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Regional Headlines for Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013


KS Lawmakers to Reopen Debate on Public Pensions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Moves to close the Kansas public retirement system's long-term funding gap haven't eliminated interest among legislators in creating a 401(k)-style plan for new teachers and government employees. The Legislature also can't avoid discussing public pensions during the 2014 session because the state's contributions to teachers' retirement benefits have ballooned. The increases are coloring a debate over education funding. The effects of the Great Recession continue to hamper the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Even with major pension system changes in in 2011 and 2012, the gap between anticipated revenues and commitments to employees through 2033 approaches $10.3 billion. Republican Representative John Rubin of Shawnee says he'll propose creating a 401(k)-style plan for public employees hired after June 2015. The 2014 session begins January 13.


KS Universities to Enforce Social Media Policy

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Public universities in Kansas will be responsible for enforcing a new policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents that could result in university faculty and staff being fired over improper use of social media. Regents Chairman Fred Logan says the board doesn't get involved in personnel decisions at the universities. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the regents last week approved a policy that says a university chief executive officer can discipline employees, up to termination, for social media communication that affects the university's ability to carry out its functions. The regents approved the measure unanimously in the wake of a tweet by University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth. Under the new policy, universities will develop a grievance procedure for faculty and staff to appeal employment decisions.

KS Courts Dealing with Budget

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says Kansas court employees could face unpaid furloughs as the judicial branch tries to handle an $8.25 million budget shortfall. A committee appointed by the Kansas Supreme Court in October to look for ways to deal with the shortfall forwarded its recommendations to Chief Justice Lawton Nuss on December 13. The committee says furloughs would cut $2.5 million from the deficit, and much of the remainder would come from delayed judicial appointments, reduced training hours, eliminating about 20 court service officer positions and leaving more than 100 court positions unfilled in fiscal year 2015. The Wichita Eagle reports the committee also recommended reducing by $250,000 a grant to Kansas Legal Services, where employees could be forced to take nine furlough days.

KS Lawmakers' Audit Committee Meeting Scheduled

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee meets next week to discuss potential state government audits. The Post Audit Committee's Monday agenda includes a short discussion of future issues to examine. The joint, 10-member committee directs the work of the Post Audit Division, the state's official auditing agency. The committee plans to discuss a possible audit of the state's expenses for taking part in unspecified federal programs. For many programs, the state must put up money as a condition of receiving federal funds. The lawmakers will also consider the scope of a yet-to-start audit of the Kansas Revenue Department's $40 million computer system upgrade for its Division of Vehicles.


Sprinkler Leak Damages KS Statehouse Elevators

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Elevators that carry dozens of workers daily between the Kansas Statehouse and its underground parking garage have been knocked out of service by a Christmas Eve sprinkler leak. Statehouse Architect Barry Greis said Thursday that water damaged the electronic systems for the two elevators. He isn't certain when they'll be working again. The leak complicated efforts to finish a 13-year, nearly $330 million renovation of the Statehouse. Workers are trying to complete a new basement visitor's center by next week. The leaking sprinkler was near a security station at the front of the center and left a quarter inch of water throughout much of it before firefighters arrived Tuesday evening. Greis said the water caused at least $20,000 in damage, but the estimate doesn't include damage to the elevators.


KS Hunter Who Drowned Identified

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified a hunter who drowned this week at an icy lake in northeast Kansas. The Geary County Sheriff's Department says 31-year-old Thomas Hedrick of Fort Riley died Tuesday while duck hunting at Milford Lake. Geary County Sheriff Tony Wolf said Hedrick went out on a makeshift boat to retrieve a duck shot by his hunting partner from shore. Wolf says Hedrick stepped onto an ice sheet when the boat began taking on water, then fell through the ice.


Woman Suspected of Charging $15K on Stolen Cards

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police in northeastern Kansas are seeking a woman suspected of charging at least $15,000 on stolen credit cards. KCTV reports that the latest theft took place in the Overland Park area. The victim left her purse in a shopping cart at a department store and discovered her wallet missing when she tried to make her purchases. The victim's bank told her that three of her credit cards had quickly been used to buy more than $6,000 worth of gift cards at another store. Police say it's not the first such theft by the suspect. In all, she has charged more than $15,000 on stolen credit credits in the Kansas City area.


2 Arrested in Ellis County Mail Thefts

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — The Ellis County Sheriff's Office has arrested two people in connection with recent mail theft cases from rural mail boxes. Detective Scott Braun told The Hays Daily News the sheriff's office had received reports of seven recent mail thefts in the county as of December 18. Law enforcement said they believed thieves were looking through mailboxes in rural areas of the county, apparently looking for cash in cards or envelopes. Most of the reports were east of Hays, between the city and Victoria. Braun says a man and a woman were arrested Tuesday in connection with the thefts. The suspects' names are being withheld until formal charges are filed.

