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Regional Headlines for Monday, October 8, 2012



Bombardier Learjet Machinists Go On Strike at Wichita Plant

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Workers at the Bombardier Learjet plant in Wichita are striking after voting Saturday to reject a contract that would have increased health care costs. On Monday morning, traffic at the only gate open to non-striking employees backed up more than three miles as picketers briefly stopped vehicles attempting to enter. Company spokeswoman Peggy Gross says the aircraft manufacturer is seeking more control over such things as how long picketers can hold up cars trying to enter the plant. She says the company plans to continue production, delivery and servicing of aircraft during the strike. Machinists' spokesman Tony Larkin says the union is ready to negotiate anytime. He says workers recognize the aircraft market has slowed down. But he adds all the burden cannot be placed on workers without sacrifices by those at the top.


State to Investigate Complaint Against Kansas AG

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials will investigate ethics complaints filed against the Kansas attorney general and Johnson County district attorney over their handling of an investigation into a Planned Parenthood clinic. The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue filed separate complaints in September against Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe. The group alleges the two men, both Republicans, helped engineer the dismissal of criminal charges against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Johnson County. Operation Rescue announced Monday that the state Office of the Disciplinary Administrator said in a letter in late September the complaints would be investigated. Operation Rescue has the men undermined criminal cases started by former Attorney General Phill Kline against the late abortion doctor George Tiller and the clinic. The charges were dismissed in August.


Ruling Has Some Questioning Clout of KS Atty General's Written Opinions

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas attorney general's opinion that cities are not allowed to ban open carry of loaded firearms has raised the question of how much weight such opinions carry. The opinion issued by Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office in late December prompted city councils in Wichita and Overland Park to rewrite their firearms laws to allow residents to openly carry their guns. The Wichita Eagle reports that even former attorneys general are divided on how much weight an AG's opinion carries. Bob Stephan held the office from 1979 to 1995. He says an attorney general's opinion carries significant weight in Kansas courtrooms. But Vern Miller, who served two terms starting in 1970, says an AG's opinion is merely an opinion that has no real authority behind it.

Hensley Returning Hallmark Donation Due to Topeka Plant Closure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A state senator is returning a donation he received from Hallmark because of the greeting card company's decision to close its Topeka plant. Senator Anthony Hensley, a Democrat, says he'll return the $500 donation from Hallmark he received this week. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Hallmark announced this week that it's consolidating operations in Topeka, Leavenworth and Lawrence. The move is expected to cut about 300 employees. Hensley said his wife worked at the Topeka plant for 19 years as an assembly employee. He says he cannot accept a campaign contribution from a company that's leaving Topeka. Casey Moore, Hensley's Republican opponent in the upcoming election, says Hensley is right to return the donation. But he says it would have been better Henlsey "had worked to keep jobs here.''

Social Media Among Threats to Greeting Card Makers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Fewer people are sending paper greeting cards, a worrisome challenge for the nation's top card company. Kansas City, Missouri-based Hallmark Cards Incorporated announced last week it's closing a Kansas plant that produced a third of its signature product. Hallmark is shedding about 300 jobs as it shifts work to two other plants. Hallmark and companies like it are dealing with a cultural shift in which consumers are increasingly choosing cheaper and quicker ways to communicate. Hallmark says that over the past decade, the number of greeting cards sold in the U.S. has dropped from 6 billion to 5 billion. An industry trade group puts the figure at 7 billion. Hallmark executive Pete Burney says competition in the industry is "formidable" and that consumers have more ways to connect digitally.

Kansas School Efficiencies Task Force to Begin Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas task force charged with finding ways for schools to put more of their state funding directly into classrooms is getting down to work. Governor Sam Brownback created the School Efficiency Task Force in September. The governor said he wanted to find ways for the state's 286 school districts to reduce administrative costs, eliminate overhead and devote more spending to supporting classroom instruction. The panel's first meeting was set for Monday at the Statehouse. Members will hear from a school finance expert, the head of the state school boards association and a Kansas Policy Institute researcher. State Board of Education member Ken Willard heads the task force. Among the other members are certified public accountants. Democrats have criticized the absence of teachers and school administrators on the board.

