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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, February 12, 2014


KS House Approves Bill Responding to Gay Marriage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill aimed at keeping individuals, groups and businesses from being compelled to help with same-sex weddings. The House's 72-49 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the Senate. Supporters describe it as a religious freedom measure. Opponents contend it will encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill would bar government sanctions when individuals, groups and businesses cite religious beliefs in refusing to recognize a marriage or civil union, or to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to a couple. Anti-discrimination lawsuits also would be barred. Individual workers and government employees also would get some protections. The measure is a response to the possibility that the federal courts could invalidate the state constitution's ban on same-sex marriages.


Gay-Rights Group Criticizes KS House Democratic Leader

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The leading gay-rights group in Kansas contends the state House's Democratic leader has not taken a strong enough stance against a bill the groups says would sanction discrimination. Equality Kansas State Chairwoman Sandra Meade criticized House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, even though Davis voted against the bill Wednesday. The measure passed the chamber, 72-49. The bill would bar government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits when individuals, groups or businesses cite religious beliefs about marriage in refusing to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to couples. In a statement Tuesday, Davis suggested debate on the bill was a distraction from more serious economic and education issues. Meade said it's disappointing that a Democratic leader wouldn't see a call to action to fight discrimination. Davis declined comment Wednesday.


Kansas House Panel Expands Gun-Rights Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents could carry loaded handguns in their vehicles under a bill that's cleared a state House committee. The Federal and State Affairs expanded gun-rights legislation Wednesday before approving it. The committee's unanimous voice vote sends the measure to the House for debate, as early as next week. The bill strips cities and counties of the power to regulate guns. National and state gun-rights groups are pushing for the bill's passage The bill would void existing local gun ordinances throughout Kansas. It would ensure that the open carrying of firearms is allowed. But backers hadn't originally included the language on handguns in vehicles. Under the measure, people would have permission to have handguns in their vehicles, even if they don't have a state concealed carry permit. Local government groups oppose the bill, saying city and county officials know their communities' needs best.


Committee Advances Bill to Change KS Campaign Limits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has endorsed a bill that would increase the campaign contribution limits for candidates, including those for statewide offices and legislators. The changes approved Wednesday by the Ethics and Elections Committee would apply to contributions in primary and general elections. The bill would increase the limit from $2,000 to $3,000 for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and insurance commissioner. State Senate limits would increase from $1,000 to $2,000, while House limits would grow from $500 to $750. The measure advanced on voice vote, sending the bill to the full Senate for debate. The committee also increased the limits for gifts that elected officials can receive from $40 to $60 and entertainment from $100 to $150. Contribution limits for party committees to candidates would also increase.


KS Senate Advances Death Penalty Appeals Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas senators have advanced a bill shortening the time limits for inmates sentenced to death to complete their appeals to the state Supreme Court. The measure received first-round approval Wednesday on a voice vote. A second vote that would send the bill to the House is set for Thursday. Senate Vice President Jeff King says the bill is necessary to expedite justice and get the required automatic appeals through the Kansas Supreme Court. The bill creates a 3½-year time limit for the appeals to be heard and decided by the court. The measure would not affect any subsequent appeals, including those made to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kansas enacted capital punishment in 1994 but has yet to carry out an execution. Nine men are under death sentences in state prisons.


KS Closer to Fighting Feds over Prairie Chickens

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is pushing the state toward a confrontation with the federal government over protecting greater and lesser prairie chickens. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill declaring that the federal government has no authority to set policies on prairie chickens or any activities that affect the birds' habitat. The Senate planned to take final action Wednesday, when passage would send the measure to the House. State Wildlife Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison has said he expects the federal government to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species or to impose a conservation plan. Western Kansas lawmakers and farmers worry they'll face extra costs and new land-use restrictions. But some lawmakers question whether Kansas can block federal action.


