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Regional Headlines for Friday, September 21, 2012



Kansas Nuclear Plant Faces More Federal Oversight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it has dropped its rating of the only nuclear power plant in Kansas, and plans additional inspections because of a January shutdown. A loss of off-site power prompted a shutdown January 13 at the plant in the east-central town of Burlington. The NRC said Friday that the incident involved what it called "substantial safety significance." NRC spokesman Victor Dricks says the agency has dropped Wolf Creek into its third-lowest rated category of licensed nuclear reactors. Only seven other facilities among  the nation's 104 reactors have the same rating or a lower rating. But Dricks also said Wolf Creek had moved to correct the problems that led to the incident. A Wolf Creek spokeswoman did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment. 


Attorney Sues over Obama's Ballot Listing in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A California attorney has filed a lawsuit in Kansas challenging President Barack Obama's listing on the state's November 6 election ballot. Attorney Orly Taitz has promoted the discredited notion that Obama is not a U.S. citizen in other states. Her lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court also says she's representing a registered Kansas voter named Roger Walters but doesn't say where he lives. Taitz filed her lawsuit Thursday, and a hearing is scheduled for October 3. The defendants in the lawsuit are the State Objections Board and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, its chairman. Earlier this week, the board closed a review of whether Obama should be listed on the ballot after the president's birth-state of Hawaii authenticated information in an online copy of his birth certificate.


Kansas Labor Chief Claims Departure Not Resignation, but Removal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee says she has been removed from her job by Governor Sam Brownback. Brownlee spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday after Brownback's office announced she had stepped down. Brownlee says her departure is hard to understand but that Caleb Stegall, the governor's chief counsel, told her she was expected to leave. The Republican governor's office gave no reason in announcing Brownlee's departure. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter. Brownlee, also a Republican and a former state senator, has served since Brownback took office in January 2011. She said she feels good about her work as secretary. Brownback named outgoing Kansas House member Lana Gordon as interim labor secretary.

Kansas Unemployment Rate Dips to 6.2 Percent in August

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials say the state's jobless rate edged lower to 6.2 percent in August. The state Department of Labor reported Friday that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 6.3 percent in July and 6.7 percent in August 2011. The latest report also said that almost 18,000 more people held non-farm jobs in Kansas last month than in August 2011, an increase of 1.3 percent. Hiring by private companies was slightly stronger, growing by 1.5 percent, or almost 17,000 jobs, over the year. The department reported that claims for unemployment benefits were down from July and from August 2011.

Kansas Ending Main Street Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Commerce is ending a 27-year-old program that offered smaller communities guidance and funding to revitalize their downtown areas. Commerce Secretary Pat George announced the discontinuation of the Kansas Main Street program on Thursday, citing the likelihood of smaller state and federal budgets. The Emporia Gazette reports that Kansas Main Street has 25 member communities. Many cities have their own, independent Main Street programs. George said the discontinuation of Kansas Main Street is part of a department restructuring that involves merging the Trade Division with the Business and Community Development Division. Other details were not announced, but The Lawrence Journal-World reports that George said 18 positions are affected. The secretary also said he believes the agency can continue assisting with downtown redevelopment programs through other department programs.


Manhattan's NBAF May Be Moving Ahead Soon

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The stalled plan for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas may be regaining traction in Washington, D.C. Governor Sam Brownback says he's encouraged by reports that the Department of Homeland Security is eager to discuss releasing $40 million for a utility plant for the $1 billion NBAF lab. It would research foot-and-mouth and other dangerous animal diseases that can be passed to humans. Progress has slowed since a site next to Kansas State in Manhattan was chosen in 2008. Senator Jerry Moran brought up the delay in releasing federal funding for NBAF construction during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded by telling Moran the agency proposed meeting with Kansas officials to discuss NBAF cost issues.

