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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, May 1, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas Senate Approves Remap Plan Amid Acrimony

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a plan for redrawing its 40 districts, but revisions aimed at appeasing conservative Republicans may not be enough to get it through the House. The Senate passed the measure Tuesday on a vote of 21-19, sending it to the House. Senate Republicans have been bitterly divided over redistricting. Critics argued the Senate map was designed to keep the chamber's moderate GOP leaders in power. But those leaders backed successful amendments placing two conservatives in the districts of moderate Republicans they want to challenge in the party primary. Senate GOP leaders say the changes were part of a deal with House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a conservative Hutchinson Republican, to smooth the plan's path to House passage. O'Neal denies there was an agreement.


House Panel Advances Proposed Kansas Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House panel has finished writing a proposed $14 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. The House Appropriations Committee made its final changes to the plan Tuesday. The measure also contains supplemental funding sought by Governor Sam Brownback for the current budget year, including $24.6 million for public schools. Committee chairman Marc Rhoades said the House will probably debate the bill next week, although the chamber could take it up later this week. The Senate expects to begin debating its version of the budget starting Wednesday.


Kansas House OKs Proposed Merger of Arts, Film Commissions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has sent Governor Sam Brownback a measure establishing a new arts group that merges separate arts and film services. The new Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission approved Tuesday was sent to the Republican governor, who proposed the idea in January. Senators have already approved the changes in March. The final version was drafted by House and Senate negotiators. The new commission would have 11 members and be part of the state Department of Commerce. Brownback sought last year to abolish the Arts Commission. He vetoed its entire budget, costing the state $1.2 million in outside arts funds. Restoring some of the state funding for the arts is contained in another bill yet to be debated.


Bill to Expand Dental Hygienists' Roles Approved in KS

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill designed to help overworked dentists in urban and rural clinics is on its way to Governor Sam Brownback's desk.  Under the bill approved unanimously by the Kansas House yesterday (MON), specially trained dental hygienists will be allowed to do temporary fillings, pull baby teeth and perform other basic dental services.  The bill creates a new class of "Level III" hygienists who would receive more training than regular hygienists.  The Senate approved the bill last week.  A separate bill that would have allowed non-dentists to provide even more services failed after opposition from dentists.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Level III hygienists will be able to work with prisons, indigent health care clinics, low-income seniors and the developmentally disabled. They could also serve children in state custody.


KS Senate Rejects Bill to Cut Senior Discounts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a bill that would have eliminated discounts to the state parks for senior citizens and the disabled.  The bill rejected yesterday (MON) also would have allowed people to buy yearly state park passes with their vehicle registration.  It would have reduced the cost of park permits for drivers who bought them while renewing their car license plates. But it would have increased the cost for senior citizens and the disabled to $5.  The Wichita Eagle reports that supporters said the bill would make it easier for people to buy park passes and would bring in revenue for the state parks department.  But opponents said it was not the right time to take away a popular discount for senior citizens, who often are on fixed incomes.


KS Lawmakers Struggling with Effects of Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators pushing for income tax cuts say they're willing to tinker with a compromise plan to avoid a future budget shortfall.  House and Senate negotiators reviewed new projections yesterday (MON) showing their compromise plan for cutting sales and income taxes would create a $161 million budget shortfall by July 2018.  That scenario is more optimistic than an earlier forecast, but the lead negotiators both said they'd rather avoid any shortfall.  The compromise plan would reduce individual income tax rates, phase out income taxes for 191,000 businesses and cut the sales tax to 5.7 percent in July 2013 from its current 6.3 percent.


Revenue Department: Kansas Revenues Flat in April

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Tax collections in Kansas in April are down slightly from what state officials were anticipating, but officials say the numbers remain strong compared to a year ago.  The Department of Revenue says collections were off $1.4 million in April. The agency said taxpayers had two more days than last year to file their tax returns and that the department was still processing filings. Individual income tax collections were off $1.5 million from estimates.  Kansas collected $723.1 million compared to the $724.5 million that was anticipated.  Sales tax collections exceeded the estimate by nearly $1.3 million in April. That was still $15.5 million more than during April 2011.  For the fiscal year that began July 1, Kansas has collected $280.3 million more than the same point in 2011.


