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Regional Headlines for Thursday, February 6, 2014


KS Governor: State Weathers Storm, But Cold Still Poses Danger

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials say that Kansas residents weathered the snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow in some areas, though the danger from cold temperatures remains. Governor Sam Brownback says Thursday that residents heeded warnings to prepare for the storm and to stay off the roads earlier this week to allow crews to clear the way. Three people died in traffic accidents during the storm. The Kansas Highway Patrol says troopers worked 11 injury accidents statewide. Brownback was joined at the news conference by Transportation Secretary Mike King, Deputy Emergency Management Director Angee Morgan and Highway Patrol Major John Eichkorn. The storm prompted Brownback to close state offices in Shawnee County on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Legislature also canceled all of its meetings for those two days.


Judge Rejects Bid to Toss Kansas Voting Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has rejected a claim that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has no legal authority to file a lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to modify the federal voter registration form. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren on Thursday denied a request by voting rights organizations that had intervened and then sought to dismiss the lawsuit. The court found that Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt had authorized Kobach to handle the litigation. Kansas and Arizona sued in a bid to force the commission to require proof-of-citizenship documents from residents of their states who use the federal registration form. Several groups including Valley del Sol, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Common Cause and others had challenged Kobach's authority to file the lawsuit on behalf of Kansas.


Emporia Commission Approves Hostess Tax Incentives

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The Emporia City Commission approved tax abatement incentives for Hostess Brands' planned expansion of the company's plant. The Emporia Gazette reports that Hostess plans to add a 36,000-square-foot warehouse for $3.5 million, add $24 million in equipment and make leasehold improvements of $2.5 million. In exchange for the 10-year tax abatement, Hostess said it will create 50 full-time jobs with a total payroll of $1.5 million. The Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas board of directors approved the agreement on January 10. No timeline has been announced for the expansion project.


KS House Panel Approves Gay Marriage Response Legislation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a bill aimed at protecting individuals, groups and businesses that refuse for religious reasons to recognize same-sex unions or provide benefits to gay couples. The Federal and State Affairs Committee's voice vote Thursday sends the measure to the entire House. The committee's debate came amid an uncertain legal climate for states such as Kansas that ban same-sex marriage. Federal judges recently struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah. The bill says governmental entities cannot require individuals, businesses or religious groups to provide services, facilities, goods or employment benefits related to any marriage or domestic partnership. Supporters say the measure will protect religious freedom. Critics say the measure promotes discrimination and would encourage government officials to ignore court rulings favoring gay marriage.


KS House Panel Advances Tanning Salon Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has endorsed legislation that would bar people under the age of 18 from using commercial tanning beds. Thursday's 11-4 vote by the Health and Human Services Committee sends the bill to the full House for consideration. Businesses that allow people under 18 use their tanning beds could be fined $250 for each violation. Minors could still get commercial spray tans. The committee amended the bill to let minors use commercial tanning beds if prescribed by a doctor to treat an identified skin condition. Supporters of the bill cited medical studies and committee testimony that exposure to tanning bed radiation at a young age increases the risks of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.


K-State Campus Police Going After Drunken Drivers

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Campus police at Kansas State University are cracking down on drunken drivers, calling them a hazard to pedestrians and bicyclists. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the university's police department has arrested 15 people suspected of drunken driving so far this year on and around the Manhattan campus. Kansas State officials note that Manhattan has several options for people who choose not to drive after drinking alcohol. The university's own Safe Ride program provides free rides on a scheduled route Thursdays through Saturdays. And anyone feeling buzzed can always take a taxi.


NY Company Pleads Guilty to Contraband Charge

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A New York company must pay up to $1 million in fines, forfeiture and restitution after pleading guilty in federal court in Kansas City to conspiring to transport contraband cigarettes from Missouri. AJ's Candy & Tobacco of Irving, New York agreed Thursday to forfeit $221,550 and pay a fine of $243,400. The U.S. Attorney's Office says the court may also order the company to pay an additional $535,050 in restitution to the state of New York for excise tax it lost in the scheme. A federal indictment says conspirators bought more than $17 million worth of contraband cigarettes from Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents during an undercover sting. Officials say roughly 620,000 cartons of cigarettes were transported to New York without paying the state's $4.35 per pack excise tax.


