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Regional Headlines for Monday, December 31, 2012


Kansas Revenues Beat December Forecast

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials say the state is finishing 2012 with strong revenue collections, beating estimates by $30 million for December. The Revenue Department said Monday the state collected $602 million in December, compared with the $572 million that had been forecast. Individual income tax payments in December played a big role, exceeding estimates by $27 million. December sales tax revenues came in at $184.6 million, about $5 million less than expected. The department also said revenue collections are running $32.7 million ahead of projections for the first half of the fiscal year that began July 1. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan called Monday's report a positive sign for the Kansas economy.


Retiree Groups Seek Boost in Kansas Public Pensions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Groups representing Kansas retirees want state lawmakers to provide annual cost-of-living increases in pension benefits for former teachers and government workers. The Kansas Coalition of Public Retirees notes in a recent report that the last such adjustment for all retirees was in 1998. The report suggests tying increases in benefits to the consumer price index. The coalition includes 39 organizations. However, its proposal isn't likely to get much traction with the Republican-controlled Legislature. The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System projects a gap of $9.2 billion between anticipated revenues and benefits promised to retirees from now until 2033. State Senator Jeff King says it would be irresponsible to grant cost-of-living increases without boosting KPERS revenues. The Independence Republican helped write a law this year designed to attack the long-term funding gap.


House Speaker Declines Legislative Address Request from Supreme Court Chief Justice

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — House Speaker Ray Merrick has turned down a request from Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss to address the 2013 Legislature. Traditionally, the chief justice appears during the legislative session to give lawmakers an update on the status of the state's court system. The Kansas City Star reports that Merrick thinks the time could be better used for other purposes. Merrick, a conservative Republican from Stilwell, was chosen by his GOP colleagues to be the House speaker for the next two years. The top House Democrat says Merrick's decision is a sign of growing animosity between the GOP and the courts. Nuss wrote a letter to court employees informing them of Merrick's decision and saying that the annual report would be put in writing.


Manhattan Staging 10th New Year's Eve Ball Drop

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — New Year's Eve in the Kansas town known as the Little Apple is expected to bring out thousands of revelers amid snowy, freezing weather. This is the 10th year Manhattan will ring in the New Year with the midnight dropping of a ball from atop Varney's bookstore in the Aggieville bar and entertainment district. Varney's general manager Steve Levin told The Manhattan Mercury that Kansas State University men's basketball coach Bruce Weber will speak about five minutes before midnight, then push the button that drops the ball and cues fireworks and lasers. K-State fans are already in a mood to celebrate. The football Wildcats play Oregon on Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl, and Weber's 25th-ranked basketball Wildcats beat South Dakota 70-50 on Monday afternoon.


Escaped Leavenworth County Inmate Recaptured

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — An inmate who escaped from the Leavenworth County Jail during the weekend is back in custody. Leavenworth County Undersheriff Ron Cranor said 29-year-old Raheem Keron Armstead was recaptured Monday morning. Details of the arrest were not immediately available. The Leavenworth Times reports that Armstead escaped Saturday afternoon while taking trash to an outside trash bin. A police advisory said Armstead has a history of fighting with and eluding police. He was convicted in 2008 of robbery and aggravated burglary.


KC Police Investigate 3 Homicides in 2 Days

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are investigating the city's third shooting death in two days. A 27-year-old man was found dead Sunday afternoon inside a car on the city's east side. Police identified him Monday as Antwan Wooden and said he had been shot several times. Also on Sunday, police were called to an apartment in south-central Kansas City around 10:30 pm and found a man with a gunshot wound. He was pronounced at a hospital a short time later. The city's 108th homicide of the year was reported Monday afternoon when a woman found her husband's body outside an apartment building. That man had also been shot.


Kobach: Only Prosecution Will Block Double-Voting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says increasing the power of his office is the best way to deter people from double-voting. Kobach will seek authority from the 2013 Legislature to prosecute election fraud. He said it's the last major step Kansas needs to take to effectively combat voting irregularities. He said county prosecutors are often too overworked to take on such cases. Critics contend Kobach overstates the threat and is suppressing turnout with initiatives he has championed. Those measures include a law requiring all voters to show photo identification at the polls. But Kobach says his office received reports of more than 10 cases of double-voting from the 2010 election. He argues that prosecuting such cases is the only real deterrent.


