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Regional Headlines for Monday, March 26, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas House Panel Endorses Splitting Topeka in Redistricting Plan  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a congressional redistricting bill that splits Topeka between two U.S. House districts. The measure approved Monday by the Redistricting Committee would move part of Topeka to the 1st Congressional District with western and central Kansas and leave the rest in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas. The bill now goes to the full Kansas House. Topeka lawmakers opposed the plan, but the committee voted 12-11 for it. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who serves as the committee's chairman, broke a tie among its other members. Lawmakers must redraw the state's four congressional districts to account for changes in population over the past decade. The 1st District is nearly 58,000 residents short of the ideal population of about 713,000.


"Pink Slime" Maker Halts Operations at Garden City Plant

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — The company that makes "pink slime" suspended operations Monday at three of four plants where the beef ingredient is made, saying officials would work to address recent public concern about the product. Beef Products Inc. will suspend operations at plants in Garden City, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; and Waterloo, Iowa, according to Craig Letch, the company's director of food safety and quality assurance. The company's plant at its Dakota Dunes, South Dakota headquarters will continue operations. "We feel like when people can start to understand the truth and reality then our business will come back," Letch said. "It's 100 percent beef." Federal regulators say the ammonia-treated filler, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. But critics say the product could be unsafe and is an unappetizing example of industrialized food production. The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella. The result is a product that is as much as 97 percent lean beef, Letch said. The product has been used for years, but it wasn't until earlier this month that social media suddenly exploded with worry and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow school districts to stop using it and some retail chains have pulled products containing it from their shelves. About 200 employees at each of the three plants will get full salary and benefits for 60 days during the suspension, Letch said. The plants in Kansas and Iowa each produced about 350,000 pounds a day, while the plant in Amarillo produced about 200,000 pounds a day.


Legislative Negotiators Begin Talks on KS Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators for the Kansas House and Senate are working on the final version of a $14.1 billion state budget.  Three senators and three House members opened talks today (MON), aimed at resolving dozens of differences over a spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. They're expected to negotiate most of the week.  The budget probably will cut overall state spending by at least $570 million, or about 4 percent. Lawmakers hope to leave the state with cash reserves of at least $400 million at the end of June 2013, though the amount will depend upon how much they cut taxes.  The House's version of the budget is less generous than the Senate's version.  But both stick closely to Governor Sam Brownback's recommendations in many areas.


AP Analysis: KS Tax Cuts Require Whittling Down

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators must whittle down a long list of attractive proposals that have passed one or both houses if they're going to cut taxes this year.  And the work is likely to prove difficult.  Republican Governor Sam Brownback proposed overhauling the individual income tax code. But lawmakers have been aggressive as well in considering different scenarios for reducing different taxes.  Both the House and Senate have approved bills to reduce income and sales taxes, and both have passed measures aimed at holding down local property taxes. Their negotiators were scheduled to start meeting today (MON) to work on the final version of a package.  Each possible tax cut has significant support, but lawmakers can't include too much without pushing the state toward large budget cuts.


KS Gov Supports Using Casino Funds on Pensions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has endorsed a proposal to use revenues from state-owned casinos to bolster the long-term financial health of the pension system for teachers and government workers.  Brownback said in his most recent Statehouse news conference that a measure to divert some casino revenues to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System would help keep the state's credit ratings from slipping. The proposal has passed the House in a larger bill aimed at shoring-up KPERS.  The pension system projects an $8.3 billion shortfall between anticipated revenues and retirement benefits promised to public employees through 2033. Supporters think casinos could provide several billion dollars for KPERS over that time. Kansas has licensed developers to operate casinos in the Dodge City, Kansas City and Wichita areas.

Mushroom Hunter Finds Skull in NE Kansas

CARBONDALE, Kan. (AP) — The discovery of a human skull on property in northeastern Kansas has authorities looking for more remains and an identity. A woman hunting for mushrooms on her Osage County property discovered the skull Saturday night behind a shed. There was no indication how long it might have been there. Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn said officers from several agencies were walking the property Monday seeking any clues about the skull and how it got there. The property is located northwest of Carbondale, about 15 miles south of Topeka. 


