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Regional Headlines for Monday, January 21, 2013


Kansas Legislative Leaders Set on Shorter Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislative leaders from both parties have endorsed plans to shorten this year's annual session to 80 days. If they're successful, the Legislature will trim 10 days off the normal 90 days that leaders expect each year. Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell says legislators should be able to finish their business within 80 days, and Democratic leaders agree. Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence strongly embraced Merrick's call to avoid pushing all major business into the wrap-up period that follows the Legislature's annual spring break. Lawmakers regularly have had sessions longer than 90 days. Last year's went 99 days and included a wrap-up of 26 days. The longest session ever was in 2002 and lasted 107 days.

Kansas Lawmakers Move to Tighten Budget-Making Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republicans who want to slim down state government are preparing to rewrite the GOP-dominated Kansas Legislature's internal rules. They hope to make it harder for more liberal colleagues to slip extra dollars to agencies and programs during budget debates. A version of the new rule could be in place for both chambers within days, thanks to Republican supermajorities. It's known as "pay-go," short for "pay as you go." The rule would apply when either the full Senate or House is debating the budget. It says that a lawmaker who wants to boost spending for a particular agency or program must propose offsetting cuts elsewhere. Once a proposed spending plan clears committee, the total amount of spending can't be increased. Critics say the rule will stifle debate.


Kansas Governor Submits Order on Juvenile Justice

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has submitted an executive order to Kansas legislators merging the state's troubled Juvenile Justice Authority with its adult Department of Corrections. Brownback delivered the order to the House and Senate on Friday. It takes effect in July unless either chamber rejects it by March 19. The Republican governor promised last month to submit such an order. So far, no significant opposition has emerged in the GOP-dominated Legislature. Brownback has argued that two critical legislative audits in the past six months demonstrate the need for a new approach to juvenile justice. The governor contends juvenile facilities and programs would be better managed under the Department of Corrections. He also says money going into the Juvenile Justice Authority's administration could instead be spent on programs for offenders.

Conservative Kansas Congressman Riles GOP Leaders

COTTONWOOD FALLS, Kan. (AP) — Congressman Tim Huelskamp's disputes with fellow Republicans who lead the U.S. House are generating headlines and stirring up constituents in his central and western Kansas district. But such spats are becoming old hat for Huelskamp, who since his 2010 election to the U.S. House has become a congressional spokesman for the tea party. He's angered fellow Republicans along the way, raising questions about his effectiveness representing the state. GOP leaders have stripped Huelskamp of a plum assignment on the House Budget Committee and what has been for decades Kansas' automatic seat on the Agriculture Committee. He scrapped regularly with less conservative governors and legislative leaders before he was elected to Congress. Huelskamp contends he's reflecting the views of his district, and he was re-elected last year without opposition.

Johnson County Sheriff Critical of Gun Control Proposals

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The sheriff of the most populous county in Kansas says more gun control laws wouldn't have prevented the theater shootings in Colorado or the school shooting in Connecticut. Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning says having more responsible people in possession of firearms is a better way to prevent mass shootings. The Kansas City Star reports that Denning posted a message on his sheriff's office website Friday likening gun control to "unilateral personal disarmament." He says the Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves at the idea of politicians imposing restrictions on law-abiding citizens. Denning has held the elective post of sheriff for more than 11 years.

Kickapoo Tribe Selects New Chief of Police

HORTON, Kan. (AP) — The Kickapoo Tribe in northeast Kansas has picked its next chief of police. The tribe says in a news release that its new head of law enforcement is Mike Dougherty. The Kickapoo Tribal police department provides law enforcement services on the tribe's reservation about five miles west of Horton in Brown County. Tribal police work closely with both tribal and non-tribal law enforcement agencies.

