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Regional Headlines for Monday, January 13, 2014


Kansas Legislature Starts 2014 Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have begun the 2014 session with seven new members in the House. The two chambers convened at 2 pm Monday with agendas consisting mostly of opening-day formalities. Several issues will be addressed this week, including proposals to change the penalties for certain murders and to abolish the death penalty. Kansas enacted a death penalty law in 1994 but has not yet carried out any executions. Legislators also are awaiting a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding.


KS Lawmakers Convenes Amid Uncertainty on Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Uncertainty shadows the Kansas Legislature as it opened its annual session today (MON). Lawmakers are waiting for a state Supreme Court decision on whether the state is spending enough money on its public schools. Leaders from both parties believe education funding will be the Republican-dominated Legislature's most pressing issue once the high court issues its decision. Legislators also expect to wrestle with budget, pension and criminal justice issues. But lawmakers and Governor Sam Brownback face the possibility that the Supreme Court will conclude that spending on schools is inadequate. A three-judge panel in Shawnee County ruled a year ago that the state must boost annual aid to school districts by at least $440 million. Such a decision threatens personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback's urging.


Older Kansans Outnumber Younger in Health Sign-Ups

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new federal report says more Kansans approaching retirement age than young adults have signed up for health coverage through an online insurance marketplace. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that 34 percent of Kansans who chose a plan via the marketplace through December 28 were 55 through 64 years old. Twenty-seven percent were 18 through 34 years old. A similar trend appeared in nationwide data. The online marketplace opened in October with a rocky rollout of its website. HHS said through December 28, about 14,200 Kansans selected a health plan through the exchange, with 74 percent receiving subsidies. Fifty-six percent of the enrollees were women. The federal government runs the marketplace for Kansas because state officials resisted involvement with the federal health overhaul.


Colyer Loans $500K to Brownback Re-Election Effort

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer loaned $500,000 to Governor Sam Brownback's re-election campaign at the end of 2013. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports financial disclosure reports submitted to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission by the Brownback campaign revealed the last-minute loan from Colyer, Brownback's Republican running-mate. The contribution pushed the governor's total receipts for the year to $1.6 million. Brownback's Democratic challenger Paul Davis had $1 million in total receipts for the year. Brownback campaign spokesman David Kensinger says the inflow of money to the governor's campaign is an insurmountable obstacle for any challenger. Davis campaign treasurer William Kassebaum says the Democrat's ability to attract money in the four months since declaring his candidacy shows Brownback's vulnerability.

ACLU Raises Questions About KCC Email

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union says an official email sent by a Kansas Corporation Commission employee discussing his religious beliefs may have opened the KCC to legal liability. Jared Bowes, a KCC media specialist, tried to put a veiled reference to Jesus into the commission's December newsletter, but it was edited out. Bowes then used his state-issued email address to send a message to his colleagues saying "King Jesus" is "the reason for the season." Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU Foundation of Kansas, says while state employees have free speech rights, problems arise when religious statements are made using the state email system. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports KCC spokesman Jesse Borjon declined comment.


KS Group Working on Medicaid Plan, but GOP Wary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Hospital Association is working on a proposed alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul, but Republican leaders remain wary. Hospital Association Vice President Cindy Samuelson said Monday that the association doesn't know what form its proposal will take. One option is using additional federal funds promised under the federal health care law to help Kansans buy private coverage. Arkansas and Iowa are taking that approach. Samuelson said the association is seeking what she called a unique Kansas solution. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and GOP legislative leaders are still critical of the federal health care overhaul championed by Democratic President Barack Obama. The hospital association has hired a firm headed by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to help with a plan.


Changes Proposed for KS State Office Buildings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka legislators are raising questions about plans by the Kansas Department of Administration to raze a state office building and relocate agencies to privately owned buildings. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the $17 million project would involve demolishing the Docking Building and relocating the Department of Revenue and Department for Children and Family Services. The cost includes building a new structure to house utilities that support state government operations. Legislators questioned Administration Secretary Jim Clark during a meeting Thursday about the feasibility of the project and whether the local property market could absorb new development space. Clark says the state either must move out of Docking or find the money to invest in $75 million to $85 million in deferred maintenance to make the building suitable for occupancy.