Kansas State Student Killed in Colorado Ski Accident

DENVER (AP) — Authorities have identified a man killed while skiing in Colorado as a 19-year-old Kansas State University student.  KMAN Radio reports that the Mineral County Sheriff's Department said the victim is Garrett Spencer of Hesston, Kansas.  He was skiing with friends when he hit a tree at the Wolf Creek Ski Area in southwestern Colorado.  Resort owner Davey Pitcher told The Denver Post that the accident happened Saturday on a green run. He said the victim was skiing without a helmet.  Mineral County Sheriff Fred Hosselkus said Spencer received almost immediate attention, with a nurse happening by the scene. The ski patrol was alerted and arrived shortly. Attempts at CPR all the way down the slope failed.  An autopsy is planned.  


Rally Planned in KC to Protest Florida Teen's Killing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A rally is planned in Kansas City to protest the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida.  The Kansas City Star reports that the event will start at 5:30pm today (MON) at the J.C. Nichols Fountain on the Country Club Plaza. Demonstrators are being asked to don hoodies because that's what 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was shot February 26 in the Florida town of Sanford.  Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman has claimed self-defense and has not been charged in the shooting. State and federal authorities are investigating.  The case has sparked national anger and protests. President Barack Obama weighed in Friday, calling the shooting a tragedy and saying, "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids."  


Wife of Soldier Accused in Massacre: Murder Charges "Unbelievable"

SEATAC, Wash. (AP) — The wife of a U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians defended her husband in an interview for NBC's Today show, saying she finds the charges "unbelievable."  Karilyn Bales told Matt Lauer that her husband, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, is "very brave, very courageous."  The Washington state woman said her husband joined the Army after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, to "protect his family, friends and country. He wanted to do his part."  Officials say Staff Sergeant Bales wandered off base in southern Afghanistan earlier this month and killed eight Afghan adults and nine children.  Karilyn Bales said the accusations are "unbelievable to me."  Staff Sergeant Bales is being held at a military jail inside Fort Leavenworth.  


Three KS School Districts Get Partial Waivers from NCLB

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Three Kansas school districts have received some of the waivers they sought from the No Child Left Behind federal education law.  The state says the McPherson, Kansas City and Clifton-Clyde districts won't have to use state tests for its eighth-grade and high-school students. Federal education officials will allow them to track the academic progress of older students using the ACT college entrance exam and another test designed for younger students called ACT EXPLORE.  The state asked federal officials to reconsider their decision to bar the districts from using alternative exams for their younger students. But the state learned last week that the appeal was denied.  McPherson was granted a similar waiver last year, although it allowed the district to use the EXPLORE exam for sixth- and seventh-graders.


KU and UK Join Louisville and Ohio State in Final Four

One game is a grudge match between programs that know each other all too well. The other is a rematch between teams that aren't used to meeting this often.  The Final Four is set.  In one game Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans, Kentucky will play Louisville in an intrastate rivalry that will pit Cardinals coach Rick Pitino against the school he once coached, then later alienated by returning to the Bluegrass to lead its archrival.  In the other semifinal, it will be Ohio State and Kansas, meeting for only the ninth time in their history but for the second time this season. The Jayhawks won the first game 78-67 in Lawrence back on December 10. It was the first time the teams had met since 2000.

UPDATE: Kansas Man to Stand Trial in Slaying of 14-Year-Old Girl

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Jury selection has begun in the trial of a former asphalt plant worker accused in the 2010 killing of a 14-year-old Great Bend girl whose charred body was found at the plant. Thirty-eight-year-old Adam Longoria went on trial on Monday on revised charges of capital murder, vehicle burglary and theft. All 18 prospective jurors questioned Monday morning by the state had heard about the Aug. 2010 slaying of Alicia DeBolt. The defense will question the panel later Monday. Three potential jurors with health-related concerns have been excused so far. Several prospective jurors acknowledged they had opinions about the case but assured the court they could make a decision based on the evidence presented. But a single mother with two sick children said the media coverage would be too much for her to overlook.


Salina Wraps Up Mediation on Former Air Base Cleanup

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawyers for Salina public entities have concluded mediation and are working toward finalizing a settlement with the federal government over cleaning up contamination at a former Air Force base. Officials from the city of Salina, the Salina Airport Authority, the Salina school district and Kansas State University-Salina filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas City, Kan., in 2010 over cleaning up pollution left decades ago at the former Schilling Air Force Base. A joint status report on the lawsuit says the parties have agreed in principle to settle the case and have signed non-binding proposed settlement papers. Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority, said Monday settlement negotiations are now under way and the sides have been working toward a consent decree, which would resolve the long-running case.


