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Regional Headlines for Monday, December 10, 2012



Projected Kansas Budget Shortfall Drops to $295M

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature's research staff has revised its projections for the budget shortfall facing the state next year, dropping it to $295 million. The initial projection for the shortfall was $328 million. The new figure is 10 percent lower. The researchers released the new estimate Monday after completing their monthly report on revenue collections. The projected shortfall is the gap between the anticipated revenues and existing spending commitments for the fiscal year that begins July 2013. The first projection was tied to a financial forecast issued in early November by state officials. Legislative researchers later discovered that they'd improperly included some one-time spending from the current fiscal year in their projections on spending for the next fiscal year. Also, revenue collections in November were slightly better than anticipated.


Kansas Governor Hopes to Merge Juvenile, Adult Corrections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he wants to merge the state's troubled juvenile justice agency with the Department of Corrections. Brownback said Monday he'll issue an executive order for the merger after the legislative session begins in January. Unless lawmakers reject it within 60 days, the order will take effect July 1. Brownback says taking a social-services approach to juvenile justice has failed Kansas for decades. He fired the top two officials of the Juvenile Justice Authority in March. Two legislative audits issued since July criticized the agency, suggesting it doesn't do enough to keep offenders and staff safe. Brownback praised acting Juvenile Justice Commissioner Terri Williams for making improvements but said the audits demonstrate the need for change.


Kansas Governor Draws Criticism for Speech at Religious Event

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback spoke at a weekend religious event in Topeka, drawing criticism from a group that promotes the separation of church and state. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that several hundred people attended the ReignDown USA event Saturday. Organizers say the event was broadcast to about 25 million people via television and the Internet, and that no public funds were used for the event. Brownback talked for about 10 minutes and said he turned to Roman Catholicism in 1995 when was diagnosed with cancer. He ended his time on stage praying for forgiveness of his sins and for the sins of others. Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a release that Brownback was elected to serve as governor of Kansas, "not our state pastor-in-chief."

Fiscal Cliff Raises Concerns for Future of Kansas Research Lab

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials say the looming fiscal cliff and recent demotions in the Kansas congressional delegation shouldn't weaken support for a new federal $1.15 billion animal research lab in Manhattan. Funding for the new National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility has been slowed in recent years by tight federal funding sources and ongoing reviews of the laboratory's size, scope and risk. The Department of Homeland Security facility is designed to replace an aging animal research lab at Plum Island, New York with the capability to research deadly animal diseases such as foot and mouth that affect livestock. New pressures have emerged. The deadline for avoiding increases in federal taxes and spending reductions are prompting more than a few concerns that the nation can't afford the facility.

Huelskamp Seeks Committee Reinstatements

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas 1st District Congressman Tim Huelskamp has written House Speaker John Boehner seeking reinstatement to committees he was removed from last week. Huelskamp was among four GOP lawmakers that Boehner removed from important House political assignments after they bucked party leaders on key votes. The four congressmen voted against the agreement in the summer of 2011 to raise the government's debt ceiling. Huelskamp lost his seat on the House Budget and Agriculture Committees. Huelskamp says in a release that he sent a letter Friday to Boehner requesting that he be re-seated on the two committees. He says his office has been "overwhelmed" with calls and emails from supporters. A Boehner spokesman said Tuesday the party's steering committee made the decision to pull the committee assignment "based on a range of factors."

Suspected Lawrence Arson Reports Now Total 15

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence fire investigators are investigating 15 recent fires that are suspected to be arson. An early morning fire at an apartment building in Lawrence on Friday is being linked to the string of suspected arsons that now total 15. The Kansas City Star reports that the small fire Friday was reported in a stairwell and was quickly extinguished. There were no injuries. Officials believe it's related to a string of Lawrence arsons that began October 19th. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering a reward of $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


KCK Police Seek Public Help to Identify Body Found in Burning Vehicle

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas are asking for the public's help in identifying a man found dead in a burning vehicle over the weekend. Firefighters made the discovery around 11 pm Saturday while extinguishing the flames. Police said Monday the man's death is now being investigated as a homicide. The victim is believed to have been 40 to 60 years old, with a full set of upper dentures and partial lowers. The vehicle is described as a red, 2012 Lincoln MKT crossover registered to Avis rentals. The cause of death has not been released.


