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Regional Headlines for Friday, May 18, 2012



State Issues Algae Warning for Four Kansas Lakes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials have prohibited skiing, swimming and wading in four lakes because of concerns about high levels of toxic blue-green algae. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued the warning Thursday for Memorial/Veterans Lake in Great Bend, Winfield City Lake, Marion Reservoir and Marion County Lake. The state is also advising people to avoid contact with the Old Herington City Lake in Dickinson County, where lower levels of blue-green algae were detected. Skin contact can cause allergic reactions. Ingesting the infected water can cause diarrhea, vomiting and even death. Animals can die from drinking too much water affected by the blooms. The toxic bloom sickened more than a dozen people in Kansas last year and killed at least five dogs.


UPDATE: Kansas Senate Approves Remap Plan Favored by Moderates 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a proposal favored by the moderate Republican leadership for redrawing the chamber's 40 districts. Friday's 21-17 vote sent the measure to the House, where it's unlikely to pass. Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Hugoton Republican, acknowledged supporters pursued the measure to give a federal court more options in settling a lawsuit over redistricting. GOP conservatives complained during Friday's debate that the measure is designed to keep current Senate leaders in power. Supporters denied they were gerrymandering. The measure would remove at least three conservative candidates from the districts of the moderate Republican incumbents they had planned to challenge. It would also put conservative Republican Senators Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, and Ty Masterson, of Andover, in one district.


5 Kansas Justices Recuse Themselves from Kline Disciplinary Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Five of the seven justices of the Kansas Supreme Court have stepped aside from the disciplinary case against former Attorney General Phill Kline. The justices announced their decision Friday. Kline's lawyer had asked that Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justice Carol Beier step aside because the defense perceives them as biased against the former attorney general. Three others recused themselves because they had heard earlier parts of the proceedings. The allegations of ethics violation stem from an investigation of abortion providers that Kline began during his one term as attorney general. The state Board for Discipline of Attorneys said Kline repeatedly misled other officials or allowed subordinates to mislead others. Five special judges will be appointed for the high court's hearing, which is not expected before this fall.


UPDATE: Senate Adopts New Kansas Budget Position 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a revised version of its budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, but there's no clear indication the proposal will go any further. Friday's 32-6 vote sent the Senate plan to the House, where leaders have signaled they're unlikely to consider it. The two chambers approved budgets of roughly $14 billion earlier in the session. Negotiators have been meeting off and on to try to work out the differences. The new Senate version incorporates some of those compromises, as well as the Senate's positions on spending for education. School funding has been a major sticking point in the negotiations. No additional negotiations were immediately scheduled Friday or for the weekend.

UPDATE: Kansas Senate Blocks Debate on Cutting Income Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has blocked debate on a compromise plan to cut income taxes, leaving the proposal's fate in doubt. The Senate voted 21-18 Friday against removing a procedural hurdle to debating the measure. The proposal was drafted earlier this week by House and Senate negotiators. The compromise would gradually lower individual income tax rates and eliminate income taxes for 191,000 businesses over six years. A separate bill making the same cuts in one year has already gone to Governor Sam Brownback. Some lawmakers fear the more aggressive measure would create massive budget problems. But many senators had misgivings about the compromise and wanted negotiations to restart. However, House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, has said that won't happen.


Kansas Senate Majority Leader Remains Hospitalized

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler remains hospitalized because of high blood pressure. Emler's office confirmed Friday that he would not return to the Statehouse for the day's business. It said he remains at an area hospital, but declined to identify which one, citing his need for privacy and rest. The Lindsborg Republican has been absent from the Statehouse since Wednesday afternoon. Emler, a 62-year-old attorney, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and is serving his third term. He's in his second year as majority leader. He previously served as chairman of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Kansas Lawmakers Approve Compromise Pension Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature has given final approval to a bill aimed at bolstering the long-term financial health of the state's pension system by using gambling dollars to pay for retirement benefits. The House approved the measure Thursday on a 74-42 vote, hours after the Senate passed it, 35-2. The legislation is a compromise drafted by House and Senate negotiators to resolve dozens of differences between their chambers. The bill will go to Governor Sam Brownback, who tells The Associated Press that he'll sign it. The legislation would direct future revenues from state-owned casinos to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. It also creates a new retirement plan for teachers and government workers hired after 2014. The measure passed over the objections of public employee groups.


Kansas Jobless Rate Drops in April

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State labor officials say the Kansas economy continues to show growth this spring as evidenced by a decline in the April unemployment rate. The Kansas Department of Labor says the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in April, down from 6.2 percent in March. The rate was 6.7 percent in April 2011. Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee says Kansas should be pleased with the job growth and that it is acceptable at this time. However, the department's economist says the rate of private sector job growth has slowed in the past three months and called the rate sluggish. Tyler Tenbrink says the state's economy reflects the national slowdown in activity. First-time claims for unemployment benefits were down in April by more than 3,200 applicants.

