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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Kansas Senate Postpones Debate on Technical Tax Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate leaders have postponed a debate on a bill correcting flaws in last year's state law cutting income taxes because Republicans anticipated a broader discussion of tax policy. Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson said fellow Republicans thought bringing the bill up Wednesday as planned would lead to a debate on Governor Sam Brownback's latest tax proposals. Bruce said Brownback's fellow Republicans want to wait until next week to debate his proposals in the Senate. This year's plan from Brownback follows up on last year's massive income tax cuts. The governor wants to phase in a second round of cuts in individual income tax rates but eliminate two popular deductions for homeowners. The bill correcting flaws in last year's law won House approval earlier this week.

UPDATE: Kansas Realtor Group's Tax Stance Gets Serious Look

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An offer from the Kansas Association of Realtors to compromise on tax issues is getting serious consideration from the Republican chairmen of the Legislature's tax committees. Association members rallied Wednesday at the Statehouse to preserve two popular income tax deductions for homeowners. Republican Governor Sam Brownback is targeting the breaks in a broader plan aimed at positioning Kansas to phase out individual income taxes. Realtor lobbyist Luke Bell said the association is willing to see the deductions phased out over time, if other income tax breaks are also phased out as personal income tax rates drop. Senate Tax Committee Chairman Les Donovan of Wichita says it's an option to consider. House Chairman Richard Carlson of St. Marys was even more receptive and said the idea is viable.


Kansas Realtor Group Spent $195K on Tax Deduction Ads

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Association of Realtors spent $195,000 in January on advertising designed to build pressure on legislators to preserve two popular income tax deductions for homeowners. The association disclosed the spending in a report on its lobbying activities filed with the secretary of state earlier this month. The group opposes Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to scrap income tax deductions for property taxes on homes and interest on home mortgages. Realtor lobbyist Luke Bell said Wednesday the association ran spots for two weeks on 35 radio stations and published ads in 13 newspapers. It also ran ads on websites. The group reported spending about $152,000 for all of 2012, most of it on advertising or communications with members to get them to pressure lawmakers. 


Group's Call to Pray for "Dark Spiritual Sections" of Kansas Draws Criticism

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Christian group that ministers to Kansas lawmakers is seeking prayers for what it calls dark spiritual sections of the state. The Capitol Commission says that southeast Kansas, Lawrence, north Johnson County and Kansas City, Kansas need extra prayer. The leader of the group says those areas were mentioned for their economic troubles, not for their political leanings. The letter also asks for prayers for the governor, his staff, legislative leaders and the media. The Kansas City Star reports representatives of Kansas City, Kansas and Lawrence objected to the letter, calling the characterization of their areas offensive and unbelievable. The Kansas director of the Capitol Commission apologized if the wording offended anyone but denied the plea for prayer was focused on Democratic strongholds.


Testimony Heard on Appropriations Amendment to KS Constitution

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters say a proposed change in the Kansas Constitution is necessary to curb court rulings that infringe on the Legislature's authority to appropriate money. The change would specify that only the Legislature has the authority to make decisions regarding financing of education in Kansas. Legislators are considering the change in response to a recent Shawnee County District Court ruling ordering the state to increase school spending by at least $440 million. Supporters told a Senate committee Wednesday that the judicial branch has the authority to rule if legislative policies are constitutional. But they say the courts overstep their boundaries when they require increased state spending on education. Opponents of the proposal are scheduled to testify before the committee Thursday.

1st Infantry HQ Returning from Afghanistan

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — The first soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion are beginning to return home to Kansas from deployment in Afghanistan. On Monday, about 50 soldiers from the battalion and 300 from the division's 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home during a ceremony with friends and family at Fort Riley. Soldiers with the headquarters battalion spent the last year in eastern Afghanistan as part of the regional command. The 4th Brigade were also part of the eastern command but were deployed for about nine months. More flights are expected to arrive from Afghanistan over the next month as all remaining soldiers return to the northeast Kansas post.

