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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Kansas House Passes Bill for Fixing Pension System Shortfall

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas House has approved a bill to use revenues from state-owned casinos to help close a long-term funding shortfall facing the state pension system for teachers and government workers. The measure, approved Tuesday on a 92-33 vote, also would require public employees hired after 2013 to choose between two new pension plans. Neither would be a traditional plan guaranteeing benefits up front based on a worker's salary and years of experience, and one would be a 401(k)-style plan. The measure goes to the Senate, which is working on its own bill. The state pension system projects an $8.3 billion gap between anticipated revenues and retirement benefits promised through 2033. Supporters hope that over the next two decades, several billion dollars in casino revenues could go to the pension system.


UPDATED: Kansas Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Tax Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to a bill cutting taxes after rejecting proposals from Governor Sam Brownback for overhauling the individual income tax code. Senators advanced the bill on a voice vote Tuesday. A final vote, set for Wednesday, will determine whether the measure passes. The bill cuts both sales and income taxes. It's dramatically different from a plan outlined by the Republican governor. Brownback wanted to cut income tax rates but eliminate many deductions. The Senate voted 21-19 to keep a long list of deductions the governor had targeted. Brownback also wanted to keep the sales tax at 6.3 percent to offset income tax cuts. The bill would drop the tax to 5.7 percent in July 2013. But the Senate did endorse Brownback's plan to cut income taxes for many businesses.


Kansas House Gives Preliminary Approval to Redistricting Bill 

The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a congressional redistricting bill keeping the Kansas City area in a single district, rather than splitting it between two. House members advanced the measure on a voice vote Tuesday after substituting their favored plan for one drafted by House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. The House expects to take final action Wednesday. The measure would cut southeast Kansas in half, placing Pittsburg in the 4th District with Wichita, about 150 miles away. The O'Neal plan would have split the Kansas City area between two districts. It would have put much of Wyandotte County, with its urban Kansas City neighborhoods, into the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas, along with rural communities more than 400 miles away. 


Abortion Rights Activists Hit KS Governor's Facebook Page

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has been getting some pointed feedback on his Facebook page about his stance on an extensive anti-abortion bill. Two Kansas abortion rights activists posted queries about their menstrual cycles on Brownback's page last week as a sarcastic way of protesting the Legislature's continued involvement in abortion. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Nicki Scheid, a member of the National Organization for Women's Wichita branch, and Lawrence activist Jennifer Weishaar say they're concerned about a provision in the bill that limits legal action a woman can take against a doctor who identifies fetal abnormalities during her pregnancy but doesn't tell her. Their comments sparked other postings from around the country with occasionally graphic anatomy questions. Brownback's spokeswoman has declined comment on the Facebook postings.


KS Man Expected to Plead Guilty to Threatening President Obama

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas man accused of threatening President Barack Obama is expected to plead guilty in the case. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten on Tuesday scheduled a change-of-plea hearing March 29 for Michael Scott Ramsey. The Hutchinson man was indicted last July on charges of threatening to harm or kill the president in 2009 and again in 2011. Ramsey had been scheduled for an April 3 trial. Last month, the judge found him competent to stand trial following a psychological examination at a federal medical center.


Study: Kansas Government Ranks Among Top 10 in Transparency

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas ranks among the top 10 states in a study of government transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms. The state is one of 19 to receive an average grade of "C" in the State Integrity Investigation, conducted by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity. The study found that states are doing a poor job delivering accountability and transparency to their residents.  No state received an A from the months-long probe that looked at 330 "Corruption Risk Indicators" across 14 categories of government. Kansas scored a 75 in the study, ninth best in the nation, while Missouri also received a C grade with 72 points. New Jersey had the highest grade with a B-plus, while eight states received an F.


Lawyer: Afghanistan Killings Suspect Remembers Little

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians said the soldier has a sketchy memory of the night of the massacre. Lawyer John Henry Browne said 38-year-old Robert Bales remembers some details from before and after the killings, but very little during the time the military believes he went on a rampage through two Afghan villages. Browne spoke with The Associated Press from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Bales is being held. Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, though charges could come this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war. 


KU Band, Spirit Squad Members Rescue Trapped Man

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ University of Kansas students gave a man in Arkansas something to cheer about when they lifted a car off of him in a parking lot in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that members of the school's spirit squad and band were at a hotel, preparing to get on a bus Sunday for a women's NCAA Tournament game, when they saw a commotion in the parking lot. Four cheer squad members and five band members ran toward a Cadillac when they realized someone was pinned beneath it. The nine male students lifted the car, and the trapped man crawled out. Other than being disoriented and covered in grease, he appeared relatively unharmed. The group then got on their bus in plenty of time to watch the Jayhawks beat Nebraska 57-49.