KS Man Sent to Jail for Killing Cat

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson man was sentenced to a year in jail after killing a cat by throwing it against a wall. Reno County District Court Judge Joseph McCarville on Wednesday sentenced to 25-year-old Bradlee Ellis, who pleaded no contest in October to misdemeanor animal cruelty. The Hutchinson News reports that one year in prison is the maximum sentence for the crime. Hutchinson police arrested Ellis and Emileigh Martens in October 2013 after finding the cat dead at their home. The pair reportedly told officers they were upset that the cat kept going to the bathroom inside the house. Martens pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Court records do not show a scheduled trial date.

State Says 16 Kansans Have Died from Flu This Season

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State health officials say 16 Kansans have died from the influenza during the current flu season. Flu season is generally considered to run between November and March. A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment says at this time last year, 42 people had died from the flu. The state's reporting period is from September to May. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the H1N1 flu strain this season is the same strain that caused killed more than 18,000 people in the U.S. in 2009. But state epidemiologist Charles Hunt says this year's strain won't be as severe because people have developed more immunity to that strain. State health officials remind Kansas residents that it is not too late to get a flu shot to hold off the disease.

Official: Kansas to See Action on Prairie Chicken

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's top wildlife official is warning Kansas legislators that complaints from state officials will not stop the federal government from taking action to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Robin Jennison, secretary of the state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, told a legislative committee that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will either impose a conservation plan across the range of the bird, or list it as a threatened species. Jennison says the conservation plan would be best for Kansas. He says listing the bird on the threatened species list would dramatically impact the state's economy. The Lawrence Journal-World reports agriculture and energy officials say their costs will increase if the Lesser Prairie Chicken is listed as a threatened species because they will have to avoid disturbing the bird's habitat.

Tours of Kansas Statehouse Dome Resume

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Visitors to the Kansas Statehouse can once again make the long climb to see the sights from the dome, now that renovations to the building are complete. Guides from the Kansas Historical Society lead free tours of the dome each weekday from 9:30 am to 3:15 pm. Tours include a glimpse of the inner and outer domes of the Statehouse, as well as a 296-step climb to the top without an elevator. The tour gives a 360-degree view of Topeka and the surrounding countryside. The dome was closed to visitors during part of the 13-year, $330 million Statehouse renovation. The building was dedicated on January 29, the 153rd anniversary of Kansas statehood.

KS Sheriff Warns of Jury Duty Telephone Scam

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County officials are warning residents about a jury duty scam that has resurfaced in the area and cost one person several hundred dollars. The Wichita Eagle reports that several people have received calls saying they missed their jury duty and must pay a fine. Sheriff's Lieutenant David Mattingly says one person who was called paid $500 for the bogus fine. Instead of providing financial information or money, Mattingly urges anyone who gets such a call to hang up and call sheriff's investigators, or 911 after business hours.


El Dorado Reviewing Pit Bull Ban

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Another Kansas community is reviewing its ban on pit bulls. The Butler County Times Gazette reports that requests from the public have prompted the El Dorado City Commission to study a repeal of its 1989 ban on the dogs. El Dorado's regulation defines a pit bull as a bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire or a mix of those breeds. Commissioner Bill Young says he wants to get a history of pit bulls in El Dorado and see why the prohibition was adopted 25 years ago. The city commission in Garden City voted this week remove pit bulls and similar breeds from its vicious dog ordinance. Residents had been allowed to own the dogs, but had to post signs or keep them in pens.


Man Sentenced in Shooting of Butler County Deputy

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted of shooting a south-central Kansas sheriff's deputy has been sentenced to more than 21 years in prison. Jan Tracy Kilbourne was sentenced Thursday to 263 months in prison for shooting Butler County deputy Jacob Lawrence on Labor Day last year. Lawrence returned fire, injuring Kilbourne. The confrontation occurred in Augusta, about 15 miles east of Wichita. Kilbourne was arrested four days later in Wichita. He was convicted last December of attempted second-degree murder. KWCH-TV reports Lawrence testified Thursday that he believed he would have died if he wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest that day. He said he was trying to help people in a disabled vehicle and didn't even intend to write Kilbourne a ticket.