Kansas State Professor Challenging Murder Sentence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas State University English professor in prison for killing his ex-wife in 2003 is challenging the legality of his sentence. Fifty-six-year-old Thomas E. Murray is serving 25 years to life in prison for the stabbing death of Carmin Ross at her home north of Lawrence. At the time, Murray and Ross were fighting over custody of their daughter, who was 4 at the time. On Tuesday, Murray's attorneys will argue the attorneys who represented him at the murder trial did not provide an adequate defense. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the civil lawsuit was filed under a law that allows prisoners to challenge their sentences. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Murray's sentence in 2008.


KU Trumpet Ensemble Performs at Inaugural

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A trumpet ensemble from the University of Kansas represented the entire state of Kansas in President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony, thanks to some quick planning and hard work. The University of Kansas Trumpet Ensemble had only 10 days to prepare for its trip to Washington D.C. after a group chosen to represent Kansas dropped out. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the 16 students and two faculty members spent the last week and a half cramming in practice while also raising money for the trip. Private donors and the chancellor's office helped with some of the costs, and the university's athletics department donated KU jackets for the occasion. The group played a trumpet version of the state song, "Home on the Range" during Monday's inaugural parade.


Kansas Residents Witness President Obama Taking Oath

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Visitors have been filing through the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka as the nation marked the start of President Barack Obama's new term and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Many of those who came to the site on Monday said they believe the Democratic president can be successful if he remembers his faith and stands up to Republicans in Congress. The historic site is housed in the old Monroe Elementary School, which at one time educated only black children. Monroe was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. In 2009, several hundred people gathered at the site to watch a live broadcast of Obama's first inauguration. This year's crowds were smaller, but steady.


Romney Going into Kansas Bank's Gallery of Also-Rans

NORTON, Kan. (AP) — One day after President Barack Obama's second inauguration, a small bank in a small northwest Kansas town will hold a different kind of celebration for Mitt Romney. The Salina Journal  reports that a photo of the 2012 Republican presidential nominee will be added Tuesday to Norton State Bank's "They Also Ran Gallery." Coffee and cookies will be served during a free reception. Romney's portrait and biography will be the 60th in the bank's gallery of presidential losers. The first portrait is that of Thomas Jefferson, who lost to John Adams in 1796 before winning the presidency in 1800 by defeating Adams. A former president of Norton State Bank started the gallery in 1965. It's housed in an upper floor of the bank building and attracts a few hundred visitors a year.


Kansas Crew Trains for Grain Disaster Rescue

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters in Pittsburg have been training to rescue people who may become engulfed in grain at storage facilities. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that the practice was conducted in the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute's mobile trailer, which can simulate rescues of people trapped in grain bins. Pittsburg Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Kavanagh says he hopes firefighters never have to respond to that situation. In February 2011, an Erie man got his leg caught in the operating auger of a grain storage building in Walnut. It took a rescue team of firefighters several hours to get the injured man out of the bin.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Has New Consumer Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger has promoted a staff attorney to director of the office's Consumer Assistance Division. Praeger notes that Jennifer Sourk began working for the Insurance Department in 2007 as a consumer representative in the same division she'll now lead. Sourk received her law degree from Washburn University of Topeka in 2005 and now serves on its Board of Regents. As consumer assistance director, she'll replace Kevin Davis, who recently left the Insurance Department for a job at Security Benefit Corp. in Topeka.

Former Lawmaker Landwehr Lands Job with Kansas DCF

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's administration has hired former conservative lawmaker Brenda Landwehr for a job in the Department of Children and Families. The Wichita Eagle reports that Landwehr lost to Democratic Rep. Nile Dillmore in November. Landwehr was hired January 13 as a part-time senior policy analyst in the Wichita regional office of the Department of Children and Families. The agency was formerly known as the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. DCF spokeswoman Angela de Rocha says Landwehr will earn $26.45 an hour. That figures out to about $27,000 a year. During her 18 years as a state lawmaker, Landwehr sought to shrink the size of government and frequently criticized the state's social services agency. Landwehr's new job involves analysis of all major DCF programs.

