Schmidt announced Friday that Franklin County Attorney Stephen Hunting asked for his office's help in prosecuting 27-year-old Kyle Flack. Schmidt says Hunting will continue to be an important part of the prosecution. Flack was charged last week with the capital murder in the deaths of 18-month-old Lana-Leigh Bailey; her mother, 21-year-old Kaylie Bailey, and 30-year-old Andrew Stout. Flack is also charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder in those deaths, as well as that of 31-year-old Steven White. The adults' bodies were found last week on a farm in Franklin County. The child's body was found several days later in nearby Osage County.


Kansas Unemployment Rate Drops Slightly in April

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says the Kansas unemployment rate dipped to 5.5 percent last month while the number of people filing initial claims for jobless benefits also fell. But Friday's full report from the Department of Labor also says April's job growth was less robust than expected. The report says the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged lower from 5.6 percent in March. The rate for April 2012 was 6.1 percent. The agency says about 13,200 people filed their initial claims for benefits in April, compared to about 15,000 claims in March and 14,700 in April of last year. Kansas had about 1.1 million people working in private-sector, nonfarm jobs in April, about 12,300 more than in April 2012, or growth of 1.1 percent.

Kansas House Leader, Top Democrat Skeptical on Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley aren't impressed with talk from Senate Republicans that a deal on taxes is getting closer. Several top GOP senators said Thursday the two chambers are close to agreeing on cutting income taxes and canceling all or part of a scheduled sales tax decrease. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and GOP senators want to keep the sale tax at its current 6.3 percent. The House has approved a plan to let it drop to 5.7 percent in July as planned, although House Republicans offered a compromise Wednesday to set it at 6 percent. But Merrick noted that GOP senators haven't made a counter-proposal, and Hensley said he thinks Republicans remain far apart.

1st Infantry Division to Change Command

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — A new general is heading to Fort Riley next week to take command of the Army's 1st Infantry Division. Major General Paul Funk will take over command of the Army's oldest division Wednesday from Major General William Mayville Jr. A ceremony will be held on the Cavalry Parade Field at the northeast Kansas post. Mayville recently returned from a yearlong deployment with the 1st Infantry Division headquarters, which held a regional command in Afghanistan.


Soldier from Kansas Drowns in Afghanistan

OAKLEY, Kan. (AP) — U.S. military officials say a 33-year-old soldier from western Kansas has died in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense announced Friday that Sergeant 1st Class Trenton L. Rhea of Oakley drowned Wednesday in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The department says Rhea was trying to swim across a body of water during combat operations when he drowned. Rhea was assigned to the 603rd Military Police Company, 530th Military Police Battalion, 300th Military Police Brigade, 200th Military Police Command out of Belton, Missouri. Governor Sam Brownback released a statement offering Rhea's family and friends condolences for their loss.


OSHA Rules for Whistleblower at Kansas Nuclear Plant

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An engineer fired for reporting unsafe conditions created by a contractor at a Kansas nuclear power plant says he was just being responsible. The whistleblower spoke exclusively with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear he would be blackballed and unable to find work in the industry. The man's attorneys announced earlier Friday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Enercon Services of Kennesaw, Georgia to reinstate him at the Wolf Creek plant with back pay. OSHA also ordered the engineering firm to pay $50,650 in damages plus attorneys' fees and costs. He says a trench dug over piping that circulates water to cool the plant was too close. He refused to sign off on a plan that would have made the pipes prone to cracking or corrosion.

Kansas Negotiators Agree on Biodefense Lab Bonds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to authorize issuing $202 million in bonds to build a federal biodefense research lab in Manhattan. Negotiators agreed Thursday to allow the state to issue the bonds. Kansas previously authorized $105 million in bonds to help build the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility near Kansas State University. Governor Sam Brownback says the additional bonds will fulfill the state's obligation for the estimated $1.5 billion project. The lab will research dangerous animal diseases, replacing an aging facility on Plum Island, New York Construction has already started.

Legislature Provides Funds for Riddel Boys Ranch

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — House and Senate budget negotiators say they have agreed to provide funding for a financially struggling ranch for troubled boys in Sedgwick County. County officials have said they would consider closing the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch a Lake Afton if it did not receive some state funding. They said Thursday that assurances the state would appropriate $750,000 to the ranch would keep the facility open. Lawmakers still have to finalize the budget. But the Wichita Eagle reports that chairmen of both House and Senate committees guaranteed that the money for the ranch will be in the final spending plan. The state appropriation will be about 27 percent of the annual operating budget for the Boys Ranch, which provides life-skills training, education and counseling for troubled boys.

Soldier Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Iraq Killings

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AP) — An Army sergeant has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2009 killings of five fellow service members at a combat stress clinic in Iraq. A military judge, Army Colonel David Conn, found Sergeant John Russell guilty of premeditated murder on Monday and imposed the sentence Thursday. The only other possible penalty for Russell would have been life in prison with the possibility of release. Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dangerfield said late Thursday that Russell would be transferred soon to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. The 14-year veteran from Sherman, Texas, had previously pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table. Under the agreement, prosecutors were allowed to try to prove to an Army judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that the killings were premeditated. The shooting was one of the worst instances of soldier-on-soldier violence in the Iraq war. Russell's lawyers argued that his mind was clouded by depression and despair at the time.