KS House Gives First-Round Approval to Prisons Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a budget bill that would spend more than $390 million for prisons in the next fiscal year. The bill includes more than $360 million from general revenue and restores funding that was vetoed last year by Governor Sam Brownback. Lawmakers amended the bill Wednesday to place restrictions on where the Department of Corrections could locate parole offices. The restrictions were prompted by the agency's plan to open a parole office next door to a daycare center in Kansas City, Kan. Parents and city officials have protested, saying they don't want convicted sex offenders visiting an office so close to children. The state Senate is working on its own version of a prisons budget.


Topeka to Reinstate Ban on Domestic Battery

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Domestic battery will be banned again in Topeka, but not until next year. City governing body members voted Tuesday evening to reinstate the ban on domestic battery, beginning January 1, 2015. The delay was approved because City attorney Chad Sublet told governing board members it would cost $300,000 to effectively prosecute domestic battery cases this year, and that money is not in the city's budget. The city dropped the ban in 2011 when District Attorney Chad Taylor said budget cuts prevented his office from prosecuting domestic batteries committed in Topeka. After the ban was repealed, Taylor eventually resumed prosecuting the cases. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Sublet told governing body members the city would need to create four new jobs to resume prosecuting domestic batteries next year.


Hearing in Quadruple Murder Moved, Open to Public

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — An evidentiary hearing in a quadruple homicide in eastern Kansas has been pushed back a month and will be open to the public after the state determined it wasn't allowed to close the proceedings. The hearing for 28-year-old Kyle Flack initially was scheduled for Thursday, but in an order recently made public, Franklin County District Judge Thomas H. Sachse rescheduled it until March 11. The judge also granted the state's motion to withdraw its request for a closed hearing after determining it didn't meet the criteria necessary to keep the public out. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the rescheduling was necessary because a state witness was unable to testify on Thursday. Flack is accused of killing four people last year in rural Ottawa, including an 18-month-old child.


Judge Delays Trial in KS Bomb Plot Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has put off this month's scheduled trial in the case of an avionics technician accused in a suicide bomb plot at a Wichita airport. The court's docket included a notation Wednesday indicating the February 18 trial for Terry L. Loewen has been cancelled with no new trial date set. Such delays are routine given the amount of evidence and the difficulties in a case involving national security information. A status hearing has been scheduled for March 24. Loewen was arrested December 13 after he allegedly tried to drive a van filled with inert explosives onto the airport tarmac. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device to damage property and attempting to support al-Qaida.


Lawrence, Douglas County Spend $470K on Snow Cleanup

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Officials in Lawrence and Douglas County estimate it cost about $470,000 to clear streets and roads after last week's winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in the area. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Mark Thiel, the city's assistant director of public works, says the city spent about $350,000 to clear streets and city parking lots. Keith Browning, the county's director of public works, says the county spent about $120,000. The storm that left about 14 inches of snow is one of the larger single-day snowfalls in the city's history. The snowfall also pushed the city's total amount spent on snow removal this winter season to about $890,000. Since late November, city crews have responded to nine snow or ice events that have stretched over 11 days.


Lawrence Delays Bedbug Policy

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence city commissioners postponed voting on a bedbug policy until they can assure landlords the policy won't be a financial burden. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that some landlords are worried the proposed policy to battle bedbugs will end up costing them thousands of dollars. City commissioners on Tuesday agreed to postpone the bedbug policy vote and asked city staff members to have more discussions with landlords. The proposed policy calls for landlords to have a licensed pest control company treat any unit found to have bedbugs within 72 hours of a complaint being filed. But the policy doesn't say if the landlord or the tenant pays for the treatment. Typical treatment for the pests run from $900 to $2,000. The health department received 17 bedbug complaints in 2013.


Service Planned for Lawrence Victim

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A weekend memorial service is planned for a 52-year-old Lawrence man who authorities say was killed by a 19-year-old housemate. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the service for Harold Sasko will take place on Sunday at Christ the King Catholic Church in Topeka. Sasko was found dead January 17 in the Lawrence house he shared with Sarah B. Gonzales McLinn. She was later arrested in Florida and charged with first-degree murder. Sasko owned the Lawrence CiCi's Pizza franchise as well as two more in Topeka. McLinn reportedly had worked for Sasko and had been living in his house since 2012. McLinn is being held on $1 million bond. If she's convicted, the Douglas County prosecutor plans to seek a sentence of life without a chance for parole for 50 years.


