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Regional Headlines for Thursday, February 9th, 2012



Kansas House Approves Bipartisan Redistricting Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bipartisan bill redrawing members' districts so power shifts in the chamber from rural areas to the Kansas City region. The measure, approved on a 109-14 vote today, had the support of Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, and Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. The bill would go to the Senate. But by tradition one chamber doesn't revise the other chamber's plan for its own members' districts. The legislation eliminates one district each in southeast, southwest and central Kansas and adds three districts to the Kansas City area. Lawmakers must redraw political boundaries to reflect changes in population. The job was made easier because three Republican lawmakers thrown into districts with GOP incumbents are running for state Senate seats.


Kansas to Receive $50M from Mortgage Settlement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Derek Schmidt says Kansas residents will share about $50 million of a $25 billion settlement reached between the federal government, states and several mortgage lenders. The deal announced Thursday is the largest industry settlement since the 1998 multistate tobacco settlement. Schmidt said the state's share of the settlement would be direct payments to some homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure. Under the agreement, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial will reduce loans for about 1 million households. They will also send checks of $2,000 to about 750,000 Americans, including about 4,000 Kansas residents, who were improperly foreclosed upon. The banks will have three years to fulfill the terms of the deal.


KS House Takes Up Bill to Change Abortion Procedures

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A House committee is hearing testimony on a bill that would make several changes to laws surrounding abortion. The hearings began Wednesday on the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." The bill would, among other things, require physicians to tell women that abortion increases the risks of premature birth and breast cancer. It also would require medical providers to try to locate the fetal heartbeat and give the woman the chance to hear it before she undergoes an abortion. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the bill also would eliminate tax credits for drugs used for abortions and some credits for medical institutions that perform abortions. Abortion-rights groups called the bill intrusive and that it will risk women's lives. Supporters say the bill would protect babies and parents.


Kansas House Chair Trims Teacher Rating Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal from Governor Sam Brownback to post teacher evaluations on school district websites has been trimmed from a House education bill. The Topeka Capital Journal reported that Republican House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand decided to take the action after a hearing Thursday. Under the proposal, the formula for the rankings would be based 50 percent on student achievement growth, 40 percent on input from supervisors, peers, parents and students and 10 percent on the teachers' contributions to the profession. The State Board of Education would define the exact criteria. Teachers rated ineffective two years in a row would not be allowed to teach and schools could fire them if professional development opportunities had been provided. The proposal would also offer $5,000 bonuses for some highly rated teachers.


Kansas Democrats Offer School Funding Alternative

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Democrats are offering an alternative to Governor Sam Brownback's plan for rewriting the state's school funding formula. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka shared his proposal Thursday with the Senate Education Committee to increase school funding by $180 million over the next three years. The plan would add $45 million to K-12 budgets in each of the next two years and $90 million in the third. It also includes a companion bill to give cities and counties some $45 million in property tax relief. Earlier this week the committee began taking testimony on Brownback's plan, which would rewrite the funding formula, giving local districts more authority and responsibility for raising education dollars locally through property taxes. Brownback's plan also makes changes to teacher evaluation systems and technical education.


Kansas House Approves Junction City Debt Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have given final approval to a bill that will give Junction City more time to pay down debt related to growth at Fort Riley. The bill passed 98-25 on final action today. It gives the city an additional three years to reduce the ratio of outstanding debt to its total property valuation. The limit would remain at 37 percent under the bill through June 30, 2016. Approval by the House sends the bill to the Senate. Junction City issued the bonds in the past decade to make improvements related to the return of the 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley. City officials and supporters of the debt extension said the anticipated growth didn't occur to the level expected, leaving the city in financial difficulty.


Former KS Congressman Dennis Moore Has Alzheimer's

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former Congressman Dennis Moore, who represented Kansas for 12 years in the U.S. House, has announced he has Alzheimer's. Moore, a Democrat from Kansas' 3rd District, says in a statement that he is in the "early phases of Alzheimer's disease" and that he received the final diagnosis in June 2011. The 66-year-old said he hopes to help "others in the same situation" by making his illness public. Moore, who did not seek re-election in 2010 after holding the seat since 1998, said he wanted to help draw attention to Alzheimer's and early onset dementia. He and his wife, Stephene, plan to work with a local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.  Stephene Moore sought to replace her husband in Congress in 2010, but was defeated by Republican Representative Kevin Yoder.


