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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 20, 2012



Kansas House Panel Approves Income Tax Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a plan for cutting individual income taxes, reducing taxes for business owners and keeping a promise to cut the state sales tax next year. The measure endorsed Monday by the House Taxation Committee is an alternative to a tax plan proposed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The committee's voice vote sends the measure to the House for debate. The committee modified a plan drafted by Republican leaders in the House. The plan would reduce individual income tax rates for 2013, but not as aggressively as Brownback had proposed. It would also scale back an income tax credit for poor workers by more than House GOP leaders had sought. The sales tax would drop to 5.7 percent from 6.3 percent in July 2013, as scheduled.

Kansas House Panel Backing Away from Proposed 401(k)-Style Pension Plan Revision

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee appears to be backing away from a proposal to start a 401(k)-style plan for new teachers and government workers. The House Pension and Benefits Committee began work Monday on a new plan for overhauling the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Chairman Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican, and Vice Chairman John Grange, an El Dorado Republican, outlined separate proposals for a retirement plan for new hires. Their proposals wouldn't continue existing KPERS plans that guarantee benefits up front based on a worker's salary and years of experience. But benefits also wouldn't be based solely on investment earnings, as they are in a 401(k) plan. Public employee groups saw it as significant movement toward a compromise. The groups strongly oppose creating a 401(k)-style plan.


KS Group Considers Lawsuit Against Voter ID Law

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A coalition of Kansas groups is considering a legal challenge to the state's new voter photo identification law.  The Wichita Eagle reports that while the Kansas Voter Coalition won't discuss specific legal strategies against the law, a major concern appears to be the need to pay for underlying documents in order to obtain the free ID.  Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the Kansas League of Women Voters, said "paying to vote is a poll tax."  More than a half-dozen groups, including the Kansas chapters of the League of Women Voters and American Civil Liberties Union, make up the coalition.  Secretary of State Kris Kobach, primary author of the law, says he's confident the law will hold up. He said it was drafted so well that it'd be "bulletproof in court." 


Here's a public service announcement, featuring Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talking about the new Voter ID laws.  The PSA is now airing on radio stations in Kansas.




Kansas House Panel Postpones Vote on Anti-Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has postponed its vote on a bill aimed at preventing the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly through tax credits or deductions. Chairman Steve Brunk said he cancelled Monday's meeting of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee to give members more time to draft possible amendments. Brunk, a Bel Aire Republican, expects a vote next week. The committee's approval would send the bill to the full House. The bill also rewrites the state's informed consent law, requiring doctors to provide certain information before terminating a woman's pregnancy. It would require doctors to allow patients to hear a fetal heartbeat. The measure also would prohibit schools from incorporating materials from groups that provide abortions into classes on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.

Kansas Water Policy Proposals Moving through Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Legislators continue to move forward on changes to Kansas water policy aimed at improving conservation efforts and prolonging the life of water supplies. On Monday, the House approved a bill that would allow water-rights holders to form a reservoir improvement district on reservoirs. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, establishes a governing body that has the authority to develop plans to extend the life of reservoirs through management or improvement projects. Several of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's pieces of water policy changes are close to arriving at his desk. One would remove the 1945 policy requiring water-rights holders to use the allotment each year or lose the right to the water. Another change would grant additional flexibility for use of water in dry years.

Mother Sues Residential Home after Son's Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A McLouth woman is suing a Lawrence residential home for the disabled over her son's death in a fall.  Josephine VanDruff claims in the lawsuit that an employee of Community Living Opportunity did not follow accepted care standards while transporting her son, Timothy D. Gibson, in February 2010.  She says that caused Gibson, who needed help to walk, to fall. The lawsuit claims he suffered a muscle weakness after the fall and died two months later from the injuries.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the 51-year-old Gibson died in April 2010. CLO officials denied the allegations. CEO Mike Strouse says Gibson was well cared for in the two decades he lived at the center.  VanDruff is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.

Kansas Guard Unit Returning from Africa

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Soldiers from the Kansas National Guard are coming home from a year-long deployment to the Horn of Africa.  A welcoming ceremony has been planned for today (MON) at Forbes Field in Topeka for the approximately 175 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery and 35th Military Police Company.  The battalion is headquartered in Wichita with subordinate units in Dodge City, Great Bend, Lenexa, Liberal, Hutchinson, Newton, Paola, Pratt and Topeka.  The soldiers spent the past year conducting stability operations in Africa with partner nations and working to maintain regional security.

