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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, April 17, 2012



Kansas Senate Panel Reaffirms Stance on Pay Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has reaffirmed its support for pay raises and longevity bonuses for some state workers as it works on a proposed budget. The Ways and Means Committee decided Tuesday to include both items in its version of a spending plan for state government for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The committee and the Senate previously approved a proposal to give state workers with 10 or more years of service a bonus of $50 for each year they've worked for the state. The cost to the state would be $12 million. Senators also previously backed a plan to provide nearly $9 million worth of raises to state workers whose salaries are below the pay of their private-sector counterparts.


UPDATE: KS Lawmakers Struggle with Social Services Costs 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are struggling to get a handle on the rising costs of social services as a Senate committee works on a $14.1 billion state budget. The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday discussed a spending plan for state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1. One big issue is setting aside extra dollars to cover rising costs for social services, particularly Medicaid, which covers medical services for the needy, poor and disabled. Officials said last week that the state needs to spend $44 million more on social services than previously estimated, most of it on Medicaid. Governor Sam Brownback's administration says the figure would be even higher without his efforts to overhaul Medicaid, but senators are skeptical. The full Legislature reconvenes April 25.


Kansas Governor Touts New Water Conservation Law

COLBY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is touting a new water conservation law aimed at extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. Brownback traveled to the northwestern town of Colby on Tuesday to re-enact his signing of a bill that lets groundwater management districts create conservation areas within their borders. Management districts can impose special controls on water use in those areas. The policy is designed to encourage local communities to pursue their own conservation efforts. Brownback originally signed the bill March 30, and the new law took effect last week. It was part of a package of water conservation proposals pushed this year by the governor. Another new law, taking effect in July, ends the state's "use it or lose it" policy on water rights.


Dozens of Employers Attend Fort Riley Job Fair 

FORT RILEY, KAN. (AP) -- Officials at Fort Riley say more than 50 employers turned out for the fifth annual "Hiring Heroes" job fair at the northeast Kansas Army post. Tuesday's fair was aimed at helping wounded and injured soldiers find jobs, as well as those preparing to leave the military. Spouses were also invited to take part. WIBW-TV reports that soldiers from the Warrier Transition Battalion had a chance to meet potential employers and take part in on-the-spot interviews. The battalion helps soldeirs recovering from injuries or illness return to their units or make the transition to civilian life. Employers at the job fair included private-sector companies, along with the Department of Defense and other federal, state and local agencies.  


Damaging Wichita Tornado Disrupts City's Aircraft Industry

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials at Wichita's Boeing and Hawker Beechcraft aircraft plants and at nearby parts maker Spirit AeroSystems are still evaluating damage from the tornado that slammed the southeastern part of the city.  No estimates of the destruction to the aircraft manufacturing hub from Saturday night's tornado were available Monday. But analysts are already warning of a possible ripple effect on the industry. The hardest-hit company, Spirit AeroSystems, has been talking daily with its customers.  The EF-3 tornado hit Wichita with winds of 136 to 165 mph. Sections of roofs were torn off and windows were blown out as the tornado first hit Spirit AeroSystems, then struck the nearby Boeing facility, McConnell Air Force Base and Hawker Beechcraft.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita will be shut down this week so workers can clean up damage from the weekend storms. The severe weather caused up to $150,000 in damage and completely destroyed a Vietnam-era plane.


Central Kansas Officials Criticize Storm Chasers

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Some central Kansas safety officials say storm chasers created traffic jams and put others in danger while following severe weather that hit the state during the weekend. But professional storm chasers are defending the practice, saying they provide valuable information to public officials during stormy weather. Dickinson County officials compared traffic to a funeral procession along some roads and highways during storms Saturday in northwest portions of the county. They told The Salina Journal that some storm chasers would not move for emergency vehicles and drove over active power lines. Lanny Dean, who runs an Oklahoma-based storm chasing company, contends legitimate storm chasers help provide information and educate their customers about weather dangers. He says amateurs who cause the problems are giving professionals a bad name.


United Way Seeks Donations for Tornado Recovery

With cleanup underway in Wichita from the devastating weekend weather, the United Way is seeking donations for long-term recovery efforts in Sedgwick County. The agency reported having plenty of volunteers Tuesday to help homeowners lean up debris from Saturday night's tornado. But there's still a long way to go, and the agency says 100 percent of each gift to the United Way of the Plains Tornado Fund will go to recovery assistance. Meanwhile, Westar Energy is continuing to restore power to customers who lost electricity Saturday night. The company says about 3,200 customers...nearly all in Sedgwick County...were still without power Tuesday afternoon, down from a multi-county high of more than 26,000 late Saturday. 


