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Regional Headlines for Thursday, June 27, 2013




Lawsuit Challenges Kansas Photo ID Election Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County lawsuit aims to challenge the Kansas law that requires voters to present a picture identification when casting ballots. Wichita attorney Jim Lawing filed the lawsuit in Shawnee County to contest the constitutionality of the mandate included in the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the law was written by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who's the only defendant in the case. Critics say the legislation is an attempt to suppress voter turnout among poor, minority and elderly voters. Kobach said Thursday he's confident the Kansas voter ID law will stand, and says the lawsuit against it likely won't progress very far because the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar challenge to an Indiana photo ID law in 2008.


Kansas Governor Won't Disclose Appeals Court Applicants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback won't release the names of applicants for a new position on the Kansas Court of Appeals, even though the names of candidates have been disclosed for more than 30 years. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the decision by the Republican governor is being criticized by Democratic legislative leaders and the chairwoman of the statewide nominating commission, which previously screened applicants for the Court of Appeals. The Legislature added a seat to the state's second-highest court as of July 1 and changed the process for selecting its judges. They'll now be appointed by the governor, subject to state Senate confirmation, with no role for the nominating commission. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor is treating Court of Appeals appointment as he does other appointments.


UPDATE: Kansas Judge Considering Challenge to Abortion Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge is considering a request from two doctors to block enforcement of sweeping new restrictions on abortion that are set to take effect Monday. Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Drs. Herbert Hodes and Dr. Traci Nauser. The father and daughter perform abortions at their Overland Park health center. The doctors want Crotty to put the new law on hold while their lawsuit moves forward. Crotty did not rule from the bench on Thursday. The new law bans sex-selection abortions and blocks tax breaks for abortion providers. It spells out what information must be provided to patients before abortions.


Governor Names 3 to Kansas Board of Regents

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has named three new members of the Kansas Board of Regents, including a Republican National Committee member and a former Kansas City, Kan. mayoral candidate. Brownback introduced Helen Van Etten, Ann Brandau-Murguia and Shane Bangerter during a news conference Thursday at Kansas State University. The appointees will succeed Christine Downey-Schmidt, a former state senator from Inman; Dan Lykins, a Topeka attorney; and Janie Perkins, a Garden City school district administrator and former mayor. The Board of Regents oversees the six state universities, 19 community colleges and six technical colleges. Brownback recently signed a new state budget in which lawmakers cut funding for higher education. He and the current regents have expressed frustration with the Legislature's decisions and have vowed to work to restore the cuts next year.

KCC Drops Controversial Approval Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission is indefinitely abandoning a decision process after being sued for using it. The practice, called "pink sheeting," allowed the three commission members to register their opinions on issues individually without having a meeting. It's named for the color of the sheets commissioners use to record their opinions. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has sued the commission and its members, alleging the practice violates the state's open meetings law, which requires government bodies to make decisions in public. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the commission voted Wednesday to suspend the practice. The vote came a day after commissioners asked the attorney general's office to defend it against the lawsuit, and to assess the agency's open meetings practices.


Another Possible KC Heat Death Under Investigation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Health officials are investigating another possible heat death in the Kansas City area. The Kansas City Health Department said Thursday that the case involves a woman born in 1928. No other details about the woman's death were immediately released. The department says that the Jackson County medical examiner has confirmed one-heat related death and is investigating three other deaths as possibly heat related.


Judge Sets August Trial for Former Insurance Agent

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas insurance agent accused of stealing nearly $2 million from policyholders faces a late summer trial. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten on Thursday set an August 27 trial for 41-year-old Jason Matthew Pennington, of Bel Aire. A 51-count indictment accuses Pennington of defrauding policyholders and lying to beneficiaries to cover the thefts. He is charged with wire fraud, attempted wire fraud, money laundering, attempted bank fraud and making false statements to a financial institution. He has been released on a $25,000 bond pending trial. His 65-year-old father, James L. Pennington, of Wichita, is charged with four counts of filing false tax returns. He is out on a $10,000 bond. The younger Pennington was a State Farm Insurance agent from June 2000 until June 2010.