Kansas Communities Pay to Rid Water of Uranium

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Residents across Kansas have safer drinking water thanks to steps their communities have taken to rid the water of harmful elements such as uranium and arsenic. But those residents also are facing considerable hikes in water bills to pay for the improvements. Lakin residents are paying water rates about 10 times higher than they had before the city began construction on a $6.5 million water treatment plant to eliminate naturally-occurring uranium from the drinking water. Rates are up about three times in Clay Center, where the city has built a $10-million treatment plant also to deal with uranium, which can occur in some aquifers. In Atwood, residents are paying double for water since the town hooked up lines to new wells. But Atwood water is now free of arsenic.


Iola Receives Settlement from Herbicide Lawsuit

IOLA, Kan. (AP) — The east-central Kansas town of Iola has received a nearly $200,000 settlement from a manufacturer of the herbicide atrazine. The Iola Register reports that a class-action lawsuit was brought by water treatment plants against agriculture chemical company Syngenta Crop Protection. Iola is sharing in a $105 million settlement. Iola water and wastewater superintendent Toby Ross insists that the city's water is safe. Legally, the amount of the herbicide in the water must be lower than three parts per billion. In Iola, the water coming through the plant averaged .11 parts per billion. The nearby city of Humboldt is receiving $73,000 from the settlement. The last reported amount of atrazine in Humboldt's water supply was .46 parts per billion. That's also well below the legal limit.


Southwest Airlines Flight Diverted to Tulsa

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A Southwest Airlines flight from Kansas City to Houston was diverted to Tulsa after crew members smelled smoke in the cabin of the aircraft. Southwest spokeswoman Olga Romero in Dallas says Flight 254 with 76 passengers and five crewmembers on board landed safely at Tulsa International Airport about 9:15 am Monday after the pilot diverted there as a precaution. She says there were no injuries. Romero says the Boeing 737 is being inspected in Tulsa and that the passengers were placed on a flight to Dallas to catch a connecting flight to Houston.

Wichita Considers Restricting City's Water Usage

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials are considering implementing water restrictions after two years of drought have lowered water levels 40 percent at Cheney Reservoir — the city's main water source. The Wichita Eagle reports that the city council is expected to hear options about water issues during a workshop meeting on February 26th. The council won't vote on a water restriction during that meeting, however. If City Council members consider placing water restrictions on residents, they would so during a regular council meeting. Ben Nelson, of Wichita's public works and utilities department, said the department is looking at how best to prolong water supplies until the drought subsides. Wichita has tried to curb demand for water by charging more for residents using the most water in the summer.

KCK Police Investigate Death of Man in His 30s

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas are investigating after a man was found dead inside a vehicle. The man was in his early 30s, but police didn't immediately release his name. Police say the man died from an apparent gunshot wound. No suspect was immediately identified.

Kansas Woman Charged with Driving Vehicle into Home

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 19-year-old Lawrence woman has been charged with driving a vehicle through a home after arguing with someone inside. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the criminal damage charge was filed Thursday in Douglas County District Court against Megan Victoria Wilson. She has been released on a $7,500 bond. She doesn't have a listed phone number. Police allege Wilson intentionally ran her vehicle into the home shortly before 9 am on November 18th. She is accused of driving through several interior walls and coming out the rear of the home. People were in the home at the time, but no one was injured. The crash caused about $100,000 in damage. Wilson was taken to a hospital for treatment after she was found about a block from the crash scene.

Firefighters Rescue People from Topeka Apartment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka firefighters have rescued a dozen people from a burning apartment building. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the people became trapped late Saturday night in the upper floors of the structure. Ladders were used to rescue the trapped people as fighters fought the blaze. The fire department said in news release that one victim was transported to a local hospital and later transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital in stable condition. Several others were treated and released at the scene with minor injuries. Fire officials say the blaze started as a grease fire. Structural damage is estimated at $30,000 and content damage at $20,000.