3 Sentenced in Kansas for Meth Trafficking

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three men who pleaded guilty in separate Kansas methamphetamine trafficking cases have been sentenced in federal courts. The U.S. Attorney's office says 44-year-old James Hald, of Wichita, was sentenced Monday to 17 years and six months for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute meth. Hald admitted selling the illegal drug in the city over a three-month period last year. In Topeka, a federal judge on Monday gave 44-year-old Jay Joynt an eight-year sentence for selling meth. The Topeka man and a co-defendant sold meth on seven occasions to undercover officers in 2009. And a Leavenworth man was sentenced Monday in Kansas City, Kansas to 14 years for trafficking in methamphetamine. Forty-two-year-old Christian Agesen had pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and possession with intent to sell the drug.


Trial Scheduled for Ex-Officer in Wife's Death

INGMAN, Kan. (AP) — A former law enforcement instructor charged with killing his wife will go on trial August 20. Brett Seacat is charged with first-degree murder in the April 30, 2011, death of his wife, Vashti, at their Kingman home. KAKE-TV reports a Kingman County District Court judge on Monday scheduled Seacat's trial to begin August 20. The trial had been scheduled to begin on April 23. Seacat is also charged with aggravated arson and two counts of endangering a child. Prosecutors allege Seacat shot his wife and set the house on fire, two weeks after his wife had filed for divorce. Brett Seacat and the couple's two young sons escaped. Seacat pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorneys say Vashti Seacat set the fire and then took her own life.


States Win Grant to Study Republican River Options

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A $413,000 grant will help Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas evaluate different options for managing the Republican River. The money may help the three states resolve their long fight over the Republican River's water. This is one of only five grants the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to fund in 2012. The Republican River starts in eastern Colorado, flows into Kansas and up to Nebraska and returns to Kansas in Republic County. A 1943 river compact says 49 percent of the river's water is allocated to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado. Kansas argues that Nebraska used more than its share of water in 2005 and 2006, and it is seeking damages in court. That dispute is expected to be heard by an arbitrator later this year.


64-Year-Old Man Dies in St. Joseph Duplex Fire

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A 64-year-old man has died in an explosion and fire at a St. Joseph duplex.  The St. Joseph News-Press reports that firefighters responded to the blaze around 4:45am Sunday. The man's 86-year-old father lived next to his son and survived. The father reported that the explosion pushed in his bedroom wall and knocked pictures off the wall.  St. Joseph Fire Department Battalion Chief Russell Moore says temperatures quickly soared and the roof collapsed. Because of the dangerous conditions, Moore ordered everyone out of the building and began focusing on keeping the fire from spreading.  An inspector estimated damages at up to $100,000.  The cause of the explosion and fire is under investigation. The name of the victim has not yet been released.  


 Live Performances Suspended at Concordia Theater

CONCORDIA, Kan. (AP) — A 105-year-old restored theater in north-central Kansas has suspended live performances over concerns about the safety of its curtain rigging system.  The Salina Journal reports that crews have had problems raising and lowering the curtain at the Brown Grand Theatre in Concordia. Executive director Susan Cantine-Maxon says that some pulleys are starting to come apart and some ropes are fraying.  The Brown Grand opened in 1907 and was considered for a time to be the most elegant theater between Denver and Kansas City. It was later used as a movie house and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  Along with live performances by regional and touring acts, the theater screens broadcasts of symphony and opera performances from around the world.


High Stakes for Church in Case Against Missouri Bishop

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The charge is only a misdemeanor. But if prosecutors win a conviction against Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City, they could open a new front in the national priest abuse crisis.  Finn is accused of violating Missouri's mandatory reporter law by failing to tell state officials about hundreds of images of suspected child pornography found on the computer of a priest in his diocese.  Finn is the highest-ranking church official charged with shielding an abusive priest. Experts say a criminal conviction against him could embolden prosecutors elsewhere to more aggressively pursue members of the church hierarchy who try to protect offending clergy.  Finn has acknowledged knowing about the images for months before they were turned over to police.  Finn's attorneys say the law is unconstitutionally vague.