KS Panel Urges Low Penalty for Lawyer's Tweets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A disciplinary panel has recommended the lowest possible penalty for a former Kansas courts research attorney who used foul language in tweets about former Attorney General Phill Kline. The special three-judge panel on Monday recommended that Sarah Peterson Herr receive an informal admonition for the comments she posted on Twitter in November 2012. Herr tweeted during an appearance by Kline before the Kansas Supreme Court as part of an ethics case about his investigation of abortion clinics. She was quickly fired by the Kansas Court of Appeals. The special panel ruled last month that Herr had violated the rules of professional conduct. In its decision Monday, the panel cited her lack of prior disciplinary history, her public apology and cooperation, and her brief experience practicing law.


Online Portal to Speed KS Driver's Ed Permit Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Young Kansans seeking driver's education permits will find the task much easier starting April 1 when the Department of Revenue switches to an online application portal. Each year the department handles about 50,000 driver's ed applications, which can take several weeks — longer if there is a medical or vision issue — to process. That has meant students who sign up for a driving class at the last minute or don't get around to sending in their application might not have the necessary permit to participate in the driving portion of the class. With the new format, an instructor can fill out an online form and immediately print out the permit if there are no issues that require additional review.

KS House Speaker Names Ethics Commission Member

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Hays pharmacist has been appointed to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission by state House Speaker Ray Merrick. Merrick says James Meier will serve a two-year term on the nine-member commission. It enforces ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws. Meier will replace former state Representative John Reimer, of Tecumseh, who has served almost six years on the commission. Reimer's term expires at the end of January. Meier is a specialty oncology pharmacist, practicing at the Hays Medical Center's cancer institute. He received his doctorate in pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas in 2011. Legislative leaders appoint four of the commission's members, and two are named by the governor. The attorney general, secretary of state and chief justice of the state Supreme Court also have appointees.


KDOT Selects Team for Northeast KS Interstate Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Transportation has chosen a team to design and build changes to a congested intersection of three major highways in Johnson County. The project will be completed by Gateway Interchange Constructors, a joint venture led by Clarkson Construction of Kansas City, Missouri. The improvements will be made near and along the intersection of Kansas Highway 10, Interstate 435 and Interstate 35. The contract, announced Friday, is worth $288 million and includes a $3 million incentive for early completion. Construction is scheduled to begin in the late spring and completed by late December 2016. The project is part of four phases of work along the corridor in the densely populated northeast Kansas county.


Plea Hearing Set in KS Prescription Drug Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A change of plea hearing has been scheduled for a Kansas doctor accused of illegally distributing prescription drugs from his Manhattan pain clinic. Dr. Michael P. Schuster has been in federal custody since he pleaded not guilty to a four-count indictment in May 2013. Schuster is now scheduled to appear Thursday in U.S. District Court in Topeka. His attorney did not immediately return messages Monday seeking comment on the planned change of plea. Federal prosecutors allege Schuster allowed unlicensed employees to write prescriptions for strong painkillers while he was traveling, using blank forms that he had signed. Investigators said the practice went on for at least five years. The government planned to seek forfeiture of money and property linked to the alleged scheme at Schuster's trial later this year.


KS Suspect in Mother's Death Sued by Brother

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man who is charged with killing his mother is being sued by a brother. Jason Hachmeister is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the September 2011 strangulation and stabbing of his mother, 58-year-old Sheila Hachmeister, at her home. His brother, Aaron Hachmeister, filed a wrongful death lawsuit last September. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Monday that Shawnee County District Court records show Aaron Hachmeister alleges in the lawsuit that his brother killed their mother. During a preliminary hearing in 2012, Aaron Hachmeister testified that he and his brother

were equal beneficiaries of their mother's $250,000 life insurance policy.


KS Slaying Suspect Sentenced in Nebraska Chase

TECUMSEH, Neb. (AP) — A man suspected in a Kansas slaying has been sentenced to up to 107 years for robbing a convenience store and leading police on a chase in southeast Nebraska. Johnson County (Nebraska) Attorney Julie Smith says Michael Engstrom was sentenced Monday for last February's convenience store robbery in Pawnee City and chase. Engstrom was sentenced to 60 to 75 years for firing at officers during the chase. He was also sentenced to 15 to 20 years for robbery and 8 to 12 years for a weapons charge. Engstrom faces a murder charge in Kansas and authorities in Topeka are expected to pursue extradition. Engstrom and his wife are accused of killing 35-year-old Ricky Mitchell and wounding a woman last February 13. Jamie Engstrom is already in Kansas custody.