Man Causes Crashes While Fleeing Salina Hospital

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a man whose relative had taken him to a Salina hospital for a mental evaluation crashed into three vehicles when he fled in a pickup truck. The Salina Journal reports that the 29-year-old Ottawa County man was apprehended by police Tuesday after the truck became stuck in snow. Lieutenant Sean Morton of the Salina Police Department says the man had been a passenger in the truck and was left alone in it while his relative went inside Salina Regional Health Center to seek help. Police were called at about 2:20 pm and told that a suicidal man armed with a rifle had just left the hospital parking lot. Morton says the man also shot the truck windshield with a rifle while en route to the hospital.


Ex-Chamber of Commerce Chief Sentenced for Theft

AUGUSTA, Kan. (AP) — The former director of a southeast Kansas Chamber of Commerce has been sentenced to a year's probation for stealing more than $13,000 from the organization. The Butler County Times-Gazette reports that Kent Overaker must also pay full restitution and write a letter of apology under the sentence he received this week. Overaker was hired as director of the Augusta Chamber of Commerce in March 2012. He was arrested last August after chamber officials noticed discrepancies in the organization's finances. He pleaded guilty in December to felony theft, admitting that he stole $13,400 in a four-month period by using the chamber's credit cards and checks for personal expenses.


Amazon to Hire 2,500 New Workers Across U.S.

SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon says it is hiring more than 2,500 full-time workers at its order fulfillment centers around the U.S. Inc. plans to announce Wednesday that the jobs are available at its Coffeyville, Kansas fulfillment center, along with four other locations in other states. The world's largest online retailer says last year it hired more than 20,000 people at its fulfillment centers, with more than half starting out as seasonal workers. Amazon says the median income for people working at its order-fulfillment facilities is higher than at traditional retailers.


Wichita Plant Loses More Than $100,000 in Theft

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say thieves cost a south Wichita pavement recycling center more than $100,000. The theft at the Cornejo plant occurred sometime Monday night or early Tuesday. The plant crushes old highway pavement into small rock for new pavement. Plant supervisor Jon Lewman says the thieves cut through a lock, shut off the power to the plant and began stripping out copper wire. They also took tools, tanks for acetylene torches and other items. Lewman said the thieves also ruined a motor valued at $60,000. KAKE-TV reports that the plant will be closed for up to two weeks.


KS Restaurant Owner Admits Harboring Immigrant

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has admitted harboring a Chinese teenage girl who was working illegally at his restaurant. Court records show 33-year-old Yong "Tony" Lin pleaded guilty Wednesday to harboring an immigrant who was unlawfully in the United States. His 29-year-old wife, Zhuo Mei "Mandy" Weng, pleaded guilty to hiding the crime. The U.S. attorney's office says the couple will forfeit $8,000 that will go to workers owed back wages. The case stems from a tip that a minor teenager being housed with other employees at an apartment was working at Lin's World Buffet Grill. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says in a news release that more such cases are coming to light, and employers who unlawfully hire such immigrants should expect criminal prosecution. Sentencing is set for May 7.


Plaintiffs Agree to Dismiss Claims in Fuel Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Several plaintiffs have agreed to dismiss claims against 15 companies in longstanding lawsuits involving allegations that oil companies and gasoline retailers overcharged consumers by selling so-called "hot" fuel, which allegedly yields inaccurate readings at the pump. Federal officials earlier consolidated about 50 lawsuits filed since 2006 from consumers across the country in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. At issue was whether customers are shortchanged when buying gasoline that's over 60 degrees. The volume of gasoline expands, and consumers argued they got less than a gallon of fuel for a full gallon price. Plaintiffs' lawyers agreed last week to dismiss claims in Kansas federal court in 22 cases against 15 defendants, which included 7-Eleven and Circle K stores. Several larger retailers, including Costco, Wal-Mart and Valero, earlier reached settlements in their cases.