New Kansas Lawmakers Support Rescheduling Local Elections

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two newly elected Kansas legislators from Wichita have endorsed a proposal to hold city and local school board elections at the same time as elections for state offices in even-numbered years. Senator-elect Michael O'Donnell and Representative-elect Mark Kahrs, both Republicans, said the change would boost turnout in city and school board elections. In local primaries, turnout can fall below 10 percent. Kansas law now sets municipal and school board general elections on the first Tuesday in April in odd-numbered years. Elections for state offices are the first Tuesday in November in even-numbered years, with primaries in early August. Both new lawmakers say it's time for the state to address poor turnout in local elections. O'Donnell is a Wichita City Council member.


New Members Could Play Major Role in 2013 Kansas Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature will experience its largest freshman intake in more than four decades when the 2013 session opens on January 14th. The influence of the newcomers will be most evident when senators review spending proposals. The budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee will have seven new senators among its 11 members. It will be the first time since 1957 that newcomers are a majority. The change in the makeup of the Senate committee reflects a shift in power within the GOP majority, away from moderate to conservative leaders. The 125-member House has 49 members who haven't served in the Legislature previously and the largest freshman class since at least 1970. Sixteen of the Senate's 40 members will be new; that's the most in that chamber since 1993.


Kansas Senate Dem Leader Earns Record as Longest-Serving Legislator

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley now holds the record for the longest tenure in the state Legislature. Hensley has been a legislator for 36 years, starting in the House from 1977 through 1992. He began serving in the Senate in 1993. According to the State Library, the next-longest tenure belongs to Concordia Republican Ross Doyen, who served 34 years, starting in the House in 1959 and moving to the Senate in 1969. Next with 32 years each in the Senate are Democrat Joe Warren of Maple Hill and Republican Joseph Harder of Moundridge. Warren left the Senate in 1988 and Harder, in 1992. Among lawmakers who'll return in 2013, the most senior behind Hensley is incoming Senate President and Wichita Republican Susan Wagle, who has logged 22 years in the Kansas Legislature.


Kobach Rejects Analysis of GOP Presidential Loss

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach rejects the idea that a tough stance against illegal immigration is at least partly to blame for fellow Republican Mitt Romney's loss in the presidential election. Kobach is known nationally for helping to draft laws in Alabama and Arizona that crack down on illegal immigration. He also served as an informal adviser to Romney's campaign. Romney lost the Hispanic vote by a lopsided margin. Kansas Chamber of Commerce official Eric Stafford sees a link with what he called hard-line views on immigration within the GOP, arguing it hindered Romney in swing states. Kobach says the idea is ridiculous. He says Romney's stance helped with independent voters and contends Democrats will always go further than Republicans toward endorsing amnesty for illegal immigrants.


Kansas Announces Monthly Program to Honor Volunteers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has announced a volunteer recognition program that will reward state residents for their good deeds. Department secretary Shawn Sullivan says the Volunteer of the Month program will begin in January, with winners chosen from nominations submitted to the department. Each monthly winner will receive a check for $50 and a $20 Walgreens gift card. Nominees will be judged on several criteria, including outstanding performance, high level of willingness to help others, strong commitment to volunteering and good relationships with those who are helped by the volunteer. Nominations can be made on the agency's website or by going to the New England building at 5th Street and Kansas Avenue in Topeka for nomination forms.


Kansas AG Plans to Use Departing Lawmaker as Liaison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says he's planning to bring a departing state House member onto his staff to serve as a legislative liaison. Schmidt announced the appointment of Osage City Republican Willie Prescott on Friday. The attorney general said Prescott will become legislative liaison once his current term in the House expires January 14th. Schmidt also is a Republican and was elected attorney general in 2010. Prescott is a farmer who served on the Osage County Commission before being elected to the House in 2008. He was re-elected in 2010 but found himself in a district with two other Republican incumbents this year when federal judges redrew the state's political boundaries. Prescott lost his August primary race.


Analysis: Chamber of Commerce, Conservatives Relishing New Clout in Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republicans are firmly in control of the Kansas Legislature, and it's largely because candidates on the right received a big boost from the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce and other anti-tax, small government groups. The chamber and other conservative allies are eager for legislators to tackle proposals that start with controlling the size of government, starting with further cuts to taxes, reductions in spending and limits on how much government can grow — if it should at all. The chamber also has hired former House Speaker Mike O'Neal as its new president and CEO. Democrats realize that there is little they can do to stop what is coming. They readily concede that the coalition they formed with moderate Republicans over the past decade is gone.


Lawrence Schools to Test 'Open-Source' Materials

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence public schools are getting ready to try out a Web-based tool that will allow teachers to switch to open-source learning material written by experts, vetted by their peers and posted for free downloading. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the pilot project will begin when the new semester starts in January. Lawrence's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, Adam Holden, says the availability of quality open-source materials is a "game-changer." Holden says the district could be ready to deploy the new system across the district within two or three years if the pilot goes as planned. He said voters also would need to approve an upcoming bond issue that includes funding for technology upgrades. Holden says the move could save parents money on textbook fees.


