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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, February 22, 2012


KS GOP Income Tax Plan Hikes Rates for Poorest

 TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Revenue estimates for the House Republican income tax plan show that the lowest income earners would be the only bracket that would see their tax rates go up. The estimates show the plan would cost Kansas more than $850 million over the next five years, possibly creating budget issues in future years. The figures were obtained today (WED) by The Associated Press from a legislative source who wasn't authorized to release the information publicly. House Republican leaders developed the plan as an alternative to Republican Governor Sam Brownback's income tax proposal. In both plans, the only group of taxpayers seeing a collective increase in their income taxes would be those with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 or less.


Judge Revokes License for KS Doctor in Abortion Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An administrative judge has issued an order revoking a Kansas doctor's license over her referrals of young patients for late-term abortions.  The judge said Dr. Ann Kristen Neuhaus failed to meet accepted standards of care in performing mental health evaluations on 11 patients, aged 10 to 18, in 2003. The order was made public yesterday (TUE).  Neuhaus provided the second opinions that allowed the late Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita, to terminate the patients' pregnancies.  But Administrative Judge Ed Gaschler, who presided over a hearing for Neuhaus, said the care of the patients was seriously jeopardized by her actions.  The revocation order will be reviewed by the State Board of Healing Arts, which regulates physicians.  Neuhaus attorney Bob Eye did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.


KS House Debates Bill to Speed-Up Voter Citizenship Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House is preparing to debate Secretary of State Kris Kobach's (KOH'-bahks) bill to require some potential voters to prove they're U.S. citizens before this year's presidential election.  The bill on the chamber's agenda today (WED) would impose the proof-of-citizenship requirement on June 15, more than six months ahead of schedule. It would apply to people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas.  Last year, legislators enacted a proof-of-citizenship requirement along with a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. But that proof-of-citizenship rule doesn't take effect until January 1, 2013.  Kobach says he wants the rule in place in time for the surge of voter registration that occurs before a presidential election. Critics say the bill will suppress voter participation.


GOP-Controlled KS House Rejects Democratic Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Kansas House has rejected a Democratic proposal for keeping local property taxes in check.  The plan called for the state to provide $45 million to local governments during the fiscal year that begins in July, to replace property tax revenues. The state used to provide such aid every year but stopped after 2008 because of budget problems.  The House defeated the proposal yesterday (TUE) on a 76-41 vote.  Democratic Rep. Jim Ward, of Wichita, offered the plan as an amendment to a bill making a technical change in property tax laws. The House advanced the measure without his amendment.  On Monday, the House Taxation Committee endorsed a GOP plan for cutting the state sales tax and individual income taxes. Some Republicans said Ward's plan hadn't been thoroughly vetted.


Lawmakers Extend Debate on KS School Finance Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee is extending its discussion of Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to rewrite the formula for distributing state aid to school districts.  Friday is the last day in this year's legislative session for bills in certain committees to clear their chamber of origin.  Sen. Jean Schodorf says the Education Committee won't be able to finish its work on the school finance bill this week, and will request an exception to allow for more debate.  Schodorf, a Wichita Republican, says Brownback's plan is complex and has generated a lot of discussion. She says the bill isn't dead, but needs further review.  Brownback's proposal would give school districts more authority to raise revenue and spend the dollars with more flexibility.


KS House to Discuss High School Dropout Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members are preparing to take up a bill designed to inform high school dropouts about other means of continuing their education once they leave school.  The legislation would require 16- and 17-year-old dropouts to be given information about alternatives to a traditional high school diploma, such as a general educational development credential, or GED.  The proposal originally required those quitting school to enroll in a GED or other alternative program. But a House committee amended the bill so that students must be informed of their options during their final counseling session before dropping out.  There was no opposition to the amended proposal.


KS House Approves Restraint Rules for Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas House has approved a bill setting standards for when public schools may physically restrain disruptive students or place them in isolation. The 82-41 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the Senate. The bill is backed by advocates for the disabled, who say voluntary guidelines enacted by the State Board of Education don't go far enough to protect students from abuse. Some critics argue the state should leave the issue to its 286 school districts. Under the bill, physical restraints or placement in a so-called seclusion room couldn't be used as discipline or punishment or for the convenience of staff. Mechanical restraints would be banned. The bill would limit when a disabled child could be restrained or sent to a seclusion room.


