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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, July 2, 2013




KDOT Agrees to Pay $477,500 Penalty to Settle Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal environmental regulators say the Kansas Department of Transportation has agreed to pay $477,500 to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at three road construction sites. The Environmental Protection Agency announced the proposed settlement Tuesday in the lawsuit filed over work at road sites near Lawrence, Manhattan and Pleasanton. The agreement is subject to court approval. The agency alleged Kansas failed to install adequate storm water control measures. EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks says effective storm water management is necessary to protect waterways. The deal requires KDOT to designate managers to oversee storm water compliance at each site and statewide. It also requires third-party inspections at environmentally sensitive areas. KDOT Deputy Secretary Jerry Younger says staff and contractors will be subject to greater accountability for complying with the federal Clean Water Act. 


Kansas Law Seeks to Speed Up Missing Persons Response

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas law aims to speed up police response to reports of missing people, especially those thought to be in imminent danger. Under the law that went into effect Monday, all police agencies in Kansas will take a missing-person report, regardless of how long the person has been missing. The information then will be entered into a computer database used by law enforcement agencies nationwide. The Kansas City Star reports that Greg Smith, a state senator from Overland Park, pushed for the new law. His 18-year-old daughter was reported missing in 2007. Authorities searched for her for four days before finding her body. The law also creates a special category of "high-risk missing person" that will allow law enforcement officials to focus their resources on those cases.

Kansas Attorney General Named to Role in National Group

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The attorney general of Kansas has been named to a leadership position in the National Association of Attorneys General. The office of Attorney General Derek Schmidt says in a release Schmidt was elected this week as the association's Midwest chairman. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the organization is a nonpartisan group that includes the attorneys general in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The association sets initiatives for law enforcement and has recently focused on combating human trafficking, protecting consumer privacy and promoting child safety. It also provides education and training opportunities for attorneys general and staff in the Midwest.

Westar Seeks to Increase Residential Rates

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Several Wichita electric customers told state officials they don't like Westar Energy's latest rate increase proposal, but the company says its increased rates would still be a bargain. The Wichita Eagle reports that Westar has asked the Kansas Corporation Commission to approve a rate increase for residential customers by an average $7.50 a month. The company also wants to cut rates for major commercial customers. About 120 people attended the commission's first public hearing on the rate proposal Monday in Wichita. About 25 testified that the increase would be too costly for them and their neighbors. Jeff Martin, a Westar vice president, said Westar's power bills are a bargain, and that including the increase, it will still cost most residential customers less than $3.50 per day to power their homes.


Kansas Lawmaker Becomes Tax Court Hearing Officer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A veteran Kansas House member has given up his seat to take a top staff position at the state court that reviews tax disputes. Former Representative Arlen Siegfreid began work Tuesday as the chief hearing officer for the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals, the same day the Olathe Republican's resignation from the Legislature was effective. He was appointed to the job by Governor Sam Brownback, and a Senate committee approved his appointment Monday. Siegfreid still must be confirmed by the full Senate next year. The 66-year-old Siegfreid was first elected to the House in 2002, and he was majority leader in 2011 and 2012. He ran unsuccessfully for House speaker and was serving as chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee when he gave up his seat.


Feds Charge 9 Kansas State University Students with Visa Fraud

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Nine Kansas State University students from Nepal have been charged with scheming to commit visa fraud. A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday alleges the students conspired to maintain their visas by temporarily pooling their money. Prosecutors contend the goal was to make it appear they had sufficient funds to meet requirements that they could support themselves. All nine are charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud plus varying counts of visa fraud. The government alleges the students presented a notarized bank letter to their international student adviser to obtain certification of financial responsibility. The indictment says that once they got the needed documents, they returned most of the temporarily obtained funds. The U.S. attorney's office says the maximum penalty for each count is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


Kansas Utility Regulators Approve Operations Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas board that regulates utilities has approved operational changes after replacing its top staff member and facing allegations that it violated the state's Open Meetings Act. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission decided Tuesday to schedule two public meetings a week to handle routine business, rather than just one. Also, the KCC will require that major staff changes be reviewed by all three commission members. Chairman Mark Sievers confirmed Tuesday that he removed Patti Petersen-Klein as KCC executive director in June. The move came after a consultant's report said there was a rift between her and KCC employees. Also in June, the Shawnee County prosecutor filed an open meetings lawsuit against the commission following a water rate increase for a Salina housing development. 


