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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 25, 2013



Kansas Officials Warn of Coming Storm, Urge Safety

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says the second winter storm to hit Kansas in less than a week "has the potential to be more dangerous than last week's storm." State officials held a briefing Sunday in which Brownback amended the state of emergency declaration he signed last week to include the new storm. The Division of Emergency Management has activated the State Emergency Operations Center and will staff it around the clock until further notice. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard watch from late Sunday through late Monday for western Kansas ahead of the storm system that's packing snow and high winds. The storm has been tracking across western Texas toward Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. A storm that hit the area last week dumped a foot of snow in some places.


Predicted Storm Prompts Changes in Kansas Primary Voting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has extended advance voting hours today (MON) through 7 pm. That's because elections officials have made changes to polling places and availability for Tuesday's local primary elections because of an approaching winter storm. Officials in Reno and Shawnee counties have already decided to consolidate all polling places for Tuesday's elections, in anticipation of a storm that is forecast to dump several inches of snow on the state. Shawnee County's 70 polling sites will be consolidated into Heritage Hall at the Kansas Expocentre. All Reno County voting will take place at the county courthouse. Election officials say they are consolidating voting sites out of concern for workers making it to polling places and problems transporting and testing voting machines. All polling places are required to be open from 7 am to 7 pm, no matter the weather. 


KDOT Closes Roads as Winter Storm Hits Region

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Transportation has closed several southwestern Kansas highways leading into the Oklahoma Panhandle as a major winter storm advances. Department officials said Monday that U.S. 52 west of Liberal, U.S. 56 at Elkhart, U.S. 83 at Liberal, Kansas 25 in Stevens County and Kansas 23 in Meade County had been closed at the request of Oklahoma officials. The closings are in addition to the closings on U.S. 160 from Meade to Coldwater; U.S. 183 from the Kansas-Oklahoma state line to Coldwater; and U.S. 283 from the Kansas-Oklahoma state line to Minneola. The department also closed Kansas 34 from junction of U.S. 160/U.S. 183/Kansas 34 north to Bucklin. Blowing and drifting snow has caused hazardous driving conditions and visibility was extremely low in the region.

Kansas City Prepares for Impending Winter Storm

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Mayor Sly James has declared a state of emergency through late Wednesday night to prepare the city for its second major winter storm in less than a week. The mayor says the city started having illegally parked vehicles — many of which haven't been moved since last week's storm — towed from local streets at 9 am Monday to remove obstacles for snow plows. The National Weather Service expects up to a foot or more of snow in the Kansas City area, with rain to start late Monday afternoon before changing to snow later in the evening. Public works officials say the likelihood of rain is preventing pre-treatment of city streets because any salt laid down would be washed away before the snow arrives.


State Offices Adjusting for Latest Kansas Storm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Government offices at all levels throughout Kansas have been closing or adjusting their hours in light of the latest winter snowstorm. Governor Sam Brownback ordered state offices closed Monday in 67 counties, mostly in central and western sections. He also extended a state of emergency declared after last week's storm. In Wichita, officials planned to make a decision early Tuesday about the storm's effects on city operations and facilities. Many school districts called off Tuesday classes as the forecast called for up to a foot or more of snow, with heaviest accumulations expected in eastern Kansas. The Legislature will be in session Tuesday, but the House and Senate will both delay the start of business by two hours. Lawmakers are facing a Friday deadline for bills to clear their originating chambers.


Snow Helps, but Falls Short of Ending Kansas Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The National Drought Mitigation Center says the snowstorms hitting Kansas this month have eased dry conditions but have not ended the regional drought. Climatologist Mark Svoboda says it takes roughly a foot of snow to make an inch of water. That means Kansas would need two to four feet of snow just to erase precipitation deficits since October. Svoboda says that doesn't count the deficits from a drought that has lasted almost two years in Kansas and one year in the northern Great Plains states. Kansas needs 12 to 16 inches of water to fully recover. The effects will linger well after the so-called "climatological drought" ends. It takes months or years for pastures and rangelands to recover to the point where there is good forage for livestock.


