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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 24, 2014


Kansas GOP Senatorial Candidate Says He Erred in Posting X-Rays

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas physician trying to oust three-term Senator Pat Roberts in the Republican primary is apologizing for posting graphic images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page. Radiologist Milton Wolf said it was insensitive and inappropriate to have posted the X-ray images and macabre commentary on social media some years ago. The Topeka Capital-Journal said the X-rays came from various hospitals. In a statement, Wolf said he removed the images from his Facebook page years ago. He accused Roberts of trying to smear him. In response, Roberts's campaign said the news report of the incident "speaks for itself." Several tea party and conservative groups support Wolf. Roberts has won his past elections handily.


Kansas Lawmakers Staying Course on Public Pensions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators don't appear enthusiastic this year about altering the course they've set in previous years for improving the long-term financial health of the state pension system. The House Pensions and Benefits Committee rejected a bill Monday to create a 401(k)-style plan for teachers and public employees hired after 2015. The action came on a voice vote. The committee rejected another bill to increase benefits for teachers and government workers who retired on or before July 1, 2009. It also failed on a voice vote. Cost was an issue for both measures. The state pension system projects a $10.3 billion gap between anticipated revenues and its commitments to retirees through June 2033. In 2011 and 2012, the state enacted laws that are expected to close the gap.


KS House Panel Adopts Higher Ed Budgets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A House budget committee has accepted a subcommittee's recommendation to increasing spending for Kansas public higher education by about $44 million over the next two years. The report largely follows requests by Republican Governor Sam Brownback for spending at the Kansas Board of Regents, six state universities and state community and technical colleges. The committee voted to accept the proposal Monday and could send it to the full House in the coming weeks. Legislators would restore some funding for salaries that were cut in the 2013 session. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican, says the cuts were made in an effort to create more accountability over university spending. He questioned if university leaders had justified the need for more funding, especially in light of ongoing tuition increases.


2013 Law an Issue in Kansas Gay Marriage Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas enacted a law last year to prevent government agencies from infringing on residents' religious liberties. That policy is an issue in the Legislature's debate this year over responding to the possibility that the federal courts could strike down the state's ban on gay marriage. In the Senate, President Susan Wagle said the 2013 law is a reason for her and other majority Republicans to avoid taking up a House-passed anti-gay marriage bill. But backers of the House bill are skeptical that last year's law provides adequate legal protections for churches, bakers, florists and photographers who don't want anything to do with gay weddings. Gay rights advocates argue however the debate ends, gays and lesbians won't have any recourse for being refused goods, services, housing, employment or other benefits.

Calls Go Out to Kansans on Religious Freedom Bill

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita-based group has left voicemail messages urging Kansans to thank their state representative who voted for a bill that sought to protect from lawsuits employees who refused service to anyone based on religious beliefs about marriage. House members overwhelmingly approved the bill, but Senate leaders blocked it, saying it was too broad, would hurt businesses and was discriminatory. Supporters said the measure would protect religious freedom; opponents said it sanctioned discrimination against gay people. The Wichita Eagle reports that many Kansans received voicemails last week from the Kansas Family Policy Council urging them to thank their representative who voted "yea" on the bill. Robert Noland, executive director of the Kansas Family Policy Council, says the automated calls targeted people living in districts with representatives who supported the bill.

Rural KS Hospitals Fear Redesignation Proposal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas hospital officials say a federal proposal to change how rural hospitals are designated for purposes of Medicare reimbursements could be devastating to smaller health care facilities that already are struggling to survive. The Wichita Eagle reports a Department of Health and Human Services report last fall suggested that critical access hospitals within 35 miles of another hospital should have their designations re-evaluated and receive reimbursements like other Medicare-certified facilities. Critical care hospitals are reimbursed by Medicare at 101 percent of their costs, but the American Hospital Directory says half of those in hospitals in Kansas already are operating at a loss. The Kansas Hospital Association predicts 72 of the 83 critical access hospitals in the state would be impacted if the 35-mile rule were put into effect.


UPDATE: Kansas Lawmakers Table Fluoride Warning Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has tabled a bill to require cities and other local governments to warn consumers if they put fluoride in their water supplies. Chairman David Crum said the House Health and Human Services Committee's 10-2 vote Monday means the anti-fluoride bill is dead. The measure has been condemned by public health officials and the Kansas Dental Association. The federal Centers for Disease Control last year called fluoridation of water "one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century." But the bill says fluoride is dangerous and would require local governments to warn consumers if it fluoridates water — and to warn that it might lower children's IQs. Anti-fluoride activist Mark Gietzen said supporters of the bill will try to get action in the Senate.