Corps Approves Kansas Request for Water Storage Increase

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a request from the Kansas Water Office to increase the amount of water being stored for the state in John Redmond Reservoir in east-central Kansas. The increase, announced Tuesday by state officials, boosts the amount of water that will be available for municipal and industrial uses by 17,000 acre feet. Tracy Streeter, director of the water office, says the increased capacity will keep the reservoir a vital water source for the region. Federal officials say the lake had been losing its capacity to store water because of the accumulation of silt, reaching a point where it would impact the ability to meet obligations to the state. The change permanently raises the lake level from an elevation of 1,039 feet to 1,041 feet.


Nation's Top Fireworks Distributor Expands in Pittsburg

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas company that is the top distributor of consumer-grade fireworks in the U.S. is moving into an expanded facility in time for the Fourth of July. The Joplin Globe reports that Jake's Fireworks in Pittsburg has operations in six states and China. Company officials joined with 100 employees, and local and state leaders Monday to cut the ribbon on a 500,000-square-foot operation on 48 acres in the Pittsburg Industrial Park. The building previously was occupied by Superior Industries. City leaders recommended approval of a $700,000 loan at an interest rate of 3 percent on a three-year term for the space. In return, the company must create five new jobs each year for three years. The company also made a sizable investment in renovating and improving the building.

Fireworks Deemed Dangerous Around Storm Debris

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Officials in Sedgwick County want residents to be especially careful with fireworks this week because of debris still awaiting pickup from a recent bout of violent weather. Storms that hit the Wichita area on Thursday with winds topping 70 mph damaged or destroyed thousands of trees. Many residents have built piles of debris in their yards or curbsides, where the leaves and branches are drying out. The Sedgwick County Fire Department says areas where fireworks are being ignited or may land during this Independence Day week should be cleared of leaves, dry grass and tree limbs.

Kansas Wheat Harvest More Than 57 Percent Complete

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The weekly snapshot of Kansas crops shows the winter wheat harvest at the 57 percent mark as of Sunday. The National Agricultural Statistics Service said Monday the harvest lags behind the 99 percent completed last year at the same time. The late-June average is 67 percent. Cutting was delayed this year by cool weather that delayed the wheat's maturity. The agency says just 85 percent of the wheat is now ripe. By this time a year ago, the entire crop was ripe. It rates the condition of wheat still in the field as 43 percent poor to very poor, 24 percent fair and 33 percent good to excellent. The Kansas report also says farmers have planted 97 percent of the sorghum crop and 95 percent of soybeans.


Gas Firm Gets Partial Win in Condemnation Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has given another win to a Nebraska gas firm in the condemnation of more than 9,100 acres in south-central Kansas. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Tuesday granted partial summary judgment to Northern Natural Gas, in a decades-old legal fight stemming from gas seeping from an underground storage facility. The court found Northern obtained exclusive possession of the underground formations under all but one of the properties on March 30, 2012. More than 173 property owners hold some interest in the contested land spanning Pratt, Kingman and Reno counties. The legal maneuvering comes in the wake of a 2010 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission giving Northern the authority to expand its Cunningham Storage Field in Kansas.


Kansas Woman Sentenced for Medicaid Fraud

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas woman has been sentenced to a month in prison and ordered to repay about $50,000 after being convicted of health care fraud. The office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a release Tuesday that 46-year-old Lupe Adela Mains of Pretty Prairie also has to serve 13 months in community confinement. She was sentenced Monday. Mains was accused of receiving Medicaid and other benefits intended for the care of her disabled sister. The attorney general's office says the case was investigated by its Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Division with assistance from the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.