KBI: Number of Meth Labs in Kansas on the Rise

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says the number of methamphetamine labs in the state increased dramatically between 2010 and 2011.  The KBI says the number of meth lab reports increased from 143 in 2010 to 204 last year.  Kansas law enforcement reported 24 meth lab incidents in the first three months of this year.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Cherokee and Montgomery counties lead the state in reports this year with six and five incidents, respectively.  Experts say the number of methamphetamine labs has risen across the nation. They attribute the increase to the popularity of methods that require less equipment and pseudoephedrine to produce the drug.  Kansas ranked 14th in the country in meth lab reports in 2011. 

Owner of Payless, Stride Rite Stores Being Sold

NEW YORK (AP) — The owner of the shoe store chains Payless and Stride Rite is being acquired for about $1.32 billion by a group that includes the owner of Hush Puppies. Collective Brands Inc., which has been looking for a buyer, has agreed to an offer from a group including Hush Puppies owner Wolverine Worldwide Inc. and two private investment firms. The buyer, which also includes Blum Capital Partners and Golden Gate Capital, will pay $21.75 for each Collective Brands share. That is a 5 percent premium on Collective Brands' closing price of $20.77 on Monday. Topeka-based Collective Brands' stock gained 41 cents, or 2 percent, to $21.18 in morning trading Tuesday. Collective has about 60.8 million outstanding shares, according to Fact Set. The companies valued the deal at about $2 billion including debt.


Kansas to Receive Federal Money for Health Center Expansions

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state of Kansas is getting about $21 million to expand community health centers in five cities. The Department of Health and Human Services said in a release Tuesday that the $21 million is from the Affordable Care Act. The federal act provides about $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support construction and renovation projects at community health centers. The Kansas centers receiving money under the program are Prairiestar Health Center in Hutchinson, which will get $5 million; Konza Prairie Community Health Center, which gets about $4.5 million; Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, $4.7 million; Salina Health Education Foundation, $2.7 million and the Hunter Health Clinic in Wichita, which gets about $4.6 million. The department says about $728 million is going to health centers nationwide.


KS School Accused of Deleting Images of Abuse

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Lawyers for former cadets who sued a Kansas military school over alleged abuse now say the school recently ordered all students to surrender their phones for a review of photos and videos.  Documents filed yesterday (MON) in federal court claim officials at St. John's Military School in Salina deleted hundreds of videos and photos related to the school from cellphones.  The court filing says one of the videos showed a staff member abusing a student, while some others showed abuse of former cadets who have filed suit.  In an emailed statement, the school denied destroying evidence related to the litigation. It says a longstanding policy prohibits students from taking pictures or recording videos — and that it recently erased a video in accordance with that policy.


Wichita Police to Use Electronic Ticketing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police will be able to write more tickets, more quickly when the department adopts an electronic citation system later this year. KAKE-TV reports the City Council on Tuesday approved a contract for the new technology. The program will cost about $500,000, to be covered partly with a grant, but police officials expect it will save the city $1 million over five years. Electronic ticketing spares officers from writing citations by hand. Instead, a driver's license is swiped through a machine that prints out the ticket. Wichita Police Captain  Darrell Atteberry says the department expects to write an additional 1,700 tickets a year, since the e-citations will let officers get back on the road more quickly.


Kansas Veteran Sentenced to Prison for Possessing Explosives

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 65-year-old Army and Marine veteran from southeastern Kansas who was preparing for the end of the world will go to prison for possessing incendiary bombs. The U.S. Attorney's office says Alfred Dutton, of Eureka, was sentenced Monday to 21 months. He pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of unregistered destructive devices. Investigators reported finding five incendiary bombs last August in Dutton's rented storage unit. Dutton's lawyer gave U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten an excerpt of the National Geographic documentary "Doomsday Preppers" to show his client's state of mind at the time of his arrest. Dutton was making preparations for the collapse of the economy. Investigators said his apartment was filled with such supplies as nonperishable foods, clothing, medical supplies and other survival items.


