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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, March 12, 2013




Kansas House Panel Advances Tax Plan to Rival Brownback's

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a plan from its Republican chairman to cut sales and income taxes. The proposal approved Tuesday by the Taxation Committee rejects key elements of GOP Governor Sam Brownback's plan for following up on individual income tax cuts enacted last year. The proposal from Chairman and St. Marys Republican Richard Carlson allows the state sales tax to fall to 5.7 percent in July, as scheduled by state law. Brownback wants to keep the sales tax at its current 6.3 percent rate to stabilize the budget while pursuing further income tax cuts. The governor wants to phase in fresh cuts in income tax rates over four years. Carlson's plan is less aggressive. The committee's voice vote sends the measure to the entire House for debate.

Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Outlines Tax Proposals 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top-ranking Democratic member of the Kansas Senate says the party will push to decrease the state's sales tax and to provide additional tax relief for the poor. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said Tuesday that Democrats will propose expanding tax legislation before the chamber for debate this week. Hensley shared details with The Associated Press. One proposal would allow the sales tax to drop to 5.7 percent in July, as scheduled. Republican Governor Sam Brownback wants the sales tax to stay at 6.3 percent rate to stabilize the budget as he pursues individual income tax cuts. Also, Democrats will try to preserve a tax break for homeowners targeted by Brownback. Hensley said Democrats want to restore tax breaks eliminated last year for renters and people using child care.


Kansas Senate Advances Bill on Judicial Selection

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has advanced a bill changing the way judges are chosen for the state Court of Appeals. The measure would give the governor the authority to appoint judges to the court, subject to confirmation by the Senate. It would abolish a special commission that now screens applicants for the Court of Appeals and submits the names of three finalists to the governor, who makes the appointment without Senate confirmation. Senators gave the measure first-round approval Tuesday. The bill has already cleared the House, and Senate passage on a final vote expected Wednesday would send it to Governor Sam Brownback. The Senate previously approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the governor new authority to name judges to the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.


New Coalition Pushing for Kansas Medicaid Expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new coalition is promising to lobby Kansas officials to expand the state's Medicaid program even if legislators pass a resolution declaring that they're opposed to it. The Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition had a news conference Tuesday to launch its pro-expansion campaign. The coalition includes more than 30 groups representing consumers, health care providers and religious organizations. Medicaid provides health coverage for the needy and disabled. The 2010 federal health care overhaul encourages states to expand their programs by promising to pay almost all of the cost. Many members of the Republican-dominated Legislature opposed the federal overhaul championed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat. GOP legislative leaders are skeptical the federal government will keep its funding promises. A resolution declaring opposition to expanding Medicaid is pending in the House.


Kansas Sheriff's Deputy, Suspect Shot After Chase

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy who was shot after a car chase is in stable condition after undergoing eye surgery. Sheriff Jeff Easter says the 33-year-old deputy was shot Monday night after a chase that ended near Potwin in Butler County. A man the car also was shot and is in critical condition. A woman in the car was arrested. Easter says the deputy tried to stop the car for traffic violations and it sped off, reaching 120 mph. Eventually, the deputy found the car abandoned and was shot as he searched for the suspects. Several agencies responded to help with the search. A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper eventually shot the man and arrested the woman. The two suspects are both from Gardner.


Kansas County Sets Vote on Law Enforcement Funding

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Voters in a northwest Kansas county will decide May 14 whether to approve a half-percent sales tax to repair and expand their jail, courthouse and law enforcement building. The Hays Daily News reports that Ellis County commissioners set the date for the special election Monday. Revenue from the tax would also fund a new EMS-rural firefighting building. For residents of Hays, the tax would not be new. A half-percent sales tax for construction of a sports complex expires at the end of this month. Officials say the Ellis County jail is designed for 30 prisoners but has an average daily population of 50 inmates. The jail houses some inmates from other counties. Current estimates show the projects funded by the tax would cost between $12 million and $13 million.


Emporia Anticipating Good News from Hostess Deal

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) _ The announcement that Hostess plans to sell its Twinkies and other snack cake brands is expected to be good news for Emporia. Hostess announced Tuesday that it will sell its cake products to two investment firms. The transaction includes five production plants, including the Dolly Madison plant in Emporia. Kent Heermann, president of the Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas, says the sale means the Emporia plant could reopen within weeks. He says talks will begin soon on when the plant might reopen and how many employees would be hired. But he says the new company would have five plants instead of 11, so that bodes well for Emporia. The Emporia Gazette reports that when the plant closed in November, more than 500 workers lost their jobs.