Four More Pupils Accuse KC Area Teacher of Molestation

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. (AP) — Four more young children have come forward to say a suburban Kansas City second-grade teacher touched them inappropriately in his classroom, raising the number of alleged victims to eight. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced new charges Wednesday against 33-year-old Matthew Nelson, a teacher at a Grain Valley elementary school and former "Teacher of the Year." Nelson now is facing five felony counts of first-degree child molestation and three felony counts of first-degree statutory sodomy. Prosecutors say all of the charges involve boys. They say the new victims came forward after Nelson was first charged in January with abusing four others.


KS House Panel Endorses Kobach Citizenship Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has endorsed Secretary of State Kris Kobach's proposal to require some potential Kansas voters to prove their U.S. citizenship ahead of this year's presidential election. The Elections Committee approved a bill to impose the proof-of-citizenship requirement starting June 15th for people registering to vote in Kansas for the first time. The state enacted the rule last year, but it isn't scheduled to take effect until January 1st, 2013. The committee's endorsement of the bill allows a debate in the House. Kobach has said he wants to impose the proof-of-citizenship rule ahead of schedule because voter registration peaks once every four years in the months before a presidential election. But critics say the bill will hurt voter participation.


Brownback, GOP Press Need for KS Tax Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback, fellow Republicans and business groups are stepping up their pressure on legislators to make changes to the Kansas income tax code. During a news conference Wednesday outside his office, Brownback said the state needs to get its income rates down to stimulate job creation and create more personal income for all residents. The governor wants to reduce the number of income tax brackets from three to two and lower overall rates. His plan targets small businesses and eliminates a number of credits and exemptions. House Taxation Committee Chairman Richard Carlson, a Saint Marys Republican, says a bill is being introduced that will contain the details of the House tax plan. Carlson declined to give details until they are finished, perhaps by Friday.


KS Senate Passes Congress Map Derided by State GOP

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed a congressional redistricting bill that has bipartisan support but has drawn criticism from the state Republican Party. The bill, approved on a 23-17 vote, creates a slightly more Democratic district for Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, the senior member of the state's all-GOP U.S. House delegation. The proposal split the 32 Republicans in the 40-member Senate, with 15 of them supporting it. All eight Democrats voted yes before the bill went to the House. The proposal expands the 1st District of western and central Kansas to include Manhattan, home of Kansas State University. Local officials want to stay in Jenkins' 2nd District of eastern Kansas. Supporters said they didn't have politics in mind in redrawing lines to account for population changes over the past decade.


Kansas Teachers Deliver Pension Petitions to Capitol

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Teachers from Kansas City-area school districts have delivered petitions on pension issues signed by more than 6,400 school employees to the Statehouse. The signers are protesting the Legislature's consideration of a proposal to start a 401(k)-style pension plan for new teachers and government workers. The teachers represented five school districts in Johnson County and presented the petitions Thursday to their legislators and Governor Sam Brownback's office. Brownback supports proposal as a way to rein in the long-term costs facing the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. KPERS faces a projected $8.3 billion funding shortfall through 2033. Its plans guarantee benefits up front, based on a worker's salary and years of service. A 401(k)-style plan would tie benefits to investment earnings. A Senate committee planned hearings on the proposal.


House Appropriations Nixes Public Broadcasting Funds

The Kansas House Appropriations Committee has rejected an augmented funding request for public broadcasting. Governor Sam Brownback included $600,000 in funding for public broadcasting in his budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. A budget subcommittee had recommended adding $800,000 to that funding. Today's action by the Appropriations Committee removes that recommendation. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Republican state Representative Anthony Brown of Eudora said voting against the funding was "one of the tough decisions legislators had to make to be 'real fiscal conservatives.'" State Representative Peggy Mast of Emporia said that legislators needed to re-prioritize given all the funding needs on state and national levels. Several western Kansas legislators spoke in favor of the recommendation, saying their constituents depend on public radio and television broadcasts. The motion to remove the $800,000 funding recommendation was deadlocked at a vote of 10-10. Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades of Newton broke the tie and voted to kill the additional funds. Today's vote will have no effect on the Governor's original $600,000 proposal.