Kansas School Finance Task Force Meets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A task force created by Governor Sam Brownback to review the Kansas system for funding public schools is holding its final meeting Monday in Topeka. It was formed by the Republican governor to look at how funds are spent by school districts and identify areas for improving fiscal efficiency. Brownback has said school districts should focus more of their resources on classroom instruction and find ways to reduce spending on functions that don't affect teaching. Some ideas that have been discussed are sharing administrative resources and purchasing power. Kansas spends more than $3 billion in state revenues on K-12 learning each year. The task force is expected to make recommendations to the governor to consider in the next legislative session.

Kansas Senate Vice President Names Chief of Staff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff King has appointed a legislative aide who's worked for leaders in both chambers as his new chief of staff. King said he picked Katie Koupal for the job because of her Statehouse experience. King is a Republican from Independence. Koupal has worked for House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, and former Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican. She's also worked for a Topeka lobbying firm. King was appointed to the Senate in 2010, after Schmidt was elected attorney general. King previously served four years in the House. He is an attorney. King's selection by fellow Republicans as Senate vice president still must be ratified by the chamber when lawmakers convene in January, but that's expected to be simply a formality.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Names New Top Staffers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger has appointed a new assistant commissioner and general counsel, shuffling her staff after the departure of her top deputy. Praeger promoted Zachary Anshutz from general counsel to assistant commissioner. Anshutz will replace former Assistant Commissioner Bob Tomlinson. Tomlinson is a former Kansas House member and left Praeger's office to become the director of the state office that handles hearings on administrative decisions by state agencies. Anshutz has been part of the Insurance Department's legal staff for nearly six years. To replace Anshutz as general counsel, Praeger has promoted John Wine from assistant general counsel. Wine is a former member of the utility-regulating Kansas Corporation Commission. Wine also served as general counsel in the secretary of state's office and as Kansas securities commissioner.

Free Outdoor Licenses Program for Kansas Seniors to End

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansans between the ages of 65 and 74 have only a few days left to enjoy hunting and fishing for free. The state will stop providing free hunting and fishing licenses for people in that age range, starting in January. The exemption began in 1971. State officials estimate ending the practice will bring in $900,000 to $1.5 million. Mike Miller, spokesman for the state's wildlife department, says Kansas misses out on federal money because it doesn't sell enough licenses. He says an estimated 30,000 hunters don't have to buy licenses because of the age exemption. The Joplin Globe reports that no general tax dollars support Kansas wildlife conservation and management efforts. Besides revenue from license sales, Kansas gets federal revenue through an excise tax on firearms and ammunition.

New Kansas Water Program Nets About 750 Enrollees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new state program that gives irrigators flexibility in managing their water allocations while also encouraging conservation has about 750 participants. The program was created last year by the Kansas Legislature to conserve the future of the Ogallala Aquifer. The Hutchinson News reports that the multi-year flex account program allows irrigators to use more water during drought years. They can manage their water rights over five years, which helps the state's aquifers recover during years with more moisture. Kansas Department of Agriculture issued about 2,300 drought emergency term permits during last year's drought that allowed irrigators to pump 2012 water allotments to save their crops. Irrigators who enrolled in the flex account program by the October 1 deadline were forgiven their overuse of water from last year.


UPDATE: Carbon Monoxide Cited in Kansas Hotel Incident

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas hotel has reopened after carbon monoxide exposure sent more than 30 people to a hospital where they were treated and released. Sunday's incident caused a brief evacuation of the Best Western Inn & Suites in Greensburg. Kiowa County Sheriff Kendal Lothman said Monday that several children had gotten out of the hotel swimming pool with dilated eyes and difficulty breathing. Lothman says the children had been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide believed to result from a water heater failing to vent properly. Guests were allowed back in their rooms later Sunday, but the pool area remains closed until the problem is fixed. Hotel manager Ron Wright said Monday he was thankful nobody was seriously hurt.

Brownback Applauds EPA Ruling on Grain Sorghum

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas could benefit from an Environmental Protection Agency decision that says grain sorghum ethanol qualifies as a renewable fuel under federal standards. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Kansas grows more of the grain, also known as milo, than any other state. Brownback noted in a news release 60 percent of Kansas-produced ethanol comes from sorghum. The Renewable Fuels Standard program requires the U.S. to produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, with an increasing requirement for renewable fuels from non-corn sources. Brownback says the EPA's decision opens the door to Kansas sorghum growers to help meet conventional biofuel and advanced biofuel mandates under the RFS. Sorghum thrives in hot, dry conditions and is primarily used in Kansas as feed for livestock.