Garden City Approves Support of Amtrak Route

 GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Garden City commissioners approved resolutions offering symbolic and financial support to an Amtrak route through southwest Kansas.The commission on Tuesday approved a resolution asking Amtrak to maintain the Southwest Chief's route between Chicago and Los Angeles that goes through Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City. It also stops at towns in southeast Colorado and one town in New Mexico. It also approved spending up to $20,000 to help pay for federal lobbying efforts to keep the current route. The Garden City Telegram reports Amtrak is considering an alternative route that would run south of Newton through the Texas Panhandle to New Mexico. It cites the poor condition of rail track owned by BNSF Railway, which Amtrak uses for its service.


KS House Rejects Higher Boat Fees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members don't think much of giving a state official the power to double the fee for registering a boat to use at state parks.  The House voted 82-29 yesterday (TUE) against giving first-round approval to a bill allow the secretary of wildlife, parks and tourism the authority to increase the boating fee from $30 to $60.  Boat owners pay the fee once every three years. Supporters of the bill said that even if the fee is doubled, it will still be competitive with the fees charged in other states. They said the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism can use more budget flexibility.  But critics worried about increasing fees or giving too much power to an administrative agency.


Man Charged with Harassment over Call to KS Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 37-year-old man faces two misdemeanor charges of telephone harassment over an allegedly threatening call he made to the Kansas governor's office.  Stephen J. Thibodeau remained in the Shawnee County jail in Topeka last (TUE) night on $25,000 bond. Authorities said his last known home was Columbia, Missouri, though he said in court appearance last week that he and his family were moving back to Salina.  Thibodeau was arrested last week at a Topeka motel after Governor Sam Brownback's office reported receiving what authorities described as a threatening call.  The Shawnee County district attorney's office filed a complaint Friday alleging that Thibodeau harassed two employees of the governor's office. Each count could be punished by up to a year in jail.


Mouse Causes Temporary Power Outage at KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Power has been restored to more than 10 buildings at the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence.  The outage started around 2:10pm yesterday (TUE), after a mouse caused an electrical short. The university said in a statement that buildings were brought back online gradually, with the power fully restored around 3:30pm.  Buildings affected by the outage included Spencer Museum, Watson Library and the Kansas Union.


Prosecutors Review Cases of Lawrence Officers in Ticket Scheme

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Douglas County prosecutors are investigating pending or past cases involving two suspended Lawrence police officers suspected of dismissing speeding tickets in exchange for Kansas basketball tickets.  Also on Tuesday, city officials confirmed they are investigating whether other police officers were involved in dismissing the tickets.  City officials say the person whose traffic tickets were fixed is serving a federal prison sentence related to a broader Kansas ticket scandal.  The two officers were suspended earlier this month after an FBI investigation.  Douglas County prosecutors say they are trying to determine if the officers' conduct damaged their credibility in other cases.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that city officials won't name the two officers, and also refused to say how many other officers might have been involved and how many tickets were fixed.


KC Firefighter Admits Killing Wife Who's Been Missing Three Years

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A former western Missouri firefighter has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of his wife, who disappeared more than three years ago after starting divorce proceedings.  In entering the plea in Clay County Circuit Court yesterday (TUE), 39-year-old Shon Pernice, of Kansas City, admitted to hitting Renee Pernice multiple times as they argued, knocking her down a flight of stairs. He said the fall is what killed the 35-year-old nursing instructor and mother of two sons and a stepdaughter.  Authorities said after the hearing that they believe he put her body in trash bags and she ended up at a landfill. The unsuccessful search for her body had involved dozens of volunteers.  At the time of Renee Pernice's January 2009 disappearance, Shon Pernice was a firefighter in the Kansas City suburb of Independence. He also served in the National Guard and with the Army in Iraq.  Shon Pernice also was accused of stealing a neighbor's handgun and endangering his two sons in incidents that occurred after Renee Pernice's disappearance. As part of the plea agreement, he admitted two counts of child endangerment. Prosecutors dropped theft and witness tampering charges.  Pernice, who faces 15 years in prison, had been scheduled for trial next week on a charge of first-degree murder.  