Wichita Man Accidentally Shoots Child in Face

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 70-year-old Wichita man was arrested after he shot a 10-year-old boy while playing a game of "quick draw" with his gun. The boy was grazed by the bullet in the incident Sunday. Officers were called when he was taken to a hospital, where he was treated and released. A 14-year-old boy who was also in the house in southeast Wichita was not injured. KAKE-TV reports that  police allege the man began playing "quick draw" with the boys, using his .22 caliber handgun, and accidentally fired a shot. The boys aren't related to the man, who is a friend of the 14-year-old boy's mother. The man was booked for aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated child endangerment but no formal charges have been filed.


Man Pleads Not Guilty in Dressing Room Peeper Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man accused of secretly videotaping people in clothing store dressing rooms pleaded not guilty to the charges. Thirty-five-year-old Orion M. Graf waived his right to a preliminary hearing Monday and entered the plea to 10 counts of felony breach of privacy. His trial date was set for May 14. Authorities allege that the crimes occurred between November 2012 and February 2013. They have refused to name the stores involved. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Graf was a 35-year-old University of Kansas graduate student when he was first arrested last February. He was arrested again in July after detectives searched several Lawrence stores.


KS Sex Trafficking Trial Delayed for Mental Evaluation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The trial of a couple accused of sex trafficking at Asian massage parlors in Wichita remains in limbo after a last-minute request for a mental evaluation. Prospective jurors for Monday's trial of Gary H. Kidgell, of Waltham, Massachusetts and his wife, Wichita resident Yan Zhang, were sent home. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren granted an oral motion by Zhang's attorney for the evaluation. An indictment alleges sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. One count also charges Kidgell with harboring for financial gain an immigrant who was in the country unlawfully. The couple is accused of recruiting women from around the country to come to Wichita to work at massage parlors, then coercing them into prostitution. A woman who worked for them has pleaded guilty to a harboring count.


Feds Charge City Clerk in Southeast Kansas with Fraud

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a southeast Kansas woman with defrauding the city of Havana, Kansas and a church in Caney. A criminal information filed Monday in U.S. District Court charges Havana city clerk Diana Cox with bank fraud and wire fraud. Calls to Cox's home were unanswered, and court records showed no attorney. Prosecutors say that, as city clerk, Cox went to Arvest Bank in Caney with a document purporting to be City Council minutes stating that only one signature was required on the city's checks. Acting on the document, the bank allowed nearly $15,000 worth of city checks made out to Cox to be cashed or deposited into her personal account. Prosecutors also charged Cox with defrauding Cross Point Baptist Church in Caney of more than $44,000.


Downed Power Line Causes Grass Fire in Southeast KS

GALENA, Kan. (AP) — A fast-moving grass fire apparently caused by a downed power line burned hundreds of acres and damaged at least two structures but caused no serious injuries. Galena fire Chief Bill Hall says about 600 acres were damaged by Sunday's fire, which was fueled by high winds. Firefighters from seven area towns responded to help Galena fight the blaze. The Joplin Globe reports that two garages used for storage were damaged, but the fire didn't hit any homes. Julie Maus, spokeswoman for Empire District Electric Company, says high winds took down a transmission line north of Galena, causing a brief power outage for about 900 customers. Other utility poles were damaged. The National Weather Service says fire danger in the region would remain above normal for most of the week.

Kansas Assumes Food Inspections in Sedgwick County

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Agriculture says it will take over food inspections in Sedgwick County rather than renew its present contract with the City of Wichita as a cost-saving move. Its present contract with the city expires March 31st, and state inspectors will take over the work on April 1st. The Agriculture Department says doing its own food inspections is projected to save $125,000 the first year, and $190,000 the second year and the years beyond that. It plans to hire six state inspectors to handle the work. Wichita City Manager Robert Layton says the city was recently notified of the decision. He says the state did not cite any deficiency in the city's program or offer an opportunity to pursue program options. Sedgwick County has 2,050 food establishments.

