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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, March 6, 2012




Kansas House Member Faces Complaint over Tax Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democrat in the Kansas House faces an investigation into whether he intentionally misled colleagues during a debate last month on property tax legislation. Twenty-six House Republicans filed a complaint Tuesday with the chamber's chief clerk against Representative Jim Ward, of Wichita. House rules require that a committee be appointed to investigate, but Ward says there was no wrongdoing. The Republicans want the House to consider removing Ward from his seat. The GOP lawmakers contend Ward misled them about an amendment he offered to a bill imposing a cap on local property taxes. Ward says Republicans didn't read the text of his amendment, which provided $45 million to local governments for property tax relief. The House passed the bill with Ward's amendment, but reversed course a few days later.


Local Government Groups Oppose Kansas Property Tax Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Groups representing Kansas cities and counties are trying to block a legislative proposal aimed at controlling property tax increases for home owners 65 and older. Lobbyists for the Kansas Association of Counties and the League of Kansas Municipalities testified Tuesday during a Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee hearing.
The groups oppose a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to limit annual increases in values placed by county officials on homes owned by Kansans who are 65 or older. The constitution currently requires residential property to be valued uniformly. The lobbyists said taking such a step would be unfair to other taxpayers. But Senator Pat Apple, a Louisburg Republican, said the goal is to keep seniors in their homes. The committee took no action on the measure.


Kansas Moves Closer to Ending Ban on "Happy Hour" Promotions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is moving closer to repealing a ban on happy hours at bars, taverns, clubs and restaurants. The state House gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill repealing a law barring businesses that sell alcoholic beverages by the drink from setting different prices at different times of the day. The measure advanced on a voice vote with little debate. That struck some House members as unusual, given the state's decades of prohibition and it status as the place where Carrie Nation became famous for smashing saloons. But supporters said the free market ought to dictate when drink prices rise and drop. Also, they said, the existing law encourages merchants to offer cheap drinks all day, rather than just a few hours. Kansas has banned happy hour since 1985.


Meeting in New Strawn to Discuss What's Wrong with Wolf Creek

Inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting tonight (TUE) to discuss problems at the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant.  The plant, near Burlington, has been idle for more than seven weeks.  Inspectors will present their findings and take questions from the public.  The meeting begins at 7pm at the New Strawn Community Center, located just off Highway 75, about five miles north of Burlington.


KS Secretary of State Draws Criticism for Forming PAC

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is brushing off criticism over his forming his own political action committee.  Kobach says legislators are being hypocritical when they say it's inappropriate for the state's chief elections official to get involved in partisan election campaigns through a PAC.  Records of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission show that Kobach, a Republican, created the PAC — called Prairie Fire — on February 15, with himself as its chairman.  State Senator John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, said Kobach is supposed to be an unbiased elections official. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said creating a PAC is highly inappropriate.  But Kobach said both are criticizing him because he's a conservative, and that they haven't said anything about political activities of past secretaries of state.


Kansas Refinery Agrees to Fine and Pollution Controls

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Coffeyville Resources Refining & Marketing has agreed to pay a civil penalty and install new pollution controls and processes to settle alleged environmental violations at its Kansas refinery. The settlement announced Tuesday by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency includes a $970,000 fine. It also requires the Coffeyville refinery to put in $4.25 million in upgraded pollution controls and $6.5 million in operating costs. Regulators say the improvements are designed to benefit the environment and protect the health of residents living near the facility. The agreement includes more stringent emission limits and more aggressive leak detection and repair practices. Environmental regulators say sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted from refineries can cause health problems and contribute to acid rain, smog and haze.