House Panel Revises KS Sex Education Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A House committee has made significant changes to a proposal that would mandate parental action before students receive sex education in Kansas public schools. The House Education Committee heavily amended the bill Monday, changing the proposal from requiring parental approval before a student could receive the instruction to a bill requiring written consent before a student would be withheld. Committee members spent 90 minutes debating the changes before delaying a final vote until Tuesday. The change was prompted after a student in Johnson County reported that suggestive material was posted on a classroom door that her parents had expressly forbid her to receive in school. Legislators said Monday they understood parental concerns but feel some students who need sex education won't receive proper information any other place.


Obama to Act on Keystone in 'a Couple of Months'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Governors are quoting President Barack Obama as saying he expects to decide on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in the next couple of months. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican who supports the pipeline, said Obama was asked about Keystone Monday at a White House meeting with about 40 governors. Heineman and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said Obama told governors he expects a decision "in the next couple of months," but didn't offer a specific timetable. Fallin, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association, also supports Keystone. A White House spokesman said he would not provide details of a private discussion with governors, and said review of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline remains at the State Department. A Nebraska judge struck down the route through that state last week.


Wichita Sewer Water Might Be Used in Future

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Treated sewer water might be part of the city of Wichita's efforts to improve its water supply for the future. City officials said this week they are examining several methods to use treated wastewater for everything from drinking to irrigation. The Wichita Eagle reports that is one option that could be used as the city searches for a water supply for the next 50 years. A report from city public works officials and outside consultants on the future of the city's water supply is expected this spring. Public Works Director Alan King says the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working on regulations for turning wastewater into drinking water, similar to regulations used in California. But King and other city officials stress no final decisions have been made.


Kansas Farm Interests Want Say in Power Lines

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill before the Kansas House would allow farming interests to have more input into where power lines are placed. The bill would require all power line projects to be reviewed by the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority before they are considered by the Kansas Corporation Commission. State Representative Sharon Schwartz, a Republican from Washington, said the bill was in response to the corporation commission's decision to grant approval to Clear Line Energy, which wants to build a 700-mile transmission line to carry wind energy to the east. The Clear Line proposal has met with strong resistance, particularly in northeast Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that some members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee questioned if it's necessary to add another layer of regulation for such projects.

KS Charter School Bill Scheduled for Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Senate Education Committee members are expected this week to continue their discussion of a proposal to expand Kansas laws regarding charter schools. On February 14, the committee held a hearing on the measure, which seeks to increase the number of charter schools operating outside traditional public school regulations. The bill would expand the number of entities that could authorize charter schools to include cities, counties and the Kansas Board of Regents. Currently charter schools are authorized by local school districts under the general supervision powers granted to the State Board of Education by the Kansas Constitution. Committee members have scheduled the charter bill among others that they will consider Monday and Tuesday as legislators approach their first major deadline for addressing issues in their chamber of origin.


Kansas Corn Growers Association Gets New CEO

GARNETT, Kan. (AP) — Kansas corn and sorghum growers have a new top executive running their industry advocacy organizations. Greg Krissek began his duties Monday as chief executive officer of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Corn Commission and Kansas Sorghum Producers Association. He replaces Jere White, who recently retired after serving as executive director since 1988. Krissek has nearly 25 years of experience in agriculture, ethanol, renewable energy and public policy. He was formerly assistant secretary at the Kansas Agriculture Department. He also worked as director of operations for the corn and sorghum industry groups. He has worked as a government affairs director for ethanol company ICM Incorporated, as well as most recently as manager of accounting and consulting firm Kennedy and Coe.


World War II Hero & Kansas Native Walter Ehlers Dies at 92

LOS ANGELES (AP) — World War II Medal of Honor recipient Walter D. Ehlers has died in California at age 92. Ehlers's wife, Dorothy says her husband of 58 years died Thursday at a hospital in Long Beach. The cause was kidney failure. In 1944, Ehlers was a 23-year-old Army staff sergeant when the Allies invaded the beaches of France in some of the war's deadliest fighting. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he killed seven enemy soldiers, knocked out two machine-gun nests and rescued a wounded comrade despite being shot in the back. His older brother, Roland, died during the D-Day invasion. Ehlers moved to California from his native Kansas after the war and worked for many years as a Veterans Administration benefits counselor. He took part in numerous D-Day memorials.