1st Infantry Division Soldiers Set to Leave for Afghanistan

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — A brigade of soldiers from Fort Riley is preparing to leave for a deployment to Afghanistan. Officials with the 1st Infantry Division say hundreds of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are scheduled to depart from the northeast Kansas Army post next week. The Dragon Brigade has twice deployed to Iraq since 2006 when it was organized at Fort Riley. Colonel Joseph Wawro and Command Sergeant Major Wiley Hutchison, the brigade's commander and senior noncommissioned officer, cased its colors April 26 in preparation for its first deployment to Afghanistan. The brigade will serve under the 1st Infantry Division's headquarters deployed in Afghanistan as Regional Command-East. The first soldiers from the brigade left for Afghanistan in April.

Bill Would Change Senior Hunting, Fishing License Eligibility

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill that makes several changes to hunting and fishing regulations. The bill approved Thursday would increase the age to qualify for free hunting and fishing licenses from 65 to 75. And it would give those 65 to 75 the chance to buy annual licenses or a $38 lifetime pass. The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says free hunting and fishing for seniors is causing budget problems for the department, which receives no state general funds. The Wichita Eagle reports the bill also establishes a project to study allowing crossbows during archery season. The crossbows would be allowed in four of the state's 19 wildlife management precincts for two years. The bill also strengthens poaching penalties. It now goes to the Senate.


Tax Appeals Court Denies Request to Rethink Pipeline Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state appeals court has refused to reconsider a decision that lets Calgary-based TransCanada avoid paying nearly $19 million in property taxes for 2011. KCLY reports the Court of Tax Appeals on Wednesday denied a Kansas Department of Revenue request that it rethink an earlier ruling that TransCanada's Keystone pipeline met requirements under a 6-year-old exemption. Kansas lawmakers passed the tax exemption in 2006 when TransCanada was exploring the route through Kansas. The law included income tax credits, financing and a 10-year property tax exemption. The Revenue Department argues the pipeline doesn't provide refineries in the state with proper access to the pipeline's oil. The court ruled the law doesn't require direct access and doesn't specify how the refineries are to get the oil, which they do receive.


Union Sues Spirit AeroSystems over Evaluations

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The union for engineers and technical workers at Spirit AeroSystems has filed suit seeking arbitration in a dispute over the way employees are evaluated. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wichita. The union contends that Spirit should have negotiated with it before implementing a performance improvement process for employees whose evaluations decline. The complaint seeks to force Spirit into binding arbitration, arguing the parties have been unable so far to resolve the grievance. Spirit AeroSystems spokesman Ken Evans said Friday the company believes its health depends on all employees performing at full capacity. He says that Spirit tries to give employees accurate feedback on their performance and will continue to do so.

Video Depicts Alleged Abuse at School 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The mother of a 14-year-old former student at a Kansas military academy says a cellphone video showing him struggling to stand on broken legs supports claims in a lawsuit that he was abused at the school. The video obtained by The Associated Press shows the 14-year-old struggling to stand and pleading with an instructor at St. John's Military School for help. He was hospitalized after leaving the school. The school won't comment on the video but denies it encourages a culture of abuse. The teen is among seven students whose families in March filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas, claiming the boarding school allowed and encouraged a culture of abuse. St. John's has settled nine previous abuse lawsuits filed since 2006.


Big 12, SEC Reach Deal for Conference Football Champs to Play

The Big 12 and the Southeastern Conferences have announced a deal that will pit their football regular-season champions against each other in a bowl game for five years beginning in 2014. The agreement between two of the most successful BCS conferences was announced Friday. If one or both of the league champions are selected to play in what is expected to be a four-team national championship playoff, another team would be selected for the Big 12-SEC matchup. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive says a new January bowl tradition has been born. Incoming Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby says he's excited by the prospects for the game. Specific details, including host sites, will be announced at a later date.

Survey: Strength in Farming Sector Aiding Economy in Rural States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economy remains strong in rural areas of 10 Midwest and Plains states because of the health of agricultural businesses there. The overall economic index on the new monthly Rural Mainstreet survey rose to 58.5 in May from April's already healthy 57.1. Any score above 50 on the index suggests growth in the months ahead. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says even though the May numbers are positive, he believes the region's economic growth will slow in the months ahead as the global economy weakens and crop prices decline. The survey covers rural areas of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The survey focuses on 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300.

