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Regional Headlines for Monday, May 7, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Anti-Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill designed to prevent the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly through tax breaks, but the measure's future in the Senate appears uncertain. The bill was adopted by an 88-31 vote on Monday in the House. It would prohibit Kansas taxpayers from claiming abortion expenses under a deduction for medical costs when filing their income taxes. It also would deny tax breaks to abortion providers, such as an exemption to the sales tax that nonprofit groups claim when purchasing goods. The measure also prohibits state employees from performing abortions on state property or state time. The House has a strong anti-abortion majority. Abortion opponents also appear to have a majority in the Senate, but that chamber hasn't reviewed the legislation.


UPDATE: Kansas House Panel to Vote on Senate Remapping Plan  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal says his chamber's Redistricting Committee will take a quick vote on a plan for redrawing state Senate districts. O'Neal scheduled a vote on the plan for Monday evening. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, is the committee's chairman. The House broke at least several decades of tradition last week by not accepting a plan for redrawing the 40 Senate districts that senators had approved. Instead, the House is considering a Senate redistricting plan favored by conservative Republicans and narrowly rejected by the Senate. GOP conservatives, who have a House majority, say the map approved by the Senate is designed to keep its moderate GOP leaders in power. The House committee is reviewing a plan that critics say is aimed at giving conservatives control of the Senate.

Analysis: Projections Still Soft on Kansas Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Reducing income and sales taxes requires Kansas legislators to have a solid faith that the cuts will stimulate economic growth as advertised. That's because even the projections they see as the most solid include some guesswork. A disagreement last week between the Legislature's nonpartisan staff and Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration over those projections obscured a reality in state government. Experts consider forecasting state revenues and spending five or six years from now is difficult and even foolhardy. Brownback has argued that the resulting increase in economic activity also will benefit the state treasury. Many members of the Republican-controlled Legislature agree. But even positive forecasts, showing no budget shortfalls into 2018, aren't quite enough to reassure skittish colleagues. Skeptics can find plenty of issues in the numbers.

Credit Rating Agencies Eye KS School Funding Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Credit rating agencies are keeping an eye on the legislative debate in Kansas over funding of K-12 schools as more districts dip into reserve funds to offset state cuts. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Gardner-Edgerton school district in Johnson County recently had its debt rating reduced from AA- to A+ after it wiped out its reserve fund of $3.3 million. Analyst Sarah Smaardyk of Standard & Poors says the amount of reserves plays a major role in the bond rating her company assigns to a district. Smaardyk says there has been a trend over the past couple of years of districts drawing down their reserves in response to cutbacks by the state. Republican House Speaker Mike O'Neal says data indicate school district cash reserves are growing, not shrinking.


Missing Man Sought in Northeast Kansas Creek

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Emergency crews are searching a northeast Kansas creek for a 35-year-old man who told his family he was going out to look at flood waters. Officers waded through high water in and around Indian Creek in Overland Park on Monday afternoon after the man's family reported him missing. The man left his Overland Park home around 10 pm Sunday, after several hours of heavy rain caused flash flooding around the Kansas City area. Relatives said the man often went out to look at flash floods, but his disappearance this time was unusually long. Around the same time Sunday night, two people were rescued from a park in nearby Leawood after their vehicle got stuck in high water.


KBI: Rise in Meth Lab Numbers Linked to Changes in Count Method

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a dramatic increase in the number of methamphetamine labs in the state is not as alarming as it sounds. The KBI says meth manufacturing cases increased 43 percent between 2010 and 2011 — from 143 in 2010 to 204 last year. Deputy KBI Director Kyle Smith says the increase is partly due to changes in how reports are counted. And he says the operations uncovered last year were "one-pot" operations involving small amounts of methamphetamine. And Smith told The Wichita Eagle the number of meth labs isn't close to the 600 to 800 that were being found every year in the early 2000s. He credited the passage of a 2005 law restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine medicines for the decrease.

Kansas Star Casino to Hire 300 More Workers

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Star Casino is looking for another 300 workers, as it begins a second phase of expansion. Casino officials say most of the workers hired this summer for the casino near Mulvane will be needed in the food and beverage areas. The hirings are expected to begin this summer. A temporary casino in an equestrian arena opened in December. The permanent casino is scheduled to open by the end of the year. The Wichita Eagle reports the next phase of expansion will include a permanent gaming area, as well as a hotel and space for restaurants and bars. Peninsula Gaming, based in Dubuque, Iowa, is building and managing the casino for the state of Kansas. On Friday, Peninsula reported that the casino recorded $50.3 million in net revenue in its first full quarter.

