These are the regional headlines for Tuesday, February 7, 2012.
KS Regulators Approve $50 Million Rate Increase for Westar Energy
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy reached a settlement with The Kansas Corporation Commission staff to raise its rates by $50 million. However, a consumer rights group says it will fight the rate increase. The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board said Monday it will ask the KCC next week to overturn the settlement with its staff. A spokeswoman for Westar said CURB is the only group opposing the deal. An attorney for CURB said residents and small businesses will pay $41 million of the increase, which includes a 10 percent profit for shareholders. KCC lawyers originally asked Westar to accept a $33 million rate hike and 9 percent shareholder increase. The Wichita Eagle reports that Westar says the increase will cost the average homeowner less than $4 a month.
Kansas Governor Sees Annual Threat to NBAF Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback is warning Kansas legislators that the state and its congressional delegation face a continuous fight to obtain federal funding for a new lab that would research plant and animal pathogens. Brownback told two dozen lawmakers during a meeting last night at his official residence that he expects the legislative battle over the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility to last another five years. A site in Manhattan, near the Kansas State University campus, has been cleared for construction of the $650 million biosecurity lab. The new lab, which could start operations by 2018, would replace an aging facility on Plum Island, New York. But Congressman Timothy Bishop, a Democrat who represents the Plum Island site, is pushing to end funding for NBAF.
Top KS Lawmakers' Response Mixed on Meetings
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislative leaders are telling a local prosecutor he can't force lawmakers to produce records or give testimony while investigating private meetings with Governor Sam Brownback. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said he will cooperate with Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, a Democrat. O'Neal said he's urging his colleagues to do the same. But O'Neal and Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, sent Taylor a letter today telling him that they don't believe lawmakers are required to turn over records. They also said lawmakers can't be forced to answer questions while in session. Taylor is investigating whether the Republican governor's seven meetings with GOP members of 13 committees violated the Open Meetings Act. Brownback has said he's confident the sessions at his official residence were legal.
Colyer: Medicaid Providers to Be Selected This Summer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's administration expects to decide this summer which private companies will manage the state's $2.9 billion Medicaid program. Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer, who led the team that developed Brownback's plan to overhaul the program, told two dozen legislators last night that "multiple organizations" are seeking the Medicaid contracts. Medicaid provides health coverage for the poor, disabled and elderly. Brownback's administration plans to issue three contracts this year for the Medicaid program. Each contract would start January 1, 2013. Each company would operate statewide, so that Medicaid clients would have a choice of coverage. The overhaul represents the first time the state has attempted to cover the disabled and the elderly, including those in nursing homes, with a managed-care program.
KS Legislator Defends Pace of State Medicaid Reform
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A key Kansas legislator says the state can't let a fear of change prevent it from overhauling its $2.9 billion Medicaid program. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades responded today to criticism from fellow lawmakers and others that Governor Sam Brownback's administration is moving too quickly with changing Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the poor, disabled and needy. Rhoades, a Newton Republican, acknowledged concerns about Brownback's plan to have three private companies manage the program. But he said the state can't sustain its current program because of rising costs and can't let fear lock it into doing nothing. Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer, who led the team that drafted the administration's Medicaid plan, says the state will award its contracts this summer.
Genocide-Related Trial Costs Approximately $1 Million
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The government spent close to $1 million prosecuting a Kansas man suspected of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Partial records obtained through an open records request by The Associated Press show the government spent $397,600 for travel, meals, hotels, translators, witness fees and transcription costs to prosecute Lazare Kobagaya. The one-page summary offers only a glimpse of partial expenses since the Justice Department withheld nine pages responsive to the AP request, claiming exemptions for "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Kobagaya's court-appointed attorney says defense costs and attorney's fees were more than $350,000. Jurors say the judge told them after trial that the government spent more than $1 million on the case. All charges were dismissed against Kobagaya, a Burundian immigrant who is a U.S. citizen living in Topeka.
Auditors Stand By Results of Bioscience Authority Report
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Forensic auditors say they stand by their investigation of the Kansas Bioscience Authority and that any further work would be a waste of time and public funds. The supplemental report released today by BKD Forensic and Valuation Services was in response to legislative questions about the scope of the firm's investigation of the KBA since April 2011. BKD and a team from Meare Welch Browne were paid $960,000 to look at the KBA at the request of the agency and insistence of Governor Sam Brownback's administration. The audit found that the KBA made sound investments in emerging bioscience companies since its inception in 2004. However, questions were raised about the KBA's former CEO, a number of vendor contracts that violated KBA policy and missing files from the CEO's computer.
KS Gov Hits Highlights of his Legislative Agenda with Lawmakers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has hit the highlights of his legislative agenda and touched on some specific proposals in meeting with two dozen Kansas legislators at his official residence. Brownback had the gathering Monday evening, amid ongoing questions about other events with lawmakers in January. He allowed an Associated Press reporter and photographer to observe. The governor said afterward that the meeting was typical of the ones he's had previously. He had seven meetings at the residence in January with fellow Republicans on 13 legislative committees, and the Shawnee County district attorney is investigating whether they violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Monday night's group was bipartisan. In remarks after dinner, Brownback mentioned a range of issues, including taxes, education funding and water policy. Lawmakers asked a few questions.