Heavy Rain Leads to SE Kansas Flash Flooding 

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ Heavy rain across southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri has sparked flash flooding in some low areas, but no damage or injuries have been reported. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for Bourbon and Crawford counties in Kansas after up to 3 inches of rain hit the area. More rain is forecast today (TUE). The weather service said flooding was reported in low-lying areas, including along the Marmaton River in Fort Scott. The weather service said the Marmaton was below flood stage early Tuesday but could exceed flood stage later in the day. The river was expected to drop again Thursday when the rain subsides. Fort Scott police said a couple of bridges in Bourbon County were closed because of high water.


UPDATED: Judge Denies Gag Order in Military School Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to issue a gag order in a lawsuit accusing a Kansas military school of allowing older students to abuse younger ones in the name of discipline. Lawyers for St. John's Military School in Salina sought to bar the parties from talking publicly about the case. But U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum said Tuesday a trial is still more than a year away, so that pretrial publicity likely wouldn't taint the prospective jury pool. The lawsuit by parents of four former cadets contends the school allows and encourages abuse of younger students by older ones. St. John's has settled nine similar lawsuits since 2006. The school's lawyer says the motion for a gag order was an attempt to keep the case from being tried in the media.


Former UN Ambassador to Speak in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The former ambassador to the United Nations is scheduled to speak in Lawrence next month. John Bolton is scheduled to speak about threats to American security on April 4 at the Lied Center in Lawrence. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he researches U.S. foreign and national security policy. He previously served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. He also served previously in the U.S. State Department as undersecretary for arms control and international security.


Officials Concerned about Lake Shawnee Water Quality

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Shawnee County Commission has voted to support an initiative aimed at improving the water quality at Lake Shawnee. The commissioners heard testimony from area health and environment officials who said Lake Shawnee has a water quality problem that could lead to limitations being placed on its use for recreation. County parks director Terry Bertels said tests show the lake consistently exceeds EPA standards for nutrients and pollutants. The commission then voted to express support for an initiative being undertaken to improve the lake's water quality. Bertels said the initiative is being financed by a $20,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He said partners in the water quality initiative will develop a management plan targeted at improving the lake's water quality.


Overland Park to Impose Arboretum Entry Fees

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) _ The Overland Park City Council has voted to impose an admission fee at the city's Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in order to recoup some operating costs. The Kansas City Star reports that the council voted 7-5 Monday to charge adults $5 and children $3. Children age 2 and under will be free. The fees take effect next year. The arboretum will remain free to all visitors on Wednesdays and on two weekends per year. It will also be free for members of the private Friends of the Arboretum group. Revenue from the fees is expected to cover about one quarter of what it costs the city to operate the arboretum.


K-State Women Eliminated from Tournament by No.1 Seed UConn

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ The eighth-seeded Kansas State University Wildcats were eliminated from the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament by the University of Connecticut last (MON) night, by a score of 72 to 26.  K-State (20-14) had been trying to reach the tournament's third round for the first time since 2002. But the Wildcats were no match for the Huskies, being held to an NCAA tournament record low for points. Brittany Chambers scored 11 points to lead the Wildcats, who went 11 minutes in the first half without a point. UConn's Bria Hartley scored 13 of her 16 points in the first half. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 15 points and Kiah Stokes scored a career-high 13. It's the 19th straight season that UConn has made it to the round of 16. 


5 Disciplined in NCAA Tournament Racial Taunting Incident Targeting K-State Player

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The University of Southern Mississippi has disciplined five members of its pep band who heckled Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez during last week's NCAA Tournament game. The university issued an apology last Thursday to Rodriguez, who said he did hear the chants of "Where's your green card?" during the Wildcats' 70-64 second-round victory in the NCAA tournament. He said USM's athletic director and "personnel from their school" came to the team hotel to apologize. On Tuesday, USM president Martha Saunders announced in a news release five students have had their pep band scholarships revoked, have been removed from the band and will be required to complete a two-hour cultural sensitivity training course this week. The students have not been identified.


Kansas Man Gets Federal Prison for Bath Salts Possession in Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to nearly eight years in federal prison for possessing bath salts in Nebraska before they were specifically outlawed by state and federal law. Steve Sullivan of Lawrence was arrested after a traffic stop in Otoe County in 2010. The Lincoln Journal Star says prosecutors argued bath salts violated a federal law that prohibited possessing substances with intent to deliver that were similar to the chemical structure of an illegal, controlled substance and had a similar effect as the drug they mimicked. Sullivan was convicted in December. During sentencing last week, Sullivan's defense attorney told the judge that Sullivan thought he was complying with the law. The judge says while it was an "unusual case," he sentenced Sullivan to prison.