Moran to Attend Unmanned Aircraft Demonstration

LINDSBORG, Kan. (AP) — A flight demonstration of various unmanned aircraft systems used to improve the care of crops, livestock and pastures is scheduled for next week in central Kansas. Kansas State University is hosting the event Tuesday in Lindsborg, where U.S. Senator Jerry Moran will be on hand to discuss economic growth potential of unmanned aircraft systems in the state. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicted in a study released in March that Kansas will be among the top 10 states to see significant economic growth once drones are integrated into the national airspace system in 2015. The association's president and CEO, Michael Toscano, also will be at Tuesday's demonstration.

Lawrence Health Dept. Gets $75K to Improve Access to Healthy Foods

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is receiving a $75,000 grant to help improve access to healthy foods. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas Health Foundation awarded the grant through its Healthy Communities Initiative. Eleven other grants were awarded around the state. The Lawrence-Douglas County department recently developed its Roadmap to a Healthier Douglas County. That program pinpoints changes that would improve the overall health of area residents, including more opportunities for healthy eating at work and improved food and beverage environments at local venues. The $75,000 grant will focus on those goals and will also be used to develop policies that could make nutritional foods available in public areas.


Aratana Therapeutics Shares Soar in Trading Debut

Shares of pet medicine developer Aratana Therapeutics are soaring in their first trading day on the Nasdaq Global Market. The stock, ticker symbol PETX, is up 48 percent, or $2.90, to $8.90 per share in afternoon trading, while the Nasdaq exchange climbed less than 1 percent. The Kansas City, Kansas company raised $34.5 million in an initial public offering of 5.7 million shares that was priced well below the range of $11 to $13 originally expected. The banks managing the offering may buy an additional 862,500 shares to sell if there's demand. That would increase the IPO proceeds. Aratana is developing potential pet medicines based on compounds created by human drug companies. It has no approved products on the market, but is developing pain treatments for both cats and dogs.


KC Fed Reserve Investigates Package

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City fire officials say an employee at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was taken to a hospital after reporting breathing problems after opening a package that was later determined to be harmless. Fire Department spokesman James Garrett says hazmat crews were called to the building when the employee reported breathing difficulties after opening the package in the cash processing area Thursday. Garrett says that employee and three others were put through a decontamination process, and only the employee who opened the package was taken to a hospital. Garrett didn't know the employee's condition. He says crews found mold in the package, and turned the scene over to federal authorities. Federal Reserve spokesman Bill Medley says the bank later determined the substance in the package wasn't hazardous.


Wichita Unveils $1 Million Water Savers Rebate

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita is handing out $1 million in financial rebates to encourage residents to conserve water. Officials unveiled details Thursday of an appliance rebate program approved earlier this month by the City Council. Appliances and devices must be purchased between May 1 and December 21 of this year to be eligible. Rebates are on a first-come, first-served basis. The program ends when the $1 million budget is gone. Water customers are eligible for up to a $100 rebate for qualifying low-flow toilets, high-efficiency dishwashers, high-efficiency washing machines and smart-irrigation controllers. A $75 rebate is also offered for rain barrels. Each household is limited to a maximum of five rebates.

Salina Police Chief Retiring After 22 Years

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Salina will be looking for a new police chief in the next few months. KSAL-AM reports Chief Jim Hill announced Thursday that he'll retire on October 1 from the job he's held since January 1991. Hill is 64 years old and has been in uniform for 44 years. He says he's looking forward to traveling and spending time with his grandchildren. Hill calls the decision bittersweet, saying he has a lot of affection for the police department and the city of Salina. Looking back over his career, Hill said the low point was the night one of his officers was shot in the face during a standoff last September. The officer returned to duty in April.


