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Regional Headlines for Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014


KS Senate Panel Approves Campaign Finance Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has recommended a bill that would allow certain political party committees to solicit and raise campaign contributions from lobbyists, individuals and organizations during the legislative session. The changes approved Thursday by the Senate Ethics and Election Committee apply to committees established by the state Republican and Democratic parties for House and Senate campaigns. The funds raised are used to support the campaigns of candidates for the Legislature, such as direct contributions or paying for activities like polling or political advertising. Kansas law has prohibited lobbyists and political committees from contributing to those committees. The prohibitions were among a number of changes to campaign finance laws made in in the early 1990s. Candidates would still be prohibited from soliciting and accepting funds for their own campaigns.


Bill to Expand Spanking Definitions Dies in Kansas House

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would have eased some restrictions on spanking will not get a hearing by a Kansas House committee. Representative John Rubin's office said Wednesday that the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee will not consider the bill. Rubin is the committee's chairman. The bill, introduced by Representative Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, spelled out the types of corporal punishment that were allowed in the state. It would have let parents, teachers and other caregivers to hit children hard enough to leave marks or bruising. The Wichita Eagle reports Finney says on her website that she introduced the bill as a guideline for parents, law enforcement, court officials and others, and to protect children. She says current state law, which allows some spanking, is not clear.


Committee Advances Bill to Enter Compact Opposed to Health Care Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a bill to bring the state into a compact with other states seeking to exempt themselves from the federal health care law. The bill approved Thursday by the Federal and State Affairs Committee also would allow compact states to remove themselves from other federal health regulations if Congress consents. The Republican-dominated committee approved the measure on a voice vote with no debate. The measure goes next to the House for debate. Many GOP lawmakers are strong opponents of the federal health care law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama, viewing it as intrusive and burdensome. Critics contend Congress wouldn't approve a compact. A Texas-based group is pushing the compact and says eight other states have enacted similar laws, including Missouri and Texas.


KS Senate Approves Bill Expanding No Call Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill adding cellphone numbers to the state's no-call law for telephone solicitors. The measure proposed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt passed Thursday on a vote of 38-0 and now goes to the House. Kansas enacted the no-call statute in 2002 to protect residents from unwanted telemarketing calls. People add their numbers to a list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission. The attorney general can pursue complaints about solicitations made through landline phones but has no authority over calls made to cellphones. The bill would create that authority. Supporters say the measure brings state policy in line with technology. The attorney general's office, county prosecutors and consumers can sue solicitors over no-call violations with penalties of up to $10,000 for each instance.


KS Senate Approves Bill Strengthening "Hard 50" Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill making a minimum of 50 years in prison the presumed sentence instead of an option for juries to consider for premeditated, first-degree murder. The 35-3 vote Thursday sends the measure to the House. The measure would be the second major revision of the "Hard 50" law within a year. Lawmakers had a special session in September to ensure that juries rather than judges weighed the evidence on whether the sentence should be imposed. The U.S. Supreme Court had said in a Virginia case that juries must decide. Kansas law now says a defendant convicted of premeditated first-degree murder serves at least 25 years unless a jury recommends otherwise. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said the 50-year sentence is more just.


Gov't Looking into ATF Operations in 4 Cities

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department's inspector general says he is conducting a four-city examination into storefront undercover operations run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assess whether they pose a danger to the public. The ATF runs sting operations in various cities in an effort to catch arms traffickers who bring stolen weapons into storefronts where agents act as buyers. The IG's office says it is looking into storefront operations in Milwaukee; St. Louis; Pensacola, Florida; and Wichita, Kansas.


KS Groceries Renew Push for Wine, Liquor Sales

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are facing another push to phase in sales of strong beer, wine and liquor at grocery and convenience stores. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the House commerce committee had a hearing Wednesday on a bill to allow liquor store owners to sell their licenses to other retailers in the same county, starting in July 2015. Kansas currently allows groceries and convenience stores to sell only weak beer. The bill would let them start selling strong beer in July 2017, wine in July 2020 and liquor in July 2024. Supporters said the state's laws are antiquated and change will boost the economy. Liquor store owners fear being pushed out of business. The committee isn't expected to vote on the bill until at least next month.