Chiefs General Manager Says Team Made Overtures to Manning 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs were in contact with Peyton Manning from the start, but general manager Scott Pioli said the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback had formulated a list of likely destinations early on. Manning wound up agreeing to a $96 million, five-year deal with Denver. Pioli said during a conference call with Tuesday that Manning was "up front about what he was doing, some of the visits he wanted to take, and we initially weren't a part of that." Matt Cassel is expected to return as the Chiefs' starting quarterback next season. Kansas City recently signed former Denver backup Brady Quinn to provide depth. Pioli refused to get into details about his conversations with Manning and his agent, but he did say that Cassel was aware that discussions had taken place.


Ex-NFL Player: Shooting Suspect Was Good Teammate

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A former NFL player who played high school football with an Army sergeant suspected of slaughtering 16 Afghan villagers says the killings have caused him great concern for his former teammate. In a statement Tuesday, Marc Edwards calls Robert Bales "one of my oldest and best friends." Edwards and Bales played on the same high school football team in the early 1990s in a Cincinnati suburb. Edwards went on to play professionally for several teams, including the 2001 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Now living in Jacksonville, Edwards says Bales "personified sportsmanship and the highest degree of unselfish team values." Bales and Edwards briefly collaborated in business in 2000 to 2001. A spokeswoman for Edwards says the business failed but it didn't affect their friendship. Bales is being held at Fort Leavenworth.


Elijah Johnson Emerges at the Right Time as KU Star 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ On a team of stars such as Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, it's Elijah Johnson who has emerged as the unsung savior for number 2 seed Kansas. Johnson struggled with his shot for much of the season, but he's found it at the most opportune time. He hit a key 3-pointer and came up with several sparkling defensive plays Sunday night, allowing the Jayhawks to squeak past Purdue in the NCAA tournament. Johnson finished with 18 points. The same player who was shut out by Florida International this season has given the Jayhawks a reliable scoring threat to complement their other stars. Coach Bill Self expects that to be critical on Friday night, when Kansas plays number 11 seed North Carolina State in the Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis.


Eisenhower Memorial Designer Open to Changes

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Famed architect Frank Gehry says he is open to design changes in a planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington to try to answer objections from Ike's family. A letter from Gehry was introduced as testimony in a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday. Susan Eisenhower, the 34th president's granddaughter, told the panel her family wants the memorial to be redesigned. A hearing in Congress could pressure memorial planners to make changes. But the panel does not have a direct role in approving the design. Final approval of Gehry's concept from a commission that approves architecture in the nation's capital has been delayed amid ongoing objections from the family. The family wants the project to focus more on Ike's accomplishments and less on his rural Kansas roots.


KU Women's Basketball Team Preparing to Meet Delaware in NCAA Tourney 2nd Round

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The 11th-seeded University of Kansas Jayhawks are preparing to take on the third seed, Delaware, in a second-round NCAA women's basketball tournament game tonight (TUE).  The Jayhawks (20-12) advanced with a 57-49 win over Nebraska. Now, they'll face a team that's the home for a budding basketball celebrity: Elena Delle Donne. The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne scored 39 points in the Blue Hens' NCAA tournament opener, leading Delaware to a 73-42 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. She was trending on Twitter by the time the game was finished, and she was tweeted by Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant on Monday morning. The Jayhawks have already had to face another star player this season in Baylor center Brittney Griner. They lost both of their matchups against the Lady Bears, and will have another difficult chore against Delle Donne, who is the nation's leading scorer. 


Royals Pitcher Soria to Have Sore Elbow Checked

Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria will have his sore right elbow checked by Dr. Lewis Yokum in Los Angeles on Tuesday.  Soria left Sunday's game after retiring only one of five batters he faced and said after the outing that his elbow felt "really bad." Royals spokesman Mike Swanson said Monday the team believes Soria has some damage in his area of his ulnar collateral ligament. Soria had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2003. He has been one of the best relievers in the American League since his rookie season of 2007, but his performance fell off last year. His ERA jumped to 4.03 and he had 28 saves, but lost the closer's job at times.



Kansas House Passes $14B Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas House has approved a $14.1 billion state budget that cuts overall spending by about $600 million, or 4 percent.  House members voted 87-36 on the bill containing the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The measure now moves to the Senate, which is working out details of its version of the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The House legislation also contains a provision to prohibit state employees from being involved in abortions. The House added $29 million to help K-12 public schools grapple with high student enrollment. The bill also retains a ban by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to deny food stamp benefits to some U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.


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