Analysts: Health Care Fight Exposes GOP Fissures in States

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ An acrimonious debate over the federal health care overhaul is seeping into state capitols and creating fissures among Republicans as the tea party movement reasserts its influence in GOP-controlled areas. States face decisions about setting up online health insurance marketplaces, and a mid-November deadline for declaring their intentions has sparked conflicts between governors and legislators across the country.  In two GOP strongholds, Kansas and Mississippi, elected insurance commissioners are at odds with governors, even though they're all Republicans. In Kansas, Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger's disagreement with Governor Sam Brownback has political consequences for her. She's among a dwindling number of GOP moderates. Praeger disclosed in a recent interview that she's all but decided against running again in 2014 and acknowledged she'd have difficulty winning a Republican primary.

Kansas Agency Considering Rules for Casino 'Junkets'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators are considering whether they need new rules for providers of promotional tours to three state-owned casinos. The state Racing and Gaming Commission has scheduled a hearing Friday on the issue. The commission regulates the companies that operate casinos for the Kansas Lottery in Dodge City, Mulvane and Kansas City, Kansas. The commission also licenses companies that provide casino junkets financed in part or entirely by the casino managers. Commission spokesman Bill Miskell says the agency wants to make sure that the trips are safe and their providers operate honestly. Miskell says the commission is soliciting comments about the current licensing process and whether changes are needed.

Chief Judge of Kansas Appeals Court Dies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Richard Greene, the chief judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals, has died. He was 62. Ron Keefover, spokesman for the Kansas judicial system, said Greene died Sunday at a Cleveland hospital where was being treated for complications from a heart condition. Greene was appointed to lead the Kansas Court of Appeals in 2010 after serving on the appeals panel since 2003. Governor Sam Brownback will select Greene's replacement on the 13-member appeals panel from people recommended by a judicial nominating committee. Greene was born in Hermann, Missouri and earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His law degree was from Southern Methodist University. He is survived by his wife, Mary Sue, four daughters and four granddaughters.


EPA to Test Great Bend Industrial Sites

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is collecting soil and water samples this month from industrial sites in Great Bend. The Great Bend Tribune reported that the samples will be taken from around the former O'Neill Tank site and the former Plating Inc. site near the Great Bend Municipal Airport. Plating Inc. is a contaminated site that is monitored by EPA's Superfund Division, under a federal program to clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Meanwhile, officials are trying to determine is there's contamination at the former O'Neill Tank site. EPA spokesman David Bryan says oil and water samples collected at the O'Neill Tank site and adjacent properties will assess low-level radium contamination and other possible contaminants, such as arsenic, chromium and other metals.

Fire Crews Rescue Woman from Well in Merriam

MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters have rescued a woman who fell into a well in suburban Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that the fire crews responded to a call Sunday afternoon that the woman had fallen into the well in Merriam. Firefighters from Overland Park and Merriam had her safely out of the well within about 20 minutes. She was taken to a hospital, but it's unclear how far she fell into the well and if she was injured.

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against KU

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ A federal judge has dismissed an age discrimination lawsuit filed against the University of Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil dismissed the lawsuit Thursday. Cynthia Cook had been seeking more than $100,000 in damages in the lawsuit filed in 2011. The lawsuit said Cook, who was born in 1957 and hired in 1980 as a secretary, was laid off in 2009. Cook contended that she was passed over for other positions that were filled by younger, less-qualified people.

Veterans Group to Receive $25K Dole Prize

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A group dedicated to helping veterans who have been wounded in combat is receiving the 2012 Dole Leadership Prize from the University of Kansas. The Wounded Warrior Project is receiving the honor and the $25,000 prize from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence. Previous recipients include President George H.W. Bush, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and former U.S. Senators Howard Baker and George McGovern. Dole, a former Republican U.S. senator from Kansas, was himself a wounded veteran, suffering his injuries while serving in the Army during World War Two. Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute, says the Wounded Warrior Project shares Dole's lifelong devotion to helping the nation's veterans.

Wichita Considering Fluoride for Drinking Water

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Wichita residents are gearing up to consider whether the city should add fluoride to its drinking water. The Wichita public television station is hosting a debate October 18 on whether the city should add fluoride to its drinking water. The Wichita Eagle reports that two representatives from Wichitans for Healthy Teeth and Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation will take part in the televised debate. The League of Women Voters is also sponsoring a second forum on the topic set for October 23. Wichita voters will then decide November 6 whether to pass a ballot initiative to fluoridate the municipal water supply.