Refueling Tankers Return to McConnell AFB from Grand Forks, ND

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Twenty-four refueling tankers that took refuge at an Air Force base in North Dakota during weekend storms in Nebraska and Kansas have returned to their home bases.  The Grand Forks Herald reports that 16 of the tankers flew in to Grand Forks Air Force Base from McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas and eight more came from Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska.  The Grand Forks base was home to tankers for half a century until losing the mission during the 2005 round of military base closings and realignments.


Wichita Announces Plans for Storm Cleanup in the Wake of Saturday's Tornado

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials have announced plans for helping residents dispose of debris from Saturday night's tornado.  The EF3 tornado slammed the southeastern side of Wichita with winds of 136 to 165 mph, uprooting trees and damaging or destroying 100 homes in a mobile home park.  The city says people living in directly affected neighborhoods can leave tree limbs and brush at the curb for collection in coming days.  Four sites have also been designated for debris disposal — Brooks Landfill, CDR Landfill and two waste transfer stations. Regular disposal fees will apply to property owners.


NWS Now Says about 75 Tornadoes Touched Down Over the Weekend

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Forecasters say it appears that about 75 tornadoes touched down in four Great Plains states on Saturday. A Storm Prediction Center meteorologist in Norman says most of the tornadoes were in Kansas, followed by Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska. The tornadoes were logged during a 24-hour period from 7am Saturday to 7am Sunday.  Earlier estimates had pegged the number at more than 100.  But now, forecasters have accounted for many duplicate reports and believe they have a more accurate number of the individual tornadoes that touched down.


2 Killed, 6 Injured in NE Kansas Accident

MILFORD, Kan. (AP) — A head-on collision in northeastern Kansas has killed two drivers and injured several members of a construction crew riding in a van.  The Kansas Highway Patrol says the crash happened around 7am yesterday (MON) on U.S. Highway 77 in Geary County, about one mile north of Milford.  The patrol says a southbound pickup truck driven by 39-year-old Lancy Davis II, of Palmer, crossed the center line and collided head-on with a van driven by 52-year-old Juan Perez, of Wichita.  Six of the seven passengers in the van were taken to hospitals in Topeka, Junction City and Manhattan for treatment of injuries. All of the men were either from Wichita or living in that city.


Prosecutors Seek "Hard 50" Sentence in Topeka Slayings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor will seek a sentence of 50 years in prison without parole for an Oklahoma woman convicted of killing her ex-husband and his fiancee at a Topeka home.  Fifty-two-year-old Dana Chandler, of Duncan, Oklahoma, was convicted last month on two counts of premeditated murder. A jury deliberated just 83 minutes before finding her guilty in the July 2002 shootings of her ex-husband, 47-year-old Michael Sisco, and his 53-year-old fiancee, Karen Harkness.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Shawnee County district attorney's office filed notice yesterday (MON) that it intends to seek the so-called "Hard 50" sentence for each murder count. The sentence would require Chandler to serve 50 years before going before the parole board.  Chandler is scheduled to be sentenced June 1 in Shawnee County District Court.


KS Business Owner Admits to Distributing Steroids 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas businessman has admitted that he helped distribute more than $1.3 million in steroids. Fifty-two-year-old Scott Lofquist, of Fairway, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri. He admitted that he conspired to distribute anabolic steroids and non-controlled prescription drugs through his business, Lifetime Wellness, from June 2008 through March 2010. A co-defendant, 49-year-old Rodney Baltazar, of Elkton, Maryland, is scheduled to plead guilty Thursday to his role in the conspiracy. Baltazar was a doctor of osteopathy licensed to practice in Delaware. Prosecutors say Baltazar had an arrangement with Lofquist to write prescriptions without conducting medical evaluations, and the drugs were not prescribed for legitimate medical purposes.


Trial Rescheduled for Suspect in Topeka Shooting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The murder trial of suspect in a fatal shooting near a Topeka high school has been rescheduled for June 25.  Twenty-year-old Austin Craig Tabor of Topeka is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Matthew C. Mitchell. He was shot to death in October 2010 near Topeka West High School. A 17-year-old survived after being shot five times.  Tabor's first trial ended in a mistrial last week after a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter tweeted a photo that showed a juror.  The Capital-Journal reports that a co-defendant, 22-year-old Coty Rylan Newman of Topeka, is scheduled to go on trial in Mitchell's death on August 20.