Brownback Submits Order Reorganizing Three State Agencies
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has formally submitted an executive order to legislators to reorganize three state agencies that deal with social services. The order signed Monday by Brownback is part of his administration's plan to overhaul the state's $2.9 billion Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for the poor, disabled and elderly. The changes sought by Brownback will take effect July 1, unless one chamber votes to reject his order by April 6. The order would shrink the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services so it would focus on services to children and families, removing it from involvement with Medicaid. Services for disabled and mentally ill would move from SRS into the Department on Aging, which also would pick up some regulatory responsibilities from the Department of Health and Environment.
Shawnee County DA to Decide Soon on Charges in Document Shredding Case
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas prosecutor expects to decide soon whether to pursue criminal charges over the shredding of state documents seen as key evidence in a criminal case against a Planned Parenthood clinic. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor says he hopes to have a decision by the end of February. At issue is a 2009 decision by the Kansas attorney general's office to shred copies of reports to the state on individual abortions from Planned Parenthood's clinic in Overland Park. The shredding occurred 18 months after 107 criminal charges were filed against the clinic in Johnson County, with some alleging the clinic had falsified the reports. Once the shredding became public, a judge dismissed 49 of the charges. The shredding has been described as routine, but abortion opponents are suspicious.
KS, MO Fight Possible Move of Marine Center
Kansas and Missouri officials are working to persuade the Marine Corps to scrap plans to move its data center to New Orleans. The data center in south Kansas City provides 400 high-paying jobs, with employees living in both states. The center pays Marines and handles other finance and personnel functions. Kansas City Mayor Sly James was in Washington D.C. recently, where he asked the Marine Corps to keep the operation in its current location. Congressional delegations and governors from Kansas and Missouri also have written the Marine Corps commandant to argue Kansas City's case. The Kansas City Star reports that New Orleans is making an aggressive pitch to lure the plant to the city's Federal City redevelopment project, which includes a Marine Forces Reserve headquarters in a Marine Corps Support compound.
Memorial Service Set for 104-Year-Old KS Judge
A memorial service for U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown has been scheduled for this Saturday. The 104-year-old judge was the nation's oldest sitting judge when he died January 23 at an assisted living center in Wichita. A celebration of his life is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at College Hill United Methodist Church. Brown was appointed as a federal district judge in 1962 by then-President John F. Kennedy. In 1979, Brown officially took senior status, a type of semiretirement that allows federal judges to work with a full or reduced case level. He continued to carry a full workload for decades.
KS House Honors Late Member Who Died of Cancer
The Kansas House has honored a member who died last year after battling cancer. House members adopted a resolution Monday praising the late Representative Rocky Fund. The Hoyt Republican served in the House from January 2007 until his death in April 2011 at the age of 60. Fund's widow, Linda, and other family members were present as House Speaker Mike O'Neal praised Fund's public service and his character. The resolution noted that he was active in his community and served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was the manager of a rural water district in Jackson County and served as a teacher in Jackson County schools for two decades.
Carjacking Suspect Killed in Gunfight Identified
GODDARD, Kan. (AP) _ A carjacking suspect who died in a gunfight with law enforcement officers was a 52-year-old man from Wichita.
Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson said today the suspect was Darren J. Baker. He was shot Monday afternoon after a chase that began when police in Goddard tried to pull his vehicle over for a traffic violation.
Henderson says Baker left the stolen vehicle north of Cheney Lake and started firing on officers, who returned fire.
Officers from four different law enforcement agencies were involved in the shooting. Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents are investigating the shooting.
Regional Forester Named
DENVER (AP) — A longtime U.S. Forest Service employee has been chosen as the new regional forester for the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Kansas. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said today that Daniel Jiron would replace Rick Cables, who retired as regional forester last year and is now director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The Rocky Mountain region includes more than 22 million acres of forest and grassland in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Jiron has been the deputy regional forester for the Pacific Southwest region since August 2010. Before that he was forest supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico and has served in several other Forest Service posts. Early in his career, Jiron was an aide to former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.
Lawsuit Claims George Brett Involved in Deceptive Advertising
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ Lawyers are seeking class-action status for a lawsuit that claims Hall of Fame slugger George Brett has been falsely advertising bracelets and necklaces as being able to help improve health and sports performance. A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Des Moines claims Spokane Valley, Washington-based Brett Bros. Sports International, Inc. has falsely claimed the products help customers relieve stiffness, recover from sports fatigue and improve focus.
An Iowa man, Seth Thompson of Adel, says he bought one of the necklaces at the College World Series in Omaha but did not receive any of those benefits. His lawyers are asking a federal judge to approve a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all customers who have bought the products in the last four years. The company had no immediate comment.
Topeka Women Meld Arts, Activism in their Work
A group of Topeka woman is mixing crafting and activism. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the women call themselves The Craftivists. The group has its roots in a crafting night four friends had together. Two years ago, the focus shifted when the women made handmade cards and poems for then-Governor Mark Parkinson. The notes were a thank-you for restoring funding to Planned Parenthood and a criticism for his work with Sunflower Electric Power Corp. on a power plant expansion in Holcomb. Now, the women's projects include jewelry, buttons and pendants. They also turn old windows into art to create something they call The Craftivist Window. The women have started selling their work in order to be able to buy more supplies. They donate some of the money to charities.