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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 3, 2014


Kansas, Missouri Prepare for Winter Storm

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas and Missouri are bracing for a winter storm that is expected to dump several inches of snow across the two states. National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Bailey says the snow will begin falling across much of Kansas between midnight and 3 am Tuesday. The snowfall is expected to spread across most of Missouri, except the southeast corner of the state, by early Wednesday afternoon. Forecasts call for the western third of Kansas to get 2 to 4 inches of snow. The state's heaviest accumulations are predicted in the northeast, where 8 to 10 inches is possible. In Missouri, widespread 6- to 8-inch amounts are anticipated across the northern part of the state. Far south-central and southwest Missouri are expected to get no more than 3 inches of snow.


KS Governor Closes Shawnee County Offices Ahead of Winter Storm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has ordered state offices in the Topeka area to remain closed Tuesday and the Legislature has canceled its meetings because of an impending winter storm. Brownback said Monday that he's closing state offices in Shawnee County to keep roads as clear as possible of traffic once the storm hits. The National Weather Service is predicting up to 10 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour in some areas. Brownback said during a news conference that many workers could get to their offices safely Tuesday morning but have trouble returning home later. He said state agencies will have the discretion to close offices outside Shawnee County. The governor's announcement prompted House and Senate leaders to cancel lawmakers' business.


State Insurance Department Seeking Increased Fees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Insurance Department says it needs to raise fees on insurance companies because its long-term cash flow is uncertain. The department says its regulatory fund is depleted because legislators and Governor Sam Brownback's administration has repeatedly used the money for other purposes. Zachary Anshutz, assistant commissioner of insurance, says the regulatory fund is likely to be down to $200,000 in December, if revenues don't improve. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the fund once held $24 million. But the state diverted $15 million in June and another $5 million in July. Another $5 million is scheduled to be diverted in July, and Brownback has proposed diverting $3 million more in March 2015. Brownback's spokeswoman, Sara Belfry, said the insurance department has enough cash flow to complete its work.


Prosecutors to Seek 'Hard 50' in Lawrence Murder Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for a 19-year-old woman charged with killing a Lawrence businessman says the case will prove to be one of why rather than a crime story whodunit. Carl Cornwell's client, Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn, appeared briefly in Douglas County District Court to hear the amended murder charges against her in the death of 52-year-old Harold Sasko. Douglas County prosecutors also filed notice that they would seek to have McLinn sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years, known as the "Hard 50." McLinn is being held on $1 million bond. Cornwell said after the hearing that there was more to the story that would come out as the court case progressed. He also suggested he hoped to avoid a protracted court trial.


KS Panel Mulls Bill to Expand Magistrates' Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee is reviewing a bill expanding the authority of district court magistrates as an efficiency measure. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing Monday on the proposal by chairman and Independence Republican Jeff King, who says it's one way to ease budget problems in the judicial branch. The bill would allow magistrates to handle uncontested divorces and any civil lawsuit with the consent of all parties. Also, magistrates' rulings would be reviewed by appellate courts, rather than a district judge. Kansas magistrates don't have to be lawyers, and more than half of the nearly 80 magistrates are not. The magistrates' association favors the legislation. But other judicial branch officials testified that magistrates should not be given expanded powers unless all of them are required to be lawyers.


States Seek to Force Voter Citizenship Law on Feds

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas and Arizona have rekindled a lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to require residents of the two states to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. The states contend the agency's recent denial of their requests was "unlawful, arbitrary, capricious" in a federal case that has broad implications for voting rights. Both states asked a federal judge in Wichita late Friday to order federal election officials to include state-specific requirements in federal voter registration forms. Kansas and Arizona require voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. People who register using the federal form only sign a statement under oath that they are U.S. citizens. A two-day hearing beginning February 11 is set in Wichita.


USPS to Sell Topeka Downtown Office

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Postal Service has told Topeka officials it intends to sell its office building and parking lot in downtown Topeka. In a letter addressed to Mayor Larry Wolgast and City Manager Jim Colson, Angela Kuhl, a USPS real estate specialist, says services will be relocated to an undetermined new location. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the letter said people who disapprove of the decision can appeal in writing through March 3. City Councilman Chad Manspeaker, who tweeted an image of the letter Monday, said on Twitter the building once served as a courthouse, where the historic Brown v. Board of Education was tried.


