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Regional Headlines for Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kansas Still Facing Big Bills in Redistricting Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas is facing claims that it should cover more than $669,000 in legal bills from parties in a federal lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to redraw political boundaries. That's despite an attempt by the judges handling the case to limit the potential tab. The three judges imposed new lines last month for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts to account for population changes over the past decade. Twenty-seven individuals were allowed to sue over redistricting. Last month, the judges received requests from 19 of the individuals to have nearly $700,000 in legal bills covered by the state. Last week, the judges issued an order imposing narrower rules for such claims.But the total from the new filings, due by midnight Wednesday, was only 4 percent smaller than before.


82 Kansas Counties Declared as Drought Disaster Areas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Effective today (THUR), the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared 82 Kansas counties hit hard by drought as federal disaster areas. Governor Sam Brownback's office says the disaster designation makes agricultural producers eligible for federal disaster assistance for lost crops and livestock. Primary disasters are being declared in 66 Kansas counties, and 16 neighboring counties will also receive disaster designations.


New Way of Organizing Aid Draws Praise from Official, Criticism from Customers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state official says changes in how Kansas organizes aid recipients are improving efficiency, while some recipients aren't so sure. In the past, aid recipients each had their own case workers. Now, the Kansas Department for Children and Families has begun sorting case workers into teams with specific tasks. One team does eligibility reviews, another works on changes in existing benefits and another works with Temporary Assistance for Families benefits. The system has been installed in 15 offices so far. An agency spokeswoman said Wednesday the new system has made aid distribution more efficient and dramatically reduced wait times. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports some aid recipients in the Shawnee County office said their wait times had increased and it was difficult to get questions answered.


Former Kansas Governor to Stump for Moderate Candidates 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former Kansas Governor Bill Graves is heading back to Kansas to help his fellow moderate Republicans keep their seats in the state Senate. The Kansas City Star reports that Graves, who now lives in Virginia, will make stops in Johnson County, Wichita and Salina next week. The visits come as current Governor Sam Brownback has started endorsing more conservative Republicans as the two sides wage a battle for control of the Senate. Brownback's agenda has largely won over the House, but skeptics in the Senate have blocked him on such issues as labor law, picking judges and education finance reform. The state director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity says Graves represents the old guard that doesn't believe in limited government.


State of Kansas Reaches $1M Settlement with Tobacco Company

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has reached a $1 million settlement with a tobacco company. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the settlement calls for Grand River Enterprises to put $672,000 into escrow funds and pay the state $336,000 in penalties and reimbursement for attorney fees and expenses. Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office says the settlement stems from a lawsuit Kansas filed against GRE in 2008, saying the company wasn't participating in a settlement agreement between states and tobacco companies. Schmidt says the $336,000 in penalties will go to the state's general fund, and the $672,000 are to help Kansans who make health-related claims as part of a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.


Attorneys Seek DNA Clarification in Topeka Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys are seeking clarification on how DNA evidence testing will be conducted in the case of a Topeka man accused in the death of an 18-year-old woman. Dustin Leftwich has pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and other charges in the death of Brenna Morgart. Her body was found in a Topeka area field May 25, three miles from the site, where sheriff's officials said she was hit by a vehicle. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that during a hearing Thursday, prosecutors told the judge the type of DNA testing defense lawyers want would take additional time and wouldn't be completed by the scheduled September preliminary hearing. Shawnee County Judge Cheryl Kingfisher says she'll have a written order on evidence by the end of Friday.


Suburban KC Drug Case Expands to 101 Counts, $17M

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A large-scale drug ring that allegedly supplied drugs to members of the 2010-11 University of Kansas men's basketball team involved about $17 million worth of marijuana and cocaine. The U.S. District Attorney's office for Kansas said Thursday that 35 defendants have been named in the case that prosecutors say involved supplying about $16.9 million worth of "high-grade" marijuana and cocaine in Johnson and Douglas counties. A federal prosecutor said during a court hearing on the case last month that one of the defendants in the case supplied pot to members of the Jayhawks' squad. The university has refused comment. The U.S. attorney's office also says it's seeking additional penalties for several of the defendants for distributing drugs within 1,000 feet of about six schools in the area from about 2005 to 2012.