Trial Set for KS Bus Driver

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A bench trial has been scheduled for a 64-year-old school bus driver charged in an accident that resulted in the bus tipped over in a creek in south-central Kansas last fall. The Wichita Eagle reports that the trial for Morris Peterson is set for April 2 in Butler County. Peterson has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and reckless driving. Butler County Assistant Attorney Alice Burns says Peterson's attorney requested the trial during a hearing Monday. Ten children were aboard the bus during an afternoon route on October 31, when the bus was pushed off the road by high water and into swollen Muddy Creek as Morris tried to cross a low-water bridge. The only child who was injured was treated and released the same day from a hospital.


Wichita Considers Future of Equus Beds Aquifer

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita city officials say they are reconsidering whether the Equus Beds aquifer and its recharge project will be a major part of the city's water supply in the future. The $240 million project was sold to taxpayers in the early 1990s as a way to supply Wichita with water for the next 50 years. But the aquifer is being drained faster than the recharge project would be able to replenish it. The recharge project, called ASR, takes water out of the Little Arkansas River, removes pollutants, and stores it in the aquifer. The project is only partially finished. The Wichita Eagle reports that city officials seem most interested in two other options — reusing water from the sewage treatment plant and buying water from El Dorado Lake.


KS Man Gets Prison for Stealing from Employers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita maintenance technician has been sent to federal prison for stealing equipment from two Wichita companies where he worked. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Kansas says 45-year-old Mark A. Lankford was sentenced Monday to 16 months. He pleaded guilty in December to two counts of wire fraud after stealing equipment from Spirit Aerosystems and Fiber Glass Systems. Prosecutors say he made more than $150,000 selling the stolen equipment. Lankford worked for Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita from October 2010 to September 2011. Prosecutors say he stole computer parts and other items from Spirit worth about $466,000. He's also stole about $41,000 worth of equipment from Fiber Glass Systems between March 2008 and October 2010. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten plans to hold a separate hearing over restitution.


Arrest in Shooting Death in South Central Kansas

NASHVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Formal charges are expected this week in the shooting death of a man in a small south central Kansas town. Kingman County Sheriff Randy Hill says 57-year-old Curtis Lee Shelton died in the shooting in Nashville Friday. He was found dead inside his home. A 46-year-old Kingman man was arrested and booked into jail Saturday night, with bond set at $750,000. The case will be presented to the Kingman County Attorney for formal charges this week. Nashville, with a population of 65, is southwest of Kingman.

Kansas Doctor Killed in Small Plane Crash

TRIBUNE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says a doctor died in the crash of a small plane in western Kansas. The patrol says the plane went down Saturday evening in a field in Greeley County, about 11 miles west of Tribune. The pilot, 63-year-old Dr. Randall Fahrenholtz of Tribune, died at a hospital. No one else was on board the plane. He worked for Greeley County Health Systems. The cause of the crash is still under investigation. Fahrenholtz graduated from Sterling College in 1972 and graduated from the University of Kansas Medical School in Kansas City and Wichita in 1975.

NM Legislative Session Ends with Inaction on Amtrak Route

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico legislative session failed to make any commitment to fund the state's share of costs to keep Amtrak's Southwest Chief on its current route. The New Mexican reports the session ended Thursday with none of the five bills seeking ways to maintain the passenger train line passing. Amtrak has proposed that New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas all chip in to improve and maintain more than 600 miles of track through their states. The company says the Southwest Chief's route might change otherwise, causing some communities to lose passenger service. The rail operator would need to reach a deal with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track Amtrak uses. A legislative panel earlier this month agreed to commission a study on whether the state should pay.

MO Spelling Bee Hits Snag, Runs Out of Words

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two Missouri students who went toe-to-toe for 66 rounds in the annual Jackson County (Missouri) spelling bee aren't quite finished after event organizers ran out of words for the contest. The Kansas City Star reports that 25 students started the championship round Saturday, but only two remained after 19 rounds. From there, fifth-grader Sophia Hoffman of Lee's Summit and Kush Sharma, a seventh-grader from Kansas City, buzzed through the list of words provided by the national bee, as well as 20 others plucked from the dictionary. At about 2 pm — five hours after the contest started — bee officials decided not to pull more words from the dictionary and instead decided to continue the competition March 8 at an undetermined library location.


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