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Regional Headlines for Monday, March 4, 2013



Kansas Lawmakers Mull Changing School Bargaining Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are considering major changes in a state law governing contract negotiations between teachers and school districts, prompting the state's largest teachers union to complain of what it calls a "war" on educators. Kansas National Education Association President Karen Godfrey said Monday the bill before the House commerce committee would hurt public schools. A hearing on the measure is set for Wednesday. The committee's chairman, Overland Park Republican Marvin Kleeb, says proponents of the bill want to give school districts more flexibility and encourage innovation. Under the measure, fewer issues would be subject to negotiations between teachers' groups and local school boards, but they would still include pay. School boards wouldn't have to negotiate how teachers are evaluated or the number of classes they must teach must per day.


Kansas Sets Record for Concealed Carry Permit Applications

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — For a second straight month, Kansas has set a record for the number of applications for concealed carry handgun permits. The Kansas Attorney General's Office reported Monday that it had received 3,573 applications during February. That beats the one-month record of 3,167 applications set in January. The Wichita Eagle reports that before January, the record monthly total since the state began issuing permits in 2007 was 1,651 applications in March 2012. The state is on pace to easily break the record for total applications in a fiscal year. Through the first seven months of fiscal year 2013, the state has received 11,426 applications, just shy of the 12,408 applications submitted in all of fiscal year 2012. As of March, 153,180 Kansans have an active concealed carry permit.

Proposed Legislation Promotes New Charter Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Bills before the state House and Senate would allow charter schools greater freedom and more funding opportunities in Kansas, where the schools have struggled to take hold. Kansas currently has 15 charter schools, which are publicly funded but generally operate independently of school districts. Kansas had 37 charter schools three years ago but many closed for financial reasons. Bills in the House and Senate would allow charter schools to have lottery admissions and bar them from discriminating, although they would be able to turn away special education students. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the bills would exempt charter schools from many regulations, including graduation requirements and curriculum standards. It also would allow independent monitors to set up charter schools, rather than require public school boards to run the schools.

Kansas Supreme Court Hears Day Care Death Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A defense attorney is asking the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn the involuntary manslaughter conviction of a former Wichita home day care provider after the death of a 13-month-old girl. Appellate Defender Lydia Krebs argued Monday that the district judge presiding over the 2009 trial of Jessica Cummings gave improper instructions to jurors for assessing whether Cummings intentionally placed toddler Kailee Hundley in danger. Jurors concluded Cummings endangered Kailee by partially strapping her into a car seat and leaving her alone in a laundry room to sleep. Prosecutors say the girl strangled on a strap after sliding down in the seat. Senior Assistant Sedgwick County District Attorney Lesley Isherwood argued that the judge's instructions allowed jurors to make a commonsense assessment. Cummings was sentenced to 32 months in prison.


Analysis: Tax Debate to Shadow Schools Mediation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has inspired optimistic talk about an early end to an education funding lawsuit against the state by ordering mediation. But any discussions among the parties will be shadowed by the Legislature's ongoing debate over phasing out the state's personal income taxes. Governor Sam Brownback, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and some fellow Republicans in the Legislature reacted positively to the Supreme Court's order for mediation. Newton attorney John Robb, representing the students, parents and school districts suing the state, also was optimistic. But the Supreme Court hasn't altered the context surrounding any talks. Kansas enacted massive income tax cuts last year. Brownback and the Republican-dominated Legislature aren't backing away from them. Meanwhile, the lawsuit is aimed at forcing a big boost in education funding.


Report: Kansas Snowmelt Helps Soil, Ponds

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report shows the recent snowfall in Kansas has helped relieve some drought conditions. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service said Monday the melting snow has improved soil moisture in parts of the state. Water levels in stock ponds are also showing slight improvement. But the agency says more moisture is still needed. Topsoil moisture levels across Kansas are now rated 49 percent short to very short, while subsoil moisture levels are 83 percent short to very short. Stock water supplies are 85 percent short to very short. Meanwhile, 35 percent of the winter wheat crop is rate in poor to very poor condition. About 41 percent of the wheat is in fair condition, with 23 percent rated good and 1 percent in excellent condition.


Health Law Info Scarce for Non-English Speakers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Many parts of the new health care law are hard enough to understand, even for English speakers. The information gap is even more difficult when trying to reach diverse populations in which English is not the primary language. The problem is particularly acute in states like Kansas that have opposed the federal health care overhaul. Kansas meatpacking plants have drawn immigrants from numerous countries. Census figures show the state has more than 186,000 residents who primarily speak Spanish at home. Thousands more speak German, French, Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese or some other language at home. Kansas has opted to let the feds establish the state's health insurance marketplace, returning a $31.5 million grant. Some private groups have tried to fill some of the information void, but their resources often fall short.