KU Tries to Put Best Foot Forward to Win NCI Designation

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Cancer Center is getting one last chance to promote its application to become a National Cancer Institute. The cancer center applied for the designation last September. Reviewers from the National Cancer Institute will be in Kansas City Tuesday and Wednesday to judge the 600-page grant application and hear presentations.


Hall Foundation Makes $10.5 Million Donation to KU Cancer Center Effort

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Hall Family Foundation has given $10.5 million to support the University of Kansas Cancer Center's efforts to be designated a National Cancer Institute. The university said in a news release Monday that two-thirds of the money will go toward hiring faculty and researchers for the new KU Clinical Research Center in Fairway. The money also will be used to develop drugs for pediatric cancer patients. The remaining $3.5 million will help upgrade cancer facilities at Truman Medical Center. It will also pay for Truman's membership in the Midwest Cancer Alliance, which is part of the cancer center's bid for NCI designation. Including Monday's gift, the Hall Family Foundation has committed almost $30 million to the effort to receive the NCI designation.

KS Officials Open to NBAF Funding Alternatives

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas leaders are regrouping and searching for alternatives for funding construction of a new federal biosecurity lab near Kansas State University.  President Barack Obama's 2013 budget proposal doesn't include any construction funds for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. The budget does allocate some money to transfer research to Kansas from an aging lab in Plum Island, New York.  Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders say the $650 million project means too much to the nation's food safety and the state's economy to delay construction. They say they are willing to look at funding alternatives, including increasing the state's contribution to the lab.


4 Arrested in Burglaries of Topeka Storage Units

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Topeka believe they've solved a rash of storage unit burglaries in which more than $250,000 worth of property was stolen. Police have announced the arrests of two men and two women suspected of breaking into dozens of storage units beginning last October. One of the suspects is charged with 84 counts of burglary and 77 counts of theft. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that detectives executed a search warrant January 4 at a home where they found two stolen vehicles — including a 1968 Chevy Chevelle — and two 26-foot trailers' worth of stolen goods. Other search warrants were executed since then. Police say that so far, they've matched more than $100,000 worth of stolen items with the owners. Detectives continue working with victims to identify more items.


Downtown Emporia Gains Historic District Label

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Officials in Emporia are looking forward to the benefits of the designation of the city's downtown as a historic district. The nomination was approved by the Kansas Historical Society on a vote of 11-0 at a weekend meeting. The Emporia Gazette reports that owners of buildings and businesses worked with community groups for more than three years on the project. Casey Woods, executive director of the group Emporia Main Street, says designation of the downtown historic district brings access to new tax credits and other incentives for maintaining and renovating buildings. Woods says the city's marketing efforts will also be helped by the designation. The historic district covers about 18 city blocks, taking in churches, government buildings, former schools and a historic auto garage.


Judge Rules Against Nebraska City's Immigration Plan

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A judge has rejected part of an eastern Nebraska city's controversial ordinance that sought to ban the hiring of illegal immigrants or renting to them. Much of the rule still could take effect next month. U.S. District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp said part of Fremont's 2010 ordinance that would have denied housing permits to illegal immigrants is discriminatory. Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, who is the attorney for the city of Fremont, says 75 percent of the ordinance was upheld. That includes requiring that Fremont employers use the federal E-Verify database to ensure employees are legal. Kobach says the city can still require anyone seeking to rent property to apply for a $5 city permit and check their citizenship status. Kobach says the ruling simply prevents the city from revoking those permits.

British Fugitive Lived Inconspicuous Life in US

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — On the surface, Edward Maher and his wife appeared to enjoy a comfortable middle-class life. They had homes in quiet neighborhoods, drove late-model cars and took occasional weekend trips. They raised two sons.  But beneath that veneer lay a darker past.  Maher was an international fugitive.  He was wanted in Britain on allegations that he stole a fortune worth $1.5 million back in 1993, while working as a security guard for an armored truck company.  When he was captured in rural Missouri, the suspect dubbed "Fast Eddie" by the British media had managed to evade arrest for nearly two decades.  Public records and interviews with neighbors suggest he did so mostly by living an inconspicuous life of unremarkable jobs and making frequent cross-country moves.