Kansas Judge Sets Trial Date in Abortion Threat Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has set a trial date in the government's lawsuit against an abortion opponent accused of sending a threatening letter to a Wichita doctor training to offer abortions. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale scheduled the trial against anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard for February 5, 2013. His order on Thursday also sets a timeline for the parties to try to settle the case. The Valley Center woman told Dr. Mila Means in January that she would have to check under her car every day because someone might place an explosive under it. No abortions have been openly done in Wichita since Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed by an abortion opponent in 2009.


Kansas Grocer Faces Sentencing in Food Stamp Scam  

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a Kansas grocery store is pleading with a federal judge to spare him from prison for his role in a scheme that targeted people willing to sell their food stamps for cash. Ahmed Ajami Al-Maleki asked the judge in a letter for mercy so he can return to his family and live an honest life. His letter was part of a filing Wednesday by his attorney, Kurt Kerns, who is seeking a probationary sentence below the federal sentencing guidelines. Kerns said his client was a conduit for the food stamp scheme rather than a leader of the conspiracy. Today, prosecutors sought a continuance for next week's scheduled sentencing so they could prepare a response. Al-Maleki pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and food stamp fraud.


KC Police Officer Charged with Drunken Driving

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An off-duty Kansas City officer has been charged with drunken driving, resisting arrest and assaulting other officers after being pulled over on the city's north side. Megan Laffoon was on North Oak Trafficway around 3am Wednesday when an officer saw her driving eratically. Police say the 29-year-old Laffoon became enraged after failing field sobriety tests and being told she was under arrest. Prosecutors say she scratched the officer's neck and continued to fight after being pepper sprayed. She also is accused of head-butting a police office as he attempted to strap her into the back of a police wagon. Laffoon was scheduled to make a court appearance today (THUR).


Missing Kingman Man Found Dead

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — Police say an 89-year-old Kingman man who was the subject of a Silver Alert has been found dead. The search for Wallace "Gene" Fairchild ended after his body was found late Tuesday. His body was found at Calvary Cemetery south of Danville in eastern Harper County, which is south of Kingman. Fairchild, who suffered from dementia, was last seen about noon Tuesday driving on U.S. 54 near Kingman. Family members contacted police after he didn't show up at either of two daily visits with family members.


Kansas Woman Delivers Baby after Hit-and-Run Crash

GARDNER, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas woman injured after a hit-and-run crash involving a tractor-trailer has delivered a healthy baby girl. The Kansas City Star reported that 33-year-old Nikki McClure is in critical but stable condition following Wednesday's collision on Interstate 35 near Gardner. The Kansas Highway Patrol reported that McClure had to be extricated from her car after rear-ending the slow-moving tractor-trailer. After the crash, the rig's driver drove off with the hood of her car impaled on the back of the trailer. As of today, the truck and its driver hadn't been found. McClure's husband calls the baby a "little miracle."

Audit Clears State Department in Keystone Review

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department's internal watchdog has cleared the agency of any impropriety in its review of a permit for a controversial pipeline that that would carry Canadian oil across the continental United States. In a report released to Congress on Thursday, the department's inspector general's office said it found no evidence that State Department employees were improperly influenced by proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, including the applicant TransCanada. Opponents of the pipeline, which was ultimately rejected, had alleged that TransCanada had an inappropriately cozy relationship with some State Department employees conducting the review. They suggested that this affected an environmental impact statement. The report said the department incorporated relevant concerns from other federal agencies in the review but expressed concern that its limited resources and expertise affected the process.


Survey: Most Think Suspect Guilty in Great Bend Teen's Death

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys for a man accused of killing a 14-year-old Great Bend girl say their client can't get a fair trial in Barton County because most residents already think he's guilty. There was no decision on Wednesday's request in Barton County District Court to move the trial of 37-year-old Adam Longoria. He is scheduled to go on trial March 26 on charges of capital murder and sex crimes for the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. KWCH-TV reports Judge Hannelore Kitts said she would rule on Monday. A survey of 400 Barton County residents conducted through Pittsburg State University found all were familiar with the case and 94 percent thought Longoria was guilty. Prosecutors say the survey is not representative and argue Longoria could still get a fair trial.