JCCC to Begin Construction of Hospitality & Culinary Academy

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Johnson County Community College is planning a groundbreaking ceremony for its new Hospitality & Culinary Academy. The event is planned for 1 pm on May 22. Classes will begin in fall 2013 in the $12 million, 36,000-square-foot building. It will house offices, classrooms, a library, five culinary labs, an innovation kitchen and a demonstration kitchen in a culinary theater. The school says the culinary labs include two for professional cooking classes, one for pastry classes, a cold foods kitchen and a restaurant kitchen. The restaurant kitchen will adjoin a dining room on the east end of the building that can be converted to classrooms. Seven hundred students are enrolled in the college's hospitality management program. Besides serving those students, the facility will provide space for noncredit classes and community activities.


Wheat Harvest Could Begin Weeks Ahead of Schedule

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Some farmers in north-central Kansas say they are preparing to begin wheat harvesting weeks earlier than normal. The wheat crop is sprouting early because of a mild winter and spring. Wheat harvests generally begin in Kansas around mid-June. But The Salina Jounal reports some are predicting that combines could roll into Saline County this year during the last week of May, or no later than the first week of June. The harvest has already begun in Oklahoma and Texas. Pam Shmidl is operations manager for the U.S. Custom Harvesters Association, based in Hutchinson. She says the fast-ripening wheat has caused many of the associations' members to begin their work early this year. Agriculture experts are predicting a bountiful crop this year, if the weather cooperates.

Fire Destroys Ellsworth VFW Post

ELLSWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A century-old building that housed a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Ellsworth is a total loss after a fire gutted the downtown structure. Post 6485 commander Mike Johnson says he is relieved that nobody was hurt in the Friday morning blaze, and that adjoining buildings were spared. The Salina Journal reports firefighters were called to the building on Main Street shortly before 5 am, and the fire was under control by 7:30 am Friday. More than 100 flags donated to the post over the years were lost in the fire, along with photos and other memorabilia. Johnson says investigators told him it looked like the blaze might have started in the kitchen area. He said it's not likely the post will be rebuilt.


Paramedics Injured in Wichita Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County paramedic remains hospitalized after he and a colleague were injured in a crash blamed on a car that ran a red light in Wichita. KWCH-TV reports the two paramedics were in an ambulance that tipped over after being struck around 4 am Monday. Investigators say the ambulance was broadsided by a speeding car that drove through a red light. One of the paramedics was released from a hospital after being treated for bruises. The other suffered a broken collarbone and a leg injury. The 25-year-old driver of the car was also hospitalized. The ambulance was not on call at the time and did not have a patient on board.


Kansas Governor to Make Good on NCAA Wager

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Two shelters located about 600 miles apart will dish out hundreds of Kansas steak burgers to their clients as Governor Sam Brownback pays off a friendly basketball wager with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. Brownback had promised to send beef to the Bluegrass State if the Kansas Jayhawks lost the NCAA championship game to the Kentucky Wildcats. Beshear had pledged Kentucky country ham to Kansas if the Jayhawks prevailed. The Jayhawks lost the title game 67-59, and Brownback is making good with a shipment of 440 Kansas steak burgers. Beshear is to accept the donation Tuesday at Hope House, a Lexington shelter serving the homeless and people with addiction and mental health issues. In Kansas, Brownback will hand-deliver 120 of the burgers Tuesday morning to Lawrence Community Shelter.

Toddler Walking Through Pasture Killed by Truck

OSWEGO, Kan. (AP) — Officers are investigating the death of a 2-year-old boy who was run over by a truck while walking through a pasture in southeast Kansas. Clayton James of Labette City was struck on Saturday in the pasture one mile southwest of Oswego in Labette County. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the driver of the truck, 30-year-old Christy Dunnic of Oswego, wasn't able to see the boy before running over him. KAKE-TV reports it is unclear why the boy was wandering in the field.


Missouri Toddler Killed in Hit-and-Run Has Been Identified

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 2-year-old boy who died after he wandered from a Kansas City motel and was hit by a car was identified as a resident of Essex, Missouri. The Kansas City Police Department identified the boy Monday as J'Vierre Durden. Police say the boy got out of his family's motel room in the Crown Lodge motel early Saturday, walked to a busy highway and was hit by a car. Police say the parents left the boy with his 10- and 13-year-old siblings while they visited a relative. The car that hit the boy has not been identified. Police say the toddler apparently was sideswiped and the driver may not realize a small child was hit.

Probe Prompts Wichita Inflatables Companies to Cancel Jobs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Several Wichita parents were caught off guard when two local companies that provide inflatable rides called them at the last minute to cancel weekend reservations. The Wichita Eagle reports the phone calls from Moonwalks for Fun and Pure Entertainment started going out soon after the newspaper reported Thursday night the city was investigating the companies. Moonwalks for Fun had its license to provide inflatables in the city revoked for two years in June 2011 because of a five-month gap in liability coverage. Pure Entertainment is allowed to have inflatables at its site, but only from providers licensed by the city. The two companies began having troubles in 2010, when a 5-year-old boy died after falling from an inflatable provided by Moonwalks for Fun at Pure Entertainment.