Gorillas Recaptured after Escaping from Animal Enclosure at KC Zoo 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Visitors were quarantined briefly after two of the Kansas City Zoo's five gorillas got out of their habitat and roamed into a non-public feeding area.  Zoo spokeswoman Julie Neemeyer said the gorillas were found Sunday afternoon, in an area of the Africa exhibit where zookeepers feed the animals.  She said the zoo then issued a "code red," which means an animal is "not where it's supposed to be."  Visitors were taken out of the Africa exhibit area and held in a safe area for about a half hour before being allowed to leave.  The male gorillas remained contained in the non-public, keeper-only feeding area about two hours later. No injuries were reported.  It remains unclear just how the gorillas escaped their habitat. 


Exhibit at KCI Honors Fallen Missouri Soldiers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A photo exhibit honoring Missouri service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq is on display this week at Kansas City International Airport's Terminal C.  The exhibit, called "Remembering Our Fallen," has been traveling throughout the state of Missouri since it was unveiled to the families of the deceased soldiers in July. It will be on display at Terminal C through Friday.  The American Legion of Missouri and the VFW of Missouri have endorsed the project because of the importance of remembering those who have lost their lives in the war on terror.  The exhibit is sponsored by Bellevue University in Nebraska. Retired Air Force Colonel James Biernesser, the school's director of military programs, says the exhibit was created in a way that it can travel easily throughout Missouri.

WSU Researcher: People Lie More When Texting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita State University researcher says people fib more while texting.  Assistant professor David Xu is lead author of a study that will appear in the March edition of the Journal of Business Ethics. The paper compares the levels of deceit people use in a variety of media, from text messages to face-to-face interactions.  For the study, 170 students from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia were promised cash awards of up to $50 for performing mock stock transactions.  Students designated as "buyers" were given inside knowledge that the stock was rigged to lose half of its value. Buyers who received information via texts were the most likely to report getting deceptive messages. People using video were the least likely to deceive.

Thieves Targeting Wichita Area Police Cars

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Thieves have been breaking into law enforcement vehicles in the Wichita area and making off with weapons and other equipment.  The Wichita Eagle reports the recent thefts from cop cars have raised concern in the law enforcement community, and signal there's a market for stolen police equipment. But it's not clear how many of the thefts are related.  Wichita police have recorded about six law enforcement vehicle break-ins in the past year. The cars belonged to the Kansas Highway Patrol, Goddard police, KBI and Wichita police. Wichita police also heard of a series of burglaries last summer in Reno County.  Stolen equipment has included a semiautomatic rifle, binoculars, protective gear and ammunition.  The thefts have led the Butler County sheriff to have new sheriff's cars equipped with alarms.

Dog Gets Stem Cell Injection for Arthritis

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A 12-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Jake is recovering as his family waits to see if a stem cell injection will regenerate his limbs and help him roam again without pain.  Jake underwent surgery Tuesday at the Stanley Veterinary Clinic in Overland Park, where fat was removed from his body then injected into his joints.  "It's amazing," said veterinarian Les Pelfrey, who conducted the procedure. "A few weeks later, these guys are running up and down."  Supporters say the procedure will give Jake a better quality of life. Critics contend the procedure has not been proven to have any long-term benefits and is expensive, at $1,800 or more per treatment.

Cold Case Topeka Murder Trial Starts March 5

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 800 people are expected to be summoned as possible jurors to hear the trial of a 51-year-old Oklahoma woman charged with killing her former husband and his fiancée.  Dana Chandler of Duncan, Oklahoma is charged with two counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the July 7th, 2002 slayings of 47-year-old Mike Sisco and 53-year-old Karen Harkness in Topeka.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Chandler's trial starts March 5th with jury selection. The trial is expected to last three weeks.  A court official says from the 800 prospective jurors called, 12 jurors and as many as five alternate jurors will hear the trial.

KS Senator Plans Visit to Wind Turbine Factory in Hutch

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Senator Jerry Moran plans to tour a wind turbine equipment factory in Hutchinson amid his efforts to extend the wind energy production tax credit.  Today's (MON) tour of the Siemens Energy factory will include talks with employees and managers. Moran is being joined by representatives from British Petroleum, which is building a large wind farm in south-central Kansas.  Moran recently introduced an amendment to the federal highway bill to extend the wind energy production tax credit for a year.  The Siemens plant makes nacelles — the part of a wind turbine that houses the gearbox, drive train and electronic controls.