Report: Number of Kansas Farms Shrinks, Size Grows

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The newly released 2012 Census of Agriculture shows the number of Kansas farms has decreased but those that remain are larger. The National Agriculture Statistics Service reported Thursday that the average number of farms in Kansas in 2012 was 61,773. That is down 6 percent from the 2007 census. Kansas had 46.1 million acres of land used for farming operations, about the same as reported five years earlier. But the average size of the farm, 747 acres, is larger since the previous census. That is up 6 percent, or about 40 acres larger than the average in 2007. The service portrays the average Kansas farmer as 58 years old. The number of farmers under age 34 was 4,327, nearly unchanged from the last count.


KS House Approves College Textbook Tax Break

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Students at public and private colleges in Kansas would get a tax break on textbook purchases under a bill approved by the state House. Wednesday's 122-0 House vote sends the measure to the Senate. The bill creates a state refund for the sales taxes paid on textbooks required for classes at state and private universities, community colleges and technical colleges. Students would apply to the Department of Revenue for the refund. The proposal comes from Wichita Democrat Brandon Whipple, who said it's a way to help students and their families. State officials don't know how much the break would save taxpayers. The state's sales tax is 6.15 percent.

Pilot, Co-Pilot Fired After Faulty Plane Landing

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A pilot and co-pilot are out of a job after a small commuter plane landed at the Salina Regional Airport last week without landing gear. The two were the only ones on the SeaPort Airlines plane when it made the belly landing last Friday. Their names were not released. No one was injured. Seaport, a federally subsidized commercial air carrier, announced Wednesday that the company found the incident was caused by pilot error. Seaport president and CEO Rob McKinney said investigators found nothing wrong with the plane, and that proper landing procedures were not followed. The Salina Journal reports that the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigating are still investigating the incident.

Man Charged with Murder in Wichita Radio Station Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 31-year-old Wichita man is charged with first-degree murder in the death of an employee of Steckline Communications. Antwon D. Banks Sr. was charged Wednesday in the February 9 death of 25-year-old Daniel Flores. Banks made his first appearance in Sedgwick County District Court Wednesday via a video link from Sedgwick County Jail, where he is being held on $750,000 bond. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 5. Flores's body was found in the basement of Steckline Communications, which houses radio stations and Mid America Ag Network. Authorities have not discussed a possible motive for the killing. Lisa Bryce, an office manager for Steckline, told The Wichita Eagle last week that she is Banks's ex-girlfriend and was likely his intended target. Banks has applied for a court-appointed attorney.


Ex-KS Senior Center Chief Sentenced for Theft

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The former director of a southern Kansas senior center has been sentenced to 60 days in jail and ordered to repay $53,000 he took from the city-owned center. Forty-seven-year-old Edward Greene pleaded no contest last month to theft, misuse of public funds and giving false information. Cowley County authorities believe he took or misused as much as $138,000 during his four years at the Arkansas City Senior Center, but they could only prove $53,000 in losses. The Arkansas City Traveler reports that Greene will serve his jail time on a work-release basis under the sentence he received Wednesday. He now works at Rubbermaid in Winfield, and the judge said it would be hard for Greene to pay restitution if he lost his job. Greene resigned from the senior center in September 2012.


Salina Family Sues in Child's Death from Electrical Shock

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The family of an 11-year-old Salina girl who died after suffering an electrical shock while playing in the rain is suing the city and the company that made an electrical box. Jayden Hicks died in December after being shocked while playing with friends in downtown Salina last May. The Salina Journal reports that Jayden was shocked after she fell on an in-ground electrical box with a metal cover. The lawsuit alleges the box was not properly grounded. The family is seeking unspecified damages. The city's insurance will pay a maximum of $1 million per incident. The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of a Kansas law that caps liability at the amount of insurance carried by a municipality.


