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Regional Headlines for Monday, May 20, 2013




SE Kansas Braced for 2nd Round of Violent Storms

DEARING, Kan. (AP) — A second round of potentially violent weather has emergency managers in southeastern and east-central Kansas preparing for any necessary response. The National Weather Service placed about 20 counties under a tornado watch until 10 pm Monday. A smattering of tornado warnings were posted by late afternoon for far southeastern counties as forecasters noted strong rotation in thunderstorms. In rural Montgomery County near the Oklahoma line, law enforcement reported a brief touchdown shortly after 4 pm along U.S. 166, about three miles from the small town Dearing. Residents in parts of south-central Kansas continued cleaning up Monday from a powerful storm system that struck the day before, producing at least one confirmed tornado south of Wichita.


Kansas Legislature's Annual Session Hits 87th Day

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature has been in session a week longer than its leaders had anticipated, and lawmakers still must resolve major tax and budget issues. Monday was the 87th day of lawmakers' annual session. Republican leaders in the GOP-dominated Legislature had promised that it would wrap up its business in 80 days. That would have trimmed 10 days off the normal expected 90-day schedule. But the House and Senate have had trouble reconciling their differences on a proposed state budget for each of the next two fiscal years, beginning in July. They've also had trouble agreeing on proposals for cutting income taxes while possibly stabilizing the budget by canceling all or part of a scheduled sales tax decrease set by law for July. Their 90th day would be Thursday.


Kansas Lawmakers' Talks on Taxes at Standstill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiations among Kansas legislators on tax issues are stalled amid bickering between Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Senators and House negotiators had no meetings Monday. House GOP leaders complained that Republican senators have not responded to their compromise proposal to drop the 6.3 percent state sales tax to 6 percent. The tax is now scheduled to drop to 5.7 percent in July, but the Senate has approved Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan to cancel the roll-back. Senate Republican leaders wanted to finish work on budget issues before resolving the tax question. Brownback and GOP leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature want to follow last year's reductions in in personal income taxes with more cuts. But they also need revenue to stabilize the budget.

Higher Ed Spending Key Issue in Kansas Budget Talks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Proposed cuts in spending on higher education is a key issue for Kansas legislators as the House and Senate attempt to reconcile their differences on the state budget. Legislative leaders hoped negotiations would resume Monday on proposed budgets of roughly $14.5 billion for each of the next two fiscal years, beginning in July. Talks broke off Friday, delaying the end of lawmakers' annual session The two chambers disagree over funding for state universities, community colleges and technical colleges — and both are at odds with Republican Governor Sam Brownback's recommendations. Brownback wants to hold higher education funding flat for two years. The House is proposing a 4 percent cut during the next fiscal year. The Senate is proposing to phase in a 2 percent cut over two years.

Analysis: Bigger Push on Kansas Courts May Be Coming

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A prominent conservative Kansas legislator has launched what could become the most aggressive campaign to date to rein in the state Supreme Court. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer says he wants to make the state's appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, more accountable to the public they're supposed to serve. Proposals outlined by the Olathe Republican last week include a measure to reorganize the state's top courts. The plan would remove the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of many of the cases that now come before the seven justices. Conservatives' desire to overhaul the courts intensified in recent years following Supreme Court decisions in abortion, death penalty and education funding cases. Kinzer expects the proposals to be considered next year. Democratic legislative leaders are reportedly alarmed by the measures.

Kansas House Preparing to Consider Gun-Rights Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A favorable Kansas House vote is all supporters need for final legislative approval of restrictions on the use of state tax dollars for promoting or opposing gun-control measures. The bill also would prohibit using state tax dollars to lobby local, state or federal officials on the issue. The House planned to debate the measure Tuesday. The Senate approved it last week. The measure is backed by the National Rifle Association. The House's vote will come less than a month after a new state law took effect that says the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas.

Tornado Touchdown Reported in Lyon County

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A tornado touched down in rural Lyon County on Sunday, causing structural damage to homes. Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson says the tornado hit around 5:40 pm Sunday. She didn't know how many homes sustained damage. Earlier in the evening, a tornado touched down in the Wichita area, causing structural damage to homes near Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and in nearby rural areas. As of 7 pm, Westar Energy reported about 10,000 power outages in Sedgwick County. Watson says there are no reports of injuries or fatalities in the state. The tornadoes were part of a large storm system moving through the Plains and upper Midwest.

Army Team Inspecting Fort Riley Cemetery

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — An Army team is inspecting the cemetery at Fort Riley to verify that all service members buried there are properly identified and commemorated. The work is part of the Army's initiative to make proper accounting of 27 cemeteries at 17 sites nationwide by June 30. Nearly 40,000 graves will be reviewed in all. The work at Fort Riley began last week. The Army team is photographing all grave markers and linking them to a web-based system to help families and visitors locate the graves. The secretary of the Army issued a directive in 2011 to account for all service members buried at military cemeteries. That order followed the discovery of irregularities at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.