Prosecution Rests in Topeka Murder Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Defense attorneys will begin presenting their case in the trial of a man accused in the death of a Topeka woman and the wounding of her friend. The prosecution rested its case Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of 26-year-old Anceo D. Stovall. He faces first-degree murder and numerous other charges in the death last July of 40-year-old Natalie Gibson. She and 42-year-old Lori Allison were shot outside their Topeka home. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Stovall's attorney will begin calling witnesses Thursday. On Wednesday, a 17-year-old girl who has admitted acting as a lookout during the shootings testified against Stovall. She said people involved in the robbery wanted to stop when they saw the women were home, but Stovall urged them to continue with the crime.

Hutchinson Manufacturing Plant Moving to Missouri

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson manufacturing plant that makes food processing equipment plans to move to a Kansas City, Missouri suburb. Officials of the Marlen International plant announced Wednesday that the plant will move to Riverside, Missouri early next year. Marlen manufactures food-processing equipment. Company president and CEO Nikola Vajda says about a dozen of the plant's 29 employees will be able to stay in Hutchinson and work through telecommunications. The other employees will be offered jobs in Riverside. The Hutchinson News reports the company plans to close during the first quarter of next year, if it can get a month-to-month extension on its lease in Hutchinson, which expires in December. The company says the move depends on approval of state and local incentives.


UPDATE: University of Kansas Cancer Facility Gains Prestigious NCI Designation

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Cancer Center has been designated as a National Cancer Institute facility, opening the door for millions of dollars in federal grant money and the ability to offer patients cutting-edge experimental treatments. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and a number of Kansas lawmakers were on hand Thursday afternoon for the announcement at the Robert E. Hemenway Life Sciences Innovation Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The award came a decade after University of Kansas officials first declared obtaining the prestigious NCI status to be one of the cancer center's goals. In addition to new research funds, the NCI designation makes it easier for cancer patients in Kansas to get treatments they previously had to travel to Texas or Minnesota to receive.


Authorities seize $540K in phony athletic goods

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal agents and other law enforcement groups seized more than $540,000 in counterfeit Major League Baseball merchandise over two weeks leading up to this year's All-Star Game in Kansas City. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Thursday that the joint operation targeted Internet sellers, street vendors and stores selling fake, game-related sportswear. The 14-day effort resulted in the seizure of 13,023 items including apparel, fake tickets and memorabilia. Nearly 20 percent were from other sports leagues, including the NFL and NHL. Authorities said they closed a Lenexa  warehouse believed to be responsible for distributing the majority of all counterfeit ball caps sold in the Kansas City area. Seizures took place in several communities in the Kansas City metropolitan area, on both sides of the state line.


Kansas Farmers Cutting Corn for Silage Amid Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — More Kansas growers are cutting down their corn crops for silage to feed livestock as they struggle to salvage what they can from parched fields hard hit by another season of drought and heat. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported this week that 43 percent of the state's corn crop is in poor to very poor condition. White says he was not totally surprised by that estimate, but says it is "a staggering prediction." Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, said Wednesday it's too early be able to estimate how much of the state's corn crop is going into silage this year. But he says quite a bit of corn is being cut. He says that is not a bad option, under the circumstances.

City of Russell Imposes Water Conservation Measures

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) — The central Kansas town of Russell is taking steps to conserve water. The Russell City Council has voted in special session to approve a resolution moving the city into Stage 3 water conservation, a step away from its most restrictive stage. The resolution bans outside watering of gardens, lawns, trees and playing fields six out of seven days a week. The day on which watering is allowed coincides with an individual property's trash pickup day. The Hays Daily News reports that watering then is allowed only before 10 am and after 9 pm. City officials say industrial users also are being asked to reduce water use to 75 percent of average monthly consumption. Much of Kansas has been under drought conditions recently, compounded by excessively hot weather and high winds.

