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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, February 18, 2014


KS Senate President Appoints Pensions Committee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle has created a special committee to review issues surrounding the state Public Employees Retirement System. Wagle named nine senators to the panel Monday. Its chairman is Independence Republican and Senate Vice President Jeff King, and its vice chairman is Emporia Republican Jeff Longbine. The Senate doesn't have a standing committee on pensions, as the House does. The House committee is reviewing multiple pension issues, including a proposal to start a 401(k)-style plan for new public employees. The other Republicans on the Senate panel are Elaine Bowers of Concordia, Jim Denning of Overland Park, Mitch Holmes of St. John, Forrest Knox of Altoona and Ty Masterson of Andover. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and Laura Kelly are the committee's Democratic members. Both are from Topeka.

KS House Panel Restores $16M for All-Day K

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House budget committee has restored $16 million for Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to fund all-day kindergarten, keeping the money in place while a separate committee reviews the merits of the plan. The recommendation Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee reverses a decision made by a working group to strip the funding until a decision is made whether to move forward with Brownback's proposal. The working group will meet Thursday to continue its review of the proposal. The full committee endorsed the overall budget for the Department of Education, which would spend more than $3 billion in the next fiscal year on public schools. Legislators approved most of the spending last session. The committee's action reflects minor changes in spending, including $1.1 million to develop new standardized tests.


Proposed Bill Would Allow Stronger Spanking

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker is proposing a bill that would allow teachers, caregivers and parents to spank children hard enough to leave marks. Current Kansas law allows spanking that doesn't leave marks. Representative Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, says she wants to allow up to 10 strikes of the hand and that could leave redness and bruising. The bill also would allow parents to give permission to others to spank their children. It would continue to ban hitting a child with fists, in the head or body, or with a belt or switch. Finney says she wants to restore parental rights, and improve discipline. KCTV reports that Representative John Rubin, chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, says he isn't sure the committee will even consider the bill.

Measure Aims to Exclude Kansans from National Health Care Overhaul

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Kansas Republican officials who oppose the federal health care overhaul are pushing a proposal aimed at allowing the state to opt out of the program. Secretary of State Kris Kobach and two GOP legislators urged the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee Tuesday to pass a bill bringing Kansas into a compact among states that would assert control over health care policy within their borders. The committee could debate it later this week. Most Republican lawmakers and Governor Sam Brownback are highly critical of the federal health law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama. AARP's Kansas chapter called the measure frivolous. Congress would have to approve the compact and cede power to the states on health care. Compact supporters think that's a possibility if Republicans control both chambers.


KS Representative Mike Peterson Dies Following Long Illness

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House officials say Representative Mike Peterson, one of the Kansas Legislature's longest-serving members, has died after a lengthy illness at the age of 72. The office of House Minority Leader Paul Davis confirmed that Peterson, a Democrat from Kansas City, died early Tuesday at a Kansas City-area hospital. Peterson, an attorney, served in the 32nd House district from 1979 to 1990 and was re-elected in 2005. He served on the House Federal and State Committee and the Redistricting Committee. After news of his death spread at the Capitol, Davis led the House in a moment of silence. He called Peterson a "great friend and colleague." House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said funeral services had not been scheduled.


Backers of KS Sex Ed Bill Seek Parental Control

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters of Kansas legislation requiring parental consent for students to receive sex education in public schools say it would force parents to become more active participants in the subject matter. The bill heard Tuesday by the House Education Committee would make the consent requirement a statewide police. Currently, each district decides whether parents must agree to have their children take sex education. The measure was drafted in response to a January incident in Johnson County's Shawnee Mission district. A suggestive poster used in sex education classes was posted on a classroom door in view of students not authorized by their parents to receive sex education. Legislators say a statewide policy should override local school board decisions.