Mediators, Court Date Set for Kansas School Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys involved in a Kansas school finance lawsuit have chosen the dean of Pepperdine University's law school and a Topeka attorney to serve as mediators to settle the case. The attorneys told Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss on Monday that law school dean Deanell Tacha and Topeka attorney James Steven Pigg will mediate the case. Tacha is the former chief judge of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nuss also announced that the court would hear the appeal of a lower-court ruling on the case on October 8 in Topeka. The state is appealing a January ruling by a three-judge panel in Shawnee County that legislators must increase the state's annual spending on schools by at least $440 million.

Kansas Legislators Jump into Business Tax Fight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have jumped into a tax dispute over refineries and fertilizer and cement plants, but critics worry that helping the business's operators could pinch local governments. A bill before the Kansas House revises a state law governing how counties value machinery and equipment in complex manufacturing plants for tax purposes. Business groups are watching the legislation, which cleared the House Taxation Committee last week. Supporters contend the bill would ensure that machinery is valued consistently statewide, preventing prevent counties from overtaxing it. Critics contend the measure will take millions of dollars' worth of property off state and local tax rolls — forcing local governments to cut services or raise levies on homes and other business property.

Kansas House Approves Bill to Boost KDOT, Turnpike Ties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill that supporters say is an attempt to encourage cooperation between the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the state Department of Transportation. The 81-41 vote Monday sent the measure to the Senate. Some House members fear that the bill is a step toward a merger and diverting revenues from the 236-mile turnpike to other uses. But the measure stops far short of Governor Sam Brownback's proposal for a merger of the transportation agencies. He contends such a merger would reduce costs. The bill would expand the specific authority of KDOT and the Turnpike Authority so they can provide administrative services to each other. Also, the two agencies could work jointly on roads connecting to the turnpike.

Kansas Mental Health Advocates to Rally

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Mental health advocates plan to rally in Topeka this week for increased funding for services throughout Kansas. Thursday's event is sponsored by the Kansas Mental Health Coalition. Shawn Sullivan, state secretary of aging and disability services, plans to take part in a morning gathering at the Topeka Performing Arts Center. In the afternoon, Governor Sam Brownback is scheduled to address the advocates in the Statehouse. Rally participants are pushing for the governor and legislators to restore money that was cut from mental health services.


Kansas Air Guard Tests Tornado Response Skills

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — With vehicles strewn across roads, members of the Kansas Air National Guard turned Topeka's Forbes Field into a disaster area to test emergency response skills. The four-hour exercise Tuesday was to see how well members of the 190th Air Refueling Wing would respond to the aftermath of an EF-2 tornado striking the base south of Topeka. Airmen and emergency response units were called shortly after 9:30 am to respond to the tornado, which simulated damage to property and human casualties. Captain Joe Blubaugh, executive officer for the 190th, said the airmen practice tornado drills every year to test preparation and response skills. Tuesday's drill simulated a small tornado that damaged a few buildings but spared the air wing's KC-135 refueling aircraft parked on the tarmac.


Salina Man Sentenced for Selling Designer Drug

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Salina coffee shop owner has been placed on a year's probation in federal court for selling a designer drug that mimics the effects of marijuana. The U.S. Attorney's office said Monday that 44-year-old Erick Srack had pleaded guilty to introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce. Srack admitted selling bags of what was labeled "Aromatic Potpourri." The substance was intended for smoking as a recreational drug. Srack was also prosecuted in Kansas courts. He was sentenced in October 2011 to 30 months in state prison for selling illegal drugs from his coffee shop, The Grind.

Galena Puts $7.5 Million Bond Issue on Ballot

GALENA, Kan. (AP) — Galena residents will vote in June on a proposed $7.5 million bond issue for the city's schools. The Galena Board of Education voted Monday to put the issue on the June 4 ballot. If approved, the project would add classroom space at Spring Grove Elementary and Galena High School and add space at both schools to serve as tornado shelters. Other improvements would include a new high school gymnasium, lockers rooms, a concession area, a fitness room and a walking track. The Joplin Globe reports that figures provided by the district show the bond issue would add $128 a year to the cost of a $100,000 home.


Water Returning to Arkansas River

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Recent snow and rain are bringing much-needed water to the Arkansas River. The city of Wichita was able to raise the Lincoln Street dam 1 1/2 feet during the weekend. Wichita officials say the dam will slowly be lifted as the river gets more sustained flows. Scott Lindebak, Wichita's storm water division manager, says the river's flow rate increased to 146 cubic feet per second after Saturday's rain. A month ago, the rate was 45 cubic feet per second. The Wichita Eagle reports regular flow is 200 cubic feet per second. Lindebeck says once the flow sustains its normal level for a week, the city will raise the dam completely. Raising the dam too quickly endangers wildlife downstream.