New KS Grocery Store Symbolizes Community Effort

MINNEOLA, Kan. (AP) — The trip to the grocery store for residents of a southwestern Kansas town has been shortened by 40 miles, now that their only market has reopened.  And it was truly a community effort for the 740 residents of Minneola, who bought ownership shares at $50 apiece and donated labor to renovate The Hometown Market.  The Dodge City Daily Globe reports that the market opened March 7.  It offers everything from laundry detergent to milk to a deli counter — and a new gathering spot.  Minneola was left without a grocery store more than two years ago when the owner of its only market had to close for personal reasons. Mayor Carol Sibley says residents established a board and a corporation that sold about 4,000 shares in the community-owned store, raising about $200,000 for the renovations.


Lawrence Woman Chronicles Brain Injury in Book

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 29-year-old Lawrence woman has chronicled her life-changing brain injury in a soon-to-be released book.  Louise Krug had just graduated from the University of Kansas with a journalism degree when she suffered from a brain bleed seven years ago. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the bleed caused weakness, dizziness, headaches and difficulty with hearing and vision.  At the time, Krug was living in California with her boyfriend and set to begin working as a reporter for the Ventura County Star.  Instead, she spent the next four years undergoing surgeries and tests. She had to relearn how to bathe, eat, walk and talk.  Now a married, new mother, she tells the story in "Louise: Amended" (Black Balloon Publishing). It will be released nationally April 17.


Feds Announce Funding for Nebraska River Basin Study

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The federal government is providing $2.4 million for water studies in western river basins, including the Republican River basin in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.  The federal money will come from the U.S. Interior Department's WaterSMART Basin Study program. The program offers tools to state and local governments to address water supply and demand concerns.  The Republican River Basin Study will receive $413,000 from the department, and $435,000 in non-federal funding from state agencies in Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas.  The Republican River flows from its headwaters in Colorado into northwest Kansas, through southern Nebraska, and back into north-central Kansas. It drains roughly 23,300 square miles of the three states and supplies water for cities, businesses, agriculture and recreation.


KS Changes Crossbow Hunting Rules

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A state wildlife commission has changed the rules for allowing hunters to use crossbows to take down big game in Kansas.  The new change, approved last week by the Kansas Wildlife, Park and Tourism Commission, will make it legal for hunters 55 and older and those with a youth big game permit to use crossbows during archery big game and turkey seasons.  Chris Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney, said regulation would not be in place before April 1, the opening of archery turkey season, but would be for fall seasons for antelope, deer and elk.  Kansas regulations have allowed use of crossbows for hunters unable to use traditional archery equipment. The Wichita Eagle reports that crossbows are legal for hunters in other states after a push from sportsmen and manufacturers.


Longtime Publisher of Augusta Daily Gazette Dies

AUGUSTA, Kan. (AP) _ Carter J. Zerbe, the retired owner and publisher of the Augusta Daily Gazette, has died. The 72-year-old Zerbe died Saturday after collapsing at his home. Zerbe received numerous awards during his 46-year career with the Daily Gazette, where his father was also publisher. He retired as owner and publisher in October 2004.
Zerbe was a trustee at Butler Community College, where he served as president twice. He was on the Board of Directors at Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University and the William Allen White School of Journalism at The University of Kansas, according to the Headley Funeral Chapel. He also was a regional director for the Kansas Press Association in the late 1980s. Services are Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church in Augusta.


KS House Panel to Restart Work on Congressional Remap

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A committee in the Kansas House is preparing to restart work on a plan for redrawing the state's congressional districts.  The Redistricting Committee is meeting today (MON) because last week, the House rejected a bill for adjusting the four districts to reflect changes in population over the past decade.  Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who's also the Redistricting Committee's chairman, dropped his push to split the Kansas City area between two districts. That's something local officials strongly opposed. The plan rejected by the House was an alternative, but it made dramatic changes in district lines in south-central and southeast Kansas.  The 1st District of western and central Kansas is nearly 58,000 residents short of the ideal population of about 713,000. The 3rd District, centered on the Kansas City area, is over-populated.

**this story has been updated. See above. 


Court Summons 500 Prospective Jurors for Great Bend Murder Case

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — About 500 prospective jurors have been summoned to Barton County Court for the trial of a man suspected of killing a 14-year-old Great Bend girl whose charred body was found at an asphalt plant.  Jury selection begins Today (MON) for Adam Joseph Longoria. The 38-year-old man is accused of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. He is also charged with attempted rape and criminal solicitation of a minor, among other charges.  A court spokesman says about 90 people were excused from jury service before the start of trial proceedings. Attorneys will question the first 36 prospective jurors today (MON) in the courtroom.  Jury selection is expected to take two to four days.

**this story has been updated. See above. 

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