Drought Hurts Rural Economy in 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economy in rural parts of 10 Midwestern states continued to look weak in September as the drought weighed down agricultural businesses. A new survey of bankers in the region released Thursday showed that the overall economic index remained in negative territory at 48.3 in September. That was slightly better than August's 47.1 and July's 47.9, but any score below 50 on the 1-to-100 index suggests that the economy will contract in months ahead. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says the drought is already hurting businesses linked to agriculture like ethanol and farm equipment dealers. The survey covers rural areas of the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. The confidence index was also weak at 43 in September, up from August's 39.6.

Judge Sets Hearing for Kansas Nurse over Sentencing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A drug-addicted nurse who admitted diluting painkillers for patients at a Topeka nursing home will get a December court hearing on her claim that she was misled into pleading guilty. Wendy Parmenter was sentenced to three years after pleading guilty last November to federal charges of product tampering and adulteration of a drug. Parmenter says she was wrongly told she would be eligible for early release after completing a prison treatment program. She later learned that the Bureau of Prisons considers consumer product tampering a "crime of violence" not eligible for time off. U.S. District Judge Richard Rogers said Thursday he was concerned the sentence violated law. Rogers noted cases in which an appeals court ruled that judges could not take prison treatment programs into account for sentencing purposes.


Hutchinson Police Inquiry into Alleged Killing Yields Little

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson police have uncovered virtually nothing after receiving a tip that someone had been killed and their body hidden. The Hutchinson News reported Friday that Dodge City police received the tip and forwarded the information to Hutchinson police. Police spent nearly six hours Monday scouring the purported crime scene, but all they turned up was a single arrest for criminal possession and discharge of a firearm. Hutchinson Police Captain Troy Hoover says investigators learned shots had been fired inside and outside the home. But he says investigators were unable to find anyone injured or evidence of someone being shot.

Sedgwick County Inmates Alleging Abuse Seek $2M

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two jail inmates who claim they were sexually assaulted by a deputy are seeking $1 million each from Sedgwick County. The Wichita Eagle reported that Sedgwick County recently received the claims for $2 million in damages. They're a first step in possible lawsuits alleging civil rights violations and negligence. Over the summer, the county received another $20 million in claims from two inmates alleging they were assaulted by the same deputy, David Kendall. The 22-year-old resigned in late June and is facing 12 criminal charges. Eleven of the 12 charges accuse him of sex crimes against six inmates. Kendall is free on bond. The Eagle obtained copies of the claims through an open records request. Sheriff Robert Hinshaw has said his department is cooperating with an FBI investigation.


National Tribal Group Aims to Register More Voters

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A national tribal advocacy group is planning a week of voter education and registration events in more than 130 communities across Indian Country in an effort to boost turnout in November. The National Congress of American Indians says there's a "civic emergency" in American Indian communities. The group says two out of five eligible American Indian and Alaska Natives are not registered to vote. The group wants to boost participation by at least 10 percent. Next week's events are expected to reach more than 35,000 people in 29 states. The organization's president, Jefferson Keel, says the goal is for tribal voices to be heard in both national and state elections. Earlier this year, Keel called for the "largest native voter turnout in history" in his State of Indian Nations address. 

Kansan Sentenced to Prison for Supplying Crack to Nebraska Men

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A 31-year-old Kansas man has been sentenced to prison for supplying crack cocaine to two Nebraska men. A news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg (gihlj) says Bobbie Keys has been given 121 months behind bars and must serve five years of supervised release after he leaves prison. Keys, of Kansas City, Kansas, was convicted in April of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. Prosecutors say Keys supplied two Lincoln, Nebraska men who drove to Kansas for the drugs.

Murder Suspect Makes First Appearance in Kansas

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A man charged with killing a South Carolina doctor in suburban Kansas City has made a first court appearance in Johnson County after he was extradited from South America. The Kansas City Star reported 44-year-old John Meredith Hodges, of Ladson, South Carolina said Thursday that he couldn't afford a lawyer. Magistrate Judge Dan Vokins then appointed the public defender to represent him. Hodges was booked into the Johnson County jail late Wednesday after authorities brought him back from Colombia. Hodges is charged with first-degree murder charge in the death of 39-year-old Franchesca Brown, a pediatrician from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Police say she was attending a medical conference in Overland Park and was last seen September 3. Her body was found September 12 in a wooded area near the conference site.