Veterans Attend Annual Weekend Hunt

FALL RIVER, Kan. (AP) — About two dozen veterans took part in a special hunting event designed for them in southeast Kansas. The Wichita Eagle reports that 23 wounded veterans showed up for this weekend's third annual Kansas Salutes the Troops event at Flint Oak, a 5,000-acre hunting facility near Fall River. Sonny Conner, one of the program's founders and organizers, says the weekend is a way to show the veterans they're not alone. Conner says all expenses are paid for the veterans, thanks to several sponsors who pay upwards of $5,000 for the chance to spend the weekend hunting, target shooting and dining with the veterans. Conner says some friendships between veterans and sponsors have developed through the years, and he's also seen signs of helping in the wounded veterans' healing.

'Modern Family' Stars to Attend KC Fundraiser

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Four stars from the Emmy award-winning television show "Modern Family'' are scheduled to attend a Kansas City fundraiser. The Kansas City Star reports that Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are scheduled to headline the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City's benefit on March 1st at Crown Center. Stonestreet is from Kansas City, Kansas. Individual tickets cost $300. Proceeds will support the five area clubs that serve more than 1,100 children a day.

Wichita Mayor Promotes Fire Prevention Efforts

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita Fire Department and Mayor Carl Brewer are kicking off Fire Prevention Week with two media events. Brewer will speak about fire prevention efforts at 10 am Monday during a public safety briefing at City Hall. The mayor later plans to go to Ortiz Elementary School for the unveiling of the so-called Mobile Prevention Experience unit.

Lawrence Woman Waives Hearing in Child's Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A 25-year-old Lawrence woman charged in the death of her 5-year-old son has waived her preliminary hearing. Rebecca Wynne was charged with reckless involuntary manslaughter after her son died in April after he swallowed opiates at Wynne's home. She waived her preliminary hearing Thursday in Douglas County District Court. Wynne also is charged with two counts of aggravated child endangerment involving her other children, ages 6 and 4, who were in the home at the time of her son's death. The children are now in protective custody. Wynne is scheduled to be arraigned on November 1st.

Topeka Honors Firefighters

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 200 people turned out to honor seven Topeka firefighters who have died in the line of duty. The gathering Saturday was held at a new monument in their honor. The red brick Topeka Fallen Firefighter Memorial features a silver fire bell near its top and a bronzed firefighter's helmet, boots and gloves in front. The memorial also has plaques with names of fallen firefighters. Topeka firefighters devised the monument and built it using private funds. It's outside the front door of fire department headquarters. Randy Phillips, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 83, said he hopes "we never add another name to this monument."

Police Identify 2 Killed in Johnson County Crash

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified the victims of a double-fatality crash at a Johnson County intersection. Overland Park police say 49 year-old Wayne A. Willeford of Prairie Village was pronounced dead at the scene. Seventy-seven year-old William G. Pennington of Overland Park died at a hospital. The crash happened around 5:40 am Saturday when the pickup truck that Willeford was driving hit the passenger car Pennington was driving. The truck also collided with a light pole. The two victims were the only people in either vehicle.

41-Year-Old Reportedly Drowns in Hot Tub

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating the death of a 41-year-old woman after receiving a report that she drowned in a Hutchinson hot tub. Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson identified the victim Monday as Michelle Price. He said in a news release that authorities found her dead late Sunday morning at a home in eastern Reno County. Henderson said a preliminary autopsy indicated that Price drowned. He says toxicology results will not be available for several months. Two people were allowing Price to stay in the home.


Last of 3-Room Miner's Houses Finds Permanent Home

FRONTENAC, Kan. (AP) — One of the last standard-issue, three-room miner's houses in southeast Kansas will move next week to a mining museum. The Joplin Globe reports that the Franklin Miners Hall Museum will be at least the home's fourth address. Originally built about 125 years ago, the home was moved in 1976 to Pittsburg to be used as headquarters for the city's bicentennial celebrations. The house went on to serve as headquarters for an extermination business. In 2004, it was moved to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Frontenac. The plan was to restore the home, but the project faltered. At its newest location five miles away, it will join an area being developed to look like a small, historical mining town. Restoration work will begin later this fall. Donations are being accepted.

Ellis Names New Police Chief

ELLIS, Kan. (AP) _ The western Kansas town of Ellis has a new police chief. The Hays Daily News reports that the Ellis City Council voted 5-1 this week to approve the hiring committee's recommendation to name part-time Ellis police officer Taft Yates as the new police chief. He replaces Randy Taylor, who resigned recently to become chief of police in Clarkdale, Arizona. Yates's starting salary is about $19 per hour. The Ellis Police Department has five full-time officers, including the chief, and one part-time officer. Mayor Dave McDaniel says the town of about 200 residents also recently hired a new fire chief and a new city clerk.