Leavenworth Woman Found Competent for Trial

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a northeast Kansas woman accused of leaving her baby alone in an alley is competent to stand trial. An attorney for Elizabeth Michaud of Leavenworth argued earlier this year that the 28-year-old was not competent to stand trial. Michaud is charged with aggravated endangering a child after she allegedly left her son alone May 3 in a Leavenworth alley. Prosecutors believe she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. On Friday, a Leavenworth County judge found Michaud was competent to stand trial after receiving a report on a recent evaluation she was given. The Leavenworth Times reports a pretrial conference was scheduled for January 25.


Reno County Judge Orders Survey for Murder Trial

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Reno County judge has ordered a telephone survey of county residents to help determine if a man charged with murder can receive a fair trial there. The Hutchinson News reports that defense attorneys for 50-year-old Billy Joe Craig Jr. have filed a motion for a change of venue in the case. Reno County District Judge Tim Chambers said Friday he won't rule on the matter until the survey is completed. Craig is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of 27-year-old Hutchinson resident Jennifer Heckel. His trial, which was set for Jan. 28, has now been postponed. Prosecutors allege Craig and co-defendant, Charles Christopher Logsdon were targeting a local drug dealer but entered the wrong house. Reno County jurors convicted Logsdon earlier of first-degree murder.


More Wichita Officers Learning to Help the Mentally Ill

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita's police chief is determined to train more officers to deal with mentally ill people. The Wichita Eagle reports that Chief Norman Williams also wants to increase the amount of contact his officers have with the mentally ill, including those who are homeless. The goal is to defuse potentially violent encounters. Experts say mentally ill people are not to blame for most homicides. But Williams and others say many programs to serve them have shut down, leaving a gap. The mentally ill now fill jails and prisons, putting law enforcement officers in the front lines. Williams has become so concerned about the issue that he's asked his staff to educate most of his force with specialized mental illness training. Currently, 72 of his 650 veteran officers have the training.


Kansas Parks Part of First Day Hikes Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas parks officials are hoping people will want to start the new year with a hike in state parks. Five state parks are participating in a national "First Day Hikes" program. The program offers guided hikes through the parks. The hikes are generally one or two miles long. First Day Hikes are scheduled in all 50 states. The Wichita Eagle reports that the hikes will be offered on New Year's Day in Cross Timbers, Eisenhower, Elk City, Kaw River and Tuttle Creek state parks. The hikes are free, but visitors must have a park permit for all parks except Kaw River. A daily permit is $5 starting Tuesday.


Kansas Company Reaches Deal to Buy Ann Arbor Railroad

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A Kansas-based company says it has a deal to buy the short line Michigan rail company Ann Arbor Railroad, Incorporated. Pittsburg, Kansas-based Watco Companies LLC says the deal awaits approval from the Surface Transportation Board, which is expected in late January or early February. The Ann Arbor Railroad serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, areas, mainly shipping auto and other manufacturing goods. It operates 50 miles of track between Ann Arbor and Toledo and has Toledo-area terminals serving the General Motors, Chrysler and Ford Motor Companies.


Wichita Police Identify Victims in Double Murder-Suicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a man shot his grandmother and her husband before killing himself. Police Lieutenant Scott Heimerman said Monday that 39-year-old Adrian Urbano shot 78-year-old Bertha Ellis and 77-year-old Daryle Ellis then shot himself. Ellis was Urbano's grandmother. Heimerman says police have an idea for a motive but he would not release it. He says the handgun Urbano used was recovered at the scene. The Wichita Eagle reports that the shootings apparently took place Thursday evening but the bodies were not discovered until Saturday.


Topeka Moms Support Sperm Donor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka couple who found a sperm donor online are supporting the donor's fight against the state's request that he pay child support. Angela Bauer told The Topeka Capital-Journal she and her former partner, Jennifer Schreiner, are "kind of at a loss" about the Kansas Department for Children and Families' decision to file a child support claim against William Marotta, a Topeka man who provided sperm used to artificially inseminate Schreiner in 2009. When Marotta responded to the Craigslist ad he agreed to relinquish parental rights, including financial responsibility to the child. But when the women applied for state assistance this year, the state demanded they provide the donor's name so it could collect child support. A spokeswoman for the department said Friday she can't comment on the case.