Kansas Wheat Harvest Inching Closer to Nebraska

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas winter wheat harvest is slowly moving closer to the Nebraska border. The trade group Kansas Wheat reported Wednesday that the yields are mixed across Kansas as more grain is harvested. In Bucklin, the harvest has reached the 60 percent mark with the Offerle Co-op saying it expects to take in about one-third of last year's below-average crop. Yields are ranging from 5 to 30 bushels an acre there. Great Bend Co-op reports that harvest is about halfway done at its seven elevators. It has only taken in 1.7 million bushels, well short of the 3.8 million bushels average. Yields have been ranging from 5 to 13 bushels per acre in drought-stricken fields west of Highway 281 while eastern Barton County has seen 60 bushels an acre.


Ex-Kansas Airman Convicted of $55K Fraud

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas Air Guard National member has been convicted of fraudulently receiving nearly $55,000 in benefits by claiming she was commuting to a Wichita base from Arizona. The U.S. Attorney's office says a jury on Thursday found 28-year-old Wichita resident Eledria J. Bradley guilty of one count of wire fraud. Bradley was a senior airman assigned to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. Prosecutors said she used an online system for service members to change her address from Wichita to Chandler, Arizona, which put her outside the commuting distance from McConnell. Prosecutors said the phony address allowed Bradley to collect nearly $55,000 in lodging and per diem benefits from April 2009 until April 2011. A sentencing date has not been set.


Olathe Man Charged in Hammer Attack

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A 24-year-old Olathe man has been accused of trying to kill his mother with a hammer. The Kansas City Star reports that Majok Wany Anyit was charged Wednesday in Johnson County with attempted first-degree murder. A criminal complaint says Anyit is accused of hitting his mother several times in the head with a hammer Tuesday. The mother was hospitalized in critical condition. Anyit's being held on $500,000 bond. Court records say he was assigned a public defender, but that office says it's unclear who's been assigned to the case. Court records also show Anyit, who's from Sudan, was convicted in 2008 of assaulting a law enforcement officer and sentenced to six months in jail. He also was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2008 and sentenced to 21 days.

Large Hay Fire Extinguished, but Still Being Monitored

MOSCOW, Kan. (AP) — Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed thousands of hay bales in southwest Kansas. The fire started May 28 near Moscow and was considered extinguished by June 5. But workers at Abengoa Bioenergy are still spreading the hay out to check for hot spots. Officials say the blaze destroyed an estimated 38,000 hay bales, most owned by Abengoa. The company says workers will continue to spread the hay for the next few days. Once that's done, cleanup will begin. The Garden City Telegram reports that the company has not yet determined value of the hay that was lost. The Kansas Department of Emergency Management's preliminary finding was that the fire was caused by lightning but that has not been confirmed.

50 Dogs Removed from Pet Hoarder's Home

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — A Great Bend animal shelter is over capacity after 50 dogs were removed from a woman's home. The Golden Belt Humane Society coordinated the roundup of the animals from a trailer home Tuesday on the southeast side of Great Bend. A concerned citizen notified People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which called the local shelter. The Garden City Telegram reports that Golden Belt's animal shelter has a capacity of 32 animals. Its manager, Seth Orebaugh, says volunteers are working to find homes for the dogs and contacting other shelters to take some of them but it is possible some will be euthanized. Orebaugh says most of the dogs are in good health. The home owner could face charges because Great Bend allows only four dogs in a home.

Feds Postpone Decision on Lesser Prairie Chicken

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials have agreed to postpone making a final decision on whether to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. The six-month extension comes after a bipartisan group of lawmakers called for a delay. U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, and New Mexico Republican Congressman Steve Pearce were among those who asked for more time. Pearce says listing the bird could have massive consequences for landowners in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. He says the extension gives stakeholders more time to implement voluntary conservation efforts. Udall says the extra time will enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the science and comments it has received. The agency said Wednesday that it is reviewing a conservation plan drafted by wildlife officials from the five states.