Buffett Backs Proposed TransCanada Oil Pipeline

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire Warren Buffett supports building the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada wants to build to carry Canadian oil south across the Great Plains to connect to Gulf Coast refineries. Buffett was asked about the project that would cross Nebraska Monday on Fox Business Network. Buffett says he's not an expert on the project, but he thinks it generally makes sense to build the pipeline. Last week, TransCanada reapplied for a permit to build the pipeline after changing the route through Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. State Department approval is needed because the $7 billion pipeline would cross a U.S. border before crossing Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. TransCanada has also proposed connecting the pipeline to the Bakken oil field in North Dakota.

Huge Number of Caterpillars Spotted Near Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Mark Robbins was looking for birds in the predawn darkness at the Kansas University Fitch Natural History Reservation north of Lawrence when he thought he heard a gentle rain falling. The university's ornithology collection manager started seeing barren hackberry branches as the sun came up, then noticed thousands of caterpillars. That's when he realized the rain he thought he heard was really the sound of caterpillars defecating. Robbins told the Lawrence Journal-World the caterpillars soon will turn into Hackberry Emperor butterflies in bigger numbers than he has ever seen. He's not sure why there are so many of the insects this early, but thinks the warm weather helped more of them survive the winter.

Colorado Ag Officials Warn of Livestock Disease

DENVER (AP) — Colorado officials are warning livestock owners to take extra precautions now that two horses in New Mexico have been found with a painful disease. State agriculture officials say two confirmed cases of vesicular stomatitis in horses were reported in New Mexico this week. The disease can cause painful sores in animals including cattle, sheep and pigs. The last confirmed case of the disease in Colorado was in 2006. Agriculture officials say livestock owners should control flies to inhibit transmission of the disease and avoid transferring feeding equipment, cleaning tools or health care equipment from other herds.

Experts: Greensburg Tornado One of Most Powerful on Record

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas meteorologist says the deadly tornadoes that killed hundreds of people last year in Joplin and in the South don't measure up to the monster storm that destroyed almost all of Greensburg five years ago. Mike Umscheid says he had never seen a 200-knot velocity reading on radar before the May 4th, 2007, tornado that killed 11 people in the southern Kansas community. The Wichita Eagle reports emergency officials think the death toll could have been much higher if Umscheid hadn't issued a rare "tornado emergency" 26 minutes before Greensburg was hit. University of Oklahoma researcher Les Lemon teamed up with Umscheid to write a research paper on the outbreak the night of the Greensburg storm. Both believe it was one of the most powerful tornadoes on record.

Chihuahua Costume Party Falls Short of Record

Hundreds of tiny tacos, ballerinas and other costumed dogs fell short of a world record Saturday morning in Kansas City, but organizers said they were encouraged by the turnout for the inaugural Cinco de Mayo Chihuahua parade. Mark Valentine, the president of the group that organized the parade, said 500 dogs showed up in costume — about 200 fewer than what was needed to break the Guinness Book world record. The event, organized by United Entertainment to benefit a local animal shelter, was open to any breed. Valentine estimated that 80 percent of the costumed canines were Chihuahuas, more than the 50 percent he anticipated.


Kansas House Taking Final Vote on Anti-Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House expects to pass a bill designed to prevent the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly through tax breaks, but the measure's future in the Senate appears uncertain. The bill up for final action Monday in the House would prohibit Kansas taxpayers from claiming abortion expenses under a deduction for medical costs when filing their income taxes. It also would deny tax breaks to abortion providers, such as an exemption to the sales tax that nonprofit groups claim when purchasing goods. The measure also prohibits state employees from performing abortions on state property or state time. The House has a strong anti-abortion majority. Abortion opponents also appear to have a majority in the Senate, but that chamber hasn't reviewed the legislation.

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

Kansas House to Resume Redistricting Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee plans to start the week trying to do what lawmakers couldn't do last week — draw a new map of state Senate districts that both chambers can accept. Boundaries of the 40 Senate districts are being adjusted to account for changes in population. By tradition, each chamber of the Kansas Legislatures revises its own map, and the other chamber goes along. But the House has become involved in Senate redistricting this year. House Speaker Mike O'Neal says his chamber's Redistricting Committee will consider a Senate map similar to one drawn by Senator Steve Abrams of Arkansas City. That map has already been narrowly voted down by the Senate — and the House has rejected a version that the Senate approved.

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

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