KS Governor Raising Wildfire Danger Awareness

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents are being urged to act cautiously with outdoor burning as the state marks a week of awareness of the dangers of wildfires. Governor Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation declaring this Wildfire Awareness Week. The state fire marshal's office said in a news release Monday that Kansas had more than 3,200 vegetation fires last year, resulting in more than $4 million in property damage and losses and six injuries. The fire marshal also says those fires burned more than 125,000 acres of land. Brownback's proclamation says preventing wildfires is a public safety issue affecting all of Kansas, not just rural areas. Residents are urged to follow posted guidelines for outdoor burning and avoid dangerous use of fireworks.


Body Identified as Missing Junction City Woman

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in northeast Kansas say a body found last week in rural Geary County is that of a Junction City woman missing since February 7. Junction City police also said Tuesday that the death of 24-year-old Amanda Clemons has been ruled a homicide. An autopsy conducted over the weekend determined that Clemons died of what police called sharp-force injury. Witnesses reported seeing Clemons being placed in a car outside a Junction City motel the night she disappeared. Her body was discovered February 12. A Manhattan man and a woman from Colorado were arrested last week on suspicion of first-degree murder. Police also arrested a 25-year-old Fort Riley man on suspicion of aiding a murder. Bond for the three suspects was set at $1 million.


Investigation Questions Brown Foundation Spending

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Federal investigators say they found several instances of questionable spending by a foundation dedicated to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports an investigation by the Office of Inspector General/U.S. Department of the Interior found unreasonable and unsupported spending by the Brown Foundation of Education Equity, Excellence and Research in Topeka. The investigators said they could not do a complete review of the foundation's spending because of poor financial management, missing documentation and commingling of funds. An audit last May questioned nearly $621,000 in spending by the foundation. Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of the lead plaintiff in the desegregation case, started the foundation. She has said the spending problems occurred before she became the superintendent.


Man Pleads Guilty in Garden City Homicide

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a Garden City man in March 2011. Thirty-four-year-old Fred Schmidt Jr. of Garden City had been scheduled to go to trial next week for first-degree murder in the death of Jeffrey Nichols, who was stabbed 45 times. The Garden City Telegram reports that Schmidt instead pleaded guilty to the lesser charge on February 11. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 28. Garden City police say Schmidt told them he and Nichols fought near Nichols's home. Schmidt claimed he killed Nichols in self-defense.

KS Woman Dies Following Collision with Car Fleeing Police

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 62-year-old woman died when a car fleeing from police ran a stop sign and collided with her vehicle. The accident happened Monday night in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say they began pursuing the man's vehicle after they saw him commit two traffic violations while leaving an area known for its drug activity. The man's car eventually ran a stop sign and hit a car driven by Graciela Olivas, of Kansas City, Kansas, sending her car into a ditch. She died later at a hospital. Police said the 28-year-old man tried to run away from the scene after the crash. He was taken into custody after a short foot chase and treated for injuries before being booked into Wyandotte County jail.


Inmate Released After More than 4 Years Awaiting Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been released from the Sedgwick County Jail after spending 4½ years waiting for a trial in a sexual predator case. Forty-five-year-old Todd Ellison was supposed to go to trial next week to determine whether he should be held for life as a sexual predator. Instead, District Judge Ben Burgess released Ellison Friday, saying his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The Wichita Eagle reports that Ellison completed a sentence for sexual crimes involving children from cases in 1996 and 1997. When he was about to be released in 2009, prosecutors filed a petition to argue that he might be determined to be a sexually violent predator. Ellison fought the allegation since then, although he says the state also delayed hearings in the case.

Judge Rules KS Suicide Bomb Plot Case 'Complex'

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has designated the case of a man accused in a suicide bomb plot at a Kansas airport as "complex." U.S. District Judge Monti Belot made the ruling Tuesday in the case of Terry Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician facing terrorism-related charges. Such a designation eases speedy trial concerns and allows the parties more time to prepare their cases. Belot noted in his decision that discovery is sizeable and involves declassified and sensitive evidence. Loewen was arrested December 13 after allegedly trying to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport. He has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device to damage property and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.


