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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 6, 2012

associated-pressThese are the regional headlines for Monday, February 6, 2012. 

Kansas Governor Submits Order Reorganizing 3 Agencies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has formally submitted an executive order to legislators to reorganize three state agencies that deal with social services. The order signed today by Brownback is part of his administration's plan to overhaul the state's $2.9 billion Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for the poor, disabled and elderly. The changes sought by Brownback will take effect July 1, unless one chamber votes to reject his order by April 6. The order would shrink the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services so it would focus on services to children and families, removing it from involvement with Medicaid. Services for disabled and mentally ill would move from SRS into the Department on Aging, which also would pick up some regulatory responsibilities from the Department of Health and Environment.


Legislators Begins Hearings on Proposed School Finance Formula 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators are beginning to hear from the public about Governor Sam Brownback's plan to revamp the way Kansas funds public schools. The Senate Education Committee held the first of several days of hearings on today into the Republican governor's proposal, which includes changes in the way technical and vocational education courses are taught, as well as a new system for evaluating teachers. Brownback outlined his proposal during his State of the State address in January. The governor wants to change the funding formula to allow local districts more flexibility in how they raise and spend money. Members of the House Education Committee are also hearing testimony on parts of the plan this week. Legislators are hoping to have bills debated in the House and Senate by the end of February.

Shawnee County D-A Seeks to Expedite Review of Disputed Meetings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor says he isn't looking for a confrontation with state legislators as he investigates the legality of meetings they had last month with Governor Sam Brownback at his official residence. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, a Democrat, said today he's hoping to finish his investigation quickly. Brownback had seven meetings in January for fellow Republicans who serve on 13 legislative committees, and he and top aides have said they're confident the meetings didn't violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Taylor sent a letter to Brownback's office and all legislators, directing them to preserve records and electronic files that could be potential evidence. But House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, has criticized Taylor's tactics and wants to provide a single response from all lawmakers.


Panel endorses Kansas House proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is signing off on a proposal to redraw the chamber's 125 districts to reflect changes in the 2010 census. The reapportionment committee took less than 10 minutes today to approve the map, endorsing it on a bipartisan, voice vote. There were no amendments offered to the plan, which would collapse three current House districts and create three new ones in the Kansas City metropolitan area. One district each would be lost in southeast, southwest and central Kansas, reflecting the population gains over the past decade in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, chairman of the redistricting committee, said the decision was quicker than he anticipated, but that it is possible that the full House could debate the proposal yet this week.


Kansas Lawmakers Say Issues Arose at Cedar Crest Events

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several Kansas legislators say Governor Sam Brownback raised issues such as tax cuts and water policy in private meetings with them at his official residence. But their accounts of the meetings differed today. Some Republican legislators who attended one or more of the gatherings with the GOP governor described them as purely social events. But several lawmakers interviewed by The Associated Press said Brownback made remarks about substantive issues. Brownback had seven meetings in January for Republicans on 13 legislative committees. He planned gathering planned Monday evening for a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, a Democrat, is investigating whether the gatherings violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the administration remains confident that the gatherings did not violate the law.


Brownback Issues No Pardons in 2011

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansans who were denied pardons by Governor Sam Brownback in 2011 ranged from convicted murderers to alleged traffic law violators. Brownback denied all 39 pardon requests last year. The Lawrence Journal-World submitted an open records request to Brownback's office, which provided the letters from the governor's office to pardon applicants. The Kansas Prison Review Board, which reviews pardons before sending them to the governor, denied the open records request for the full pardon applications, citing an exemption in the Kansas Open Records Act. The pardon requests include 10 people convicted of murder or manslaughter and a 63-year-old Wichita man who says he was wrongly convicted of a right-of-way traffic violation. Eddie Mendia operates the nonprofit Homeless Search Corp., and says he was pulled over because of his Mexican heritage.

Google Begins High-Speed Internet Construction in KCK

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Google is scheduled to begin construction today on its long-awaited super-speed Internet service in Kansas City, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that Kevin Lo, the Google executive heading up the project, announced the start of construction on the company's Google Fiber blog. Google plans to install the fiber infrastructure first and then connect Google Fiber into homes across Kansas City. Work to erect a network had been held up over issues about where Google would attach its fiber optic cables on utility poles owned by the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities. The 1 gigabit-per-second Internet connections is expected to offer steady downloads about 100 times faster than most Americans can get in their homes with existing broadband services.

