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Regional Headlines for Thursday, February 7, 2013



State Asks Kansas Courts for Mediation in School Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Governor Sam Brownback are asking the state Supreme Court to stay a lower court's ruling on school finance and send the case to mediation. The documents were filed Thursday in Topeka in response to a January 11 ruling from a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court that the state's system for funding K-12 schools was unconstitutional. Brownback said in a statement that it is the Legislature's duty to set funding for schools but lawmakers owe it to taxpayers, parents, teachers and students to discuss a way to solve the dispute. A group of school districts and parents filed the lawsuit in 2010, alleging that the state was out of compliance with a 2005 Supreme Court order.


Kansas Senate Approves Anti-Child Trafficking Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved legislation increasing the penalties for child sex trafficking and providing help for victims of human trafficking. Attorney General Derek Schmidt had sought the legislation. Thursday's 38-0 vote in the Senate sends the bill to the House. The bill creates the crime of felony commercial sexual exploitation of a child, punishable by a minimum sentence of 25 years if the victim is less than 14 years old. It also establishes programs to help victims of human trafficking through the attorney general, Department of Children and Families and the Department of Labor. The bill also increases penalties for those promoting the sale of sexual relations.


Kansas Senate Adopts State RICO Law 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislation intended to give Kansas prosecutors a new tool for curbing criminal gang activity has cleared the state Senate on a vote of 37-0. The vote Thursday sent the measure to the House. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has described the proposal as an anti-racketeering law that would let prosecutors go after gangs for alleged patterns of criminal activity as well as single criminal acts. The bill defines racketeering as an activity to collect unlawful debts, such as loans or gambling losses. It also includes activities to gain control of property or illegal businesses such as human trafficking and drug sales. The legislation includes criteria for establishing that someone is a gang member. Factors could include frequenting known gang areas or dressing in a gang's style.


Some GOP Lawmakers Resisting Kansas Governor's Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is meeting resistance to his tax plan from some of his fellow Republicans. That's because it promises to reduce individual income taxes in the future while raising new revenues over the next few years to plug holes in the state budget. Some GOP lawmakers worried Thursday about being tagged as tax increasers a year after Kansas enacted massive income tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Brownback says he's trying to position Kansas to phase out individual income taxes. But to stabilize the budget, Brownback is pushing changes in sales and income tax laws that would net the state more than $1.1 billion in new revenues over three years starting in July. The figure comes from legislative researchers.


Fairness of Tax Plan Subject of Legislative Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A positive internal report on the effects of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's latest income tax proposals isn't quieting criticism from some Kansas legislators. The state Revenue Department released figures Wednesday showing Brownback's proposed cuts in individual income taxes would benefit the poorest taxpayers in Kansas more than its wealthiest ones. Brownback wants to reduce income tax rates further after cuts last year. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said Brownback is seeking a balanced approach. But the analysis doesn't take into account Brownback's plan to cancel a sales tax decrease scheduled for July to bolster the budget. The study also appears to exclude roughly half of the state's poorest taxpayers because they don't pay any income taxes. House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence says the administration is shaping numbers for a positive report.

Kansas Revenue Secretary Faces Questions on Business Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members are questioning why Republican Governor Sam Brownback's tax plan doesn't provide relief for corporations and oil producers. The issues arose Wednesday as Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan testified before the House Taxation Committee. Brownback wants to reduce individual income tax rates again after aggressive cuts last year. But Overland Park Republican Marvin Kleeb asked Jordan why the governor isn't proposing to reduce corporate income tax rates. Jordan says many businesses don't pay any taxes because of credits and incentives. Dighton Republican Don Hineman said he's concerned about last year's repeal of a severance tax exemption for some new oil production. Jordan said most industry officials didn't have a problem with the change. He also said it took advantage of a boom in production.

Kansas School Property Tax Up for Renewal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have begun the process of renewing a statewide property tax that helps fund elementary and secondary schools. The 20-mill tax raises about $575 million a year for public schools and must be renewed every two years. A mill equals $1 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the renewal Wednesday. Support came from the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Education Association. There was no opposition, and the committee took no action on it. Revenue from the tax is considered to be part of each school district's contribution to overall education spending.