State Studying Need for Johnson County Outer Loop Highway

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Policymakers are considering the need for an outer loop highway on the outskirts of suburban Johnson County in part to deal with the growing population there. The outer loop is being examined as part of a state study on changing transportation demands in Johnson, Wyandotte, Miami, Douglas and Leavenworth counties in eastern Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that the study is expected to be finished next year. Last week, Governor Sam Brownback said a loop that would run from Interstate 70 near Tonganoxie south to Gardner and then east toward Missouri would help deal with the growing population and with a BNSF shipping hub that's under construction in Edgerton. Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert says the loop roadway is only a concept at this point.


Water Pipeline Proposal Could Complicate Missouri River Issues 

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Drought-stricken Midwestern states are already squabbling over rights to water in the region's rivers. Now, the fight could be intensified by a new idea for diverting water from the Missouri River to help seven arid states in the West. A new federal-state study of western water needs includes an option for constructing a 670-mile pipeline to carry water from the Missouri. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been working with the western states on the study and is expected to release it later this month. Federal officials say the pipeline is only one of several options. But it is expected to draw strong opposition in the Midwest, which depends on the Missouri for drinking water, hydropower and shipping. Other options in the plan focus on conservation and water recycling.


2 Arrested in Unrelated Wichita Homicides

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are sorting out the details in a pair of weekend homicides that occurred just a few hours apart. The first took place around 9 pm Saturday, when 23-year-old George Vasquez was shot in the head after answering a knock at the front door of a home. A 28-year-old man was arrested after police found him outside arguing with two men who live at the house. Police said Monday they were seeking a motive. A suspect is also in custody the fatally stabbing of a 27-year-old man around 1 am Sunday, after a fight broke out at a party. Police say Tan Nguyen died in surgery at a Wichita hospital. Investigators say the victim was involved in a long-running feud with a brother of the 29-year-old suspect.


KC Metro Area Cities Dealing with Problem Concrete

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Cities across the Kansas City metro area are facing millions of dollars in repairs to concrete structures that were installed years ago. The Kansas City Star reports that the problem of concrete that's falling apart appears to affect several area streets and curbs. It's called D-cracking and can be traced back to bad limestone that was used in the late 1980s. Officials say some of the limestone was susceptible to water getting in it, causing crumbling. Overland Park will spend about $2 million next year replacing curbs and gutters, and beginning next year Leawood will spend about $12 million to $16 million over the next four years to replace curbs. Lee's Summit funded about $9 million to replace about 400,000 feet of curb and gutter.

Judge to Hear Arguments over Boeing Court Costs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge plans a hearing Wednesday after a 10th Circuit Court decision that former employees of The Boeing Company did not show a pattern of age discrimination following the 2005 sale of Boeing's commercial aircraft business. The status hearing before U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren concerns a dispute over payment of court costs. Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems want the 94 plaintiffs to pay $54,326 in court costs for transcripts and printing. The employees contend they should not be forced to pay because they can still individually pursue age discrimination claims. They also argued having to pay would have a chilling effect on others. Melgren says the court was concerned the filings may be premature.


Hearing Reset for Suspects in Tabor College Student Death

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A preliminary hearing for two men charged in the beating death of a Tabor College student has been rescheduled to January. The hearing for Alton Franklin and DeQuinte Flournoy, both 19-year-olds from Dallas, was scheduled for Monday. But it was postponed until January 21. McPherson County Attorney David Page offered no reason for the delay in a brief email. This is the third time the hearing has been delayed. The suspects both are former McPherson College football players. They're charged with being accessories to second-degree murder in the September 22 death of 26-year-old Brandon Brown. Brown was a redshirt defensive lineman for Tabor College. He died after being injured in a fight early September 16 at a party in McPherson. Both men remained jailed on $500,000 bond each.