Prosecutors Want to Try Mom, Son Together

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County prosecutor wants to try a mother and son together for the shooting death of the son's estranged wife in Topeka. Defense attorneys for 32-year-old Manuel Alcala of Topeka oppose the effort to try him along with his mother, 58-year-old Manuela Alcala, of El Paso, Texas. The two are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Ashley Alcala, who was shot at her Topeka home in October 2012. Prosecutors argue that the two should be tried together because they face the same charges, which are based on the same acts, and both cases will require the same evidence and witnesses. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a hearing to decide whether the two will be bound over for trial is scheduled for Thursday.


Gas Leak Caused by Google Fiber Work Forces Evacuations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A natural gas leak that forced evacuations in Kansas City was caused by a subcontractor installing conduit for fiber-optic lines for Google Fiber. Fire officials said residents in homes and apartments in the area were evacuated Saturday afternoon and allowed back in their homes Saturday evening. No injuries were reported. Google Fiber, which is building its fiber optic network in the area, said in a statement Sunday that the subcontractor damaged a gas line. The statement says the problem was identified quickly and the gas line was closed and capped. Google Fiber also apologized for "any inconvenience and worry this may have caused." The area is southeast of where an apparent gas line rupture caused an explosion that destroyed a restaurant, killed one person and injured several others last month.


Geologists Examining Sinkhole West of Galena

GALENA, Kan. (AP) — State geologists are studying a sinkhole near a highway in southeast Kansas. The hole is south of Kansas 66 at the western edge of Galena. Officials say the hole, which was found Sunday, is off the shoulder of the highway. Geologists were drilling Monday under the eastbound lanes of the highway, closing one lane to traffic. Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Priscilla Peterson, says the geologists are trying to determine if there is a void under the highway, and how large it might be. The Joplin Globe reports that sinkholes are not uncommon in the area because of abandoned mine shafts throughout the region.


Douglas County Gives Tentative OK for Sand Pit

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Douglas County Commission has given tentative approval to a proposed plan for a large sand pit mining operation, but is also requiring that a survey be conducted to determine the pit's impact on groundwater supplies. Commissioners on Thursday tentatively agreed to grant a conditional use permit for the large sand pit mining operation near Eudora to Penny Concrete and Van LLC, the two owners of the property where the pit would be located. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the companies will pay for the report that will analyze the aquifer around the site to determine if the sand pit would pose a significant risk to the city of Eudora's municipal water supply. The analysis would also study impacts to domestic wells of neighboring property owners.


ESU Athlete to Help Injured Exchange Student

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — An Emporia State University football player has a good use for some leftover donations his family received after losing everything in a wildfire. The school says freshman Justin Wilson recently gave $1,030 to the family of 23-year-old Yali (YAW'-lee) Huang (wahng). The Chinese exchange student was flown to a Wichita hospital in November after being struck by a Jeep while walking across a street. After coming out of a 10-week coma, she was leaving Monday for a hospital in Shanghai. It's located about 900 miles away from her family's home in Shenzhen. The family initially hoped to move her to a rehabilitation facility closer to Wichita, but her exchange student insurance didn't cover that type of care. The family was unable to find a facility that would take her.


Server Killed in KC Fire Recalled for Her Empathy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mourners are remembering a server killed in a Kansas City restaurant explosion for her empathy and warmth. The Kansas City Star reports that about 200 people gathered Monday at Community Christian Church to remember 46-year-old Megan Cramer. She died in a February 19 explosion and fire that destroyed JJ's restaurant near the upscale Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district. A Missouri Gas Energy official has said that Olathe-based Heartland Midwest reported hitting a natural gas line with an underground borer before the blast. When Cramer was a law student, she helped capital punishment defense lawyer Sean O'Brien work with men condemned to die at the Potosi Correctional Center. O'Brien said that her "empathy knew no bounds." A memorial service also is planned for Thursday in Springfield.


Ex-Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 33-year-old former Wichita police officer and University of Kansas football player has pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual exploitation involving a 15-month-old girl. KAKE-TV reports that Gregory Nicks entered his pleas Monday in exchange for the state dropping two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The former Lawrence teacher was arrested in his Maize home in November 2011 after his wife called 911 to report the abuse. Co-defendant Luz Coronado was found guilty in August of one count of aggravated indecent liberties and four counts of sexual exploitation of a child. She and Nicks both are scheduled to be sentenced May 3. Nicks was the Jayhawks' long snapper in 2001 and 2002 and later was a Wichita police officer for about three years.


Firearms Stolen in Central Kansas Burglary

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A central Kansas sheriff's department is investigating the theft of more than a dozen firearms in a weekend residential burglary.  The Hutchinson News reports that the break-in happened Sunday at a home in northeastern Reno County. A list of the stolen weapons posted by the sheriff's department includes eight shotguns as well as rifles and .357-caliber revolver. Also taken were two compound bows and a Reconyx Hyperfire game camera. No other details about the burglary were released as of Monday.