Judge Rules Against Kickapoo

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled against the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas in its longstanding lawsuit against a water district. The decision by U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia in Kansas City, Kansas further jeopardizes a reservoir project leaders of the northeast Kansas tribe say is critical for the tribe. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the tribe has lobbied for years to move the reservoir project forward and asked Governor Sam Brownback to intervene. The tribe wants the local watershed district to use eminent domain to move the reservoir project forward, but the board has refused. The tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court June 14, 2006. Murguia wrote in favor of the water district, saying the agreement only stated that eminent domain could be used, not that it must be.

Salina Officials Investigating 2 Arson Fires

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating two suspected arson fires at two apartment buildings. The Salina Journal reports that one of the fires occurred on Monday, and the other took place Wednesday. No injuries were reported. Salina Fire Department investigator Troy Long says it appears an accelerant was used to set both fires. Samples have been sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratory for analysis. The first fire caused about $3,000 in structural damage. The second fire damaged the carpet on the stairway landing.

KS Parks Agency Urges January 1 Hikes

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas agency is urging residents to start the New Year by taking a hike. The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says that several state parks will offer guided walks on January 1. It's part of the national First Day Hikes program, sponsored by America's State Parks and the American Hiking Society. Kansas Parks Division director Linda Lanterman says that special programs are also scheduled at the state parks. A full list of participating parks is available on the agency's website. Among them are Clinton State Park, near Lawrence, where pets are also invited to hike, and Elk City State Park near Independence, which will also hold a 5K run-walk. Tuttle Creek State Park, near Manhattan, will host a walk-through 3-D archery shoot starting at 1 pm.

Company Makes Big Donation to Kansas Food Bank

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A competition among employees of a Wichita company has resulted in a large and especially timely donation to the Kansas Food Bank. The Wichita Eagle reports that 7,000 pounds of food and beverages contributed by workers at Leading Technology Composites were delivered Tuesday. The Kansas Food Bank serves hundreds of soup kitchens and food pantries in 85 counties. Director Brian Walker says the food bank has distributed nearly 11 million meals so far this year. Walker says most of those in need are working people. After the holidays, Walker said, the number of needy usually rises as companies lay off temporary seasonal workers. Departments at Leading Technology Composites compete annually to see which can donate the most food. The company says the average employee donation amounts to 133 pounds.


Father Leaves Baby on Wichita Street

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita are looking for a man they say left his baby daughter on a street before running away from a minor traffic accident. Two witnesses picked up the 1-year-old girl in her carrier and brought her to the mother's house. Paramedics checked the baby and said she was unhurt. Police Captain Troy Livingston says the incident occurred around 9 pm Wednesday when one vehicle rear-ended another that was preparing to enter a driveway. A confrontation followed, and police say the driver who hit the other vehicle got out of his car with the baby in her carrier. He dropped the carrier on the street, then ran from the scene. One of the witnesses recognized the man and knew where the mother lived.


Boy Awakens Family During House Fire

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 6-year-old Kansas City, Kansas boy alerted his family to a fire at their home, giving the family enough time to escape the blaze. Firefighters responded to the alarm early Thursday to find heavy fire at the one-story residence. The Kansas City Star reports that fire crews had the blaze under control within 30 minutes. The adults told investigators the boy woke them, alerting them to the fire. Four other children had spent the night with relatives elsewhere. The house was destroyed. Fire investigators estimated the loss at $65,000.

FHSU Seeks Applicants for President

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Fort Hays State University and the Kansas Board of Regents are seeking nominations and applicants for a successor to outgoing university president Ed Hammond. Hammond plans to retire in June from the position he has held since 1987. He is the longest-serving president or chancellor in the state university system. The university and regents are being assisted by Washington-based AGB Search. The firm specializes in finding candidates for top-level administrative jobs in higher education. Anyone wishing to apply for the position or to nominate someone else is asked to send documents electronically by February 13 in either Microsoft Word or PDF format to . The northwest Kansas school says it is looking for an innovative, entrepreneurial and politically astute president.

KC Law Firm Helps Trafficking Victims

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City law firm has committed to representing victims of human trafficking referred by the U.S. Attorney's Office in western Missouri. The federal prosecutor's office in Kansas City has had to work hard to find outside lawyers willing to work for free to help victims sort out their legal issues. The law firm, Husch Blackwell, which has about 600 lawyers in Kansas City and elsewhere, has now committed to representing the victims. The Kansas City Star reports that more than 30 lawyers in the firm's offices in Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., have volunteered to join its Human Trafficking Legal Clinic. The leader of the law firm's effort is one of the firm's newest partners, Cynthia Cordes, a former U.S. attorney who specialized in trafficking.

Kansas City Teen Dead in Southeastern CO Crash

LA JUNTA, Colo. (AP) — A 19-year-old from Kansas City, Kansas is dead after a crash in southeastern Colorado. Britney Ackerman was ejected from a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier that went off U.S. Highway 50 near La Junta Wednesday and crashed into a traffic sign. The Colorado State Patrol says she wasn't wearing a seat belt. The driver of the car wasn't injured and another passenger suffered minor injuries. Troopers believe drugs may have contributed to the crash but it is still under investigation.



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