KS School Official Hurt When SUV Hits Building

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas school superintendent says she's bruised and sore after an SUV crashed through the wall of her office. Police in El Dorado say Tuesday's accident occurred when an 80-year-old driver failed to negotiate a turn on a snow-covered street and hit the school district's administration building. KAKE-TV reports the driver was taken to a hospital with serious injuries, but his condition was unknown Wednesday. El Dorado superintendent Sue Givens was hit by debris as the vehicle dislodged paneling in her office. Givens's husband took her to a hospital to be checked. Givens posted on the school district's Facebook page she felt fortunate to have survived what she called a "bizarre accident." She asked the public to keep the elderly driver in their prayers.

KS Native to Help Open Olympics

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas native will have a front-row seat at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Bryan Pinkall is one of only two Americans on a 250-person team that is producing the opening ceremonies, which air Friday evening. He's managing production operations and directing for part of the ceremony, and is one of several music directors. The 28-year-old Pinkall is a native of Great Bend and currently is a voice instructor at Kansas State University. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Conservatory of Music and Dance last year. The Kansas City Star reports that Pinkall can't reveal much of what will happen during the opening ceremonies in Russia. But he's promising that if everything goes well, it will be an "astounding production."


City, County Lean Different Ways on Road Project Near Landmark

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Dodge City commissioners say a state Transportation Department plan that would carve away part of a historic rock formation west of town is the safest option for the $69 million highway expansion project. Ford County commissioners say most of the phone calls they have received support an option that would create a smaller median and preserve the Point of Rocks, so they're tentatively supporting that proposal. The Dodge City Globe reports that a third option that would have completed part of the highway expansion but waited for increased funding to bypass the formation was deemed too risky because of the uncertainty of future funding. Construction of the $69 million expansion of U.S. 50 from Dodge City to Cimarron is scheduled begin in spring of 2018.


Man Convicted in KC Firefighters' Deaths Seeks Lighter Sentence

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man serving a life sentence for a 1988 explosion that killed six Kansas City firefighters will argue in court that his sentence should be reduced. U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson agreed Wednesday that Bryan Sheppard, who was 17 at the time of the explosion, will be able to argue his case before a federal judge. Sheppard was one of five people convicted in the firefighters' deaths in an explosion at a construction trailer fire in south Kansas City. One of the defendants has died. All of them always maintained they were innocent. The Kansas City Star reports that Sheppard's attorney sought the re-sentencing hearing after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sentences of life without parole for juveniles violated the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.


MO Commission: MGE Violated Safety Rules in Plaza Fire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri Public Service Commission staff report accuses Missouri Gas Energy of failing to take "prompt and adequate" steps to ensure safety the day of a fatal restaurant explosion in Kansas City. The report released Thursday says MGE employees waited too long before checking whether gas levels had reached unsafe conditions inside JJ's restaurant on February 19, 2013. An explosion and fire leveled the building, killing a JJ's employee and injuring several people. Authorities have said the explosion and fire were caused when a cable company's subcontractor breached a natural gas supply line. The PSC staff also filed a complaint against MGE asking the commission to find the utility violated PSC safety rules. MGE disputed the allegations in the PSC staff report, which it says failed to include "important facts."


Kansas Speedway Extends Toyota Partnership

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Speedway has announced an extension of a multi-year partnership with Toyota that will keep the automaker's line of vehicles as its official pace car. Toyota became the pace car of the two Sprint Cup races at Kansas Speedway in 2012. The deal was announced on the same day Toyota revealed an 11-year agreement for various naming rights at revamped Daytona International Speedway. The famous Florida track is owned by International Speedway Corporation, which also owns Kansas Speedway. Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren said the partnership helps to strengthen the track's ties to Toyota dealerships in the Kansas City area.


Division I Schools Flock Again to Kansas Junior Colleges

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Troy coach Larry Blakeney might as well have bought a house in Kansas. Or at least rented a nice apartment somewhere within driving distance of its many junior colleges. Blakeney has been around long enough to know quite well the number of Division I prospects that schools in the Jayhawk Conference spit out each year. He's gone after many of them in the past, as have more high-profile schools such as Auburn and Florida State. So it was little surprise that he began plugging holes with a trip to the Sunflower State. And by the time signing day rolled around Wednesday, six of his 19 prospects were from Kansas junior colleges. In all, nearly four dozen Kansas JUCO players signed Division I letters of intent.


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