Unlicensed Doctor Charged with Health Care Fraud

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a former Topeka doctor who continued practicing medicine after state regulators suspended her medical license. A criminal information filed Thursday charges Diana Carver with health care fraud and illegally dispensing drugs. Such documents typically are filed with the consent of the defendant and indicate a plea deal has likely been reached in the case. A current phone number could not be found to reach Carver for comment. Prosecutors allege Carver continued to practice medicine after the Kansas Board of Healing Arts suspended her medical license in July 2010. She is accused of submitting false claims to insurance programs by using the name of her physician father, who did not provide the services. She also is accused of illegally writing prescriptions using his DEA registration number.


Dallas-Based Natural Gas Company Warns of Scam

DALLAS (AP) — A natural gas company serving a dozen states has warned customers that President Barack Obama will not be paying their bills. Dallas-based Atmos Energy says the scheme falsely claims Presidnet Obama is providing credits or directly paying utility bills. Atmos spokeswoman Jennifer Ryan said Thursday that scammers then asked for the customer's Social Security number. Ryan says Atmos workers always carry proper identification and never contact customers requiring personal information. Atmos is one of the country's largest natural-gas-only distributors. The company says it serves more than 3 million customers in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.


Third Man Sentenced in Salina Death

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The third of four suspects in the death of a Salina man will serve two years of probation. Twenty-year-old Tyeler Cookson also was ordered Thursday to perform 40 hours of community service for the death of 48-year-old Robert Unselt, who was killed in January during a fight. Before his sentencing, Cookson testified that Unselt died after hitting his head on the pavement during the fight. He said Unselt started the confrontation with the four men. The Salina Journal reports Unselt's family has disputed that contention. His wife has filed a $1 million wrongful death lawsuit against the four defendants.

Large Crowds Turn Out for Nebraska Hearings on Oil Pipeline Route

ALBION, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska's hearings on the new proposed route for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline from Canada are drawing big crowds. The Columbus (NE) Telegram reports that more than 160 people attended Wednesday's meeting in Albion, Nebraska. Pipeline opponents objected to the original route through the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer, a massive groundwater supply. TransCanada proposed a new route that avoids the Sandhills. Some landowners offered praise for the project. Nick Gasper says he thinks project opponents have used scare tactics, and he thinks the pipeline offers more benefits than drawbacks. Pipeline opponents also attended the hearing. Ken Winston, with the Nebraska Sierra Club, says his group still worries about the pipeline possibly contaminating the aquifer. These hearings are one of the first steps in the state's review of TransCanada's new proposed route that will pass through Kansas en route to Texas refineries.

Wolf Mask-Wearing Robber Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A 21-year-old Salina man accused of robbing a former business while wearing a wolf mask and holding a meat cleaver has been sentenced to more than three years behind bars. The Salina Journal reports Joel Chenault was sentenced Monday in Saline County District Court to 40 months. He also was sentenced to six months for breaking another inmate's jaw, to run concurrent with the other sentence. He pleaded no contest in March to one count of robbery and two counts of aggravated assault. Prosecutors say in addition to the meat cleaver, Chenault was holding a 2-by-2-inch board when he went into the Grind on January 4th, 2011, to rob it.


Kansas Prosecutor: Fake Robbery Teens Playing Dangerous Game

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County prosecutors say three teens who faked a robbery at a Subway restaurant in Wichita were playing a dangerous game called "Urban Skittles." A statement from the district attorney's office says the game originated in England. It is played by one or more youths who run into a random business and order everyone to the floor. The youths then count the number of people on the floor before leaving. The Wichita Eagle reports that's what happened Monday when a young man walked into the restaurant, put his hand in his pocket and ordered everyone down. Police say two teens with him ran out while he counted the people, then he fled without taking any money. There was no word on whether the youths will be charged.

Vandals Damage Dozens of Grave Markers in Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Vandals broke or knocked over 67 headstones — some marking the graves of Civil War veterans — at a cemetery in Hutchinson. The damage was discovered Wednesday at Eastside Cemetery. The cemetery manager says 21 of the markers were broken and the rest knocked over. Hutchinson police believe the vandalism happened late Tuesday or early Wednesday. No one has been arrested. The Hutchinson News reports many of the markers that were broken are from the 1800s and mark the graves of Civil War or Mexican-American War veterans. Eastside is the oldest cemetery in Hutchinson and also hold the graves of some of Hutchinson's first settlers. The city's insurance doesn't cover broken headstones but anyone convicted in the case could be ordered to pay restitution.


Lucas Auctioning First Flush of Giant Toilet

LUCAS, Kan. (AP) — The quirky Kansas town of Lucas is planning a daylong celebration of bathrooms. The center of attention at the June 2 party will be a blinged-out giant toilet. The town of 407 residents is selling chances on eBay to have the first flush of the toilet. The Wichita Eagle reports the town has spent four years constructing a massive building designed to look like a toilet. A giant toilet paper roll sits outside. The toilet's 14-foot mosaic lid is always up. Every wall is decorated and the building includes a chandelier made from the bottom of wine bottles. The town's restroom project costs about $100,000. It grew out of conversations about the town's need for a public restroom.