Suspect Killed after Firing on KS Officers

GODDARD, Kan. (AP) — A carjacking suspect has been killed after exchanging gunfire with law enforcement in south-central Kansas. The Hutchinson News reported that the suspect allegedly took a vehicle around 12:45 this afternoon in west Wichita. The pursuit began after police in Goddard tried to pull the vehicle over for a traffic violation. Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson says the suspect left the vehicle north of Cheney Lake and started firing on officers. He was killed around 1 pm. The name of the suspect wasn't immediately released.


New Northeast Kansas Casino Opening Stirs Gambling Concerns

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The new casino at the Kansas Speedway may bring big money to northeast Kansas. But social services experts say they're keeping an eye out for gambling's less desirable consequences. Doors opened Friday on phase one of the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, carrying with it the promise of 1,000 jobs and an estimated economic impact of $220 million. Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, says that the casino symbolizes the county's growing economic muscle. But as in most areas where casinos open, there's concern about the toll gambling takes on social services, particular in the treatment of gambling addiction. Treatment providers say they're bracing for an uptick in the treatment of addicted gamblers.


Topeka Woman Dies from Injuries Sustained in House Explosion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An 81-year-old Topeka woman has died after being injured in a natural gas explosion at her home. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Lucinia Tolliver died on Friday. Tolliver had been admitted to The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas after the explosion last Monday. Topeka Fire Department Investigator Mike Martin said a contractor excavating last Monday in a nearby yard hit a natural gas service line and caused it to separate from the main line about 6 feet underground. Martin said because the breach occurred deep underground, the gas could have entered Tolliver's home via such routes as a pipe, sewer line or cracks in the dirt.


Douglas County Judges Using iPads for Warrants

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Douglas County judges have been getting a lot of use out of their new iPads. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a main reason the county's six judges began using the iPads is because county prosecutors have cracked down on suspected drunken drivers who refuse to submit to tests. Prosecutors now have law enforcement automatically seek a judge's search warrant to draw blood from the suspect within two hours of the traffic stop. In the past, officers brought the paperwork to the judge to sign. But that created problems because officers would often have to find another officer to leave a suspect with or even bring the person in tow to a judge's neighborhood. Now, the judges can take care of the paperwork remotely through their iPads.


KDHE seeking source of gas smell in Lebo

LEBO, Kan. (AP) — State health officials have been investigating a strong scent of gasoline in a southeast Kansas town. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says it's trying to determine the cause of the odor in Lebo. Coffey County emergency departments have also been working on finding the cause of the odor. KDHE says the odor is not a health hazard. The smell was reported January 26 by Lebo's city superintendent. KDHE says the department planned to cap an old sewer line that could be the pathway for the odor to get into buildings. The agency says crews have also been working to find the source of the odor.

Slaughterhouse Workers Granted Class-Action Status for Lawsuit 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has granted conditional class-action status to a lawsuit filed on behalf of an estimated 700 workers at a slaughterhouse in south-central Kansas. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled today that the class would include all hourly production employees subjected to allegedly unfair compensation practices at Creekstone Farms Premium Beef in Arkansas City for the past three years. The workers claim the company hasn't been paying employees for all the time they spend working. Creekstone contends it has paid employees for all time worked and any overtime they were entitled to get. Melgren ordered the company to give the plaintiffs the names and contact information for each member of the class and to post notice of the lawsuit in both English and Spanish at its facility.


Pope Names Bishop for Salina Diocese

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI has named a new bishop for the Salina diocese. The Vatican said today that the pontiff selected Monsignor Edward John Weisenburger for the post. the 51-year-old Weisenburger has been serving as vicar general and rector of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in the Oklahoma City diocese. A native of Illinois, Weisenburger was ordained in 1987. He has studied theology in Belgium and canon, or church, law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada.


Kansas Woman Takes Parking Ticket to Appeals Court

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Junction City woman has taken a $55 parking ticket all the way to the Kansas Court of Appeals — and won. Mary Somrak got the ticket for parking over the line in her parking space at a townhome complex. Somrak said she fought the ticket through three courts and almost two years because she didn't think it was right for the city to write tickets in a private parking lot at 2 am — especially when the car she parked too close to was her own second car. The Wichita Eagle reports Somrak also fought the ticket because her neighbors got similar tickets and many of them are military dependents. Local courts said she didn't file her appeal notice in time, but the appeals court ruled she did.