Hotel Operator to Open Contact Center in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A company that operates hotels and resorts around the world says it plans to hire about 180 people later this year for a new customer contact center in Wichita. Officials of the Kansas Department of Commerce and Starwood Hotels announced plans for the center Thursday. Starwood says it plans to expand the center over the next five years, and could hire as many as 900 people in all. Starwood is based in Stamford, Connecticut and owns or manages Westin, Sheraton and other hotels and resorts. The Wichita center will be one of several around the country. Employees will help guests book reservations at Starwood facilities and access preferred-guest services. The company plans to start taking job applications in June.

Kansas Event Honors Fallen Law Enforcement Officers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A memorial service takes place in Wichita to honor Sedgwick County law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The ceremony was scheduled for noon Friday in the City Council chambers at Wichita City Hall. It's part of an effort by law enforcement agencies across the nation to remember their fallen comrades. Twenty-nine law enforcement officers have died on the job in Sedgwick County since 1871. They include 19 Wichita police officers, eight Sedgwick County sheriff's deputies and one officer each from Derby and Clearwater. The first was Sheriff's Deputy Carlos B. King, who died in 1871. The most recent was Sheriff's Deputy Brian Etheridge, who was ambushed and shot in 2009 while responding to a larceny call.

Burlington Coat Factory Shooter to Work Release

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man accused of firing a shot at a security guard at a Wichita store will spend 60 days in a jail work-release program. A Sedgwick County judge on Thursday sentenced 27-year-old Jake L. Jacobs for shooting at a guard who asked him to pay for a drink he had taken inside the Burlington Coat Factory store in east Wichita. He also pointed his gun at other customers before police restrained him. The Wichita Eagle reports about 20 customers were in the store during last summer's shooting but no one was injured. Jacobs pleaded guilty in April to two counts of aggravated assault. His attorney says Jacobs was a methamphetamine addict who was high during the shooting. He says Jacobs has successfully completed a drug treatment program.

Suspect in Dollar Store Double Fatality Won't Face Death Penalty

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty against a man charged with killing two people at a Wichita Dollar General Store. District Attorney Marc Bennett announced his decision Thursday during the arraignment of 19-year-old Marquis Marshall. Marshall is accused of killing an employee and a customer at the Dollar General store in November 2012. Police say 22-year-old Zachary Hunt and 79-year-old Henry Harvey were shot several times.During Thursday's hearing, defense attorney Ron Evans asked that a not guilty plea be entered on Marshall's behalf.

Kansas Bondsman Accused of Sex Crimes Against Women

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson bail bondsman will stand trial on charges that he sought sex from women in exchange for bonding them out of jail. A Reno County judge ruled Thursday that 66-year-old Dwight Jurgens of Hutchinson will stand trial on eight charges including rape and aggravated human trafficking. The Hutchinson News reports that Jurgens, who was released on $100,000 bond, will be arraigned June 3. Four women testified during a preliminary hearing that Jurgens bonded them out of jail when other bonding companies wouldn't. They testified either that they had sex with Jurgens after he bonded them out, or that he had bond pulled after a woman refused his advances. Jurgens's attorney argued the allegations didn't fit the charge of aggravated human trafficking.

EPA Honors KSU Dining Hall Composting Program

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is recognizing Kansas State University for its dining hall composting program. A ceremony was held last week at the Kramer Dining Center to recognize the effort. Through the composting program, the university takes leftover food waste from the dining halls to be composted. University researchers use the compost for things like field and greenhouse experiments. The university reduced food waste by a total of 61.8 tons from 2010 to 2012.

Petitioners Hope to Force Voter Approval for KCI Changes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A group of Kansas City residents hope to get an initiative on a local ballot requiring voter approval before any terminals at Kansas City International Airport can be torn down or replaced. The Kansas City Star reports that the group, called "Friends of KCI," has begun gathering signatures of registered voters. Group spokesman John Murphy says 3,500 signatures are needed to get the initiative on a ballot. Mayor Sly James has created a 24-member advisory group to study the current airport, and the local Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of a $1.2 billion proposal to consolidate it into one terminal. Critics of the current layout say it's inefficient, while supporters say the design makes it easy to get to and from terminal gates.


K-State Announces New Member of Men's Basketball Team

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University says sophomore forward Brandon Bolden is joining the Wildcats men's basketball team, transferring to the school from Georgetown University. Coach Bruce Weber announced Bolden's decision Friday. Bolden will sit out next season as required by the NCAA, but has three years of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-10 Bolden, from Sumter, South Carolina, played in four games for the Hoyas last season, totaling just five minutes of playing time with no statistics. He played high school ball for Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, alongside incoming Kansas State freshman Jevon Thomas.


Kansas City Chiefs Sign Former KU Standout Opurum

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have signed former University of Kansas defensive end Toben Opurum as an undrafted free agent after trying him out as a fullback during rookie minicamp. The Chiefs announced the move in a statement Friday. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound Opurum began his career with the Jayhawks as a running back, gaining 554 yards and scoring nine touchdowns during the 2009 season. He moved to linebacker as a sophomore and played defensive end the past two seasons, making 109 tackles and 6½ sacks in his career. Kansas City has turned over the fullback position this offseason, trading cornerback Javier Arenas to the Arizona Cardinals for Anthony Sherman and drafting Braden Wilson out of Kansas State.

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