Oklahoma Man Killed in SW Kansas Motorcycle Crash

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — A 38-year-old Oklahoma man has been killed in a motorcycle crash in southwest Kansas. The Hutchinson News reports that J. Chad Cheyenne McIntire of Turpin, Oklahoma died early Thursday when he lost control of his motorcycle on U.S. 83 in Seward County near Liberal. McIntire was northbound on U.S. 83 when the motorcycle went off the right side of the road. The Kansas Highway Patrol said he was not wearing a helmet.

Big Tricks, Big Bucks in Street League Skating

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Sometime Saturday evening, a professional skateboarder will throw down some big tricks at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, watch his rivals fall off one by one and walk away with $150,000. If it's Nyjah Huston, Sean Malto or Shane O'Neill, they already know how to handle a check that big. If it's someone new, they'll reap the largesse of Street League Skateboarding. Street League Skateboarding, the brainchild of Rob Dyrdek, the skateboarder-MTV star-entrepreneur, begins its third season this weekend. By the time of the $200,000, winner-take-all final on August 26th in Newark, New Jersey, Street League will have paid $1.6 million in prize money over four contests. Winners have gone on to sign big deals with sponsors. Dyrdek says Street League has already established a legacy of making competitors very wealthy, very quickly.

New Deal on Kansas Tax Cuts Appears to Be Unraveling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An agreement among Kansas legislators on cutting income taxes appears to be unraveling. Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Hugoton Republican, said Thursday he doesn't like the plan because he sees it as too aggressive. Morris says he believes it could lead to future budget problems. Conservative Republicans in the Kansas House grumbled Thursday that the proposal drafted by House and Senate negotiators is not aggressive enough. It reduces individual income tax rates and phases out income taxes for 191,000 businesses. The House kept the process moving forward late Thursday afternoon by voting 66-49 to suspend a rule requiring all negotiators to sign off a compromise proposal. The Senate must approve the same motion to keep the compromise alive. Democrats don't like the proposal, fearing it will lead to budget cuts.

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


UPDATE: Senate Considering Another Revised Kansas Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Senators are preparing to consider another version of the 2013 Kansas budget as the legislative session drags on without a resolution on how to fund state government. Three Senate and three House negotiators have been meeting off and on to settle their differences on the $14 billion spending plan. The discussions have stalled over the funding of education, as well as the potential impact of a tax cut package. The bill covers spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Senators are scheduled to debate a bill on Friday that would incorporate items that negotiators have been able to settle, as well as Senate positions on education. House leaders have signaled that they are unlikely to consider the new Senate proposal if it passes.

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


UPDATE:  Kansas Senate Faces Key Vote on Cutting Income Taxes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is preparing for a key procedural vote determining whether lawmakers can debate compromise income tax cuts. Senate President Steve Morris said his chamber will vote Friday on suspending a legislative rule requiring all House and Senate negotiators to agree to a compromise before it can be debated. Democratic negotiators have refused to sign off on the tax plan. The compromise decreases individual income tax rates and eliminates income taxes for 191,000 businesses over six years. It's an alternative to a bill approved by legislators last week to make the same reductions in one year instead of six. The more aggressive bill is awaiting Governor Sam Brownback's signature, and many lawmakers fear it will create massive budget problems. But many senators have misgivings about the compromise.

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


Kansas Lawmakers Continue to Grapple with Redistricting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators who are struggling with redistricting are sending mixed signs about whether they're growing closer to agreeing on new political boundaries. Senators who are negotiating redrawing the chamber's 40 districts said Friday that they were making some progress on ending an impasse among majority Republicans. But other senators suggested that the talks had all but broken off. GOP conservatives and moderates have been at odds over how to draw Senate districts to account for changes in population over the past decade. The two Republican factions will be seeking control of the Senate in GOP primaries this summer. Meanwhile, the House gave first-round approval to a new plan for redrawing the state's four congressional districts. Members planned to take final action Saturday.

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


UPDATE: Kansas Senate Debating Remap Plan Favored by Moderates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is debating a proposal favored by the moderate Republican leadership for redrawing the chamber's 40 districts. GOP conservatives complained during Friday's debate that the measure is designed to keep current Senate leaders in power. Supporters denied they were gerrymandering. The Senate is expected to pass the proposal and send it Friday to the House, where it's likely to get a cool reception among the conservative Republican majority. The bill before the Senate would remove at least three conservative candidates from the districts of the moderate Republican incumbents they had planned to challenge. It would also put conservative Republican Senators Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, and Ty Masterson, of Andover, in the same district.

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

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