Survey Suggests Midwest Economy Losing Steam

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An economist says a survey of bankers in 10 Midwest and Plains states suggests the regional economy is losing steam. The Rural Mainstreet Index dropped below growth neutral in the February survey, hitting 48.4, compared with 50.8 in January and 56.1 in December. The survey indexes range from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. A score above 50 suggests growth in that factor in the months ahead. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says the overall index's decline shows that "areas of the nation highly dependent on agriculture and energy are losing economic steam." Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


New Atlas Maps Status of Kansas Lakes

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A new atlas published by the Kansas Biological Survey provides information about the health of nearly 80 lakes and reservoirs around the state. The 240-page document compiles data and observations by the survey staff over more than a decade. It includes information about the condition of the lakes, how quickly they may be filling with sediment, and issues with aquatic nuisances and algae blooms. Kansas Biological Survey director Ed Martinko says in statement that scientists thought it was important to make such information available to policymakers, water resource managers and the public. The Biological Survey is a unit of the University of Kansas, which says "The Atlas of Kansas Lakes" is the first comprehensive overview of the state's reservoirs.


Pope Names New Bishop for Wichita Catholic Diocese

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Pope Francis has named a priest from Illinois as the new bishop for the Roman Catholic diocese of Wichita. Monsignor Carl Kemme, vicar general of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, will be the 11th bishop of Wichita. The appointment was announced Thursday in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. The 53-year-old Kemme will be ordained May 1. He will replace former Bishop Michael O. Jackels, who was appointed archbishop in Dubuque, Iowa, last April.


KS Man Charged with Murder in Police Chase Death

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 28-year-old Kansas City, Kansas man is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a woman who was struck by his vehicle during a police chase. Christopher Bradley Stewart also was charged Thursday with felony fleeing to elude police and interference with a law enforcement officer. Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman says the murder charge was filed because someone was killed during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony. Police say Stewart was fleeing from police Monday when he ran a stop sign and collided with a car driven by 62-year-old Graciela Olivas of Kansas City, Kansas. Stewart was being held on $1 million bond. Gorman's office wasn't sure if he had obtained an attorney. Stewart was scheduled to make a first appearance on Friday.


Judge Warns Canadian Against Further Retaliation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has warned a Canadian man convicted of identity theft against filing any more legal actions against people who testified against him in the criminal case. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten stopped short Wednesday of issuing the formal injunction sought by prosecutors against 58-year-old Leslie Camick, but noted the denial was provisional for now. A federal jury in Wichita convicted Camick last month of moving from Canada to the U.S. using the identity of his dead infant brother. He lived in Winfield under the false name and worked as a telecommunication field engineer. Camick was also convicted of witness retaliation, stemming from a civil rights lawsuit he filed against an ex-girlfriend, her company and law enforcement personnel after his indictment for identity theft.


Feds Charge Woman in Adoption Scam of KS Couple

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have indicted a California woman accused of pretending to be pregnant with twins to scam prospective adoptive parents in Kansas. An indictment filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas charges Chrystal M. Rippey with wire fraud and mail fraud. Prosecutors say a Shawnee couple wired $22,225 to an escrow account in Temecula, California, set up by an adoption agency for Rippey's living expenses. The mail fraud count stems from the mailing of a birth mother packet sent from an Overland Park adoption agency to the woman. Court records do not name a defense attorney. Prosecutors say Rippey gave the Kansas couple sonogram images of a twin pregnancy she falsely claimed were her unborn children. Rippey is also accused of similar schemes in Delaware, California, Georgia and Texas.


Eisenhower Memorial Unchanged, Despite Objections

WASHINGTON (AP) — Architect Frank Gehry is maintaining key elements of his design for a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, despite criticism from a federal arts panel and outside groups. Gehry's Los Angeles-based team presented revisions Thursday to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. But the changes were limited to the landscape, adding 74 trees to the planned memorial park. Gehry has designed a park framed by large metal tapestries depicting the Kansas landscape of Eisenhower's boyhood home. Statues of Ike as president and World War II general would stand at the center. In November, several members of the arts commission objected to the design's towering columns and side tapestries. But Gehry made no changes in response. Commissioners generally favored the landscape design Thursday and didn't comment on Gehry's tapestries.


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