Gas Leaks from KCK Storage Tank

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Emergency crews have responded to a gasoline leak at a fuel distribution terminal in Kansas City, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports the gasoline spilled Sunday at the Magellan Midstream Partners petroleum terminal. No injuries were reported. Magellan spokesman Bruce Heine in Tulsa, Oklahoma says the spilled gasoline is being controlled in a containment area at the facility. He says the company reported a loss of 100 barrels of gasoline but that figure could change. The fuel leak occurred at a valve connected to an above-ground storage tank. Heine says the cause of the leak is under investigation. The Environmental Protection Agency have been notified. Magellan's Kansas City terminal provides distribution services for gasoline and other fuels.

2 Die in Crash Near Garden City

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two Garden City residents have been killed in a single-vehicle crash in western Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol says 46-year-old Terry Fraker and 48-year-old Vonda Sue Fraker died in the accident Saturday. The patrol says the accident occurred about two miles west of Garden City when the vehicle they were in ran off a roadway and flipped. Both victims were thrown from the vehicle.

Man Dies from Overland Park House Fire

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A man has died from his injuries after he was pulled from a burning home in Overland Park. The fire was reported Saturday morning. When fire crews arrived, the home was consumed with heavy smoke. They found the victim inside with critical burns. The man was taken to a hospital where he later died. His identity has not been released. The Overland Park Fire Department says in a release the fire apparently started after smoking materials were carelessly discarded.

Wichita Track Owner Intends to Pursue Slot Machines

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The operator of Wichita Greyhound Park says he plans to try again to get legislation passed to allow slot machines at the park. Phil Ruffin closed the Wichita Greyhound Park in 2007, but he wants to add slots at the park so he can reopen it. The Wichita Eagle reports Ruffin shut the park down after voters rejected a ballot measure to allow slot machines at the track. He has since tried without success to lobby the Legislature to allow another election. Senator Ralph Ostmeyer, a Republican from Grinnell and chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, says he doesn't see such a bill succeeding this year.

MO House Democrats to Lay Out Tax Cut Proposal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri House Democrats are preparing to outline a tax cut proposal, despite their fierce opposition to a Republican tax plan last year. Representative Jon Carpenter, a Democrat from Kansas City, was expected to file legislation and release his plan to reduce state taxes on Monday. Another Kansas City Democrat, Senator Jolie Justus, has signaled that her party would be open to tax cuts under certain circumstance. She says it is a matter of who benefits from the cuts. House Democrats voted last year against a Republican proposal to reduce individual and corporate income tax rates over 10 years. The GOP plan failed when the Legislature could not secure enough votes to override Democratic Governor Jay Nixon's veto.


Consultant Proposes Dismantling Failing MO Districts

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposal for helping failing districts calls for recruiting educators and community groups to operate schools and putting a state-run entity in charge of tasks such as transportation and building maintenance. The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, presented its draft recommendations to the Missouri State Board of Education on Monday afternoon. The private education reform group has been tasked with coming up with ideas that could be implemented in the Kansas City school district and potentially also in Normandy, Riverview Gardens — both in St. Louis County — or any other districts that become unaccredited. CEE-Trust was started by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit that operates a charter school incubator. Presenters said the proposed change isn't a charter school plan.


Hutchinson Foundation Receives $4 Million Bequest

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Hutchinson Community Foundation recently received a $4 million bequest from the estate of a longtime Hutchinson couple. President Aubrey Abbott Patterson announced Sunday that the foundation recently received its largest bequest ever from Estella and Philip Lewis. The Hutchinson News reports that Philip Lewis, who was vice president of Borton, Incorporated for more than 30 years, died in 1986. His wife died in January 2013 at the age of 108. Patterson said the foundation will establish the Philip E. and Estella E. Lewis Endowed Fund, and proceeds from investments will be distributed to eight charities selected by the Lewises. A percentage of the proceeds also will go to The Fund for Hutchinson, the foundation's unrestricted fund.


Former KU Football Coach Mangino Signs 2-Year Deal with Iowa State

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino has signed a two-year contract worth $725,000. Mangino's deal, which he signed last week after being hired by the Cyclones, will pay him $350,000 for the 2014 season and $375,000 in 2015. Mangino was the head coach at the University of Kansas from 2002-09. He reached a $3 million settlement with the Jayhawks following allegations of player mistreatment. Mangino spent three years away from football before joining FCS school Youngstown State as an assistant in 2013.



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