Kansas Exports Increased in 2013

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas's exports increased 6.5 percent between 2012 and 2013, reaching $12.5 billion. The Wichita Eagle reports the International Trade Administration says the state's strongest sales growth in terms of percentages was in exports to Peru, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Brazil and Taiwan. The main categories of Kansas exports are agricultural products, food and kindred products, transportation equipment, machinery and chemicals. Wichita is the state's biggest exporter. In 2012 — the most recent figures available— the Wichita metro area exported $4.3 billion worth of goods. Topeka exported about $265 million in goods, Lawrence exported about $66 million and Manhattan exported $33 million.


Pleas Withdrawn in Missouri Child-in-Closet Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge has withdrawn all pleas entered by a Missouri woman accused of locking her malnourished daughter in a closet. In January the mother entered Alford pleas to felony child abuse and assault charges and pleaded guilty to child endangerment in the abuse of her 10-year-old daughter. The Associated Press is not naming the woman to protect the child's identity. On Monday, Jackson County (Missouri) Circuit Judge John Torrence withdrew the woman's pleas. He said she had contacted him and The Kansas City Star in January to say her public defender forced her to accept the plea deal. Torrence said the case will be put back on the court docket for a jury trial. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains innocence but acknowledges a jury could find them guilty. 


Former Garden City Telegram Editor John Frazier Dies

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Longtime Garden City Telegram reporter and managing editor John Frazier has died at the age of 85. The Garden City Telegram reports that Frazier died o fpneumonia Monday in Dodge City.  Frazier started working for the Telegram in 1955 as a reporter and left for The Hutchinson News for a short time. He then returned to the Telegram in the early 1960s to be the managing editor, a position he held for about 30 years. Former Telegram reporter Tim Unruh, who is now a reporter at The Salina Journal, remembered Frazier as a teacher and a "wonderful, poetic writer." A memorial service for Frazier is scheduled for March 29 at the Presbyterian Church in Garden City.


GCCC Approves Increase in Tuition, Fees

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Tuition and fees are going up at Garden City Community College. The Garden City Telegram reports that GCCC trustees voted Tuesday to increase tuition, fees, room and board for the 2014-15 school year. Beginning this fall, there will be a $2-per-credit-hour increase in tuition and a $3-per-credit-hour increase in student fees. In-state tuition and fees will go from $80 to $85 per credit hour; border state tuition and fees will increase from $94 to $99 per credit hour, and out-of-state tuition and fees will increase from $99 to $104 per credit hour. Trustees also approved a hike in room rates, pushing dorm rates from $1,100 to $1,150 per semester for double occupancy rooms. Of the 19 community colleges in Kansas, GCCC is the fifth lowest in tuition and fees.


MO Child Support Absconder Enters Guilty Plea

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 60-year-old Missouri man has pleaded guilty in federal court to fleeing the U.S. to avoid paying $1,500 a month in child support. The U.S. attorney's office says Randy Lee Essary was a Kansas City resident in 1996 when a Jackson County (Missouri) judge set child support for his son, who currently lives with his mother in Utah. Essary admitted in his plea Tuesday that he fled the U.S. in 2007 and moved to Thailand, where he was senior vice president of development for Eclipse Hotels and Development. Essary acknowledged that he hadn't paid court-ordered child support for his son in more than eight years, starting in January 2005, and owes nearly $165,000. He was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport when he returned to the U.S. on February 22, 2012.


Cuts in Luxuries Eyed to Save Colorado Train Stops

TRINIDAD, Colo. (AP) — Amtrak says it is considering scaling back on luxuries to save Colorado Southwest Chief passenger train stops. Colorado politicians and local officials are pushing the railroad to keep stops in Trinidad, La Junta and Lamar. According to the Denver Post, Democratic state Representative Leroy Garcia of Pueblo says eliminating the stops would be devastating to the economy in southeast Colorado. Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman is promising to help rescue the line by cost-cutting measures, including eliminating complimentary wine and cheese, pillow chocolates, flowers and newspapers on some routes. The Southwest Chief route travels between Chicago and Los Angeles, but a portion of the route that runs from the central Kansas community of Newton to Albuquerque in New Mexico could be in jeopardy.


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