KC Sewer Sludge Project Generating Money

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City government is being praised for its innovative approach to getting rid of the tons of sewer sludge produced every year. The city uses the sludge to fertilize 1,340 acres it owns along the Missouri River near the Birmingham wastewater treatment plant. The crops grown using the sewer sludge are sold to make biofuel, meaning none of the crops are intended for human consumption. The Kansas City Star reports the farm has made $2.1 million in net income for the city during the past six years. Tenant farmers raised the crops until 2006, when the city took over the farming. Tammy Zborel, of the National League of Cities, praised Kansas City's approach. She says it's not common for cities to become involved in that level of farming.


Train Hits Pedestrian in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A train struck and killed a pedestrian in eastern Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that the accident happened late Friday near the Truman Sports Complex. Kansas City Southern says in a release that no rail cars derailed in the incident. The victim's identity is being withheld while relatives are notified.


Services Scheduled for 2 Killed in Wichita Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Funeral services have been scheduled for next week for two servicemen killed in a Wichita crash. The Wichita Eagle reports that a funeral mass for 21-year-old Army Specialist Marcus W. McClellan will be held at Monday at Christ the King Catholic Church. Services for 22-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Devan M. Krausch will take place Wednesday at Central Community Church. McClellan and Krausch died Thursday when their car struck a culvert, went airborne and hit a power pole and utility lines. McClellan died at the scene. Krausch died later at a local hospital. Both were Wichita residents.


Wi-Fi Coming to Some North Kansas City School Buses

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Some of the North Kansas City school buses that are outfitted for longer trips will also soon be wired with Wi-Fi access. The district will begin wiring four school buses used for longer trips with industrial grade Wi-Fi in January. The Kansas City Star reports that the service will be available on buses used for trips such as those taken by band members and sports teams. The cost is about $700 per bus for the equipment and $50 in monthly Internet access charges. The first use will be by students who make the 50-minute round trip daily to a career center in Platte County, Missouri.

Kansas Businessman Hoping to Leave Visionary Legacy

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita entrepreneur who grew up poor has created a fund that he hopes will help needy people be able to see better even long after he is gone. Hank Rasmussen turns 95 in February. His wife, Naomi, died in 2004, and he already has set aside money for his surviving 39 nieces and nephews. The Wichita Eagle reports Rasmussen has been putting $5,000 a month into a fund he helped set up through the Lions Club to provide eyeglasses to those who can't afford to buy them. About 2,800 pairs of glasses have been purchased through the fund. The businessman says he was 90 when he decided to come up with a long-term plan to use his money to help others.


Chiefs Fire Head Coach Romeo Crennel; No Word on General Manager

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have fired coach Romeo Crennel after a 2-14 season marked by blowout losses, fan rebellion and a murder-suicide involving one of his players. No decision has been made about the future of general manager Scott Pioli. Crennel was fired Monday after one full season as coach, and one day after Kansas City lost 38-3 to the Denver Broncos to match the fewest wins in franchise history. The Chiefs' only victories came against New Orleans and Carolina, the latter coming one day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death and then drove to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as Crennel and Pioli looked on. Crennel's career record is 28-55 in five-plus seasons as a head coach.


Veteran Chiefs Lineman Lilja Announces Retirement

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs veteran offensive lineman Ryan Lilja, who helped block for Peyton Manning during the Indianapolis Colts' Super Bowl-winning 2006 season, announced his retirement Monday. Lilja said he was going to "hang it up" after the Chiefs finished a 2-14 season with a 38-3 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Lilja played guard his entire career until injuries forced him to play the majority of this season at center. Lilja said he relished the opportunity to learn a new position, even though he knew at the beginning of the season that it would likely be his last in the NFL. A starter in 104 of 111 career games, he also said he appreciated the chance to finish his career with his hometown team. The former Kansas State University star spent his first five seasons in Indianapolis and the last three in Kansas City.


Broncos Playoff Tickets Sell Out in 9 Minutes

DENVER (AP) — The remaining tickets to the Denver Broncos' playoff game are all gone. It took just nine minutes for all of the 5,000 tickets to disappear once they went on sale at noon Monday. Sales were limited to people with billing addresses in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota and western Kansas. Spokesman Patrick Smyth told The Denver Post that the sale "speaks volumes for the fan enthusiasm the region holds for the team." The Broncos' 22,000 season ticket holders were given the first chance to buy playoff tickets earlier. All but 500 purchased some. The Broncos secured the top seed in the playoffs on Sunday with their biggest win ever over the Kansas City Chiefs, their AFC West rivals. The AFC divisional playoff game will be played January 12 at 2:30 p.m.

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