Violent Weather Pounds Southern Kansas

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Violent weather has been pounding southwestern and south-central Kansas with hail, funnel clouds and a couple of tornado sightings, but there have been no immediate reports of damage or injury.  The National Weather Service in Dodge City began issuing tornado warnings shortly after 5pm yesterday (MON), mostly based on Doppler radar showing strong rotation. At least eight counties were under tornado warnings of varying lengths over the next few hours.  The emergency manager in Comanche County reported a tornado near Coldwater Lake around 7pm. Earlier, Kiowa County law enforcement reported a brief, rain-wrapped four miles southwest of Greensburg. The twister lifted quickly but spawned a funnel cloud a short distance away.  Funnel clouds were spotted by storm chasers and law enforcement in Barber and Clark counties.


Fire Damages Annex at Kansas High School

SCOTT CITY, Kan. (AP) — Fire heavily damaged a building that houses some of Scott Community High School's educational programs. KWCH-TV reports the fire was reported late Monday at the high school. No one was hurt and school is in session Tuesday. Superintendent Bill Wilson says the building is sealed while the district waits for its insurance company to assess the damage. He says the building is damaged but he doesn't know about the contents of the building. Industrial arts, traditional arts, vocational agriculture and aerobics classes are held in the building. Those classes will be held elsewhere for the rest of the school year.


Woman Found Dead in Rain-Swollen SE KS Creek

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — Emergency crews in southeastern Kansas have recovered the body of a woman whose truck hydroplaned into a flooded creek during a night of heavy rain.  Montgomery County Sheriff Robert Dierks says the body was found yesterday (MON) morning about a quarter-mile from where her truck turned up in the creek beneath a bridge on a rural county road. The woman's name was being withheld while relatives were notified.  The sheriff says the woman called a relative around 10pm Sunday, saying her truck had washed off the road into high water while she was driving between Independence and Coffeyville. A night-long search began immediately, but Dierks says the floodwaters and heavy rain kept crews from spotting the truck.


PSU Receives $1.2 Million Gift for Arena Renovation

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Pittsburg State University has received a $1.2 million gift to renovate John Lance Arena.  The money comes from Pittsburg State graduates Alan and Roberta Whetzel. He played basketball and she was a cheerleader. They met on a Pittsburg State basketball trip in 1958.  The Whetzels went on to teach and coach. Later, they founded an electronic business supply company based in Wichita.  The school says the couple's gift will allow it to move quickly on the first phase of a multi-stage project to renovate the Weede Athletic Complex. One goal is to create an indoor event center.


Survey Suggests Midwest Economy Gaining Strength

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A recent survey of supply managers suggests growing economic strength in a nine-state region of the Plains and Midwest.  The Mid-America Business Conditions Index rose to 60.0 in April, compared with 58.6 in March and 58.4 in February.  Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says that heavy manufacturing continues to be propel economic growth for the region, with export-oriented manufacturers leading the way.  Survey organizers say it uses a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100 and that any score above 50 suggests growth while a score below 50 suggests decline for that factor. The survey of business leaders and supply managers covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.


Committee Continues Review of NBAF Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A committee of the National Academy of Sciences will hold three teleconferences this week to hear expert testimony on the need for a proposed biosecurity lab in Kansas.  The $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan would be a center for research of deadly animal diseases.  The National Academy of Sciences panel has been asked to determine if the Department of Homeland Security needs the lab. The committee will recommend whether to proceed with design and construction, modify the project or find alternatives for conducting the research.  The teleconferences are scheduled for tomorrow (WED) through Friday, lasting about one hour each.