Cold May Have Contributed to KS Woman's Death

LEON, Kan. (AP) — The Butler County sheriff's office says freezing overnight temperatures might have contributed to the death of a woman who was missing overnight. The sheriff's office says the body of 30-year-old Beth Ann Noffsinger of El Dorado was found in a field near Leon early Monday. Authorities tell KAKE-TV that Noffsinger and her 52-year-old fiance were near the field about 1 am when the woman became disoriented, jumped out of the car and ran away. Butler and Greenwood county deputies, Kansas Highway Patrol air support and other agencies searched for the woman before finding her body about 6:45 am. An autopsy has been requested but investigators say there are no signs of trauma or foul play. Authorities say Noffsinger was not properly dressed for temperatures that dropped well below freezing.


Event Offers Drought Advice for Cattle Ranchers

MCCOOK, Neb. (AP) — Ranchers can get advice on managing their cattle herds during drought at the next tri-state cow-calf symposium and trade show in January. The free biannual event will be held in McCook, Nebraska on January 8th. The event is a cooperative effort of universities in Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. Keynote speaker James Robb will provide an overview of how the drought has affected cattle numbers and the current cattle market. Robb is director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver. Other topics will be covered at sessions throughout the day, including the nutritional implications of drought, herd management in drought and beef cow genetics. Ranchers must register by January 2nd to attend the symposium at the Red Willow County fairgrounds by calling (877) 674-6947 or emailing redwillowcounty@UNL.EDU.


Man Arrested, Woman Found in KC Kidnapping

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say a 37-year-old woman who was forced from her home by an ex-boyfriend is safe. The man was arrested in Mission, Kansas on Sunday evening, a short time after he let the woman go. Police say the suspect burst into Jaqui N. VanBebber's home Sunday morning, fought with another man and dragged her out of the home by her hair. She was found several hours later. Further details of her release were not immediately available. KCTV reports that VanBebber had taken out a protection order against the suspect and had set up a video camera at her home to watch for the ex-boyfriend. Witnesses say she and a friend saw Morgan break into the home Sunday but couldn't get away.

Mulvane Casino Revenue Exceeds Expectations

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) — Lottery officials say revenue from the Kansas Star Casino's first 10 months in operation has exceeded the revenue earned by the two other casinos in Kansas in about the same period. The Kansas Lottery Commission says the Kansas Star casino, which opened in Mulvane on December 20, 2011, had earned about $158 million through the end of October. That is more than the revenue earned in nearly the same period by the two other state-owned casinos. Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City earned $119 million. Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, which opened February 3, has earned $93 million. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Star employs about 1,000 people.

Dodge City Woman Sentenced for Perjury

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 29-year-old Dodge City woman has been sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to lying during a grand jury investigation. The U.S. attorney's office for Kansas says Petra Garcia-Martinez pleaded guilty earlier to perjury and making a false statement to federal investigators. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Friday in a release that Garcia-Martinez admitted that she testified falsely before the grand jury in Wichita in 2011 when she was questioned about her knowledge of her brother, Pedro Garcia's, affiliation with the Nortenos gang in Dodge City. Grissom says she testified falsely that she wasn't aware that her brother was in a gang and was affiliated with the Nortenos.

Joplin Woman Wins Million-Dollar Powerball Consolation Prize

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A Joplin woman didn't quite win the record Powerball windfall in the drawing on November 28, but she gets a nice consolation prize. The Missouri Lottery said Monday that 52-year-old Terri Bullard matched five white-ball numbers to win $1 million. Bullard purchased the ticket for the drawing at a Casey's General Store in Joplin. Bullard's home was unaffected by the May 2011 tornado that devastated the southwest Missouri community. The Missouri Lottery also announced that another $1 million Powerball winner in the November 28 drawing was from a ticket sold in Kansas City. That person's name was not released.


Hotel Guests Sickened in Greensburg; Cause Unclear

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The Best Western Inn & Suites in Greensburg says it continues to investigate why several guests became ill and had to be evacuated. The hotel briefly evacuated all three floors Sunday after a suspected carbon monoxide leak. Hotel manager Ron Wright said Monday more than 10 guests were evacuated as precaution, but the hotel reopened later that afternoon and everyone was able to go back to their rooms. He says the problem was confined to the pool area and may have been caused by a boiler located there. He says the hotel is thankful nobody was seriously hurt because it could have been much worse. The pool area remains closed until the problem is fixed.

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


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