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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, February 15th, 2012



Explosive Devices Found Near Kansas Statehouse; Threatening Calls Made to Governor in Separate Incident

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Police say they have arrested the owner of a suspicious pickup truck that was found parked near the Kansas Statehouse with several homemade explosives inside. Capitol Police Spokesman Patrick Saleh said today (WED) that officers arrested the owner of the vehicle in an underground tunnel that connects the Statehouse to a nearby state office building. The man was not armed. In addition, the man's pickup truck displayed specialty license plates issued only to U.S. military paratroopers. Saleh also said another man was arrested after allegedly phoning in a threat to Governor Sam Brownback's office from an area motel. Saleh said the two incidents are unrelated. The suspicious vehicle was found this (WED) morning in the parking lot of the Kansas Judicial Center, south of the Statehouse. Saleh said items in the car raised suspicions.  Capitol police then called in the Topeka Police Department's bomb squad to investigate.


Missouri Man Arrested for Alleged Threat to Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police have arrested a Columbia, Missouri man suspected of phoning in a threat to the Kansas governor's office from a motel in Topeka. Capitol Police spokesman Patrick Saleh said the 37-year-old man was being held in the local jail after his arrest on suspicion of harassment by telephone. Authorities said the man phoned Governor Sam Brownback's office this (WED) morning. Saleh said the man's remarks were threatening enough that the office contacted police, and the man was arrested within minutes of making the call. Saleh said the man has no permanent address but his last known home was Columbia, Missouri. Authorities say the incident was not connected with another one in which several homemade bombs were found in a suspicious pickup in a parking lot near the Statehouse. 


Tainted Sprouts Linked to Foodborne Illness in Kansas, 4 Other States

Sprouts from the sandwich chain Jimmy John's have been linked to an outbreak of foodborne illness...again. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today (WED) that 12 cases of E. coli poisoning in five states, including Kansas, are linked to clover sprouts eaten at Jimmy John's restaurants. The outbreak comes a year after sprouts from one of the chain's suppliers were linked to 140 salmonella illnesses. Sprouts from the chain were also linked to a 2009 salmonella outbreak in several Midwestern states and were suspected in an E. coli outbreak in Colorado in 2008. The CDC reports more than 30 illness outbreaks related to sprouts in the last 15 years. Sprouts need warm and humid conditions to grow, and those are conditions that also encourage bacterial growth. Illnesses in this latest outbreak have been reported in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Wisconsin. 


Kansas Board of Education Approves No Child Left Behind Waiver Request

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Education has approved the state's request for a waiver from some provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Members voted today to support the waiver's submission to the U.S. Department of Education. If granted, Kansas schools would no longer face a 2014 deadline for ensuring that 100 percent of their students perform well on state tests. After Congress failed to change the law, President Barack Obama told states last fall they could seek a waiver around the unpopular proficiency requirements in exchange for actions his administration favors. Kansas officials plan to submit it by February 28, the deadline for the second round of requests. Ten states were granted waivers last week from the first round of requests.


Governor Brownback Touts Gains in Kansas Wind Energy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback and several wind energy officials are touting efforts in Kansas to develop the power source and asking that a federal tax credit for the industry not be allowed to expire. At a news conference today, the Republican governor said Kansas is among the national leaders in wind energy production, with several new wind farms scheduled for completion this year. But there's concern that Congress won't extend a tax credit that makes it worthwhile for wind developers to invest in new turbines. One industry official said Wednesday that without the tax credit, construction of wind equipment at a plant in Hutchinson could end next year. Governor Brownback said that while the tax credit shouldn't be permanent, it's important to provide support as the renewable markets grow.


Protesters Stage Statehouse Rally Against Legislative Proposals and Initiatives 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several hundred people have rallied outside the Kansas Statehouse against various Republican legislative proposals and some of Secretary of State Kris Kobach's initiatives. Today's event was organized by Kansans United in Voice and Spirit. Standing in a cold drizzle, the protesters spoke out against proposals from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to change the state's school finance formula, income tax structure and social service programs. The group is also concerned about Kobach's initiatives on voter registration and immigration. Kobach is a former law professor who helped draft tough immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona. Last fall the group brought more than 300 people to the Statehouse for a similar rally against Brownback's policy proposals.