FHSU Fastest Growing Regents University in the State

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A report from the Kansas Board of Regents shows that Fort Hays State University is the fastest growing university in the state system.  The Hays Daily News reports that enrollment at Fort Hays State during fiscal year 2011 was 14,707, up nearly a thousand from the year before.  That increase of 5.8 percent was by far the largest increase of any regents universities. The only other institutions that grew during FY 2011 were Wichita State University, up 1.8 percent, and Kansas State University, up .2 percent.  FHSU has been setting enrollment records since the turn of the century, more than doubling enrollment of 5,800 during that time to 13,062 at the end of the 2011 semester.

Train Fatalities Remain Steady in KS

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — While train-related fatalities dropped dramatically across the country in the last 20 years, the numbers in Kansas have remained steady.  The Federal Railroad Administration says Kansas has averaged 16 train fatalities per year in the last 20 years. Last year, 19 people died in train-related fatalities. Across the country, train fatalities dropped from 1,170 in 1992 to 644 last year.  Darlene Osterhaus, director of the train-safety organization Kansas Operation Lifesaver, has helped coordinate hundreds of workshops across the state to increase awareness of the dangers of trains. She says she can't pinpoint why Kansas train fatalities have not dropped.  She told The Lawrence Journal-World that adding lights and gates at railroad intersections might help but even those efforts won't prevent all fatalities.


Goeldi's Monkey Gives Birth at Garden City Zoo

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A southwest Kansas zoo has a new baby monkey. The Garden City Telegram reports the baby Goeldi's monkey was born Sunday at the Lee Richardson Zoo. It's too early to tell the baby's gender. Goeldi's monkeys are small and native to South America. In the wild, they are threatened by deforestation and poaching. The baby's parents average just 14 to 18 ounces in size. And zoo officials say the tiny baby is barely visible as it clings to its mother's upper back. The first-time mother will care for the baby on her own for the first two weeks before allowing the father to help. The family is on view in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary.

Efforts Started to Photograph, Preserve Old Barns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rotting barns with peeling paint and missing boards lean precariously throughout the rural landscape.  For many, these architectural relics carry a certain romance. Interest is growing in numerous states in saving or at least documenting the rickety barns before they become victims of time and high maintenance costs.  Barn surveys have been started in states including Missouri, Oklahoma, and Colorado.  The surveys collect photographs and basic information about the architecture, historical character, use and condition of the barns, giving preservationists a glimpse of rural America's bucolic landscape and hints about how to preserve it.

KS House Committee Discussing Pension Issues 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is preparing to draft a new proposal for overhauling the pension system for teachers and government workers.  This (MON) morning's agenda for the Pensions and Benefits Committee calls for a discussion of alternatives to a plan drafted last year by a study commission. That commission proposed starting a 401(k)-style plan for new public employees.  The commission's proposal faces strong opposition from public employee groups, which want the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to stick with traditional plans that guarantee benefits up front, based on a worker's salary and years of service.  But the House committee isn't likely to give up on starting a new 401(k)-style plan, tying retirement benefits to investment earnings. The panel is led by Republicans who support the idea. 

KS House Committee to Vote on Anti-Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative proposal designed to prevent Kansas from subsidizing abortions -- even indirectly through tax credits or deductions -- is expected to clear a committee in the state House.  The Federal and State Affairs Committee plans to vote today (MON) on the bill, which also rewrites the state's so-called informed consent law, requiring doctors to provide certain information before terminating a woman's pregnancy. It would require doctors to allow their patients to hear a fetal heartbeat.  The committee has an anti-abortion majority, and if it endorses the measure as expected, it would go to the House, where abortion opponents also have a sizeable majority.  The measure also would prohibit schools from incorporating materials for any group that provides abortion services into classes that deal with human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.


Kansas House Panel Discusses Income Tax Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is discussing a plan for cutting individual income taxes drafted by the chamber's Republican leaders. The Taxation Committee's meeting Monday afternoon was the first time legislators planned to vote on a tax plan. But committee members were expected to offer numerous amendments. The proposal before the committee is an alternative to a plan from Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The GOP leadership's plan would reduce individual income tax rates, exempt some business income from individual income taxes and reduce an income tax credit for poor working families. It also would make sure that the state sales tax drops to 5.7 percent from 6.3 percent in July 2013 as scheduled. Brownback's plan contains more aggressive individual income tax cuts but keeps the sales tax at 6.3 percent.

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