University of Kansas Offering 540 Staff Buyouts

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is offering buyouts to 540 of its faculty and staff on its Lawrence and Edwards campus in Overland Park.  Provost Jeff Vitter announced the buyouts yesterday (MON) in an email to university employees. He says those who accept the buyouts would receive a cash payment equal to one year's salary, up to a maximum of $100,000.  The 540 staff members represent about 11 percent of the university's faculty and staff.  Gavin Young, a spokesman for the provost's office, says the buyouts were not established with a specific amount of savings in mind.  Employees can apply for the program through May 15, and must leave the university between July 24 and December 31.


K-State Student National Fishing Champion

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State junior Ryan Patterson has a fishing story he'll be able to brag about for the rest of his life.  Despite fishing by himself, Patterson, of Goddard, defeated 25 teams at the National Guard FLW College Fishing National Championship last weekend in South Carolina.  He was a one-man team because his brother and teammate transferred from Kansas State before the event. The 14 bass he caught over three days weighed a total of 46 pounds, 1 ounce, giving him the title by 2 pounds, 4 ounces.  Patterson won $50,000, a boat for his school's bass club and $25,000 for Kansas State University.  KAKE-TV reports that Patterson will next compete in August in the Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing.


Brownback to Host KS Ecotourism Event

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback will host a gathering April 28 in central Kansas to discuss the state's potential to develop outdoor sites for ecotourism.  The summit will be held at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area near Great Bend. Presenters will include Ted Eubanks, founder of the ecotourism consulting firm Fermata.  Brownback has invited participants to discuss ideas for nature-based tourism focusing on wildlife and the landscape, such as bird-watching and photography.  The summit is by invitation only because seating at the education center is limited.


KS Governor Proclaims "Cowboy Poetry Week"

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — In a state whose official song salutes deer and antelope at play on the range, Governor Sam Brownback has declared this to be a week to celebrate cowboy poetry.  The governor is urging Kansans to mark Cowboy Poetry Week through Saturday with "the appropriate celebration," although he did not say what form that might take.  Brownback issued a proclamation Monday recognizing the contributions of cowboy poets throughout the state's history. He says cowboy and pioneer poets have played a large part in preserving Western heritage and the culture of Kansas.  The proclamation also says the "long tradition and endearing qualities" of telling old stories and poems demonstrate that cowboy poetry is a cherished Kansas tradition.


National Eisenhower Memorial Staff Connects with Abilene Library & Museum 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The executive director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission says an Abilene repository will play a role in the interpretation of the 34th president's military and political career. Carl Reddel, a historian and retired Air Force general, was meeting Tuesday with staff at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene. He and the commission are developing an electronic memorial that will link to the millions of pages of data archived in Kansas to help explain the Eisenhower legacy. Reddel says work on the physical memorial in the nation's capital continues to progress. Some critics have objected to architect Frank Gehry's proposed design of the Washington memorial. But commission members have been unanimous in supporting the design, saying Gehry followed their direction and consulted with Eisenhower's family.


Notre Dame Football Player Transferring to KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Notre Dame tight end Mike Ragone has signed a grant-in-aid form to complete his transfer to the University of Kansas, where he will be reunited with former coach Charlie Weis. Ragone has completed his undergraduate degree and will be eligible to play for the Jayhawks immediately. He joins quarterback Dayne Crist and linebacker Anthony McDonald as former Irish players who will finish their college careers in Lawrence. Weis recruited all three players to Notre Dame while he was the head coach in South Bend. He was fired in 2009 and hired by KU last fall to replace Turner Gill. Ragone was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing the 2008 season and most of last season with knee injuries. He played in 37 games at Notre Dame. He is the sixth Division I transfer to join the Kansas program since Weis was hired.


KS Senate Committee to Reopen Budget Discussions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee is preparing to reopen work on a $14.1 billion state budget.  The Ways and Means Committee meets today (TUE) to resume work on a spending plan for state government for the fiscal year that starts July 1.  Legislators were close to taking final action last month on a compromise budget crafted by House and Senate negotiators. But the agreement unraveled just before lawmakers adjourned for a break that ends April 25.  The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday to craft its version of a new spending plan.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


Westar Energy: Many Still Without Power, Outage May Last Longer  

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy says it's likely to be Thursday before power is restored to all customers affected by Saturday night's tornado in the Wichita area.  The state's largest electric utility initially aimed to have all customers back on line by today (TUE).  But the company says it found "significant" additional damage while working through some of the hardest-hit areas.  In all, about 26,500 Westar customers in several Kansas counties were without power around 11pm Saturday. The company's online outage information site showed about 5,500 customers — nearly all in Sedgwick County — still in the dark as of 7:30 last (MON) night.  

 **certain pieces of information included in this story have been updated. Please see above.

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