Kansas Reporting Abnormally High Number of Flu Cases

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say the state is being hit hard by the flu in the current flu season. The state health department says Kansas recorded 699 deaths from September 1 through Monday in which flu and/or pneumonia was a direct or contributing factor. Department spokeswoman Miranda Steele says the rate of people being treated for influenza-like illness in Kansas is about 5 percent. She says that rate never reached 5 percent in the 2011-2012 and 2010-2011 flu seasons. The highest rate during those two seasons was 3.5 percent. State epidemiologist Charles Hunt told The Topeka Capital-Journal that the flu usually peaks in February, but it was about a month ahead of time this year. Hunt urges Kansans who haven't done so to get a flu shot.

Bill Addresses Abortion Training for KUMed Students

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal in the Kansas House would allow University of Kansas medical students to receive privately funded abortion training. The provision is part of a bill introduced Wednesday that would more strictly regulate abortions in Kansas. A similar bill died in the Senate last session because of concerns that it would jeopardize accreditation of the medical school's obstetrics and gynecology program. Representative Lance Kinzer of Olathe says the new bill would require the medical center to use private dollars to pay medical residents for abortion training. That would mean no state dollars are used for abortion training. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the provision has not yet been finalized. A spokeswoman says the medical center believes it provides an administrative remedy that would not threaten the center's residency programs.

Emergency Responders Seek More Disease Testing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Emergency medical responders are asking Kansas lawmakers to require testing for more communicable diseases and improve notification of first responders. Current state law on accidental exposure requires first responders to be notified if they are exposed to AIDS or HIV. In testimony Wednesday before a Kansas House committee, emergency supervisors supported a proposal to require testing and notification for about 52 communicable diseases, including hepatitis, rabies, rubella, measles and mumps. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the measure likely will be amended to allow for testing at hospitals, clinics and other health facilities. Positive tests would be reported promptly to first responders in Kansas. Scott Stueven, with Butler County Emergency Medical Services, says the state's lack of a comprehensive state testing law leads to inconsistent handling of possible disease exposure cases.

Kansas Governor Reappoints Ethics Commission Chairman

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has reappointed a retired Washburn University professor as chairman of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. Daniel Harden has served on the commission since 2011, and Brownback appointed him Wednesday to another two-year term. The commission enforces the state's lobbying, campaign finance and conflict-of-interest laws. Harden is a Meriden resident who taught at Washburn in Topeka for more than two decades, starting in 1987. He's taught graduate courses in leadership, law and education and has served on his local school board. He also is a former high school teacher and public school principal. The governor appoints two of the commission's nine members. Others are appointed by legislative leaders, the attorney general, secretary of state and the Kansas Supreme Court's chief justice.


2 of Fred Phelps's Granddaughters Leave Westboro Baptist Church

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two granddaughters of the founder of a Topeka anti-gay church have left the group and apologized for any hurt they caused others. Megan Phelps-Roper and her sister, Grace Phelps-Roper, are the granddaughters of Fred Phelps, whose Westboro Baptist Church is known for protesting at funerals for service members and gay people, and at other events. They are the daughters of Shirley Phelps-Roper, a prominent spokeswoman for the group. The Kansas City Star reports that the two left the church last November, but posted a statement on social media Wednesday explaining their decision. They say they still love their family, and have not decided what to do next. Steve Drain, a spokesman for the church, says the sisters have rejected the Lord and are headed for hell. 


Parents of Kansas Man Who Died in Train Accident Sue Railroad

LECOMPTON, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas couple whose son died when his truck hit a train is suing the railroad company. In their lawsuit, Thomas and Laury Snyder of Lecompton allege BNSF Railway's negligence led to the death of their 22-year-old son, Kyle, in November 2011. The crossing northwest of Lawrence had a sign but no flashing lights or gates. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the couple filed the suit last week in Douglas County court. Authorities said icy conditions contributed to the crash. The train's engineer and conductor said the pickup couldn't stop and slid in front of the train. In September, state, county and railroad officials agreed to put signals and gates at the intersection crossing. A spokesman for BNSF declined to comment on pending litigation.


1 K-State Researcher Dead in Fire Near Campus

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Manhattan officials say a Kansas State University researcher died in a fire at an apartment near the campus. The Manhattan Fire Department says 34-year-old Vasanta Lakshmi Pallem died of smoke inhalation after being taken to a hospital late Wednesday. No one else was injured. Pallem was a postdoctoral researcher in the university's chemical engineering department. KMAN reports that the university worked with other students who were displaced by the fire. They were all staying in hotels or with friends by Thursday morning.