Furloughs to Hit More Than 6,000 Military Workers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas military officials are juggling schedules and changing plans to accommodate furloughs of more than 6,000 civilian employees because of federal budget cuts. The staff to be idled starting this summer ranges from operations and logistics employees with the Kansas National Guard to instructors at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Furloughs are necessary because of automatic federal spending cuts that took effect in March, which forced the Department of Defense to adjust staffing and operations. The cuts are in addition to already planned reductions related to cutting the Army by about 80,000 soldiers by 2017. The impact in Kansas also will be felt at Fort Riley, home to the Army's 1st Infantry Division and nearly 18,000 soldiers and their families.


Georgia Firm to Appeal KS Nuclear Plant Whistleblower Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An engineering firm says it plans to appeal a decision by federal regulators in favor of a whistleblower allegedly fired for reporting unsafe conditions at a nuclear power plant in eastern Kansas. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Georgia-based Enercon Services violated whistleblower protections when it retaliated against an engineer for raising concerns during construction work at the Wolf Creek plant in Burlington. OSHA acting regional administrator Marcia Drumm said in a news release Monday that professionals in the nuclear power industry have a right and responsibility to report safety-related concerns. Enercon said in an email Monday it welcomes the opportunity for a full hearing to establish the firing was for legitimate reasons and not for reporting safety concerns. The company provides engineering support services to nuclear plants nationwide.

Tim McGraw Booked to Play Kansas Star Arena Opening

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Star has booked country singer Tim McGraw for the grand opening concert of its arena in Mulvane. Its grand opening concert July 7 marks the latest phase of the development at the Kansas Star Casino. McGraw is best known for hits like "Live Like You Were Dying," ''Where the Green Grass Grows" and his latest hit, "Highway Don't Care." The Kansas Star Casino was temporarily located on the arena floor for its first year of operation. It moved into its permanent facility in December. That allowed work to begin on remodeling the arena for its original purpose as a multi-purpose venue capable of hosting concerts, sporting events and horse shows. The arena will seat about 6,000 people for its opening concert. Tickets go on sale May 24.

Party Bus Operating Illegally in Fatal KCK Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A party bus was operating illegally when a bachelorette party attendee tumbled out of it in Kansas City, Kansas and was killed. The Kansas City Star reported that the Midnight Express party bus in which 26-year-old victim Jamie Frecks was riding lacked the proper registration. Kansas law required it to have a proper U.S. Department of Transportation number, but it didn't. The Star reported that if the van had been registered, DOT regulations would have triggered vehicle inspections. They might have caught some of the problems with the bus, including a malfunctioning "door ajar" warning system. Transportation safety consultant Jim Hall says it's appalling that the vehicle was permitted to operate for two years. A Midnight Express attorney says the company has been cooperating with the investigation.


Appeals Court Rejects Kansas Ex-Doctor's Claims

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has scathingly brushed off the claims of a former Kansas doctor as "bitter whining." The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that Lawrence Simons's appeal of his sentence for illegally distributing prescription drugs was nothing more than a "conclusory diatribe." The appeals panel says the 57-year-old Wichita man considers himself a victim — of overzealous police, his attorney's incompetence, an unresponsive justice system and unfair laws. Simons was sentenced in 2010 to two years in prison followed by three years of probation. The court says he seems to think a doctor's "promiscuous distribution" of very potent controlled substances is noble, not criminal. The 10th Circuit decision is Simons's latest setback. Earlier this month, he was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after a felony conviction.

New Judge Sought in Topeka Sperm Donor Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka sperm donor being sued by the state for child support wants a different judge. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that William Marotta's attorney filed a motion Friday asking Judge Mary E. Mattivi to disqualify herself from the case. The filing doesn't include a reason for the request, and state statute doesn't require Marotta to give one. Marotta says he signed a contract waiving his parental rights and responsibilities when he answered a sperm donor ad from a lesbian couple on Craigslist. A child was born in 2009. But issues arose when the women split up and the birth mother sought state health insurance for the child. Because no doctor was involved in the artificial insemination, the state sought to hold Marotta financially responsible for the child.