KS House OKs Grandparents Rights in Custody Cases

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a compromise bill involving the rights of grandparents in custody cases.  The bill approved yesterday (MON) gives "substantial consideration" to grandparents of children who have been removed from their parents' custody.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill is not as strong as one originally passed by the House, which would have given grandparents "preference" in custody disputes.  After the Senate passed a version that would have required courts to give "consideration" to grandparents, the compromise bill was worked out.  Under the bill, if a judge decides not to place a grandchild with grandparents, the reason would have to be recorded in the official case record.  The bill now goes to a final vote in the Senate.


KS Senate Honors Retiring Chaplain

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has honored its longtime chaplain, who's known for using humor and rhymed verse in his daily prayers.  The Rev. Fred Hollomon, an 86-year-old Southern Baptist minister, plans to retire at the end of the current legislative session from the post he's held for 31 years. The Senate adopted a resolution yesterday (MON) in his honor.  Hollomon gives the Senate's daily invocations and serves as a spiritual adviser to its members. He served as a pastor for 50 years at eight churches, including congregations in Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City, Kansas, ending in 2002.  Hollomon served as Senate chaplain from 1979 to 1982 and again from 1985 to the present. He's also published a book of his prayers.


Wichita Firefighters Union Seeks Resignations

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita City Manager Robert Layton says he is disappointed that the union representing the city's firefighters is seeking the resignation of Fire Chief Ron Blackwell and two other fire department administrators.  The union says its members want Blackwell and Deputy Chief Ron Aaron or Division Chief Billy Wenzel to resign.  But Layton says he has complete confidence in the administrators.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Blackwell responded in a statement that he hoped the union would focus on working together with administrators to provide effective fire services.  Union president Matt Schulte says one of the main disputes was administrators getting raises while some fire service units have been taken out of service. He added that firefighters have been upset with the administrators for years.


Ellis County to Consider Jail Proposals

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Officials of a northwestern Kansas county are looking into overcrowding at their jail, and whether the facility should be replaced.  Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund told The Hays Daily News that he's asked for proposals from jail consultants to address overcrowding at the jail.  Proposals from three consultants will be presented tomorrow (WED) to the county commission's group on space needs.  Sund said consultants could help the county decide how a new jail could be financed, including sales tax or a property tax. Costs for the jail have been estimated at $1 million to $5 million.  But Sund says Ellis County also needs a new emergency medical services building, a new fire station and other facilities.


KS Senate Debates Redistricting Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is scheduled to debate a redistricting measure today (TUE) that redraws the political boundaries of the chamber's members. The legislation draws at least three conservatives out of the districts of the moderate incumbents they plan to challenge.  The issue has caused a bitter dispute among majority Republicans. Some conservatives think the bill is designed to protect the Senate's current Republican leaders by averting primary challenges for some incumbents.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


UPDATE: Kansas Senate Rewrites Redistricting Proposal 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has revised a bill redrawing its 40 districts to address complaints that it unfairly hurt conservative Republicans who plan to challenge moderate incumbents. Tuesday's development could end a bitter dispute among the chamber's majority Republicans. An earlier version of the map excluded at least three conservatives from the districts of the moderate GOP senators they plan to challenge in the Republican primary. But on voice votes, the Senate approved amendments ensuring that Brenda Landwehr would run in the same Wichita district as Senator Jean Schodorf, and that Greg Smith would run in the same Johnson County district as Senator Tim Owens. Landwehr and Smith currently serve in the House. Final action on the bill was expected later Tuesday.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


UPDATE: Kansas House Speaker Denies Deal on Redistricting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal denies he cut a deal with Senate leaders to smooth the way for passage of a bill redrawing the Senate's 40 districts. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said comments he made were misrepresented Tuesday during the Senate's debate on redistricting. Senators began with a map that excluded at least three conservative candidates from the districts of the moderate GOP senators they plan to challenge in the Republican primary. But during their debate, senators amended the map so that two of those challengers would be in the districts they preferred. Senator Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, said Senate GOP leaders agreed to the changes when O'Neal promised not to block the bill in the House. The Senate is still expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.

**this story has been updated. Please see above.

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