UPDATE: Authorities Receiving Numerous Tips on Missing Topeka Children
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Topeka say they've received nearly a dozen tips of possibly credible sightings of two missing girls and their brother. The children are identified as 13-year-old Stephanie Witten, 12-year-old Seth Witten and 10-year-old Michelle Witten. Their parents reported them missing just before 11 p.m. Wednesday, and they still had not been found by late Thursday afternoon. No Amber Alerts have been issued. Police Captain Jerry Stanley says that based on interviews with the family, foul play is not suspected. Stanley says the search remains confined to the city limits. The children's mother, Kathy Witten, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that the children were home with her husband while she ran an errand Wednesday night. Witten says her husband later went to a gym, leaving them watching TV in the basement.
Kansas Legislators Return, Formally End 2013 Session
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have returned to the Statehouse and made quick work of the ceremonial conclusion of a 2013 session that produced additional tax cuts on top of sweeping changes made a year earlier The House and Senate convened Thursday morning and were finished within 30 minutes. No attempts were made to override Governor Sam Brownback's line-item vetoes in the $14.5 billion state budget. Several joint oversight committees were holding meetings throughout the day. Legislators ended the regular session June 2 after passing more cuts in personal income taxes and lowering the 6.3 percent sales tax to 6.15 percent. The sales tax had been scheduled to fall to 5.7 percent in July. The changes in tax rates are expected to generate about $777 million in revenue over the next five years.
Kansas Senator Responds to Concealed-Carry Concerns
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas senator says there is confusion about the changes legislators made to the state's concealed carry law, including the impact on school districts. Senator Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican, says Thursday the changes that take effect July 1 are an effort to address safety in public buildings. The law signed by Governor Sam Brownback specifies where concealed weapons will be permitted in Kansas and who has the authority to restrict their access. Knox also responded to recent reports that some insurance companies won't provide coverage to school districts that allow employees to carry concealed weapons. He says there are other companies that are willing to provide coverage, which will give schools insurance options.
Brownback Donor's Business Gets Child Support Contract
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Mississippi company run by one of Governor Sam Brownback's donors has been awarded one of the four contracts to privatize Kansas child support enforcement. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the Kansas Department for Children and Families announced Friday that Jackson, Mississippi-based YoungWilliams Child Support Services nabbed one of the contracts. Company CEO Robert Wells and his wife, Pam, both gave maximum $2,000 donations to Brownback's campaign. The awarding of the contract comes two years after the state hired one of the firm's ex-employees to head up the child support division. Senate Minority Leader and Topeka Democrat Anthony Hensley says the contract has the appearance of an insider's "pay-to-play" deal. But Wells says that's "not remotely" true, and a DCF spokeswoman says the selection was based on lowest bid.
Planned Parenthood Sues Over New Kansas Abortion Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Planned Parenthood clinic and its medical director are challenging parts of a new Kansas abortion law that takes effect next month. The Overland Park clinic and Dr. Orrin Moore filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court. They argue that new requirements spelling out the information that clinics and doctors must give patients before performing abortions violate their free-speech rights. Planned Parenthood objects to a section of the law requiring its website to link to a state website containing what it says is the government's viewpoint on abortion. It also objects to a requirement that patients receive information that an abortion will terminate the life of what the new law calls a "whole, separate, unique, living human being." The lawsuit names four Kansas officials as defendants.
Kansas Regents to Develop Response to Budget Cuts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The incoming chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents predicts that it will press legislators next year to undo cuts in state funding for higher education enacted this year. Board member Fred Logan of Leawood said Thursday the regents will have a hearing on budget issues next month and submit proposals to Gov. Sam Brownback in September. Logan takes over as chairman in July. But Logan said it's hard for him to imagine that the board won't seek full restoration of state funding for each of the next two fiscal years beginning in July. The reductions total $44 million over the two years. In each of the next two fiscal years, state funding would be almost 3 percent less than it is now.
Leaders of 6 Kansas Universities Given Raises
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top administrators at the six public universities in Kansas will see their salaries increase in July, but private dollars will cover the increases. The state Board of Regents approved the higher salaries Thursday but specified that each university's fundraising foundation will provide the extra money. The largest increases of $60,000 each went to Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz and University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. Regent Fred Logan of Leawood said the boosts bring their salaries closer to those of presidents at comparable universities. Schulz's salary will be $460,000, or 15 percent more than it is now. Gray-Little's will rise almost 14 percent, to nearly $493,000. Other raises ranged from 2.4 percent for Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott to 4.7 percent for Emporia State University President Michael Shonrock. The board also approved an $8,000 bonus for Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Tompkins.