Analysis: Gay Marriage Shift Has KS Right Scrambling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Religious conservatives in Kansas fear that the legal wall they built against gay marriage will soon tumble. Now, they're looking for legislators to help them dig a new line of defense. A cultural shift already was underway in 2005, when 70 percent of voters in a special election approved an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage. Conservative religious leaders believed the amendment would settle the issue for decades. But the Kansas bulwark might not hold for long. Federal judges recently struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah. A Kansas House committee plans to debate a bill Tuesday to block lawsuits or government sanctions against individuals, groups and businesses refusing on religious grounds to recognize same-sex marriages or provide goods and services to gay couples.


Lansing Inmates Placed on Restrictions After Disruption

LANSING, Kan. (AP) — Maximum-security inmates at a northeast Kansas prison have been placed on restrictions after what officials called a weekend "disruption." Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said Monday that maximum-security inmates at the Lansing Correctional Facility were involved in a disruption in the yard Saturday night. Barclay says he doesn't know how many inmates were involved, but that no serious injuries were reported. In response, the warden placed the maximum-security section of the prison on limited movement, which means inmates can't, for example, go to their prison jobs or to the exercise area. Barclay says prison officials on Monday were reviewing whether to continue the restrictions. The Lansing prison houses minimum-, medium- and maximum-security inmates. Its current population is 2,407 inmates; that means it contains two more inmates than its capacity technically would allow.


UPDATE: KS Lawmakers Postpone Hearing on Community Broadband Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has indefinitely postponed its hearing on a bill barring cities and counties from building broadband networks for Internet service. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Julia Lynn said Monday she canceled the hearing on the bill initially scheduled for Tuesday. The Olathe Republican said telecommunications industry officials agreed to take more time to get input about the proposal. The Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association sought the measure and said it wanted the hearing canceled so interested parties could discuss the measure further. The bill would restrict cities and counties to building broadband networks only for underserved areas. Critics say the definition is so narrow that no place would qualify, leaving consumers with slow service. The association said it wants to prevent unfair competition from taxpayer-subsidized networks.

Topeka Might Reinstitute Domestic Battery Ban

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Topeka will consider reinstating an ordinance that bans domestic battery. The city drew national attention in 2011 when it dropped the ban as part of a conflict with the Shawnee County district attorney's office. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the council will consider the issue at a Tuesday meeting. The city will consider adopting a revised version of Kansas statutes regarding misdemeanors, which would reinstate the ban. The city dropped the ban when District Attorney Chad Taylor said budget cuts prevented his office from prosecuting domestic batteries committed in the city of Topeka. Repealing the ban was intended to pressure Taylor to prosecute the cases. The move worked, and Taylor eventually resumed prosecuting the cases.


2nd Earthquake in Seven Weeks Hits Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A light earthquake has hit south-central Kansas for the second time in less than two months. The U.S. Geological Survey says a 3.9 magnitude earthquake was recorded early Monday. The epicenter was about 11 miles northwest of Caldwell, which is on the Kansas-Oklahoma state line in Sumner County. Officials say no damage was reported. A 3.8 magnitude earthquake also shook the same vicinity December 16. Paul Caruso, a USGS geophysicist, told The Wichita Eagle that it's very unusual to have two earthquakes in a short amount of time in that area. Small earthquakes in southern Kansas have become more common, with more than two dozen recorded over the past two years. The area has been the site of increased oil and gas drilling since 2011. Scientists disagree on whether that causes the earthquakes.


One Dead in Weigh Station Accident Near Olathe

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — One person has been killed on the off ramp from Interstate 35 to a northeast Kansas weigh station. The Kansas City Star reports that three-vehicle accident happened Friday night a few miles south of Olathe. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the victim and another person were standing between two parked tractor-trailers when a third rig came onto the icy ramp and lost control. The out-of-control truck's trailer struck one of the parked truck's trailers. The victim then became pinned between the two parked tractor-trailers.

