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Regional Headlines for Thursday, February 14, 2013


Realtor Group's Tax Proposal Under Consideration in Legislative Committees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An offer from the Kansas Association of Realtors to compromise on tax issues is getting serious consideration from the Republican chairmen of the Legislature's tax committees. Association members rallied Wednesday at the Statehouse to preserve two popular income tax deductions for homeowners. Republican Governor Sam Brownback is targeting the breaks in a broader plan aimed at positioning Kansas to phase out individual income taxes. Realtor lobbyist Luke Bell said the association is willing to see the deductions phased out over time, if other income tax breaks are also phased out as personal income tax rates drop. Senate Tax Committee Chairman Les Donovan of Wichita says it's an option to consider. House Chairman Richard Carlson of St. Marys was even more receptive and said the idea is viable.


Budget Subcommittee Cuts KU Med Proposal, Recommends Audit

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas Senate budget subcommittee has recommended a $10 million cut in the proposed budget for the University of Kansas. The committee is also endorsing a sweeping audit of the school. A proposal put forward by state Senator Tom Arpke, a Republican from Salina, would remove Governor Sam Brownback’s recommendation that provides $10 million to the school for construction of a new health education building at the KU Medical Center. Construction of the building is part of KU’s initiative to increase the number of physicians trained in Kansas. Arpke also recommended a full legislative audit of costs at KU, saying that the school’s expenses are too high compared with other schools. Arpke also noted that KU’s enrollment has been dropping. KU spokesman Jack Martin responded, saying “The governor’s budget recommendations wisely reflect the need our state has for additional doctors and we hope at the end of the day the majority of Kansas legislators will agree it is a wise investment in Kansans’ health.” With regards to the criticisms over the cost, Martin said that when KU's tuition falls in the bottom third, nationally, of the prices charged by other research universities. Martin said the school also is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to reduce administrative costs. The subcommittee recommendation will be sent the full state Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Kansas Senate Postpones Debate on Technical Tax Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate leaders have postponed a debate on a bill correcting flaws in last year's state law cutting income taxes because Republicans anticipated a broader discussion of tax policy. Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson said fellow Republicans thought bringing the bill up Wednesday as planned would lead to a debate on Governor Sam Brownback's latest tax proposals. Bruce said Brownback's fellow Republicans want to wait until next week to debate his proposals in the Senate. This year's plan from Brownback follows up on last year's massive income tax cuts. The governor wants to phase in a second round of cuts in individual income tax rates but eliminate two popular deductions for homeowners. The bill correcting flaws in last year's law won House approval earlier this week.

Kansas Shooting Suspect Arrested Following Nebraska Gunfight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a suspect in a Topeka homicide is in custody after he engaged law enforcement officers in two gunfights in Nebraska. Topeka police say in a news release that the 33-year-old man was arrested early Thursday after he allegedly robbed a convenience store and engaged in two gunfights in Johnson County, Nebraska, about 25 miles north of the Kansas-Nebraska border. One deputy was injured. The man is a suspect in a shooting Wednesday in Topeka that left one man dead and a woman injured. The victim's name has not been released. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports police said earlier that a woman and girl were with the suspect when he fled Topeka but it was unclear if they were with him when he was arrested.

Hearing Convened on Proposed Kansas Strip Club Regulations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters of a bill that would restrict where strip clubs can operate and what activities take place inside say the changes are necessary to protect Kansas communities and values. The Community Defense Act would establish where adult businesses can be located, ban lap dances and regulate dancing onstage in various levels of undress. The measure before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Thursday surfaces two years after a similar attempt to regulate strip clubs died in the state Senate. Phillip Cosby, who is with American Family Action of Kansas and Missouri, says the bill will reduce the negative effects caused by strip clubs. Opponents, who will testify Friday, argue the restrictions could cost Kansas as many as 1,000 jobs and are unnecessary.


Bill Would Force New Math, English Standards

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee hears testimony from critics of a national movement to implement new K-12 education standards for math and English. Opponents of the standards told the House Education Committee on Thursday that the Common Core Standards were flawed, unproven and that states were pressured into adopting them. The Kansas State Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010. A bill before the House committee would require Kansas to abandon the standards, expend no money to implement them and require new state standards to be written in their place. Deputy education commissioner Brad Neuenswander told the committee that replacing the standards would be costly. But he added the state board will be monitoring the new standards to make sure they meet state needs or write their own.