KDOC Says Reinke Expanding Belleville Plant

BELLEVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A Nebraska manufacturing company has announced plans to expand its facility in north-central Kansas, a move that will more than double its current workforce. The Kansas Department of Commerce said in a release Wednesday that Reinke Manufacturing Company of Deshler, Nebraska is expanding its facility in Belleville, pushing employment there to about 50 workers by the end of 2013. The current facility manufactures electrical assemblies. The department says the new facility will cover an area of about 20,000 square feet.

Judge Sets Hearing Date on Hawker Beechcraft Deal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A bankruptcy judge in New York has granted Hawker Beechcraft's request to fast-track a hearing over the Kansas plane maker's plan to enter exclusive negotiations with a Chinese firm. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein on Wednesday set July 17 for the proceedings. The move comes a day after Hawker filed documents seeking authorization to spend 45 days exclusively negotiating with Superior Aviation Beijing Company, Limited to finalize the deal. The filing included a letter from Superior outlining its $1.79 million bid to acquire on a debt-free basis all of Hawker's assets, except its defense business. Superior would not assume any pension liabilities. Superior also agreed to pay up to $50 million during the negotiations to maintain product lines Hawker would otherwise discontinue but for Superior's interest in acquiring them.

New Visitors Center to Open at Tallgrass Preserve

STRONG CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City will officially open its visitors center on Friday. U.S Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be on hand for the grand opening celebration at the prairie and ranch. The Wichita Eagle reports the new center will house the park's administrative offices. It includes environmentally friendly features such as a grass roof. The visitors center is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located two miles north of Strong City on K-177.

Judge: Murder Suspect's Statements Will Be Allowed at Trial

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — A judge says statements that a former Kansas police officer made after his wife was killed will be allowed as evidence at his trial. Brett Seacat is charged with first-degree murder in the April 2011 shooting death of 34-year-old Vashti Seacat. He's also charged with arson for a fire at the couple's home in Kingman that day. His attorneys say Vashti Seacat set the fire and took her own life. Kingman County Judge Larry Solomon ruled Wednesday that statements Seacat made are admissible during his trial, which is scheduled to begin December 3. Seacat was an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center when his wife died. He also had worked as a Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy. Seacat is being held in Kingman County Jail on $1 million bond.

UMKC to Offer Professional Degree in Jazz Studies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lovers of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk rejoice. The University of Missouri-Kansas City will begin offering an undergraduate music degree in jazz studies this fall. It's the first time a professional degree in jazz has been offered at one of the four campuses that make up the University of Missouri system. The system's Board of Curators approved the new degree last month. The program will be directed by Bobby Watson, whose latest release, "From the Heart," topped the jazz radio charts. Students pursuing the degree at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance will get the opportunity to perform, travel, and work with important working artists. Those modern jazz greats include Mel Martin, Donal Fox, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove and the Mason Brothers.

FHSU Renames Its Business College

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Fort Hays State University has renamed its business college to highlight the western Kansas institution's focus on promoting new business development. It's now the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at the Hays-based university. The new name has been approved by the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state's higher education system. Fort Hays State President Ed Hammond says the new name eliminates confusion and highlights the university's support for new and existing businesses. It had previously been the College of Business and Leadership. But the university's Department of Leadership Studies moved to the College of Arts and Sciences in 2008. Also, Hammond says state officials have pushed Fort Hays State to focus on entrepreneurship. The college houses academic departments for accounting, economics, finance, management and marketing.

UNC: $67K in Legal Fees Accrued During NCAA Probe

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — The University of North Carolina racked up nearly $67,000 in legal fees and expenses for three months in 2010 during an NCAA investigation into the school's football program. The school hired the firm Bond, Schoeneck and King in Overland Park, Kansas as an outside consultant during the probe into improper benefits and academic misconduct. According to documents released by the university Wednesday, the firm charged the school nearly $8,760 in July 2010, nearly $48,660 the next month and more than $9,557 that September. The total came to $66,877.76, which included expenses for airfare, hotels, rental cars and meals, among other costs. The school released the documents in response to a public-records lawsuit filed by several media outlets, including The Associated Press. A hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled for next week.

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