Cold-Case Task Force Under Discussion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Shawnee County district attorney and county commissioners are discussing the formation of a task force targeting cold-case slayings. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that funds from the county commission would pay for a prosecutor to head the unit. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor says investigators from the Topeka Police Department, Shawnee County Sheriff's Office and Kansas Bureau of Investigation would work on the cold cases. Taylor declined to say how much money his office is seeking to fund the task force. He also wouldn't specify what cases would be examined, saying only that they date from the 1970s to about three years ago.


Kansas Case Reveals Risks of Assisted Reproduction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The case of a Kansas sperm donor being sued by the state for child support underscores the confusing patchwork of laws that govern how assisted reproduction is regulated in the United States. Many states haven't updated their laws to address the evolution of family structures, such as parenting by same-sex couples. Experts say as case law changes, families put themselves at risk by failing to seek legal advice. In late 2012, Kansas officials went after a Topeka man who answered a Craigslist ad from a lesbian couple seeking a sperm donor. William Marotta thought he'd signed away his parental rights, but was deemed financially responsible when the women split and one sought public assistance. The trio didn't go through a doctor -- the only way Kansas recognizes men as donors.

Lawrence Library Moves to Temporary Location

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence library has moved into a closed bookstore while work continues on an $18-million expansion project. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Lawrence Public Library closed two weeks ago. It's reopening Tuesday at the former Borders building. Staff says the library will keep its regular hours and offer the same services and most of the same events. Most of the library's 220,000-item collection fits in the temporary space. All of the children's books, DVDs and other media made the move, as well as the vast majority of the young-adult books. About half of the books for adults didn't fit in the temporary space but are available on request.

Number Up for Topeka Homeless Students, Funds Down

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The number of homeless students in the Topeka school district has gone up in the last decade, while federal funding to meet their needs is at a 10-year low. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports  the district had about 580 homeless students last year, compared with about 340 homeless students 10 years ago. This year's federal grant to help homeless students is $50,000, down from $61,000 a year earlier. Rosanne Haberman, who coordinates homeless matters for the district, says the tight funding means fewer resources, including hygiene kits and city bus passes for high school students who can't afford them. She says the district has also had to reduce to part-time two positions for teachers who work at the Topeka Rescue Mission helping students before and after school.

Lawrence Humane Society Dogs Need Temporary Homes

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Up to 60 dogs living at the Lawrence Humane Society need temporary homes. The humane society says it will provide free pet food supplies and veterinary care for the dogs during February while its kennels are being repaired. Those who volunteer to keep the dogs temporarily will also receive foster care orientation. The Kansas Department of Agriculture requires foster animal keepers to register and pay a $10 license fee. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the humane society will take in only stray dogs during February to help manage the shelter population while the kennels are repaired.


Finney County CVB Head Resigns

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The executive director of the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau has resigned. The Garden City Telegram reports that the bureau's board of directors said it's looking for a new executive director to replace Lynn Schoonover. The board made the announcement Thursday. Board chairman Amro Samy says the board will begin a search for a new director immediately. Samy says the board hopes to have a new executive director in about a month. Events Director Larry Johnson will act as interim director until a new director is hired. Schoonover had led the CVB since 2008.


Number 3-Ranked KU, Number 11-Ranked K-State Ready for Showdown

First place in the Big 12 Conference will be on the line when the third-ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team visits number 11-ranked Kansas State on Tuesday night for one of the most eagerly anticipated Sunflower Showdowns ever. The Wildcats are 15-2 and 4-0 in the Big 12, and have won eight straight overall. The Jayhawks have won a nation-leading 15 in a row, are 16-1 and also perfect in four Big 12 games. The last time the teams approached a game of this magnitude at Bramlage Coliseum was in January 2010, when the 11th-ranked Wildcats lost 81-79 to number two-ranked KU. Only two other times since 1958 have both teams been ranked for a regular-season game.

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