DHS Secretary Says NBAF Still Needed

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says a national biological and agricultural defense laboratory in the U.S. remains necessary despite the Obama administration's decision not to include construction funding in its budget request. Napolitano says President Barack Obama's budget request for the next fiscal year includes $8 million for research in Kansas, where the $1 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility has been planned. Napolitano tells members of Congress that project is not dead. But because Congress last year cut the White House recommendation for $150 million to only $50 million, the administration now is taking a step back to review the scope and cost of the project. She predicts the project will move forward.


Complex Property Tax Question Now Reaches KS Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators are tangled in a local property tax case that could have big implications statewide. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee had a hearing today on a bill that could mean tens of millions of dollars in savings for manufacturing companies and big revenue losses for local governments. Montgomery County officials asked the committee to reject the measure, which overturns a recent state Court of Tax Appeals ruling in a dispute between the southeast Kansas county and a fertilizer manufacturer. But the bill is being pushed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which believes the ruling will hurt the state's economy. The committee took no action. Chairman Les Donovan said he could ask for a study this summer and fall. He urged the parties to seek a compromise.


SRS Asked to Examine Cost-Cutting for KNI

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A state agency has been asked to study ways to save money at the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka.  Representative David Crum, a Republican from Augusta, says the discussion could include transitioning KNI from an institution for people with severe developmental disabilities to residential housing for the disabled. But Crum said Tuesday that the discussion is only in preliminary stages. He says he asked the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to make recommendations after a two-day legislative break in March. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the House Social Services Budget Committee approved Governor Sam Brownback's recommendation to provide $28.6 million for KNI, with $10.3 million from the state general fund. Last year, Brownback recommended closing the KNI but lawmakers rejected the proposal.


KCC to Examine Westar Rate Increase Request

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Corporation Commission members say they will scrutinize Westar Energy's contention that its shareholders need to make a 10 percent return on their investment in the utility.  The issue was raised during testimony Monday and Tuesday concerning the utility's request for a rate increase. A settlement reached between Westar, the KCC staff and the company's large commercial and industrial customers would give Westar a $50 million rate increase. The request includes a shareholder return of 10 percent. The utility says it needs that rate to attract and keep investors. A consumer advocacy group is challenging the proposed settlement, which would raise residential utility bills between 5 and 6.5 percent. The Wichita Eagle reports the commission is required to set Westar's new rates by April 23.


Southwest Kansas Town Votes to Allow Sunday Alcohol Sales 

BUCKLIN, Kan. (AP) — Voters in a southwestern Kansas town with roughly 800 residents but no liquor store have approved Sunday sales of alcohol. The Hutchinson News reports the proposal in the Ford County community of Bucklin was approved in a special election Tuesday.  Bucklin lost its lone liquor store and one of its two convenience stores since talk of allowing Sunday sales began. Mayor Mike Fisher says he's hopeful that approval of the new ordinance will encourage someone to reopen the liquor store. Sunday sales are allowed in the town of Ford, about seven miles away, and in Coldwater, about 20 miles away.


Kansas Man Admits 2 Bank Robberies 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 23-year-old Manhattan man has admitted robbing two banks in the northeast Kansas community last fall. The U.S. Attorney's office says Mark Stanton Wyche pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to two counts of bank robbery. He faces maximum sentences of 25 years for robbing Community First National Bank, and 20 years for holding up a branch of Kansas State Bank. Prosecutors said Wyche entered Community First last October 4 and gave a teller a note demanding $100 bills. At one point, he showed what looked like a handgun wedged in his waistband. Wyche did not display a gun during the holdup November 17 at Kansas State Bank. He presented a teller a similar note demanding $100 bills. Sentencing is scheduled for May 23 in U.S. District Court in Topeka.


"Occupy Koch Town" Protest Planned

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Protesters are hoping to draw people from across the nation to Wichita over the President's Day weekend for an "Occupy Koch Town'' event. Wichita is the home of Koch Industries and the three-day event is billed as a protest against Charles and David Koch. The group contends the Koch brothers exemplify corporate dominance of politics and distortion of science that is perpetuating bad energy policy. The heart of the protest is opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that that would carry Canadian oil to refineries along the Texas Gulf coast. Opponents say the dirty, highly corrosive oil would endanger the Ogallala Aquifer and farms along its route. Koch Industries calls the protest a politically motivated attack and an attempt to "harass and demonize" a company with 50,000 U.S.-based employees. Koch Industries contends it has no financial stake in the Keystone pipeline. 