Man Admits Illegal Sale of Eagle Feathers in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 32-year-old Oklahoma man has admitted to illegally offering to sell eagle and hawk feathers to an undercover agent. Brian K. Stoner of Ponca City, Oklahoma pleaded guilty Monday to two misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act for selling feathers from migratory birds protected by federal law. His sentencing is set for October 7. Prosecutors contend Stoner was at a Lawrence home in 2009 where he met with an undercover agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Stoner admitted in his plea deal he tried to sell eagle parts, including a tail feather fan. He also admitted offering to sell the undercover agent a native American dress "bustle" made of hawk feathers.


Pretrial Deadline Set in Kansas Prescription Misconduct Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Defense attorneys have until mid-September to file pretrial motions on behalf of a northeast Kansas doctor accused of having unlicensed employees write hundreds of prescriptions for powerful painkillers. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson set the deadline Monday. She previously scheduled a trial for May 2014 for 53-year-old Michael P. Schuster of Manhattan. Robinson plans to have a hearing on pretrial motions November 4. Schuster has pleaded not guilty to four counts involving alleged illegal drug distribution at his Manhattan pain clinic. Besides possible prison time, federal prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of money and property linked to the crimes. Prosecutors allege that from April 2007 until at least August 2012, Schuster had staff members write prescriptions for drugs like morphine and oxycodone using signed, blank prescription pads he left while traveling.

Colorado Congressman Expects Delay in Regional VA Hospital Opening

DENVER (AP) — Colorado congressman Mike Coffman says a new regional veterans hospital might not open until June 2015, about a year later than the Veterans Affairs Department has projected. The Denver Post reported Tuesday that Coffman's projection came from the builders, Turner Construction and Kiewit Corporation. The 200-bed hospital is in the Denver suburb of Aurora. It will serve veterans in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming. Coffman, a Republican, and other members of Colorado's congressional delegation recently met with VA officials to discuss the hospital. Coffman says the hospital will likely cost more than the most recent VA projection of $800 million. A Government Accountability Office report in May said the Colorado hospital and three others under construction by the VA were over budget by an average of $366 million.


Wichita Woman Leaves $6 Million Gift to University

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Officials at Wichita State University say a philanthropist who died last year left a $6 million estate gift to the school's foundation. The university announced the donation from Velma Wallace on Tuesday. She had been a longtime supporter of Wichita State along with her husband, aviation pioneer and Cessna Aircraft executive Dwane Wallace, who died in 1989. More than half of the money will be added to the Dwane L. and Velma L. Wallace Endowment Fund, which benefits engineering students and the College of Engineering. About 39 students received engineering scholarships from the fund the last academic year. Other portions of the estate gift will go to the College of Education, Wichita State athletics and the School of Music. Velma Wallace died last July at the age of 95.


Judge Upholds NY Tax Suit Against Sprint Nextel

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York judge has refused to dismiss the state attorney general's lawsuit claiming back sales taxes and triple damages from Sprint. State Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood says the state has a valid basis for claims under state tax law, which imposes a 4 percent tax on aggregated mobile communications services. The suit seeks $100 million in unpaid taxes since 2005 and the damages. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Sprint Nextel Corporation has improperly withheld about 25 percent of its monthly access fees for mobile calling plans from taxation based on the theory it doesn't owe taxes on the interstate portion. Sprint said Monday that it will appeal and fight for New York consumers already paying some of the nation's highest wireless taxes.


Proposal, Wedding at Sharpe KC Concert

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City woman was surprised when her boyfriend proposed during a concert by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. But then Desiree Beaupre's boyfriend, Jordan Hayes, went one better: He asked her to get married right there on stage. The Kansas City Star reports that Hayes and Beaupre were married on stage Saturday by band guitarist Christian Letts as more than 2,000 people watched. The newlyweds stayed onstage to play the tambourines while the band played their popular hit "Home," and they shared their first dance during the next song: a cover of "Sea of Love." Beaupre says their next step is heading to the courthouse to get legally married.


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