Knife Rights Movement Gaining Support

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize switchblade knives. Across the country, knife rights advocates are portraying their cause as a Second Amendment issue. New federal rules will allow pocketknives on airplanes. And similar switchblade bills are making progress in Tennessee, Kansas, Indiana and Alaska. But the author of the Texas bill says he wants to make a different point about gun control. Representative Harold Dutton, a Democrat from Houston, says only dangerous weapons should be prohibited. His staff prepared an analysis of the bill noting that switchblades are banned while assault rifles are not.

Murder Charge Filed in Dodge City Stabbing

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Garden City man is charged with second-degree murder in a fatal stabbing in Dodge City. The Ford County Attorney's Office on Monday charged 52-year-old Alfredo Gasca-Aldama with reckless second-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Jesus Ortiz. Gasca-Aldama is being held on $250,000 bond. Dodge City police say both men were taken to a hospital Saturday night suffering from stab wounds. Ortiz later died. Gasca-Aldama was arrested after being treated for his wounds. Police have declined to release information on the circumstances surrounding the stabbings. It was not immediately clear if Gasca-Aldama had an attorney.


KC Among Top Metros for Energy-Efficient Buildings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The two-state Kansas City metropolitan area has been ranked in the top 25 nationally for having the highest number of federally certified energy-efficient buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that Kansas City tied for 23rd place with Portland, Oregon. The EPA says 82 buildings in the Kansas City area met the Energy Star certification last year. On the Kansas side, they include schools in Olathe, Overland Park, Kansas City, Lenexa, Shawnee and Leawood. Schools in Blue Springs, Lee's Summit and Kearney, Missouri also made the list. Other Energy Star-certified buildings include the Kansas Speedway racetrack and the federal courthouses in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. The EPA estimates the buildings saved $14 million in energy costs and avoided emissions equivalent to electricity use in 29,000 homes.


Kansas City Plans Downtown YMCA, Closure of 3 Others

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City could have a big, new YMCA downtown by early 2016 but three smaller neighborhood YMCAs will be closed. David Byrd, chief executive of the Greater Kansas City YMCA says two other regional YMCAs will be renovated and operation of another facility will be transferred. Kansas City hasn't had a large downtown YMCA since 1981 although a smaller Y opened in 1989. The Kansas City Star reports the new plans are for a 100,000-square-foot YMCA downtown, while facilities in eastern Kansas City and Atchison, Kansas will undergo extensive renovations. The three Y's to be closed next month are in Independence, Raytown and Kansas City, Kan. And the operations of the Miami County YMCA in Osawatomie, Kansas will be transferred to the school district, which owns the building.


Water Releases into the Missouri River to Be Increased

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The amount of water released into the lower Missouri River will be increased this month, as expected, but will be less than the amount usually released in March, affecting shipping on the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says winter runoff into the river above Sioux City, Iowa, will be 80 percent of normal this year. The corps announced in a conference call Tuesday that the amount of water will be increased from about 14,000 cubic feet per second to between 23,000 to 28,000 cubic feet per second starting Monday. But that amount will provide only enough water for a minimal channel 8-feet-deep and 200-feet-wide. A normal navigation channel is 9-feet-deep and 300-feet-wide, so barges likely will not be able to carry full loads this spring.


Kansas City Ex-Minister Arrested in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The FBI says a former minister wanted in Kansas City, Missouri on molestation charges has been arrested in New Orleans. Spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig said Monday that 48-year-old George Spencer is accused of child molestation and forcible sodomy against a girl at the Greater Works CME Church, where he was an associate pastor. She says he was arrested Friday by the FBI New Orleans Violent Crime Task Force, which got information about his likely whereabouts from the bureau's Missouri office. Romig says Spencer is awaiting extradition to Kansas City, where he will be formally charged on the warrant in February by Jackson County (MO).

Wichita Man Charged with Murder After Police Chase

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 34-year-old Wichita man is charged with first-degree murder in a fatal accident that occurred while he was fleeing from police. Keith Ritz was charged Monday in the death of 38-year-old Venancio Perez. Police allege Ritz was fleeing in a stolen pickup truck when he ran a stop sign last Tuesday in south Wichita and hit a pickup driven by Perez, who died at the scene. The murder charge accuses Ritz of unlawfully killing Perez while fleeing from or trying to elude an officer. Ritz remains in Sedgwick County jail on a $250,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 25. Ritz told the judge Monday that he would try to hire his own attorney.