Bill Seeks to Extend Life of Kansas Technical Education Panel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are being urged to extend the life of a panel created to help improve technical education programs. The Senate Education Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill to keep the Kansas Postsecondary Technical Education Authority in business until July 2017. It's now scheduled to shut down in mid-2014. Lawmakers established the authority in 2007 to coordinate and enhance technical education programs. It has an annual budget of approximately $680,000. Leaders of Kansas education groups testified Wednesday the authority has helped improve technical instruction. But they also said more work must be done to improve programs and meet the needs of employers who rely on trained workers.


University of Kansas Cancer Center Honors State Senate President

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Cancer Center has given a newly created leadership award to cancer survivor and state Senate President Susan Wagle. University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Cancer Center Director Roy Jensen presented the award to Wagle on Wednesday at the Statehouse. The center in Kansas City, Kansas established the award after being designated as a National Cancer Institute facility. The award will be bestowed annually. The NCI designation means the Kansas center can offer treatments not available at facilities without the designation. The center is honoring Wagle for supporting cancer research and cancer patients as a legislator. But the Wichita Republican also has twice overcome lymphoma, and her youngest son was treated for leukemia.


Renovations of KU Natural History Labs Complete

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas is ready to show off the results of a two-year, $3.5 million renovation. The institute is housed in Dyche Hall on the university campus in Lawrence. It had not undergone a major renovation since 1963. Now, it sports eight new laboratories and two cryogenic tanks, which will be available to scientists and student researchers for their work on plant and animal specimens. Leonard Krishtalka, the director of the institute, says the renovation allows researchers to move from merely recording information to forecasting developments affecting humans' health, food and economies. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the museum will allow visitors to tours the labs next week. A dedication reception is scheduled for next Tuesday.


Pittsburg State Student Government on Record Against Campus Concealed Carry

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The student government association at another public university in Kansas has gone on record opposing concealed carry of firearms on campus. The Student Senate at Pittsburg State University adopted that position on a vote of 22-16 Wednesday night. The university's administration had already stated its opposition to concealed carry. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports the vote followed an informal survey that showed 53 percent of students at the southeastern Kansas university in favor of allowing concealed carry, with 44 percent opposed. All other student government organizations at Kansas regents institutions have approved resolutions opposing concealed weapons on their campuses.


Man Detained at Kansas Bank Wearing Bulletproof Vest

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Douglas County prosecutor will decide whether to file charges against a man who was detained after approaching a Lawrence bank while wearing a bulletproof vest under his shirt. The Lawrence Journal-World reports employees at a Bank of America branch called police Tuesday after spotting the man acting suspiciously. The man had been at the bank previously and had conflicts with employees. Officers detained the man and seized a firearm from his vehicle. Police said the weapon might have been illegal for the man to possess because of an earlier, involuntary commitment for mental health reasons. The man was not booked into jail. Police spokesman Sergeant Trent McKinley says his information has been forwarded to the Douglas County prosecutor for review.

Kansas Groups to Share $1.2M in Housing Grants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ten nonprofit groups and public housing agencies in Kansas have been awarded a total of $1.2 million to help renters find affordable housing. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation announced the grants Wednesday, saying the funds can be used on subsidies for renters or to help them pay utility and security deposits. The money comes from the federal government but the grants are administered by the state's housing corporation, an independent agency with a board appointed by the governor. Girard-based Southeast Kansas Community Action Program received the largest grant, at $300,000. The Southwest Guidance Center in Liberal and Harvest America in Garden City received grants of $150,000 each.


Children Unhurt in Kansas City School Bus Crash

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are looking for a driver who ran away after a collision between a car and a school bus that toppled onto its side. School district officials say there were no injuries among the six children and one adult who were on the bus when the crash occurred around 4:45 pm Thursday near Swope Park. The impact at an intersection tipped the full-size bus onto its right side, with a utility pole lying across it. The children and adult escaped through a rear door. Witnesses reported seeing a bloodied man get out of the badly damaged red sedan and run from the scene. The bus was carrying children home from Success Academy at Knotts, an alternative elementary school for children from kindergarten through sixth grade.


Appeals Court Tosses Evidence Against Kansas Veteran

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has tossed out evidence against a 66-year-old Kansas military veteran convicted of possessing incendiary bombs in preparation for the end of the world. Alfred Dutton, an Army and Marine veteran from Eureka, is serving a 21-month sentence. He pleaded guilty earlier to unlawful possession of unregistered destructive devices. Dutton had sought to suppress evidence taken in 2011 from a storage unit where authorities found five jars of homemade napalm with fuses attached. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a lower court's denial of the motion and returned the case for more proceedings. The appeals court says authorities lacked reason to suspect criminal activity at the storage unit. His attorney says Dutton will withdraw his guilty plea. Prosecutors are reviewing Wednesday's ruling.