Kansas Regents Launch New Online Program Site

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Regents has added a search function to its website to help students and others explore training and degree programs throughout the state's public institutions. The new function is called the Kansas Public Higher Education and Training Program Search. Users type in a key word — such as nursing, history or engineering — to find what's available at the 32 Regents institutions. The site lists each program, along with schools, available degrees and course requirements. The Board of Regents announced the new search function Thursday and says it will be updated nightly.

US Ag Secretary Vilsack to Visit Omaha October 9th

DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans regional meetings with local officials to learn more about impacts from this year's drought and to discuss how to leverage existing resources to speed recovery efforts. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday said the four regional meetings will be held in Nebraska, Ohio, Colorado and Arkansas to address existing and emerging drought recovery issues. Details will be announced later, but the first meeting is already scheduled for October 9th in Omaha. Vilsack is a former Iowa governor. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows about one-fifth of the contiguous U.S. remains in extreme or exceptional drought, representing the report's two worst categories of dry conditions.

Ag Secretary Promotes Rio Grande Water Conservation

DENVER (AP) — A new conservation plan to help the Rio Grande watershed is getting the backing of state and federal officials. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar announced plans Thursday to work with local governments and landowners to protect air and water quality and prevent erosion. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers on agreements to protect their land. The Rio Grande begins in Colorado and flows 1,900 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1968, the river was one of the first eight rivers Congress designated into the National Wild and Scenic River System to protect its resources.

Tour Planned at KU's Medicinal Plant Garden

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden is holding its annual guided fall tour Saturday morning. The garden was developed as part of the university's Native Medicinal Plant Research Program. It includes research plantings of 25 species of native plants and beds of medicinal plants. Kelly Kindscher, a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, will lead the 10 am tour. The garden is located at 1865 E. 1600 Road in Douglas County, adjacent to the Prairie Moon Waldorf School grounds. It's also open daily to the public.

Few Clues in Beating of Disabled Vet in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are looking for clues about who brutally beat a 44-year-old disabled veteran inside the group home where he lives. The Kansas City Star reports the victim remained unconscious Thursday. The home's manager found him critically injured around 9 am Tuesday after kicking open the door to his room. The manager says the victim had a friend over to watch television Monday evening, and there was some banging on the floors and walls overnight. Police say nothing appears to have been taken, and they don't have a motive. They say one other man, who is nearly blind, also lives in the home.

April Trial Set for Emanuel Cleaver's Car Wash Dispute

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A trial will get under way April 17 in Jackson County to resolve a dispute over a loan that Representative Emanuel Cleaver used to purchase a suburban Kansas City car wash. The Kansas City Star reported that Bank of America has sued Cleaver's company, Cleaver Co. The bank alleges that the company has defaulted on the $1.3 million loan taken out for the Grandview car wash. Because of penalties and interest, about $1.5 million now is owed on the 2002 loan. The Small Business Administration has guaranteed about 75 percent of the loan. That means taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $1 million if the loan goes into default without some payment. The Democratic congressman is seeking re-election and blames the lawsuit on a business dispute.


Summit League Axes Acronyms to Showcase Big Cities 

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — An NCAA Division I conference composed of mostly Midwest teams has decided that alphabet soup isn't terribly appealing. The Summit League has decided to call three of its teams by the last name of the university on first reference. The University of Nebraska-Omaha is just Omaha, the University of Missouri-Kansas City is Kansas City, and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne is Fort Wayne. No more UNO, UMKC and IPFW — at first glance, anyway. The change is meant to highlight the conference's big cities, as well as make the schools more nationally recognizable. It follows the lead of other conferences and schools throughout the country. There is one exception. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is still IUPUI, because of a possible conflict with Division II University of Indianapolis.


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