Teen Suspect in Slaying of Colorado Girl to Enter Plea

A teenager charged with abducting and killing a 10-year-old Colorado girl is due in court to enter a plea. Eighteen-year-old Austin Sigg is charged with the October 5 disappearance and slaying of Jessica Ridgeway in the Denver suburb of Westminster. He is to appear in court Tuesday. Part of Jessica's body ultimately was discovered in a field. Other remains were found in Sigg's home. Investigators say Sigg told them after he turned himself in that he wanted to plead guilty. Sigg cannot be sentenced to death because he was 17 at the time of the crime. He faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years if convicted. Jennifer's father and several other relatives live in the Kansas City suburb of Independence.

Ballwin, MO Adopts Funeral Protest Law

BALLWIN, Mo. (AP) — Another Missouri town has adopted an ordinance placing limits on funeral protests. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that aldermen in Ballwin on Monday approved a law prohibiting picketing or engaging in other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service. Manchester, Clayton and several other cities have adopted similar ordinances in recent months. The laws are in response to groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, which often protests at the funerals of soldiers.

Korean War Chaplain to Receive Posthumous Medal of Honor

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Barack Obama will award a posthumous Medal of Honor to a Korean War Army chaplain credited with ministering and providing medical assistance to fellow soldiers under heavy fire during combat. The award ceremony for Captain Emil Kapaun is scheduled for April 11. Members of his family will attend. The White House says Kapaun, a Roman Catholic priest from Kansas, exhibited "extraordinary heroism" while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during a battle with communist forces in 1950. Kapaun stayed behind to help the wounded even though he knew he would be captured. Kapaun died at the prisoner of war camp hospital seven months after he was captured by the Chinese.

KC Worker Killed in Blast at Excavating Company

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — A 23-year-old Kansas City, Missouri man is dead after an explosion at a Johnson County, Kansas excavation and tree removal company. Shawnee Fire Marshal Corey Sands says his department received a call around 9:30 a.m. Monday about an industrial accident at Rieke Grading. When fire crews arrived they found Nicholas Jerde dead and evidence of an explosion. Sands says Jerde was using an acetylene torch to open frozen valves on a vacuum truck when it ignited vapor inside the truck's tank. The Occupational Safety Health Administration was called to investigate the incident.

Judge Hears Sentence Dispute in Kansas Ticket Scheme

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The new attorney for a former University of Kansas athletics consultant is seeking a shorter sentence for his client in a $2 million ticket scalping conspiracy. The attorney told a federal judge Monday that Thomas Blubaugh deserves less than 46 months because of conflicting provisions in his plea agreement over whether he had provided "substantial assistance" to investigators. But a federal prosecutor countered there was no conflict in the plea deal he struck with Blubaugh. Blubaugh was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot did not immediately rule after hearing testimony from Blubaugh's former attorney, Stephen Robison. Belot wanted Robison to testify after Blubaugh claimed he did a poor job.


San Francisco 49ers Announce Trade of QB Alex Smith to Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers made their trade of quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs official on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the two sides agreed to it. The 49ers will receive the Chiefs' second-round pick, 34th overall, and a conditional choice in next year's draft, a person familiar with the terms told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the terms were not disclosed. Smith must still pass a physical for the trade to be completed. The 28-year-old Smith struggled much of his career in San Francisco, but blossomed the past couple seasons under new coach Jim Harbaugh and is considered an upgrade for Kansas City. The Chiefs are expected to release incumbent quarterback Matt Cassel.


KU, K-State Favored as Big 12 Men's Hoops Tourney Opens

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Kansas and Kansas State University tied for the regular-season Big 12 men's basketball title, but that doesn't mean they feel very good about themselves entering the league tournament. The Wildcats lost a road game against Oklahoma State on Saturday, while the Jayhawks were routed by Baylor a few hours later in a game that would have given them the outright title. It's likely that performances in Big 12 tournament could be unpredictable. West Virginia and Texas Tech open Wednesday night at Sprint Center, with the winner advancing to play KU. The winner of Texas-TCU gets the Wildcats on Thursday. The other two quarterfinals Thursday are Oklahoma-Iowa State and Oklahoma State-Baylor. The tournament champion will be crowned Saturday night.

Matt Brown Fired as Men's Basketball Coach at UMKC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri-Kansas City has fired men's basketball coach Matt Brown after six seasons and with the program poised to leave the Summit League for the Western Athletic Conference. Brown was 64-122 with the 'Roos, including an 8-24 record this season. The longtime assistant to current University of Michigan coach John Beilein had just one winning season in Kansas City. He had one year left on his contract. The Roos' season ended Sunday with a 69-58 loss to North Dakota State in the quarterfinals of the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. UMKC, which has been playing Division I basketball since 1987, has already announced plans to join the WAC next season. It has been a member of the Summit League since 1994. The Roos have never qualified for the NCAA tournament.


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