Survey: Proposed Date Change for KS State Fair Unpopular

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A proposal to start the Kansas State Fair on Labor Day weekend wasn't popular with people who responded to a survey. Nearly 75 percent of 2,500 people responding to a survey conducted by University of Kansas Jayhawk Consulting either disagreed or strongly disagreed with Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to move the fair's starting date. Only 11 percent agreed with the idea, with the rest neither agreed nor disagreed. The Hutchinson News reports that more than half of the respondents said they probably would not attend the 10-day fair if the dates changed. Brownback had suggested that moving the date would increase attendance at the fair. However, some fair officials said many Kansans go to state parks and other events on Labor Day, rather than to the state fair.

KCMO Studying Increased Security for Shopping District

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City law enforcement officials are considering improved security for the city's County Club Plaza entertainment district. The effort comes after several young people created disturbances Saturday night at the Plaza, the latest in a series of such events in recent years. Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté will meet with his top commanders Tuesday to discuss the security plan. The Kansas City Star reports that the plan could include undercover officers patrolling the streets and possibly a detention room to take young people who are causing trouble until their parents or guardians pick them up. Forte said Monday the trouble-making youths will "no longer be tolerated." But he says the long-term solution has to involve more than police, including parents and efforts to offer young people more activities.


MO Lawmakers Consider Sunday Motorcycle Sales

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Laws that once banned retail sales on Sundays are largely gone in many states. Yet it remains illegal in Missouri to sell cars, trucks and motorcycles on Sundays. Now there is effort in the Missouri Legislature to lift the ban for motorcycles. A House committee heard testimony Tuesday from a Kansas City area Harley-Davidson dealer who is one of the main backers of the legislation. Rick Worth says it's hard for him to compete when a dealer in nearby Kansas can sell motorcycles on Sundays. Missouri House member Mike Cierpiot of Lee's Summit describes his legislation as an "economic development tool." Some committee members questioned whether it would lead to an increase in motorcycle sales statewide or just change the times when people buy them.


Ex-Soldier Serving Life in Prison Dies in AZ

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A former Fort Campbell soldier convicted of raping and killing a teenage Iraqi girl and using a shotgun to kill her family has died in prison in Arizona. Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman John Stahley says the death of 28-year-old Steven Dale Green of Midland, Texas, on Saturday morning is being investigated as a suicide. Green was a private in the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line when he deployed to Iraq. Green and three other soldiers went to the home in Mahmoudiya, Iraq, in March 2006. Green killed three members of the al-Janabi family before becoming the third soldier to rape 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi. Green then shot her. The other soldiers are serving sentences in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.


NM House OKs Cost-Sharing Funding for Amtrak Route

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A bill approved by the New Mexico House would use oil and gas revenue to pay the state's share of costs to keep Amtrak's Southwest Chief on its current route. The House's vote Monday sends the bill to the New Mexico Senate, where its fate is uncertain. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the bill authorizes the issuance of bonds to raise up to $40 million between 2016 and 2025. That's intended to cover New Mexico's portion of a proposed agreement with Colorado and Kansas to pay for track work to keep the Southwest Chief on its present route. Amtrak has warned that the route might change if the passenger train operator can't reach a new deal with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track involved.


Body Found Along Railroad Tracks in AZ Identified

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Authorities say a body discovered along railroad tracks in northwestern Arizona has been identified as a Kansas man. Yavapai County Sheriff's officials announced Tuesday that 37-year-old Randall A. Scott, of Hutchinson, was identified from evidence found at the scene and medical examiner findings. The body was found early Monday west of Seligman and near Peach Springs. Sheriff's investigators say Scott was a passenger on the Amtrak train and boarded it in Hutchinson. He was scheduled to get off in Kingman, Arizona. They say it remains unclear why Scott apparently exited the moving train in the Seligman area about 1:30 am Monday. Authorities say the train was examined when it reached Los Angeles for evidence.


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