Haysville Legislator Says He Was Hit, Robbed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker says he was injured and robbed while entering a hotel room in Topeka, but security at the hotel is raising questions about his report. The Wichita Eagle reports that Representative Joe Edwards says the attack happened Tuesday night as he returned to his room after watching the State of the Union address. But security staff at the Ramada Convention Center Downtown examined video footage and electronic key lock records. A report says they show no evidence of an assault as Edwards entered his room alone. The 58-year-old was hospitalized Wednesday afternoon with a concussion. He said $260 in cash was missing from his wallet, although his credit cards remained. Police continue to investigate.


Kansas Among States to Share Toyota Safety Settlement 

DETROIT (AP) — Kansas is one of 29 states that will share in a settlement from the Toyota Motor Company. Toyota says it will pay $29 million to 29 states and American Samoa as part of a settlement related to its safety recalls. State attorneys general sued Toyota after it recalled 14 million vehicles globally in 2009 and 2010 for accelerating without warning. The lawsuit accused Toyota of failing to notify customers promptly about the problems. As part of the settlement, Toyota says it will make vehicle information more easily accessible and deal more quickly with complaints. Toyota also will pay some restitution to owners. Toyota blames sticky gas pedals and faulty floor mats for the acceleration issue. Toyota has paid more than $1 billion to settle claims related to the recalls. It also recently paid a record $17.4 million fine to the U.S. government for failing to quickly report safety problems.


Kathleen Sebelius Appoints Stephene Moore to Head HHS Region 7

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A registered nurse and former congressional candidate from northeastern Kansas has been chosen to head a four-state region of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the appointment of Stephene Moore as director of HHS Region 7 on Thursday. The region covers Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Moore, of Lenexa, has been a senior adviser at HHS for the past year. She is the wife of Dennis Moore, a Democrat who spent six terms in the U.S. House representing Kansas' 3rd Congressional District. Stephene Moore won the Democratic nomination to succeed her husband in 2010 but lost the general election to Republican Kevin Yoder.


Damage to Barton County Equipment Could Reach $15K

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Officials in a central Kansas county are calculating the damage done by vandals to several pieces of heavy equipment. The Great Bend Tribune reports that employees with the Barton County Road and Bridge Department discovered the damage Thursday morning at a job site south of Ellinwood. Department foreman Mike Patton says windows were smashed out of two road graders, a power broom and a backhoe that were parked just off a road. He estimates the damage at $10,000 to $15,000. Crews had just started working Wednesday on a project that was scheduled to take about two weeks. Patton says window glass for the damaged vehicles has to be specially cut, and the project could be delayed by two weeks.

Kansas Rejects Bids for Historic Home Near Capitol

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Administration has rejected bids from two potential buyers for a historic home west of the Statehouse. Interim Secretary Mark McGivern said Wednesday the department now plans to sell the Hiram Price Dillon house at a public auction. A date hasn't been set. The state has owned the 12,000-square-foot house since 1998, when a church nearby traded the property for a parking lot. Dillon was a prominent attorney and built the home in 1913. McGivern said neither of the offers submitted earlier this month represented a fair market value. A Topeka development firm bid $205,000, and a law firm offered $351,000. The state has used the home for events. A plan in 2010 to raise $4.6 million in private funds for renovations foundered.

Escaped Saline County Child Killer in Custody

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Salina man who escaped from prison while awaiting sentencing for killing his girlfriend's 14-month-old son is back in custody. Twenty-nine-year-old Antonio Brown called the U.S. Marshals office in Wichita Wednesday night to surrender, ending a search that began when he walked away from the Saline County jail Monday. U.S. Marshals say Brown apparently arrived in Wichita Tuesday and turned himself in because he had no place else to go. Brown pleaded no contest in January to first-degree murder and child abuse in the beating death. Authorities say he walked out of a jail holding cell after it was opened by mistake and followed a transport vehicle out a garage door. Brown escaped the night before he was to be sentenced.