Salina Man's Trial Moved to Riley County

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The trial of a Salina man charged in the abuse death of a toddler will be moved to Riley County. Antonio M. Brown is charged with first-degree murder and child abuse in the October 2011 death of his girlfriend's 14-month-old son, Clayden Lee Urbanek. Saline County District Court Administrator Todd Heitschmidt said Monday that county officials were notified late last week of the trial's new location. The Salina Journal reports that Judge Rene Young granted Brown a change of venue after his case and a plea he previously entered received intense media coverage. The trial is expected to start Sept. 25. Brown had pleaded no contest in the case but Young later allowed him to withdraw the plea after finding the Brown's attorney gave him inaccurate advice.

Jury Selection Begins in Ex-Deputy's Murder Trial

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — Jury selection has begun in the trial of a former sheriff's deputy accused of killing his wife and torching their house. KAKE-TV reports that more than 15 percent of Kingman's population is expected to be called for the jury pool for Brett Seacat's trial, which began Monday in Kingman. The 37-year-old man is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson and child endangerment. He is accused in the April 2011 shooting death of Vashti Seacat, who had filed for divorce 16 days earlier. Her body was found in the burned home along with a pistol. The defense contends she set the fire and committed suicide. Seacat was an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time. He is also is a former Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy.


Drought Accelerates Use of Drugs to Increase Cattle Weight

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Cattle feeders in the U.S. are coping with smaller herds and high corn costs in part by using more growth-inducing drugs designed to bulk up animals and get more beef from each carcass. Accelerated use of the drugs, known as "beta-agonists," is defended by producers who say they are essential to withstanding the drought. Their pharmaceutical creators insist the additives are safe. Their use is drawing new scrutiny both at home and abroad. Russia and other key markets have banned them. Some domestic producers worry about the potential effects on tenderness and flavor. In February, Russia joined the European Union and China in banning beef raised on the additives. The United States blames politics for the export bans. But some U.S. consumer groups are taking notice.


Kansas Students Receive Record Number of Food Backpacks

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Food Bank has given out record numbers of its backpacks full of food this year. The highest number of backpacks handed out this year to school children in need was 7,158 during one week in February. Larry Gunkel is a Kansas Food Bank official who runs the program. He tells The Wichita Eagle the backpacks are part of the organization's Food 4 Kids program. It is designed to ensure students identified by school staff as chronically hungry can get a backpack of food each Friday. May 17th is the last distribution of the backpacks before students begin summer break on May 22nd.


Kansas Man Gets 260 Years for Producing Child Pornography

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A central Kansas man has been sentenced to 260 years in prison for using a 9-year-old girl to produce child pornography. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten handed down the punishment Monday to 50-year-old Philip Andra Grigsby, of Marquette. Grigsby pleaded guilty earlier to eight counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count each of possession of child pornography and unlawful possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says in a news release that he wants the sentence to send a message. The investigation began after Grigsby sent emails containing child porn to an Australian man. Investigators were able to identify the victim after noticing the name of a middle school on a physical fitness certificate. A restitution hearing is scheduled June 24.


Petro Chief's Lawsuit Hurt by Guilty Verdict

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former prosecutor says the head of Petro America has little chance of prevailing in a civil lawsuit against the federal government after he was convicted on six criminal charges. Isreal Owen Hawkins, of Kansas City, Kansas and four others were convicted last week of falsely claiming the company had $284 billion in assets and keeping $10 million in proceeds. Before the trial, Hawkins filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against prosecutors and the Department of Justice, alleging prosecutorial misconduct. Todd Graves, a former federal prosecutor, says the guilty verdict means Hawkins's chances of winning his lawsuit are "slim and none." A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office says prosecutors could file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit or seek other resolution, which would require a judge's ruling.

Researchers on Working Out: Drop the Encouragement

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — If you want your workout buddy to improve, keep your mouth shut. That's the advice from researchers at Kansas State University and Michigan State University. Assistant Kansas State kinesiology professor Brandon Irwin said in a news release that the initial hunch was that encouragement would be motivating. But the researchers found it had almost the opposite effect. In the study, subjects were told they would be exercising with a partner, although the partner was a looped video recording. Researchers found that people exercised the longest when working out with a partner who was better and wasn't verbally encouraging. Irwin says the encouragement may have been perceived as condescending. The findings are being published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Funding came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Kansas Lawmakers' Talks on Taxes at Standstill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiations are at a standstill between the Kansas House and Senate over the state's sales tax rate and proposals to cut individual income taxes. Three senators and three House members appointed to reconcile the differences between their chambers on tax issues had no meetings scheduled Monday. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and GOP leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature want to follow up on individual income tax cuts enacted this year with more cuts. But the two chambers disagree over Brownback's proposal to stabilize the budget by keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent, rather than letting it drop to 5.7 percent in July, as scheduled by state law. The Senate approved Brownback's sales tax plan. House GOP leaders have proposed setting the rate at 6 percent.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


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