KS Teen Has Incident with Police over Videotape

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka teenager has had another confrontation with law enforcement over his attempt to use a video camera to record interactions between police and the public. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Addison Mikkelson was at the Statehouse on Wednesday to participate in the Kansas Day activities planned in the building. The 17-year-old says while at the site he noticed people jaywalking in the presence of Capitol Police. Mikkelson says he then started videotaping the activity and asking the officer why he didn't intercede. The teen returned to the Statehouse on Thursday with his camera running and had a discussion with an officer before being escorted from the building. The teen has made other attempts to videotape law enforcement personnel in Topeka doing their jobs.

Wichita Police Investigate Killing of Intruder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County prosecutors will decide whether to charge a Wichita man who police say shot and killed an early-morning intruder. The Wichita Eagle reports that the 35-year-old homeowner told police he heard noises around 3:45 am Monday and went to investigate. The homeowner told police the male intruder attacked him without saying anything. The man says he was able to get a gun and fire several shots at the intruder, who was pronounced dead at a hospital. Police were withholding the name of the 45-year-old man while his relatives were notified. Investigators said they found no indication that the man was armed, nor that the two men were acquainted.


Storm Halts Royals Caravan in Northeast Kansas

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals have cancelled Tuesday's Royals Caravan visits to Manhattan and Fort Riley because of the impending winter storm. The team said Monday it's not certain if the trip will be rescheduled. Tuesday's northeast Kansas trip was billed as a Salute to the Military. The Royals have been partnering with USO chapters at Fort Riley and in Missouri throughout the caravan to collect items for service members overseas and returning from duty. The Royals Caravan has visited 18 communities throughout the Midwest. Tuesday's northeast Kansas trip was to be the last leg of the tour.


Probe of Kansas Inmate's Death Draws Questions

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A northwest Kansas police chief is defending his department's investigation of a Missouri woman's death at a county jail amid questions over the impartiality of the detective who handled it. The Goodland Police Department last week gave the Sherman County attorney the results of its investigation into the January 22 death of Brenda Sewell. The 58-year-old Kansas City woman died in custody after being arrested for having a small amount of marijuana. Police Chief Clifton Couch said Monday he's heard concerns about a possible conflict of interest given that the detective who investigated the death is married to the Sherman County undersheriff. But Couch says local authorities were left with few options after the Kansas Bureau of Investigation refused to investigate the death.


Homicide Suspected After Body Found in KCK Fire

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City, Kansas firefighters found a body while fighting a blaze at a home in the city. The fire was reported about 2 am Monday. The woman's body was found inside. Police said in a news release that they are investigating the death as a homicide. Police spokesman Officer Tom Tomasic said the home was vacant and it's unclear why the woman was inside the structure. The name of the victim was not released.


Decomposed Body Found in KC Suburb

ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Law enforcement officers are investigating after a decomposed body was found in a wooded area of a Kansas City suburb. The body was found Sunday evening in Roeland Park, Kansas. Police say it was so badly decomposed that detectives were not able to determine the race, gender or age of the deceased. Police took the body to the Johnson County Crime lab for further investigation.

Custody Battle Brewing over Seacat Children

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A custody battle is brewing over the young sons of a former Kansas lawman who killed his wife before setting their house on fire. The Wichita Eagle reports that what began as a face-off between maternal and paternal families has evolved into a struggle between the mother and sister of Vashti Seacat. She was killed in April 2011 just days after she filed for divorce from her husband, Brett Seacat. He was sentenced in August to life in prison. Judge Larry Solomon has set a two-day trial beginning March 27th to decide who will be the guardian. Solomon also presided over Brett Seacat's trial. At the time of the killing, Brett Seacat worked for the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, teaching police recruits from around the state.

Production at Nebraska Plant Moving to Kansas

SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (AP) — A northeast Nebraska plant that produces ice scrapers, snow brushes and other items will be closing next month, costing 33 workers their jobs. Company officials for Mallory USA say the work at their South Sioux City plant will be moved to a plant in Emporia, Kansas. Brad Kraft is president and CEO of Mallory's parent company, Hopkins Manufacturing Corporation. He told the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal that the company had to eliminate excess capacity across the five different facilities in its system.