KS Senate Considers Bill to Require Certification of Abuse Programs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is considering a bill that would require certification of programs that treat domestic violence offenders. Under the bill, the attorney general's office would certify and regulate the batterer intervention programs. Advocates say many current domestic violence programs are cursory, drop-in efforts that don't take domestic violence seriously. Assistant Attorney General Travis Harrod said the proposed legislation follows up on a 2010 bill that established tracking of domestic violence convictions and sent offenders to batterer intervention programs. He says if batterers are not going to be sent to jail, the state needs to ensure that treatment programs are beneficial. Harrod said the bill would set uniform standards for the programs and ensure the same level of service across Kansas.


Two Men Will Stand Trial for Death of Hutchinson Woman

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Two men will stand trial for allegedly gunning down a Hutchinson woman in what apparently was a case of mistaken identity. A Reno County judge Wednesday ordered Billy Joe Craig Jr. and Charles Christopher Logsdon to stand trial for the June, 2011, killing of 27-year-old Jennifer Heckel. Craig and Logsdon face first-degree murder and several other charges in the death of Heckel, who was shot at her home while her 5-year-old son was nearby. The Hutchinson News reports testimony during the hearing indicated the men intended to rob a drug dealer but went to the wrong home. The men's attorneys argued no DNA evidence or alleged murder weapon connected their clients to the homicide. And they argued that many of the prosecution's witnesses weren't credible.


Flags Will Fly at Half-Staff Saturday for Federal Judge

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has ordered flags at state buildings to be flown at half-staff Saturday to honor a Kansan who had been the oldest sitting federal judge in U.S. history. Judge Wesley Brown died January 23 at an assisted living center in Wichita at age 104. A memorial service for Brown is scheduled for 11am Saturday, and Brownback ordered flags to remain lowered from sunrise to sunset. Brown was appointed as a federal district judge in 1962 by then-President John F. Kennedy. In 1979, Brown officially took senior status, a type of semiretirement that allows federal judges to work with a full or reduced case level. But he continued to carry a full workload for decades.


Sumner County Tops State in Wheat Production & Acreage

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service says Sumner County was tops in Kansas for winter wheat production and acreage last year.The agency's report on wheat county estimates released Thursday shows Sumner County led the state in production with 10.5 million bushels. McPherson County was second with 8.9 million bushels, followed by Sherman County with 7.4 million bushels. Sumner County also led the state in harvested acres with 329,000 total acres. Harper came in second with 225,000 and Reno was third with 218,000 acres. However, the best yields came out of Miami County where growers were getting average yields of 57.6 bushels per acre. The worst average yields were in Morton County with 16.3 bushels per acre. Statewide, Kansas produced 276.5 million bushels of wheat last year, down 23 percent from 2010.

Kansas City's Union Station Reports 2nd Year of Operating Surplus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The once financially troubled Union Station in Kansas City has brought in more money than it spent for the second straight year. The Kansas City Star reported that the attraction recorded a net operating surplus of $3.25 million in 2011 before depreciation. Figures presented Wednesday show revenues were ahead of budget in every area except for the KC Rail Experience museum. Much of the success is attributed to the popularity of the Princess Diana exhibit. The station also received a boost from rent-paying tenants such as the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the Internal Revenue Service. The station management's business model calls for aggressively containing costs, outsourcing services and not staging money-losing exhibits or programs. An exhibit focusing on the Titanic promises to be one of the venue's highlights in 2012.


Kansas Star Ahead of Schedule on Building Permanent Casino

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Construction of the Kansas Star Casino's permanent facility is running ahead of schedule, thanks to the mild winter weather. The Wichita Eagle reports the permanent casino is scheduled to open by the end of the year. Its temporary casino opened in December. The permanent casino will be more than 180,000 square feet. That is much more space than the 100,000 square feet it now has in the arena facility, with its 53,000 square feet of casino space. It will offer expanded gaming, including a poker room, as well an events center, five restaurants and a 150-room hotel. The final phase in early 2014 will double the number of hotel rooms and include the opening of an equestrian center.


KS Lawmakers Likely to Give Junction City More Time to Pay Debt

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members are expected to give final approval to a bill that will give Junction City more time to pay down its debt related to growth at Fort Riley. The bill on final action today (THUR) would give the city an additional three years to reduce the ratio of outstanding debt to its total property valuation. The limit would remain at 37 percent under the bill through June 30, 2016. Approval by the House sends the bill to the Senate. Junction City issued the bonds in the past decade to make improvements related to the return of the 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley. City officials and supporters of the debt extension said the anticipated growth didn't occur to the level expected, leaving the city in financial difficulty.


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