GOP Presidential Candidate Gingrich Announces Kansas Stops

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is planning stops in all four Kansas congressional districts before and during the Saturday GOP caucuses. The former U.S. House speaker's campaign says Gingrich will visit Kansas Republican headquarters in Topeka at 9 am Friday, then meet with state lawmakers at the Capitol. Gingrich is scheduled to address the Kansas tea party convention in Wichita at 2:45 pm Friday. He and his wife, Callista, then plan to attend a Big 12 basketball tournament watch party at 8 pm Friday at Rookie's Sports Grille in Overland Park. On Saturday, Gingrich will speak to the Sedgwick County caucus in Wichita at 10 am and the Reno County caucus in Hutchinson about 90 minutes later. The caucuses will determine who wins the state's delegates to the GOP national convention.


Suspect Pleads No Contest in McPherson Death

 MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) _ A McPherson man has pleaded no contest to first-degree murder in the death of a man whose body was dumped at Marion Reservoir. McPherson County Attorney David Page says 25-year-old Dustin Tyler Smith of McPherson entered the plea Monday in the May 2011 death of Justin Milne. In exchange for the plea, four other charges were dropped. KAKE-TV reports that Smith is scheduled to be sentenced May 7. Prosecutors say Milne was shot to death in McPherson and his body was taken to Marion Reservoir. The body was discovered in a campsite at the reservoir after Milne's burning car was found nearby.


Kansas Woman Given 15 Years in Husband's Death

MARYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ A Marysville woman has been sentenced to nearly 15 years in prison in the death of her husband. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said 25-year-old Amanda Baynton was sentenced Tuesday for second-degree intentional murder and aggravated assault. Baynton pleaded no contest to the charges in January in the June 2011 death of her husband, 24-year-old Derek Bjorn Baynton. Marysville police have said Derek Baynton died after being shot several times at a home.

Lawrence Woman Sentenced in Ex-Boyfriend's Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A 32-year-old Lawrence woman has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for planning the murder of her ex-boyfriend in Missouri. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Annette Cross pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced for second-degree murder and other charges in the 2009 death of 37-year-old Andrew Day. Howell County, Missouri prosecutors accused Cross of driving her brother, Dale Cross, of Hannibal, to Day's his home outside Mountain View, Missouri. Dale Cross shot Day and they burned down the home, with Day's body inside. Dale Cross was given the same sentence earlier this year. The Crosses' mother, Joann Cross, and Dale Cross's fiancee, Kristin Smith, both of Hannibal, are serving 11-year and 10-year prison sentences respectively after they pleaded to conspiracy for their help buying the gun.


Sedgwick County Deputies Cleared in Inmate's Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Sedgwick County jury has cleared two jail deputies who were sued by the family of an inmate who died while in the jail. The family of Terry Bruner alleged in a lawsuit that deputies Mary Staton and Marque Jameson deliberately ignored Bruner's worsening health before he died in March 2008. The family sought up to $22 million in damages. The 46-year-old Bruner was in jail for driving under the influence. Bruner's attorney argued during the trial that the inmate was obviously ill for six days before his death and the deputies did not help him before an infection overwhelmed his body. The Wichita Eagle reports that attorneys for the deputies argued the deputies didn't know Bruner was ill and had no reason to deny him treatment.


Wichita School Board Votes to Close 5 Schools

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The Wichita school board has voted to close five schools and change school boundaries. The board's vote came after weeks of public controversy and emotional testimony at Monday's night's meeting. Wichita school board member Lanora Nolan said the board was forced to close four elementary schools and Northeast Magnet High School because of reductions in state funding in the past four years. The Wichita Eagle reports the vote came after several people stood and shouted in unison at board members before being ushered out by police. Board members and Superintendent John Allison say closing schools is necessary to open and operate five new schools being built as part of a $370 million bond issue. Opponents said the new schools aren't better than older, smaller neighborhood schools.


Jury Rules for Ford in Leawood Man's Lawsuit over Fatal Accident

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A jury has ruled in favor Ford Motor Company in a lawsuit filed by a Kansas man who was seriously injured in an accident that also killed a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper.
A Jackson County, Missouri jury ruled yesterday (MON) that Ford does not owe damages to Michael Nolte of Leawood, Kansas. He was severely burned in a 2003 accident that also killed Trooper Michael Newton.  Newton and Nolte were sitting in the trooper's Crown Victoria patrol car in May 2003 when it was hit from behind by a truck and burst into flames. Witnesses pulled Nolte from the wreckage.  The Kansas City Star reports that Nolte's attorney contended the vehicle's design caused the fire. Ford's attorneys said the distracted truck driver was to blame for the accident.