Salina Commission Delays Action on Equality Ordinance

SALINA, Kan. (AP) _ The Salina Human Relations Commission has voted to delay a decision on a proposal to change the city's equality ordinance. The Salina Journal reports that more than half of those who spoke at Tuesday's meeting opposed a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's protected classes. The ordinance would mean people can't be discriminated against in public accommodations, housing and employment. Some businesses and landlords would be exempt. The commission voted to delay action on the ordinance until March, after the city holds three public hearings on the issue.


MO Man Sentenced for KU Campus Robbery

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A Missouri man was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a robbery on the University of Kansas campus. Twenty-one-year-old Mykel Dantae Karlyle of Belton also was ordered Tuesday to register as a violent offender after serving his prison sentence. He had pleaded no contest to one count of aggravated robbery. Prosecutors say Karlyle used a handgun to rob a student of marijuana in April 2009 in a residence hall parking lot. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Karlyle also faces aggravated robbery and aggravated battery charges for a 2011 incident in Shawnee County.
A co-defendant in the Lawrence case, 21-year-old Terrance A. Dean of Topeka, faces sentencing February 28 for conspiracy to commit robbery.


KS Democratic Party Names New Communications Director

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Democratic Party has a new communications director. Dakota Loomis has spent the past three years as deputy chief of staff for Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor. He served before that as research director for then- Governor Kathleen Sebelius. His appointment was announced Tuesday by Jason Perkey, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party. Loomis is a Lawrence native and son of Burdett Loomis, a prominent University of Kansas political science professor who spent a year on Sebelius's staff. The younger Loomis holds a law degree from New York University. He also worked previously in the division of the Kansas attorney general's office that handles civil cases. 


Finance Minister for Canadian Province Blasts U.S. Politics in Pipeline Decision 

TORONTO (AP) — The finance minister for the Canadian province of Alberta says U.S. politics trumped what should have been an easy decision to approve a proposed oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas. Last month, President Barack Obama's administration denied a permit for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but left the door open for TransCanada to apply for a new pipeline route that avoids Nebraska's environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. Ron Leipert, finance minister of the Canadian province that has the world's third-largest reserves of oil, said today in a speech that politics got in the way of what should have been a good economic decision. He called it a no-brainer in his prepared remarks. Obama said officials did not have enough time to review the project before a February 21 deadline imposed by Congress.


Children Found Wandering While Dad Played Video Games

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita man is in trouble after police say his two young children were found wandering along a busy street while he played video games at their home. KAKE-TV reports the children are 4 and 5 years old. Police said the younger child was nearly hit by a car Monday afternoon while they tried to cross the street near their home. The 5-year-old showed an officer where they lived. Police say the officer smelled marijuana in the home and found the 22-year-old father playing video games, with marijuana in plain view. The children were turned over to their mother, while the father was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment and possession of marijuana. Prosecutors were studying possible charges Tuesday.


Pilot Program to Encourage Returning War Veterans to Take Up Farming

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A pilot program is getting under way to help returning veterans go into farming while also revitalizing rural communities. The Veteran Farmers Project is kicking off in Kansas and Nebraska with a series of workshops in March. Farm tours planned for the summer are aimed at attracting veterans from Missouri and Colorado as well. The project includes individual consultations, mentoring and help finding financing. Special projects coordinator Nick Levendofsky of the Kansas Farmers Union says the project is funded by the Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency and the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska. He estimates that about 40 percent of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan would like to live in rural areas to raise their families.


Many in NY Pleased at Delay of Animal Disease Lab Move

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP) _ New Yorkers are cheering and Kansans are jeering a decision this week from the Obama administration on an animal disease research lab. The president's proposed 2013 budget halts spending on a proposed $650 million laboratory to study highly contagious diseases that endanger the nation's livestock. The lab has been on Plum Island, 100 miles east of New York City, since the 1950s. Homeland Security officials have announced plans to build a new lab in Kansas. But questions have arisen over whether the cattle-heavy heartland would be the best place to study animal diseases. Kansas officials argue technology has improved and there's little risk of disease escaping. New York officials counter that the lab at Plum Island still does valuable work and should not be scrapped during tough economic times.


Payless Shoe Source Employees Build Bikes for Joplin Children

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) _ Students at a Joplin elementary school are the happy owners of new bicycles, courtesy of hundreds of employees of Payless ShoeSource. Joplin's Irving Elementary School was among thousands of buildings destroyed in the tornado that killed 161 people in the southwestern Missouri city last May 22. One of two Payless stores in Joplin was also destroyed. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Topeka-based company was looking for a creative way to help Joplin's children. So at an annual meeting last week in Kansas City, more than 370 Payless workers from all over the world built 207 bikes - one for each student at Irving Elementary. The bicycles were delivered Tuesday, along with helmets and locks. A Payless official says every bike was custom-built for the child's height and color preference.