Hays Water Release Back On

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Water is scheduled to be released from Cedar Bluff Reservoir for the city of Hays. The Kansas Water Office on Friday announced the release will start today (MON). Tracy Streeter, KWO director, said the recent snow will enhance the effect of the release in the river valley. The release was initially scheduled to begin a week ago, but heavy snow and cold weather raised concerns about the water being able to make a quick trip down the Smoky Hill River to the Hays wellfield area. Now, Streeter and Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty are hoping the extra moisture from more than a foot of snow will actually boost the amount of water to reach the wellfield.

Salina to Consider Water Conservation Plan

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina city commissioners are scheduled to discuss a new proposed water conservation plan during their upcoming study session. The Salina Journal reports that the commissioners study session is scheduled for this afternoon. They're expected to discuss a new water conservation plan that includes a new watering restriction for domestic well owners when city groundwater levels drop below 30 feet at the Oakdale Monitoring Well. The commissioners will also consider spending about $28,000 to convert two Chevy pickups to experimental electric vehicles.

Boeing Begins Selling Off Wichita buildings

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Boeing Company has begun marketing its vast Wichita complex of buildings as the aircraft maker prepares to end its operations in the city. The Wichita Eagle reports the company offered a tour Thursday of three large office buildings — the first of its 97 structures to go on the market. About 40 commercial real estate brokers and economic development officials took part in the open house. The office buildings will be available for occupancy later this year, with hangars and other facilities to be available by the end of 2014. The office buildings range from about 100,000 to more than 300,000 square feet of space. Boeing announced last year that it was closing the Wichita plant and moving work to Oklahoma, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.

Lawrence Lawyer's License Suspended for 1 Year

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that a Lawrence attorney has been suspended practicing law for a year. The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that Scott Stockwell was dishonest in an estate case in which he advised a judge that no will had been written when in fact one had been. The legal dispute centered on the will of a Jefferson County man who died in 2010. Stockwell told The Lawrence Journal-World that he respects the judgment and will comply with the court's order. He said he didn't want to comment further.

Topeka Officer Wants Art to Replace Graffiti

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka police officer hopes to get volunteers to paint murals over graffiti that's been spray painted on several area buildings. Lieutenant Joe Perry said his goal is to get artwork on locations that frequently have been "tagged" by graffiti artists, most of whom are gang members. Perry has met with local leaders from various groups, including Safe Streets, Arts Connect and Downtown Topeka Inc. in recent weeks, and hopes to see the project started by the end of spring. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that Perry is also looking for funding, and has been writing grant proposals to businesses. He also has his eye on a building, which would serve as a source of pride for neighbors if the graffiti is replaced with art.

Cosmosphere's Visitors to Watch Restorations

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Visitors to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson will soon have a chance to watch how the museum restores space artifacts and replicates space equipment. The Cosmosphere is building a glassed-in, air-conditioned viewing area to allow visitors to watch the museum's SpaceWorks division. In the past, Spaceworks employees have restored a Titan rocket, a World War II era German rocket and built replicas of space equipment for movies and other museums. But that work was done in private. The Hutchinson News reports the viewing area will cost about $50,000 and is expected to be completed by March 21. Cosmosphere CEO Dick Hollowell says SpaceWorks isn't currently working on a major project but it has bids out on $4 million in projects.

Kansan Inducted to Alaska Women's Hall of Fame

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas nurse known as the "Angel of the Yukon" has been inducted into the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame for her work during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Alaska. Emily Morgan, born in Leon in 1878, risked her life by walking in sub-zero temperatures to inoculate residents of Nome, Alaska, and stop the spread of the deadly disease in the region. Author Steve Levi of Anchorage says he was researching another project and came across an article about Morgan. That's when he contacted the Kansas Historical Society to learn more about her. He was so impressed with Morgan's accomplishments he contacted the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame, and nominated her for the honor. Morgan and 14 other women were inducted into the Hall of Fame February 28th.

Festival to Celebrate Kansas Town's Cowboy Heritage

WELLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas town on the old Chisholm Trail will celebrate its cowboy heritage with a two-day spring festival. The Wellington Daily News reports the inaugural Chisholm Trail Wild West Days will take place in the Sumner County town April 26 and 27. Shelley Hansel-Williams, executive director of the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce, says Wellington resident Ed Levalley came up with the idea. He's hoping the event will draw people from throughout Kansas. Events on April 26 will include a celebrity fast-draw contest and a cowboy poetry contest. Several musical performances, 19th century children's games and a chuck wagon meal are scheduled the following day. Tours of the Chisholm Trail Museum and the Panhandle Railroad Museum will be included. Wellington is located 30 miles south of Wichita.


Jayhawks Clear Snow to Start Spring Practice


LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis had crews working all week to clear the snow from the field so the Jayhawks can start spring practice Tuesday — with the weather still feeling very much like winter in Lawrence. The Jayhawks went 1-11 last season, their first under Weis, and have only one conference victory the past two years. Weis started laying the foundation for this season at the end of last one, taking players aside during the finale against West Virginia and challenging them to do better this year. BYU transfer and former highly touted recruit Jake Heaps is expected to take over at quarterback for the Jayhawks. He should have a solid running game to work with as backs James Sims and Tony Pierson return.

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