Human Error Blamed in Kansas Convict's Escape

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say human error likely gave a convicted killer the opportunity to escape from the Saline County Jail on the eve of his sentencing for a baby's death. Sheriff Glen Kochanowski says Antonio Brown walked out of a holding cell Monday after it was inadvertently opened. The 29-year-old then walked out of an open garage door after the departure of a transport vehicle. Kochanowski says the escape took up to 10 minutes to discover. The Salina Journal reports that Kochanowski discussed the escape and described Brown as dangerous at a news conference Tuesday. He is encouraging anyone with information to call 911. Brown pleaded no contest in January to first-degree murder and child abuse. The charges stemmed from the beating death of his girlfriend's 14-month-old son, Clayden Lee Urbanek.


Kansas Prisoner Flees in Boxer Shorts, Socks

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An escaped prisoner is back in custody in Kansas City, Kansas after running through downtown streets dressed only in socks and boxer shorts. KSHB-TV reports the inmate is facing charges of first-degree murder. He escaped Wednesday afternoon while being taken from a Wyandotte County courtroom back to a holding cell. Authorities say the inmate attacked the deputy who was guarding him and smashed her head against the wall. He then bolted outside, stripped off his prison jumpsuit and ran through downtown while police closed off streets. An off-duty police officer spotted the escapee and wrestled him to the ground. The inmate was taken to a hospital with unspecified injuries. The inmate was at large for about five minutes. Temperatures were in the 50s at the time.


Kansas Refinery to Pay $2.3 Million for 2007 Spill

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Environmental regulators say a southeast Kansas refinery operator has agreed to pay more than $2.3 million in penalties and cleanup costs for an oil spill during the 2007 flood in Coffeyville. The Environmental Protection agency said Tuesday that figure includes a civil penalty of more than $556,000 to settle violations of the Clean Water Act at the facility operated by Coffeyville Resources Refining & Marketing. Most of the money goes to reimburse the federal response costs associated with the cleanup of the Verdigris River after the flood. Coffeyville Resources spilled more than 2,100 barrels of crude oil, diesel fuel and oil water during the flood. EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks says in a news release the settlement also requires the company to upgrade its facility to protect people's health and the environment.


Koch Nitrogen to Pay $380K to Settle Claims

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A subsidiary of Wichita-based Koch Industries has agreed to pay a $380,000 civil penalty to settle alleged violations of the Clean Air Act in Kansas and Iowa. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the settlement with Koch Nitrogen Company on Wednesday. The agency said inspections in 2007 and 2009 showed violations of risk management regulations at a pipeline terminal in Marshalltown, Iowa, and at ammonia manufacturing facilities in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Dodge City, Kansas. EPA officials say the company had not fully implemented prevention requirements, nor adequately coordinated with emergency responders. Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia says the company cooperated with the Justice Department and EPA in the investigation. Cohlmia says the company believes the dialogue was constructive and both sides learned from the discussions. She says the settlement reflects strong protections in Koch's risk management programs.


SUV Driver Leads Officers on Chase Through KCK

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A police chase that started in Kansas City, Missouri has ended in Kansas City, Kansas after the driver speed the wrong way down roads and through a park. Video from a KSHB helicopter showed the driver veering through parking lots and narrowly avoiding other vehicles around rush hour Wednesday as he headed into oncoming traffic. The driver also sped past playground equipment in a park and through residential neighborhoods. The chase came to an end after the fleeing driver's sport utility vehicle clipped another SUV. The driver was caught after stumbling out of the SUV, while a passenger fled. The passenger was apprehended after an apparent attempt to hide behind bushes at a nearby home. Kansas City, Kansas police didn't immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.


Aaron Jack Resigns as Kansas Securities Commissioner

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas securities commissioner has resigned and announced plans to pursue opportunities in the private sector. Aaron Jack's immediate departure was announced in a news release Tuesday. Jack is seeking the 2014 Republican nomination for state insurance commissioner. He previously served in the Kansas Legislature from 2009 to 2011. Jack says he has "greatly appreciated" the chance to serve. Governor Sam Brownback has appointed Josh Ney interim commissioner. Ney joined the commission as a staff attorney in 2011 after working in the Jefferson County attorney's office. Brownback praised Jack in the release, saying the securities office had made "great strides" during the past two years.