Judge Upholds Ex-Sheriff's Sex-Abuse Sentence
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Reno County judge has upheld a former Kansas sheriff's sentence for rape and indecent liberties with a child. Reno County District Court Judge Trish Rose rejected former Trego County Sheriff James Bloom's argument that his lawyers were ineffective and did not tell him the possible maximum sentence he could receive if he went to trial in 2006. The Hutchinson News reports that Rose rejected the motion and upheld Bloom's 27-year sentence for crimes against a 13-year-old girl. She said Bloom was advised twice in court of possible penalties for each crime. Bloom rejected several plea offers in the case and went to trial. Bloom was an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time of the crime.
Judge Denies Motion to Recuse Herself from Trial
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County judge has denied a request that she remove herself from the trial in a sperm donor case. An attorney for William Marotta of Topeka had argued that Judge Mary Mattivi should not preside over the state's efforts to require Marotta to pay child support for a girl born to a lesbian couple in 2009. Marotta says he waived his parental rights and responsibilities when he donated his sperm. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Judge Mattivi denied the motion last week. Marotta's attorney argued that Mattivi appeared to be advocating for the state and apparently had already decided the outcome of the case. Timothy Keck, an attorney for the state, said in response that Mattivi had examined her conscience and determined that the allegations of bias are false.
2 Charged with Stealing Bronze "Pioneer Woman" Statue
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Two Independence, Missouri residents are accused of stealing a 6-foot bronze statue from outside the National Frontier Trails Museum and trying to sell it as scrap. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office says 33-year-old Kelli Summers and 36-year Jeremy Ratliff were charged Thursday with one count of theft. Prosecutors say the two took cut-up pieces of the statue, called "Pioneer Woman," to a metal recycler but were turned away when a worker noticed a portion of the statue's hand. The recycling center alerted police and provided surveillance video that implicated the two suspects, neither of whom had obtained an attorney Thursday. A second man mentioned in the probable cause statement has not been charged. The statue weighed more than 1,000 pounds and cost about $35,000 when it was dedicated in March 1990.
Wheat Harvest Activity Accelerates in Parts of Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The winter wheat harvest is spreading across parts of south-central Kansas. The industry trade group Kansas Wheat said Wednesday in its first harvest report of the season that test cutting is now underway as far north as McPherson County and as far west as Clark County. The OK Co-op elevator in Kiowa has taken in about 350,000 bushels of wheat, with test weights averaging about 59 pounds per bushel. A few isolated fields were harvested last week near Kiowa, and some farmers in Sumner County on the Oklahoma border began cutting Tuesday after fields dried out from recent rains. Anthony Farmer's Co-op is reporting test weights there averaging about 60 pounds per bushel. The elevator in Anthony had taken in 305,000 bushels by Wednesday morning.
Economy Strong in Rural Parts of 10 States
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economy in rural areas of 10 Midwest and Plains states remains strong as healthy rainfall this spring helps crops get established. The overall economic index for the region grew to 60.5 in June from May's 58.8. That suggests growth in the months ahead. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the monthly survey, says the bankers are optimistic because of the consistent growth in the national economy and improving crop conditions. The confidence index grew to 60 in June from May's 54.5. The indexes range from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. Any score above 50 suggests economic growth in the months ahead. The index is based on a survey of rural bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Sex Predator at Larned Faces Child Porn Charges
LARNED, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a man already committed as a sexual predator at Larned State Hospital has been charged with making child pornography while in custody. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 33-year-old Christopher M. Case enticed a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old to videotape sex acts and post them on the Internet while he was a patient in the Sexual Predator Treatment Program. Case also is charged with producing child pornography and sending obscene material to a child. Case was convicted in 2003 of attempted aggravated indecent solicitation of a child in Saline County. The hospital is part of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which said Thursday the new allegations against Case involved use of a contraband cellphone. The agency says it has taken steps to identify and stop such contraband.