Synthetic Marijuana Linked to Kidney Damage

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials say synthetic marijuana has been linked to kidney damage in some teens and young adults. Sixteen people who smoked synthetic marijuana were hospitalized with kidney problems last year in six states, including Kansas. All recovered but five of them needed dialysis. Synthetic marijuana is plant material sprayed with chemicals that can mimic the high from marijuana. It's been tied to such health problems as a rapid heartbeat and seizures. This is the first report of kidney problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's not known exactly what caused the kidney damage. Federal and state laws ban some of the chemicals used for synthetic marijuana. A CDC report Thursday details the 16 cases in Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wyoming, New York and Rhode Island.


Chinese Family of Injured ESU Student Seeks Help

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The family of a Chinese exchange student who was critically injured while attending Emporia State University is seeking help to pay for her rehabilitation. Twenty-three-year-old education student Yali Huang was flown to a Wichita hospital in November after being struck by a Jeep while walking across a street. After coming out of a 10-week coma, she's ready to be moved to a rehabilitation facility. But her exchange student insurance doesn't cover that type of care, and she's not ready to travel to a facility closer to her home — Shenzhen, a city in southern China. University students plan to collect donations Saturday at the Chinese Spring Festival Gala. A fund also has been set up at the Bank of America in Wichita.

Ex-IRS Agent Pleads Guilty to Theft

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former Internal Revenue Service agent in Kansas had pleaded guilty to theft of public money in a deal with prosecutors that may spare her any prison time. Forty-nine-year-old Becky L. Book of Pittsburg admitted Thursday to receiving more than $26,000 in salary and mileage payments for meetings with taxpayers that never took place. Prosecutors allege Book claimed she worked 744 hours between March 2010 and April 2011 but actually took those hours off as unauthorized personal time. The government agreed as part of its plea deal to recommend a sentence of probation, although it is up to U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil to decide what sentence to impose. Book has agreed to pay $13,000 in partial payment of restitution at her sentencing, scheduled for May 23.


Brown Site in Topeka Offers Transportation Grants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is offering financial help to teachers who want to bring students to the former Topeka school. Transportation grants are available to schools within 75 miles of the historic site, which tells the story of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. The grants also cover travel costs to other Topeka sites that explore similar issues. Those include the Kansas State Capitol, which features a mural of the fiery abolitionist John Brown. Other sites that fall under the grant include the Kansas Museum of History and the Ritchie House. John and Mary Ritchie were abolitionists who befriended Brown.

Burglaries Plague South-Central Kansas County

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Investigators and homeowners in a south-central Kansas county are dealing with a string of burglaries that began a month ago. KAKE-TV reports at least nine residential break-ins have occurred in Cowley County since mid-January, including two that happened Tuesday near Winfield Lake. The burglars are targeting isolated, rural homes in the northern part of the county. So far they've made off with firearms, electronics, computers, jewelry and tools. The Cowley County sheriff's office wants residents to report suspicious people knocking on doors asking directions. Undersheriff Jeff Moore says it's often a ploy for burglars to get inside a home and look for items they'll return to steal sometime later.

Hutchinson Church Grows from 120 to 1,300 Members

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson church that has gone for 120 to 1,300 members in the last decade is preparing to move into a new home while celebrating its growth. Besides the congregation of the CrossPoint Church that attends services in Hutchinson, about a thousand more members watch from nine satellite locations in central and western Kansas. The church's growth began in 2002, when Senior Pastor Andy Addis arrived. Today CrossPoint has six services at two Hutchinson locations, as well as the nine satellite locations from Ulysses to Concordia. The Hutchinson News reports the church is in the midst of renovating a large former bowling alley that is empty to accommodate its growing membership. Construction is expected to be complete by May 2014.

Wichita Woman Nearly Crushed in Garbage Truck

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita fire officials say a woman is lucky to be alive after she was nearly crushed in a garbage truck. Battalion Chief Frank Buck says the woman crawled into a trash bin while looking for scrap metal early Thursday. Jeff Gillis, the Waste Management driver, told KFDI that he emptied the trash receptacle into his truck and was preparing to press a button to compact the garbage when the woman's sister drove up and stopped him. When the driver turned off the engine, he and his sister could hear the woman's screams. Firefighters were called to rescue the woman and had to dig through the debris by hand to reach her. The woman was taken to a hospital but firefighters said she wasn't seriously hurt.

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