Hearing Scheduled in Hutchinson Woman's Death

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A preliminary hearing is scheduled for two men charged with killing a 27-year-old Hutchinson woman. The Hutchinson News reports that the hearing for 48-year-old Billy Joe Craig Junior and 32-year-old Charles Logsdon is scheduled to begin today in Reno County court. Craig and Logsdon are charged with first-degree murder in the death last June of Jennifer Heckel. The judge in the hearing has to determine if there's probable cause that Craig and Logsdon committed the crime. If he finds probable cause, the case moves to trial and a date is set for arraignments, when pleas will be entered. Heckel was shot to death in her home on the north side of Hutchinson. Her 5-year-old son was in the home when the shooting occurred and alerted neighbors.


KC Suburb Sets Homicide Record in 2011

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Olathe had six homicides last year, setting a record for the Kansas City suburb. The Kansas City Star reports there were 11 homicides in Johnson County in 2011, and six were in Olathe, which the 2010 Census said is also the fastest growing city in Kansas. The most homicides in Olathe since 1996 — the oldest records available — were four in 2010 and four in 2002. Officials say seven of the 11 Johnson County homicides, including five in Olathe, involved domestic violence. Olathe Police Sgt. Grant Allen said none of the six killings in Olathe was the random murder of a stranger, and it's not clear why the numbers are increasing.


TAM 111 Top Wheat Variety in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service says a variety of wheat called TAM 111 is the most popular of all those planted in Kansas. The agency says TAM 111 has been seeded on 12.6 percent of the state's 2012 wheat acres. Coming in second in Kansas is the variety known as Everest, which is planted on 8 percent of the acreage. The variety called Armour moved up to third place, accounting for 7.5 percent of the state's acreage. Varieties of hard white wheat accounted for 2.2 percent of the state's acreage. Most of the white wheat in Kansas is planted in the southwestern portion of the state.

Analysis: Kansas Governor Snared in Debate over Meetings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback cites the "Road Map for Kansas" he outlined during his campaign as the template for his administration. It contains a promise to reform state government, declaring it should be accountable and transparent. But there are questions about the Brownback administration's commitment to transparency because of private meetings he's had at his official residence with fellow Republicans who hold majorities on specific legislative committees. The Shawnee County district attorney is investigating whether the gatherings violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Brownback and his top aides are confident the gatherings were legal. But details haven't fully emerged, and some accounts from legislators have differed. The dispute isn't likely to disappear soon because the district attorney expects his office to question dozens of legislators by Valentine's Day.


Leader of KC Diocese Review Board Resigning

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The chairman of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese review board dealing with sex abuse allegations has announced his resignation. The Kansas City Star reports that Jim Caccamo's resignation is effective February 22. Caccamo headed the diocese's Independent Review Board during a period that included a priest charged with child pornography and Bishop Robert Finn indicted for allegedly failing to report suspected child abuse. The board assesses child sexual abuse allegations and makes recommendations to the bishop on how they should be handled. The Reverend Shawn Ratigan has been charged with possession of child pornography. A grand jury in October indicted Finn and the diocese on misdemeanor counts of failing to report suspected child abuse in the case. Caccamo says he'll stay on until a replacement is named.


Pittsburg Hospital Adds Protective Window Film for Safety

A close call with one of the dealiest tornadoes on record has led officials at a southeastern Kansas hospital to invest in a special window film designed to protect against flying glass. Nearly every window at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri was shattered when an EF-5 tornado struck the city last May 22. Winds of more than 200 mph propelled millions of glass shards into rooms and hallways. The Joplin Globe reports that tornado sirens also sounded in nearby Pittsburg. Officials at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg decided to protect its windows with security film. The film won't stop windows from shattering in tornadic winds, but it will catch and hold bits of glass. Hospital officials say the cost of the film for 88 windows came to $54,000.


McCaskill in Kansas City to Discuss Postal Proposals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill seeks to avoid closing rural post offices under her proposal to maintain six-day mail delivery. The Missouri Democrat will be in Kansas City today to discuss the proposals she wants incorporated into the 21st Century Postal Service Act. She provided details of her plan in advance to The Associated Press. The U.S. Postal Service is expected to lose a record $14.1 billion this year as increased Internet use reduces mail volume. A plan to close mail centers and post offices has been put on hold until mid-May. McCaskill is proposing cutting costs by reducing agency payments that fund future retiree health benefits. She's also asking for a new business model that would return the agency to financial health within a year.

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