Report: Snow Improved Kansas Wheat Condition

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service says the recent snow has slightly improved the condition of the state's winter wheat crop. The agency reported Monday that 36 percent of the wheat crop is still in poor to very poor condition in February. Forty-one percent is rated fair, with 22 percent in good shape and 1 percent in excellent condition. Topsoil moisture supplies as of Sunday were still 61 percent short to very short statewide. It's even drier in northwest Kansas, where 78 percent of the topsoil moisture is reported as short to very short. The February snowfall will help somewhat in replenishing supplies of stock water, which are now 78 percent short to very short throughout Kansas.


Icy Conditions Blamed for Fatal Kansas Accident

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says the latest blast of winter weather has claimed one life in the northwestern part of the state. The patrol says 21-year-old Carlos Esqueda of Kansas City, Kansas died when the SUV he was driving hit an icy patch and overturned on Interstate 70 in Sherman County just before 9 am Monday. Patrol superintendent Colonel Ernest Garcia says Esqueda was not wearing a seat belt. A passenger who was buckled in survived the crash. Garcia spoke at an afternoon briefing where Governor Sam Brownback and other officials urged Kansans to stay off the roads. Garcia says a trooper working another accident in northwest Kansas escaped injury when someone struck his vehicle Monday. Brownback says roads leading from southwest Kansas into the Oklahoma Panhandle were closed at the request of Oklahoma.

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Kansas Sheriff's Killing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has agreed to consider reinstating the conviction and death sentence of a man who said he was high on meth when he killed a Kansas sheriff. The justices on Monday said they will review a state Supreme Court ruling that granted a new trial to Scott Cheever, who admitted to shooting Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels. The Kansas court said Cheever's rights were violated during his trial because a psychiatrist was allowed to testify about Cheever's psychological records without his consent. Samuels' death prompted changes in the Kansas criminal code to make it more difficult to purchase the ingredients used in making meth. The case will be argued in the fall. The case is Kansas v. Cheever, 12-609.


KS Senate Committee OKs State Drug Testing Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has endorsed a bill requiring drug tests for recipients of state certain benefits. The action Monday sends the measure to the full Senate for debate. The requirement would apply to applicants for and participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Prospective employers would be required to tell the state when a job seeker who's receiving unemployment benefits fails a company drug test or refuses to take one. If a recipient is using drugs, the proposal would allow the state to shift benefits to a spouse to continue the aid to children, if the spouse also passes a drug test. If the spouse fails, the state would try to continue benefits for the children through a third party, such as a grandparent.

Kansas Arts Advocates to Protest Funding Cut

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas arts advocates plan to converge at the Statehouse this week to protest a proposal from conservative Republican Governor Sam Brownback to cut state arts funding. The advocates are making Thursday their Arts Day at the Capitol. They're planning to lobby legislators. They've been upset with Brownback since shortly after he took office in January 2011 and proposed replacing the Kansas Arts Commission with a private, non-profit group. Lawmakers blocked the move, but the governor vetoed the commission's entire budget. Last year, at his urging, legislators merged the commission with the Film Services Commission to form the Creative Arts Industries Commission. The new commission's budget is $700,000, but Brownback has proposed reducing it to $200,000 for the fiscal year that begins in July.

House Studying Statute of Limitations for Rape

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is considering a bill that would increase the statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual assaults and rapes. Currently, people guilty of those crimes can escape justice if they avoid arrest for five years after the crime or five years after the victim's 18th birthday. Supporters of the bill say that sometimes happens because victims don't report the crimes for years. The bill would increase the statute of limitations to 10 years after the crime or 10 years from when the victim turns 18. Some advocates want to completely eliminate the statute of limitations. The Wichita Eagle reports that the committee is expected to advance the bill this week. Rape victims, law enforcement officers and prosecutors all testified last week in favor of the bill.



Kansas Governor's Reading Plan Gets Hearing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's proposal requiring school districts to hold back Kansas third-graders who aren't proficient in reading is getting mixed reviews in the Legislature. The Senate Education Committee heard testimony Monday on the plan. The proposal includes $10 million in grant money for intervention programs to help third-graders meet state standards in reading. Brownback policy director Jon Hummell says the goal isn't to keep children from advancing to fourth grade but to improve overall education outcomes, including reducing dropout rates. Critics say any short-term gains in reading achieved by similar initiatives are offset in the long run by the stigma of being held back or by the lack of adequate funding to improve early childhood programs. 