KS Winter Wheat Looks Better, but Bugs Could be Big Problem

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says Kansas' winter wheat crop continues to look better than last year's because of the mild winter temperatures. But in their report yesterday, state agriculture officials say the crop needs rain during the first weeks of emerging from dormancy.  Some wheat has begun joining in south-central and southeast Kansas.  Crop conditions declined slightly in the past week throughout the state. The latest ratings are 12 percent poor to very poor, 38 percent fair, 43 percent good 7 percent excellent.  At this time a year ago, the Kansas wheat crop was faring so badly that 40 percent was rated in poor to very poor condition.  Meanwhile, the mild and dry winter is giving insects a chance to survive and thrive, which could mean farmers are in for a tough spring season. Winter's cold and snow usually kills off many bugs, giving farmers a fresh start every spring. But one beekeeper in Niotaze, Kansas says he saw flies in February and bumble bees that usually don't appear until May or June.


Corps of Engineers: Missouri River Reservoirs Ready for Spring Runoff

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the Missouri River reservoirs have begun the spring runoff season with slightly more space than the normal amount for flood control storage. The corps says that as of Thursday, the system storage had an extra 300,000 acre-feet of storage. Runoff is expected to be near normal this year. Corps officials say the reservoirs were at desired levels last spring, but a late buildup of snow in the Rockies and heavy rains in Montana and other upstream areas in May led to record runoff. The corps was forced to release massive amounts of water from the dams, causing record flooding downstream. The more than 2,300-mile-long river flows from Montana through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.


TransCanada: New Pipeline Route to Be Ready in Weeks

HOUSTON (AP) _ An executive with the Canadian company seeking to build an oil pipeline across the United States to the Texas Gulf Coast says a plan for a new route around Nebraska's environmentally sensitive Sandhills region will be ready within weeks. TransCanada's president of energy and oil pipelines Alex Pourbaix said Tuesday that the company plans to resubmit its permit request to the U.S. State Department. He also says construction of the southern tier of the Keystone XL pipeline, which doesn't require a special permit, will begin by late spring or early summer. Pourbaix spoke at a panel discussion at an energy conference in Houston. He says the southern tier of the pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma through Texas, will help relieve but not completely eliminate a bottleneck at Midwest refineries.


Fire Burns More than 2,000 Acres Near Fort Riley

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Fire officials say a grass fire burned more than 2,000 acres near Fort Riley but did no damage to the fort or any of the fort's assets.  More than 40 firefighters from Fort Riley and the Geary County Rural Fire Department fought the blaze Sunday afternoon.  Fort Riley Fire officials say the blaze was a natural vegetation fire but it is unclear how it started.  KCLY News reports the fire occurred at US Hwy 77 and Kansas Hwy 82 along the northwest perimeter of the Fort Riley military training area.  About 2,036 acres burned and fire crews spent nearly 4½ hours on the fire line.


Suspect in Manhattan Teen's Death Pleads Not Guilty

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A 15-year-old suspect in the shooting death of a Manhattan teenager has pleaded not guilty.  Cole Drake entered the plea yesterday (MON) to first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the death of 14-year-old Tyler Dowling. Drake is being tried as an adult.  Dowling, a Manhattan High School freshman, was found dead last April in a field. Drake is also accused of taking items from Dowling, including his cell phone.  The Manhattan Mercury reports Drake's bond was set at $500,000.  His trial is scheduled to begin on September 24.