Natural Gas Fueling Station to Open in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Community leaders are celebrating the opening of the first public natural gas fueling station for vehicles in Wichita. A ceremony marking the grand opening was planned Thursday at the facility at 2950 Ohio St., just off Interstate 135 in north-central Wichita. The event is being hosted by CNG Services, the company that operates the facility. Experts from service provider Black Hills Energy were scheduled to take part. Representatives from the companies plan to explain the technology behind natural gas vehicles and talk about the expanded market for them.
Christians, Atheists to Square Off for KC Charity
LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Members of a Lee's Summit church will be squaring off against nonbelievers to raise money for a Kansas City-based foster care and adoptive resource center. Saturday's Christians-versus-atheists volleyball tournament will pit teams from Abundant Life Baptist Church against teams from the Kansas City Atheist Coalition. Proceeds from the six-team tournament will go to the Drumm Farm Center for Children. KCAC president Sarah Hargreaves says the idea for the tournament initially was presented as a joke. But it gained traction because of relationships created earlier this year when the church hosted the coalition for a question-and-answer session. The games will be played at the church. Admission for spectators is $5, with proceeds also going to Drumm Farm.
Top Midwestern State Agriculture Officials Meeting in North Dakota
MEDORA, N.D. (AP) — Top agriculture officials from 12 Midwestern states are gathering in North Dakota. The Midwestern Association of State Departments of Agriculture is holding its annual conference through early Monday in the Badlands town of Medora. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says those at the meeting will get a close look at the state's two leading industries — agriculture and energy. Medora is in the booming western North Dakota oil patch. Goehring is president of the association, which includes the top agriculture officials from the Dakotas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin. The conference will include panel discussions, field trips and speakers, including Deputy U.S. Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse.
Missouri Judge Gives Cousin Custody of Deceased Chiefs Player's Daughter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Texas woman whose cousin was fatally shot by a Kansas City Chiefs player who then killed himself has been given custody of the couple's infant daughter. Jackson County (Missouri) Probate Commissioner Daniel Wheeler issued his order Thursday afternoon, awarding custody of 9-month-old Zoey Belcher to Sophie Perkins of Pflugerville, Texas. Zoey was orphaned December 1 when Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed Kasandra Perkins, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and shot himself in front of coaches and the team's then-general manager. Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd of West Babylon, New York also was seeking custody of the girl. Shepherd had been staying at the couple's Kansas City home and was there when Kasandra Perkins was killed.
Developer: Kansas Caverns Could Preserve Human Race
ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — A California developer says an underground shelter he's creating in a vast limestone cave in eastern Kansas could be the human race's best chance to survive a nuclear attack or the impact of a wayward meteor. Robert Vicino recently bought a large portion of a former U.S. Army storage facility on the southeast edge of Atchison along the Missouri River about 50 miles north of Kansas City, Mo. He says there's room inside for more than 1,000 recreational vehicles and up to 5,000 people to ride out any potential earth-changing catastrophe. While they're awaiting Armageddon or a deadly global pandemic, Vicino says the Vivos Survival Shelter and Resort will be a fun place for members to spend vacations and learn survival skills.
Pirates Exhibit Opens at KC's Union Station
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A soon-to-open exhibit at Kansas City's Union Station will tell the story of a group of pirates who lived nearly 300 years ago. The exhibit, called Real Pirates, is a National Geographic exhibit that focuses on the pirates who lived aboard a ship called the Whydah. It sank off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717 and was discovered in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford. When the exhibit opens to the public Saturday, visitors will be able to view more than 200 artifacts from the ship, including coins, cannons, weapons and jewelry.
Kansas Highway Patrol Joins Search for 3 Missing Topeka Youngsters
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol has joined the search for two girls and their brother who disappeared from their Topeka home. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 13-year-old Stephanie Witten, 12-year-old Seth Witten and 10-year-old Michelle Witten were reported missing by their parents just before 11 pm Wednesday. Police said there was no early indication of foul play, and no Amber Alert had been issued by mid-afternoon Thursday. The search was initially concentrated on the city's west side, including parks and a shopping mall. Officers expanded the search Thursday morning. The children's mother, Kathy Witten, told the newspaper the children were home with her husband while she ran an errand Wednesday night. Witten says her husband later went to a gym, leaving the three children watching TV alone in their basement.
**this story has been updated. Please see above for the latest information.