Thieves Stealing Battery Packs from Locomotives

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Thieves are slowing down the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad. Railroad officials say engineers discovered huge packs of batteries stolen out of two of its locomotives on Monday. The thefts occurred while the engines were sitting in the company's rail yard. Railroad spokesman Jimmy Patterson says each case is worth $8,000 to $10,000. KAKE-TV reports the same thing happened to the railroad in January, when someone stole the 300-pound batteries from locomotives at night. Patterson says it not only stops the railroad's work but also leaves employees at a standstill until the batteries can be replaced.

Lawrence Tags Downtown as Cultural District

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence city officials have decided to designate the city's downtown and a surrounding area as a cultural district. The city commissioners voted Tuesday night to approve a request from the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission to create the district. The arts commission envisioned linking historic, arts, natural and cultural heritage sites such as the Arts Center, New York School, the river and art galleries downtown and in the Warehouse Arts District. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the arts groups suggested finding ways to combine private, public and grant funds to support improvements to the district. The commission plans to appoint a task force soon to determine the initiatives it will undertake.

Hearing Airs Concerns over Kansas At-Risk Student Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — School officials are voicing opposition to a Senate bill that would change the way Kansas has distributed funds for students at risk of failure. Administrators and education lobbyists told the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday that the definition used to hand out extra money to help schools serve poor students worked. They argue that students from low-income families traditionally struggle academically because they come to school with fewer skills. Under the Senate proposal, schools would continue to receive extra money to serve kindergarten through third-graders who qualify for government subsidized school meals. But from fourth to 12th grade the additional funds would be determined based on student test scores. Supporters say the change would be a better use of resources and reach all struggling students.

Vote on New Kansas Science Standards Months Away

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State Board of Education members aren't likely to see a final draft of proposed science standards for public schools before April. State Department of Education official Matt Krehbiel says that means the board wouldn't take a final vote on the standards until at least May. Krehbiel oversees work on the standards and updated the board Tuesday. Kansas and 25 other states are working on common standards for possible adoption in their public schools. Krehbiel said the final draft of the multi-state group's guidelines should be ready at the end of March, possibly allowing the board to review them for the first time at its April meeting. Past work on science standards in Kansas has been overshadowed by debates about how evolution should be taught.

Kansas Universities Sponsor Hunger Relief Summit

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A consortium of higher education institutions and several nonprofit hunger organizations are putting on a hunger relief summit next month in northeast Kansas. The event is planned for March 2-4 at the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel at the Convention Center. Kansas State University is one of the sponsors. The school says the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit was started eight years ago at Auburn University. Several hunger experts will speak at the upcoming summit, including an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the co-author of "Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty." The event also will feature panel discussions, paper presentations and sessions on building political support and raising awareness on hunger. The registration deadline is February 22.

Bank Robbery Prompts Lockdown of Mulvane Schools

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) — A bank robbery in Mulvane prompted the town's schools to go into lockdown for more than an hour. A Sedgwick County dispatch supervisor said the Carson Bank on Main Street was robbed Tuesday morning. The Wichita Eagle reports that the suspect left in a red and white F-250 or similar large truck. District spokesman Tom Keil says students and staff were kept inside at all schools until police gave an "all clear" about two hours later.

US Farm Equipment Sales Robust in January

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Association of Equipment Manufacturers reports that retail sales of farm tractors and combines have grown in January in the United States. The industry group reported Tuesday that farmers bought more than 11,163 tractors last month. That is up 20.3 percent compared to the same month in 2012. Also higher than normal are sales of combines with 538 sold in January. That is up nearly 21 percent compared to the same month the previous year. January is typically a slow month for farm equipment sales. Farm equipment sales usually spike in April and October.




Kansas Realtor Group Rallies at Statehouse on Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas real estate agents have converged at the Statehouse to lobby lawmakers to preserve two popular income tax breaks for homeowners. The Kansas Association of Realtors had a rally Wednesday on tax issues before sending its members to meet with legislators. At least 200 real estate agents participated. The association is trying to save two state income tax deductions targeted for elimination by Republican Governor Sam Brownback. One is for the property taxes Kansans pay on their homes and the other is for the interest on their home mortgages. Brownback wants to scrap the deductions as part of his plan to position Kansas to phase out personal income taxes while stabilizing its budget. A Senate committee has endorsed most of Brownback's plan, including an end to the mortgage interest deduction.

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

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