Man Pleads Guilty in Kansas Drug Distribution Ring

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 33-year-old Overland Park man pleaded guilty to helping to distribute nearly $17 million in marijuana and cocaine in Kansas. Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that 33-year-old Samuel Villeareal III pleaded guilty to one drug conspiracy count. After his arrest last June, federal prosecutors suggested that Villeareal sold marijuana to some University of Kansas basketball players. The Kansas City Star reports that neither the prosecutor nor Villeareal mentioned anything about Kansas sports during Wednesday's hearing. Villeareal was one of 44 people indicted last year with conspiring to distribute the drugs over four years in Johnson and Douglas counties. Prosecutors say the ring brought in drugs from Mexico, Canada, and northern California. Villeareal faces at a minimum of 10 years in prison and a possible $10 million fine.

Wichita Couple Charged in Shooting Death

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A 24-year-old El Dorado man has died from gunshot wounds he suffered at his home. El Dorado police Chief Tom Boren says Trevor Wakefield died Wednesday after being shot on Monday. Boren says a Wichita couple charged in the shooting is likely to face amended charges after Wakefield's death. Thirty-four-year-old Montee Ray Iverson and 29-year-old Mandy Renee Crandall made first appearances in Butler County court Wednesday on the original charges. A third person arrested in the shooting has been released without charges. The Wichita Eagle reports that Iverson has an extensive criminal history, including being sent back to prison five times on parole and probation violations. Crandall also has served prison sentences for drug convictions and a probation violation. The two suspects were arrested separately near Winfield on Monday.

Body Found at Site of Last Week's Fire in Chanute

CHANUTE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in southeast Kansas are seeking help identifying a body found at the site of a fire in Chanute. Investigators on Thursday also asked for assistance in locating 36-year-old Cristy K. Thomas-Wiles, who is now considered a missing person. Her connection to the fire investigation is unclear, and police did not immediately respond to a request for further information. The fire broke out last week in a residential area of the city. The Chanute Police Department was summoned back to the scene Wednesday to investigate the possible discovery of a body. Police say the person's identity is unknown and the body will be transported for autopsy. The state fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the fire.

Mortgage Scam Costs Kansas Man $110K

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Police in Riley County say an 80-year-old man lost $110,000 in just two months to a home mortgage scam. WIBW-TV reports the scammers tricked the Manhattan man using what appeared to be paperwork from Bank of America. The man was warned that he was behind on his mortgage payments and about to lose his home to foreclosure. The victim provided his financial information, allowing the scammers to access his account. Police say the man was first contacted on December 1st. He reported the theft on Tuesday. The victim declined to be interviewed, except to tell WIBW he had been contacted both by phone and by mail.


KC Neighbor Saw Teen Handcuffed to Door Weeks Ago

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City woman whose phone call led to the discovery of a frail 17-year-old handcuffed to a metal pole in the basement of the home next door says she saw him handcuffed to a door inside the townhome two weeks ago. Crystal Anderson says she struggled with whether to contact authorities, but she now feels relieved after the mentally challenged teen was found Monday curled up in a fetal position on a concrete floor. The 24-year-old moved to the apartment complex in August and became friends with the teen. She says during the first month she lived there, the teen spent most days outside, but after that, she didn't see him until late last month. Kansas City police say no charges have been filed against the teen's parents.


Sprint Posts Big 4Q Loss, Even as Revenue Rises

NEW YORK (AP) —Sprint Nextel, the country's third-largest wireless carrier, says it lost $1.3 billion in its fourth quarter, about the same as a year ago, as it revamped its network for a comeback versus bigger competitors. The Overland Park-based company lost 44 cents per share in the October to December period versus 43 cents per share in the previous year. The loss was slightly smaller than analysts had predicted. The average Wall Street forecast as polled by FactSet was 46 cents per share. Revenue was $9 billion, up 3.2 percent from a year ago and slightly above analyst expectations of $8.9 billion. Long-ailing Sprint Nextel has agreed to sell 70 percent of itself to Softbank Corporation of Japan for $20 billion. That deal is expected to close this summer.

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