KC Police: Body Found in Virginia Is Not Lisa Irwin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City police say the remains of an 11-month-old girl found in Virginia are not those of Lisa Irwin. KMBC-TV reports that Internet postings raised speculation Tuesday that the Virginia child might be Lisa, who was 10 months old when she disappeared from her Kansas City home last October. But Kansas City police spokesman Steve Young says tests showed the body was not that of the missing Missouri girl. Lisa was reported missing just after 4 am on October 4, when her father arrived home from work and found the lights on, a window ajar and the front door was unlocked. Lisa's parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, have said they believe a stranger broke into their house and kidnapped their daughter as Bradley slept.


Royals Prepping for All-Star Game

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) _ It's the middle of basketball season and folks in Kansas City are talking about baseball. Not just the Kansas City Royals, either. With five months still remaining before the city hosts the All-Star game, there is already a certain amount of buzz building around the annual Midsummer Classic. Royals general manager Dayton Moore can't help but smile when he thinks about the spotlight it will put on Kansas City, and on his young team, which is expected to contend in the AL Central for the first time in years. Maybe the stars are just finally aligning for fans in Kansas City.


Supporters of Religious Freedom Bill Point to Contraceptive Mandate As Example

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Supporters of a Kansas bill described as an attempt to protect religious freedoms are now citing President Barack Obama's ill-fated mandate on insurance coverage of contraceptives as a reason for the measure. But gay rights advocates testified Tuesday that the real motives behind the bill before the House Judiciary Committee remain the same. They say it's an attempt to nullify local ordinances and university policies barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The committee took no action but is expected to vote on the measure by Monday. Supporters said Obama's attempt to require that even religious organizations offer their employees coverage for birth control shows the bill is needed. But opponents said the measure will inspire lawsuits against policies protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination.


K-State Names New Agriculture Dean

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ A food scientist and professor from Pennsylvania State University has been named dean of Kansas State University's College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension. The appointment of John Floros was announced Tuesday and takes effect August 1. He'll replace Gary Pierzynski, who has been interim dean since Fred Cholick became president of the Kansas State University Foundation in February 2010. Besides heading the food science department at Penn State, Floros has also taught at Purdue and worked for more than 25 years as an international industry consultant. Floros holds degrees in food science and technology from the Agricultural University of Athens, Greece, and a doctorate in food science and technology from the University of Georgia.


Meetings Highlight Entrepreneurship in KC 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A series of meetings is under way in Missouri and Kansas on how to make Kansas City the nation's most entrepreneurial city. The focus on entrepreneurship was selected last fall as one of the top five regional ideas for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Other ideas include organizing a global symposium on animal health and moving the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to a new downtown location. The ideas were picked from more than 180 suggestions. UMB Bank chairman and CEO Peter deSilva was picked to champion the entrepreneurship initiative.  The meetings began Monday and continue through next week at sites including the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City and the Sprint Campus in Overland Park. There is no cost to attend.


KS Officials Regroup Following Surprise NBAF Funding Decision

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas officials are regrouping after President Barack Obama submitted a budget that eliminates funding for the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility near Manhattan.
The $650 million lab is to be built near Kansas State University and replace an aging facility at Plum Island, New York. Kansas officials said Tuesday they're uncertain when the administration changed its mind on the project, but they will be seeking answers. The Department of Homeland Security awarded Kansas the project in 2010 as part of an effort to improve biosecurity research of plant and animal diseases. Obama's budget calls for the agency to reassess the need for the facility and whether there are alternatives. Kansas officials say the only thing that has changed is the fiscal climate in Washington, not the need for the lab.


2 Suspicious Events around Kansas Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Police say a man is being questioned in Topeka after allegedly phoning in a threat against the Kansas governor's office. Capitol police spokesman Patrick Saleh says another man is also being questioned this afternoon about a suspicious vehicle parked near the Statehouse. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported the two events don't appear to be related. Saleh says the Kansas Highway Patrol arrested a man after he made a call from a Topeka motel that was considered threatening to the governor's office. It wasn't clear if the man specifically threatened Governor Sam Brownback. In the second event, police investigated a suspicious vehicle parked in the Judicial Center lot without authorization. Saleh says items in the car, including a gun holster, raised suspicions. The vehicle owner was found and is being questioned.


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