Kansas Democrats Vote to Close Primaries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Democratic State Committee has voted to allow only registered Democrats to vote in the party's 2014 primary election. Kansas Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis says that the Democratic State Committee voted 86-61 on Saturday in favor of the change. That allows Democrats to identify voters more easily to urge them to vote in the general election. The move reverses the party's prior primary-ballot rule that allowed unaffiliated voters to cast ballots to pick Democratic candidates to advance to the general election. For years, Republicans have had closed primary elections that require unaffiliated voters to sign on with the party to vote on Republican candidates.

Analysis: Kansas Governor's Tax Vision Inspires Backlash

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is trying to sell his tax plan as only one part of a multi-year effort to position phase out the state's income taxes. The Republican governor faces a backlash from legislators viewing tax issues with a shorter-term perspective. As Brownback pushes for another round of tax cuts, he and the state's GOP-dominated Legislature must stabilize the state budget, too. The governor is targeting several popular tax breaks. Democrats and some Republicans accuse him of proposing a big net tax increase over the next three years. Allies contend this year's proposals must be viewed in the context of massive income tax cuts last year and the governor's long-term goal. But they acknowledge the Statehouse is focused on annual budgets and biennial elections.


Company Working Near Deadly KC Blast Lacked Permit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City officials say a cable company subcontractor suspected of rupturing a natural gas line before a deadly restaurant explosion didn't have an approved permit for the work. Subcontractor Heartland Midwest didn't immediately respond to Monday's report from city officials. A Missouri Gas Energy official has said that Heartland Midwest reported hitting a natural gas line with an underground borer more than an hour before Tuesday night's explosion. The blast and ensuing fire leveled JJ's restaurant near the Country Club Plaza shopping and dining area. One person was killed and 15 others were injured. Four of the injured remained hospitalized Monday at the University of Kansas Hospital, including one person who was in critical condition. Heartland Midwest said last week that it's cooperating with authorities.


Injured Patients Recovering from KC Blast

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Four people injured in a deadly natural gas explosion that destroyed a Kansas City restaurant are continuing to recover at a Kansas hospital. The University of Kansas has the area's only adult burn center. Hospital spokesman Dennis McCulloch says one person remained hospitalized Monday in critical condition. Two others were in fair condition and one in good condition. Several other people were treated and released at other hospitals after the blast and fire leveled JJ's restaurant on the Country Club Plaza last Tuesday night. The explosion killed one person. A Missouri Gas Energy official says a subcontractor working for a cable company hit a natural gas line with an underground borer more than an hour before the explosion.

Douglas Co./ Lawrence Employees Overtime Increases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Records show Lawrence and Douglas County government employees claimed more than $3 million in overtime wages last year, a 32 percent increase from the previous two years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports most of the increase in overtime was from the city of Lawrence, where overtime increased from to $2.37 million from about $1.8 million in 2010 and 2011. County employees and Lawrence school employees' overtime claims last year were similar to 2011 and 2010. Lawrence city manager David Corliss says most of the increase was spent on fire and law enforcement personnel. Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib says the numbers are deceiving because some of the overtime paid to officers was for assisting federal authorities, and the federal government will reimburse some of that money.

Air Force Decision on Plane Contract Expected Soon

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An Air Force decision on who will win a more than $350 million contract to build 20 aircraft for use in Afghanistan is expected sometime next week. The decision comes at a crucial time for Wichita-based Beechcraft, formerly Hawker Beechcraft. It emerged from bankruptcy protection this week. The high-stakes "light air support" contract could ultimately be worth nearly $1 billion, depending on future orders. Beechcraft spokeswoman Nicole Alexander told The Wichita Eagle that the company had expected a decision Friday, but has been told there has been a slight delay. Beechcraft has proposed its AT-6 attack plane. Sierra Nevada Corporation has partnered with Brazil-based aircraft manufacturer Embraer to offer its Super Tucano. The planes would give the Afghan National Army Air Corps a fixed-wing strike capability.