Fort Riley Units Readying for Afghanistan

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Ceremonies are planned at Fort Riley this week for two units of the 1st Infantry Division as they head for yearlong deployments to Afghanistan.  Tomorrow's (WED) event is for the division's headquarters unit, which will serve in a command and control capacity in Afghanistan. The division's headquarters served in a similar role in 2010 when it deployed to southern Iraq.  A second ceremony is planned Thursday for approximately 40 soldiers from the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the 84th Ordinance Battalion. While in Afghanistan, the unit will serve as the headquarters for six explosive ordnance disposal companies located throughout Regional Command East.  The unit will provide support for the 1st Infantry Division and work under Combined Task Force Paladin.


Couple Gives $1.6 Million to Baker University

BALDWIN CITY, Kan. (AP) _ A couple from Wyoming has given $1.6 million to Baker University in Baldwin City. Baker University announced the gift Monday from Ross and Christine Hartley, of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ross Hartley is a Baker alumnus who co-founded NIC Incorporated, an electronic government services company. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the money will bring Baker University close to its $10.3 million goal to fund a renovation and expansion of Mulvane Hall. The new 9,000-square-foot addition will be renamed Ross and Christine Hartley Hall.  The Hartleys are natives of Baxter Springs. They have previously donated $1 million to Baker to a library renovation project and founded the first endowed professorship at the Kansas University School of Nursing.


KS Doctor Gets Probation for Bogus Research Data

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka doctor who conspired to falsify data in a 2010 clinical trial of an allergy pill on human subjects won't go to prison, but must make restitution to the pharmaceutical company that paid for the research.  The U.S. Attorney's office says 73-year-old Dr. Wayne Spencer was sentenced yesterday (MON) to one year of supervised release and $36,000 in restitution.  Spencer pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to defraud and failing to maintain records in a clinical trial as required by the Food and Drug Administration.  Another defendant, Olathe nurse Lisa Sharp, will be sentenced March 23.  Both worked for Lee Research Institute, which was paid by Schering-Plough to conduct the clinical trial on the allergy medication. Spencer was the principal investigator and Sharp was the lead research coordinator.


Former Cessna Mechanic Gets 18 Months for Thefts

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Cessna Aircraft mechanic who fled to Ecuador after being charged with stealing aircraft parts has been sentenced in Wichita to 18 months in federal prison.  Diego Alejandro Paz Teran got the low end of sentencing guidelines for stealing parts and selling them on eBay. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot also ordered him to pay restitution of $130,000.  The 31-year-old defendant was on the lam for two years before returning to the U.S. to face charges. He'll be deported after leaving prison.  Teran said in court yesterday (MON) that he could not in good conscience avoid responsibility. He said he was a man of good moral character who made a mistake.  But Belot said he would not impose a sentence that did not reflect the seriousness of the crime.


Michelle Obama Raises Funds in KC, St. Louis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama traveled to Kansas City and St. Louis yesterday (MON) to raise funds and support for her husband's re-election campaign.  During a luncheon at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City's 18th and Vine District, she extended her thoughts and prayers to the victims of the recent spate of deadly storms before delivering an endorsement of Barack Obama's presidency. The predominantly female crowd of about 300 people paid $200 and up for tickets.  Mrs. Obama's speech touched on immigration, health care, education and the president's nomination of two women to the Supreme Court. She also praised the auto bailout and said the president has the backs of American workers.  Some of the biggest applause came when she mentioned the killing of Osama bin Laden during last year's raid in Pakistan.


KU Graduate Creates $100K Scholarship Endowment

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Georgia psychiatrist who holds bachelor's and medical degrees from the University of Kansas has donated $100,000 to the university's endowment.  The donation from Dr. Hugo Zee and his wife, Nora Dougherty Zee, of Atlanta, will create an endowed scholarship for medical students, with a preference for African-American students.  Zee emigrated to the U.S. from his native Holland in 1949, following World War II, and says he had his first exposure to racial separation on a train ride to Texas.  At St. Louis, he says, he noticed that the African-American passengers — including a man who had been especially kind to him — all moved to a separate train car.  Zee received his bachelor's degree from Kansas in 1954 and his medical degree from the School of Medicine in 1958.