2 KC Area Hospitals Won't Join HCA Midwest System

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A plan to add St. Joseph Medical Center in south Kansas City and St. Mary's Medical Center in Blue Springs to the HCA Midwest Health System has been called off. HCA and Ascension Health, which owns the two nonprofit hospitals, said the deal was off because the Federal Trade Commission had not approved it. The agency reviews hospital acquisitions for antitrust issues. Carondelet spokeswoman Cyndi Fahrlander said she expected the hospitals to remain open. She would not say whether Carondelet would look for other buyers. The Kansas City Star reports that HCA Midwest owns eight hospitals and controls about 22 percent of the region's health market. If the deal had been completed, HCA Midwest would have commanded about 28 percent of the market based on inpatient discharges.

Gift Creates Endowed Position for KU Art Museum Director

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art says its director is now an endowed position, thanks to a recent contribution from longtime employee. Museum officials say the gift from Marilyn Stokstad will enable it to retain its current director and attract a well-qualified director in the future. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Stokstad began working at the museum in 1958 and was director from 1961 to 1968. She declined to release the amount of the gift. Stokstad, who retired in 2000 but continues to be a part of the museum, wrote the textbook "Art History," which is used by universities across the world to teach the subject. Current museum director Saralyn Reece Hardy says having an endowed directorship puts Kansas among an elite group of university art museums.

January Economic Survey Suggests Growth in Midwest

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of business leaders suggests the economy will continue growing in nine Midwestern and Plains states in the months ahead. The monthly Mid-America Business Conditions Index rose to 57.7 last month, compared with 53.2 in December. Looking six months ahead, the business confidence index dropped to a still strong 62.2 from 66.5 in December. The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth, while a score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

KS Conference Focuses on Women Managing Farms

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A farm conference especially tailored to women is planned this month in Kansas. The "Women Managing The Farm" conference is scheduled for Feb. 13-14 at Manhattan's Hilton Garden Inn. Designed to provide educational and networking opportunities, this year's conference theme is "The Heart of Agriculture." Numerous networking sessions are planned for farm partners, independent producers, absentee landowners and industry career women. Additional educational sessions are planned on financial risks, community advocacy and retailing local produce. The event is put on by the Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency, Kansas State University Research and Extension and numerous Kansas farm organizations.

KS Technical Training Initiative Proving Popular, Successful

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas program that provides free, college-credit technical training for high school students in high-demand fields is getting strong marks in its second year. The program was enacted by the Legislature in 2012 and championed by Governor Sam Brownback, who said it would build a better-trained and better-paid workforce. The Wichita Eagle more than 6,000 high school juniors and seniors statewide took classes at community and technical colleges during the program's first year. Officials expect enrollment to increase 50 percent by the end of the current academic year. An official with the state Board of Regents said the program is similar to traditional high school vocational education, but with more industry involvement in designing curricula. Students who complete the program can also take tests for industry-approved certificates.

Grant to Help Lawrence Promote Its Basketball Roots

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence has received a $15,000 grant to promote the city's basketball roots. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism awarded the money Friday to the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. The money will be used to develop a documentary on Lawrence's basketball history and a logo that promotes the city as the "cradle of basketball." Although James Naismith didn't invent the game of basketball here, Lawrence was his longtime home, and he was the University of Kansas's first coach. Longtime Kansas coach Phog Allen often is cited as the father of basketball coaching and was the leader of the effort to get basketball added as an Olympic sport.

Cause of Death Undetermined for MO Woman

HOLT'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Police say an autopsy did not determine the cause of death for a Kansas City woman whose body was found near a mid-Missouri gas station last week.(backslash) The body of 44-year-old Jessica Murafetis was found last Thursday in Holts Summit. Her death is being investigated as a homicide. Holts Summit police announced Monday that it will likely be several months before toxicology results in the case will be returned. Police said in a news release that the public has provided several valuable tips during the investigation. Murafetis had lived in Kansas City about four years. She had relatives in Johnson County, Missouri.



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