Victims of Kansas Car-Train Collision Identified

LANGDON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified the Harvey County woman who died and two others who were injured in a car-train accident near Walton. The Harvey County Sheriff's office says 19-year-old Taylor Sowell of Newton died when the car she was driving collided with a BNSF freight train Saturday about a mile southwest of Walton. Her 20-year-old husband, Dylan Sowell, and her 17-year-old brother, Kyle Malek of Sedgwick, were taken to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. On Monday, the hospital said Dylan Sowell was in fair condition but information was not available on Malek. The Hutchinson News reports the railroad crossing did not have flashing lights or gates.


K-State Dedicates New $18M Basketball Facility

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas State has unveiled its new $18 million Basketball Training Facility. About 600 people attended a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony Friday at the facility. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the new 50,000 square-foot building is located east of Bramlage Coliseum and has two full-length practice courts _ one for the men's team and one for the women's team. There are also coaches' offices, locker rooms and player lounges, meeting rooms and a weight room. The lead donors in the privately-funded project were Patti and Rand Berney and Laura and Jim Johnson. Jim Johnson says the new facility will make the Wildcats the "envy of the Big 12.''

Cosmosphere Changes from IMAX to Digital Theater

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center has gone digital. The center's former IMAX theater is changing from film to digital projections run on 4K resolution, which is the highest resolution possible on a single projector. The Hutchinson News reports the projection upgrade is part of a nearly $300,000 renovation plan for the Carey Digital Dome Theater. It includes 114 new chairs, new carpeting and a new concession stand. Spokeswoman Becky Christner says the Cosmosphere is the first to show digital film at a dome theater. The change is expected to save the center $100,000 annually, as well as increase the clarity of the films. Chief projectionist Brian Shull says the digital projection allows the Cosmosphere to show all types of films, but for now the center will stick with documentaries.


Sedgwick County Zoo Hopes to Begin Gorilla Breeding Program

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas zoo is hoping to hear the pitter patter of baby gorilla feet by 2014. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Sedgwick County Zoo has nine male gorillas. But officials confirmed that a 33-year-old female gorilla from Philadelphia is arriving in the spring, and an 11-year-old female from Calgary is expected as soon as late summer. Meanwhile, three male gorillas will go to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota. The move comes after the national coordinator of the Species Survival Plan recommended last week that the zoo be entrusted with breeding gorillas. Currently, there are about 350 gorillas in exhibit at 52 zoos across the nation. To keep the population steady, the survival plan calls for 10 to 14 babies to be born each year.

Family, Friends Gather to Honor Ill Teacher

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Friends and family held a special vigil for a 45-year-old Wichita teacher who's in the last stages of breast cancer. Kelli Frazier watched the crowd Saturday at Wesley Medical Center from a wheelchair. The Wichita Eagle reports that Frazier, a teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, but had been in remission until recently. She announced this week that her cancer has spread and she expects to live only a few weeks more. Dozens of her students packed into a hospital courtyard, where they sang and cried. Fellow teacher Darcy Busch said Frazier's impact will last because of all the students whose lives she's affected. Frazier will spend her final days at Wesley, and says she doesn't want a funeral.



Bombardier Learjet Machinists on Strike 

Machinists union members went on strike at midnight at the Bombardier Learjet plant in west Wichita. KFDI Radio reports that sign-carrying union members were walking back and forth at the Tyler Road entrance to the plant early today (MON), under large spotlights. Around 6 am, one officer said traffic on Tyler Road was nearly impassable because of slow-moving cars. A vote on a proposed contract took place on Saturday, and union officials say 95% of the 825 union members voted. 79% of those cast a ballot in favor of staging a strike. The union specifically pointed to disagreements with Bombardier Learjet over workers' health care benefits and the proposed length of the contract. Union members told KFDI that the proposed one-percent-a-year raise over the length of the contract was not ideal, but acceptable. However, the real sticking point had to do with an increase in health insurance costs; union members said paying an extra $100 or more a month for health insurance was not something they could tolerate. This is only the second strike in the plant's history. Workers staged a three-week strike in 2006.

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



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