Brownback Signs Kansas Water Policy Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed to two bills in southwestern Kansas that he initiated to prolong the life of the state's water resources.  The Republican governor and key legislators were in Garden City yesterday (MON) to sign the measures that change how water-rights holders use their water.  One bill would repeal a 1945 law that required use of a certain amount of water each year under a so-called use-it-or-lose-it doctrine.  The other bill gives rights holders more flexibility in how they use their water each year. Brownback says it will allow for more water usage in dry years, with an eye toward conservation in wet years.  Both measures were part of the agenda Brownback outlined in January for the 2012 legislative session.


UMKC to Break Ground on Entrepreneurship Hall

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ground will be broken this week at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on a business school addition.  Called the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the addition will bear the name of the co-founder of the tax preparation company H&R Block.  Bloch will be on hand for Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony, along with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri system.  Bloch has supported the UMKC's business school since he endowed it in 1986. Last fall, he announced that he was donating $32 million for the new hall. Officials have called it the largest outright gift in the university's history.  The new building is scheduled to open in fall 2013.


Lovellette, Ewing Lead Class of 10 into College Basketball HOF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Former University of Kansas star Clyde Lovellette and Georgetown Unniversity great Patrick Ewing lead a 10-member class that will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in November. The class was announced Tuesday in Kansas City. The two post players will be joined by North Carolina's Phil Ford, Wyoming's Kenny Sailors, Grambling's Willis Reed and Winston-Salem State's Earl Monroe. Also inducted will be Joe B. Hall, who followed Adolph Rupp as the coach of teh University of Kentucky, and Dave Robbins, who won more than 700 games at Virginia Union. Businessmen Jim Host and Joe Dean will enter the hall as contributors. The induction ceremony is scheduled for November 18 at the Midland Theatre in Kansas City. The following night, KU, Saint Louis, Texas A&M and Washington will play in the semifinals of the CBE Classic at the nearby Sprint Center.


Unbeaten Baylor Headlines Women's Big 12 Tourney

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Baylor is chasing perfection in this week's Big 12 women's tournament. Most other teams are chasing bids to the NCAA tournament. The top-seeded Lady Bears can reach 40 wins with three in the league tournament in Kansas City and six more in the NCAA tournament. That would cap a perfect season and elevate them to the upper echelons of women's basketball history. Second-seeded Oklahoma and defending national champion Texas A&M appear to be safely in the NCAA tournament field. But things are wide open after that: Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech could all play their way in. It should make for some tense drama at Municipal Auditorium.


Newt Gingrich Names Kansas Election Team

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has named the members of his Kansas leadership team ahead of the state's upcoming GOP caucuses.  The former U.S. House speaker from Georgia has announced that Beverly Gossage and Mike Pirner will head his campaign efforts in Kansas.  Kansas Republicans are holding caucuses on Saturday to determine who wins the state's delegates to the party's national convention this summer.  Gossage will serve as statewide chairwoman for Gingrich. She is the owner of HSA Benefits Consulting and serves on the Kansas GOP executive committee.  Gingrich named Pirner as the state director of the campaign, assisted by Travis Couture-Lovelady and Rhandi Pendergrass.  Gingrich also named coordinators in each of the state's four congressional districts, as well as a 12-member legislative leadership team.


KS Senate Panel to Consider Property Tax Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee is considering a proposal aimed at controlling property tax increases on the homes of people 65 and older.  The Assessment and Taxation Committee scheduled a hearing today (TUE) on a proposed amendment to the state constitution. It would allow the Legislature to limit annual increases in values placed by county officials on homes owned by Kansans who are 65 or older.  The constitution currently requires residential property to be valued uniformly.  Homeowners can face property tax increases each year even if cities, counties and school districts don't increase their levies, because county appraisers can adjust home values. Supporters of the amendment want to protect retirees who live on fixed incomes.  Critics of such proposals have said a home's value shouldn't be divorced from its fair market value.


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