Feds Seek to Revoke Celebrity Hunter's Probation

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors want a celebrity hunter from Tennessee to spend three months in jail for violating probation in a Kansas case. William "Spook" Spann is scheduled to appear at a hearing in federal court Thursday afternoon. Prosecutors are seeking to have his probation revoked in a 2007 case in which he pleaded guilty to transporting unlawfully taken wildlife across state lines. The 50-year-old Dickinson, Tennessee resident owned property in Kansas and bought a deer permit in November 2007, but it allowed him to hunt only on land he owned. He violated state law when he hunted on an adjacent landowner's property, and it became a federal crime when he transported the antlers across state lines. Spann has a hunting show, "Spook Nation," on the Pursuit Channel.

Effort Begins to Move UMKC Conservatory Downtown

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposed downtown arts campus for the University of Missouri-Kansas City is getting a major boost. The school announced Wednesday that the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation is pledging $20 million toward the creation of the new campus. Interest in the downtown location has grown with the recent opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Backers say a new campus will increase the profile of the university's arts programs and the new performing arts facility. Before beginning with the first phase, an additional $70 million needs to be raised. The first phase involves moving the university's Conservatory of Music and Dance to a location in the Crossroads District. Other programs would be moved in subsequent phases. About 500 students are enrolled in the conservatory.


KC Charter's 5th-Graders May Be Last to Graduate

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City, Missouri charter school that's fighting for its survival has graduated what could be its last class of fifth graders. Thursday's event was an emotional one for many students and families. State education officials voted last month to pull the charter of Gordon Parks Elementary School because of the students' poor performance. The loss of the charter means a loss of state funding. But soon after losing its charter, a Cole County circuit judge granted a temporary restraining order. A hearing is planned for July 26. School officials say their children are making progress even though many live in poverty. The University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg sponsors the school and wanted the state to issue a new five-year charter. Gordon Parks has about 240 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.


Gay Marriage Rulings Receive Mixed Review in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — As Kansas gay-marriage backers were celebrating a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp was vowing to take action. On Wednesday, the justices struck down a provision of a federal law that denies federal benefits to married gay couples. It also cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California. The most colorful celebration was at a rainbow-painted Topeka house that's across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are known for protesting outside funerals with anti-gay messages. Leaders of the Planting Peace organization unfurled a large banner from the roof of the brightly painted house announcing "Bye, Bye DOMA." But Huelskamp was far from elated. He vowed to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage "as the union of one man and one woman."

Police: Cyclist Had Meth Lab in Backpack

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — If only he'd been riding in the street, a bicyclist who Pittsburg police say had a meth lab in his backpack might have gone unnoticed. But the 29-year-old man from Nevada, Missouri caught the eye of an officer in the southeast Kansas community Tuesday morning because he was riding on a sidewalk. The officer tried to make contact with the bicyclist. The man instead rode away before he was stopped a few blocks away. Police say a search of his backpack turned up what they called an active, "one-pot" mobile meth lab. The man was arrested on suspicion of making and possessing methamphetamine, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, and obstruction. He also got a ticket for riding a bike on the sidewalk.

Another Lawsuit Filed Against Monsanto over Wheat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Another lawsuit has been filed against seed giant Monsanto over last month's discovery of an isolated field of genetically engineered wheat in Oregon. Kansas wheat farmer Dan Brown sued Monsanto on Tuesday on behalf of himself and potentially thousands of other growers. The Seward County resident's lawsuit is seeking class-action status. It's at least the third lawsuit filed against St. Louis-based Monsanto this month over the release of the experimental wheat. Kansas farmer Ernest Brown individually sued the company, and another lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed in Washington on behalf of growers of soft white wheat. Monsanto reiterated Wednesday that none of the genetically modified wheat entered the commercial market. The company says no legal liability exists given the care undertaken, and it vowed to present a vigorous defense.



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