Hays Closer to Getting FEMA Grant for Classrooms

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A western Kansas school district has received final approval for a plan to build classrooms that can also serve as storm shelters. Hays Superintendent Will Roth told the Board of Education that the district recently received final approval on its application to build the eight-classroom addition at the Hays Middle School. The addition will be built to Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications, and will serve as a storm shelter for students and staff. The Hays Daily News reports that the total estimated cost of the project is about $2.7 million, with the school district paying about $1.4 million. School district officials say that with grant approval, the district will send out bids soon and construction likely will begin this spring.

Feedlots, Meatpackers Closing with Fewer US Cows

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Years of drought are reshaping the beef industry as feedlots and a major meatpacking plant close because there are too few cattle left to supply them.Some feedlots in major cattle-producing states have been dismantled, and others are sitting empty. Operators say they don't expect a recovery anytime soon, with high feed prices, much of the country in drought and a long time needed to rebuild herds. For consumers, the impact will be felt in grocery and restaurant bills. Amarillo, Texas-based broker Dick Bretz says most of the bad news is in Texas. That is where there are the most empty feedlots, the most interest in selling and the least interest in buying. Most experts estimate the cattle feeding industry now has an excess capacity of 20 to 25 percent.

Emporia Receives Honor for Tasty Tap Water

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — The city of Emporia has won the Best Tap Water prize at the 23rd annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. It's the first time that Emporia has competed in the event held in West Virginia. A panel of media judges awarded the top bottled water prize to Canadian Gold Artesian Water from Marchand, Manitoba, Canada. Touch Sparkling Mineral Water, also from Marchand, and Celvik Dobri Kiseljack from Bosnia tied for first place in the sparkling waters competition. Rain Fresh Oxygen Purified from Garland, Texas took the top purified water prize. Global water developer and policy expert Henry Hidell III received the water tasting's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Winfield Bank Robbed

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say they're searching for a middle-aged man who was wearing a Batman stocking cap when he robbed a south-central Kansas bank this weekend. The Wichita Eagle reports that the man walked into CornerBank in Winfield on Saturday morning and handed a note to a bank teller. Winfield police say the teller gave the man an undisclosed amount of cash and then fled. The robber is described as a white man in his 40s or 50s, weighing about 150 pounds. He was wearing a gray stocking hat with a Batman logo and tassels, dark sunglasses, a light gray jacket with yellow accents, blue jeans and black shoes. Police said no injuries were reported. Winfield is a south-central Kansas town with about 12,000 residents.

Emporia State Announces $45.3M Capital Campaign

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Emporia State has started a $45.3 million capital campaign, with $9.3 million already committed to the goal. The school announced the new campaign earlier this month during a gala celebration to kick off its 150th anniversary. The campaign has been dubbed "Now and Forever: The Campaign for Emporia State University."

Tractor Enthusiasts Plan Benefit for Ag Hall of Fame

BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — Tractor enthusiasts plan to drive a 35-mile loop in Wyandotte County to raise funds for The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Kansas. The event is scheduled for May 4 in Bonner Springs. The event begins at the Ag Hall and then heads to downtown Bonner Springs to join the Marble Day Parade. The tractors will then take a spin around Lakeside Speedway and make stops at Cabelas, Nuts & Bolts hardware and Wyandotte County Park. The benefit is hosted by the Greater Kansas City Two Cylinder Club.

Wichitans Preserve Mid-Century Modern Homes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Mid-century ranch-style homes are more than post-war housing. Two from the Wichita area have nabbed spots on the National Register of Historic Places as awareness grows of their architectural and historic significance. The Wichita Eagle reports that the homes built in the 1950s and 1960s came in different styles and reflect different historical eras. They show Swiss, Asian and agricultural influences, and sometimes a mix of those in the same house. Kathy Morgan is a senior planner in the city's Historic Preservation Office. She estimates that the city might have 20,000 homes built in the mid-century timeframe. One of the two homes on the national register was designed by the well-known architect William Caton. The house looks like an English cottage, with lots of exposed red brick and darker wood.

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