Topeka Man Gets 55 Years for Killing During Crime Spree

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man was sentenced to more than 55 years in prison for killing another man during a crime spree in June 2010.  Forty-four-year-old Stephen A. Macomber was sentenced yesterday (TUE) for killing 26-year-old Ryan Lofton in Lofton's driveway in Topeka. He was convicted in January of intentional second-degree murder.  Macomber says he didn't intend to kill or shoot Lofton. The shooting occurred during a struggle to get control of a gun.  After Macomber shot Lofton, he shot and wounded a Marshall County sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop in Blue Rapids and then held an elderly woman hostage during a standoff with police. He's serving 83 years in prison for those crimes.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Macomber had 19 prior convictions, 13 of them involving felonies against people.


Suspect Pleads Not Guilty in Manhattan Death

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Manhattan man has pleaded not guilty in the death of a man whose body was found along a dirt road last December.  Nineteen-year-old Michael Layne entered the plea yesterday (TUE) to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of 31-year-old Steve Freel.  The Manhattan Mercury reports that Layne also pleaded not guilty to aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and kidnapping.  Police have said they believe Freel and Layne committed several armed robberies together but had an argument that led to Freel being driven to a rural area and shot.


Missouri Man Admits Embezzling from Homeowner Groups

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owner of a Kansas City business admitted that he embezzled more than $750,000 from dozens of homeowners associations.  Fifty-three-year-old Dale Palmer pleaded guilty yesterday (TUE) to a federal charge of mail fraud.  Palmer owned and operated Home Owner Association Services, which provided management services and managed accounts for homeowner associations in Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  Prosecutors say when Palmer closed the company's Kansas City office in March 2011, $751,302 was missing from the accounts of 32 homeowner associations.  Palmer admitted that he used funds from the homeowners associations to pay his business expenses. He prepared false statements for the associations, which never saw their bank statements.  He faces a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000.


Poacher Suspected in Shooting Death of Snowy Owl in Great Bend

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Wildlife officials say a snowy owl found shot to death last week at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area near Great Bend probably was shot by a poacher.  The owl was alive when it was found last Thursday but had a serious injury to a wing. Veterinarians at the Great Bend Raptor Center amputated the bird's wing but it died the next day.  The Wichita Eagle reports that snowy owls are not an endangered species, but shooting one is a federal violation.  The owl is one of more than a hundred that have been spotted this year in Kansas. In a normal year, only one or two snowy owls are seen this far south of their habitat in the Arctic.  


KS Convenience Store Seized for Back Taxes

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A convenience store on the Prairie Band Potawatomi reservation in northeastern Kansas has been shut down for what the state says is failure to pay more than $1.7 million in sales tax.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that state revenue agents and Jackson County sheriff's officers began seizing the assets of Kathy's General Store near Holton yesterday (TUE) morning.  The Revenue Department says it seized all known bank accounts, on-site cash, business inventory and personal property assets of Kathy's Incorporated and owner Kathy L. Kaul Kennedy.  Kaul Kennedy has challenged the state's authority to collect various types of taxes on the reservation for more than two decades.  Revenue officials say the company owes roughly $1.35 million from October 2005 to September 2009, and about $375,000 from October 2009 to September 2010.


Wichita Woman Dragged Trying to Stop Car Thief

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita say a 52-year-old woman was injured when she tried to stop a man from stealing a car out of her driveway.  KFDI-FM reports the incident began at 6:30am yesterday (TUE) when the woman left the car warming up in the driveway. She ran back outside when saw a man get in, and stood behind the car thinking the thief wouldn't run her down.  But the thief backed down the driveway with the woman hanging onto the bumper. Police say she suffered bumps and bruises from being dragged.  Officers chased the car after seeing it in another part of the city several hours later. A passenger was taken into custody immediately, and the driver surrendered after trying to swim across a small pond.


Historic Headstones Removed from Wichita Cemetery and Discarded

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita investigators are trying to figure out who took a half-dozen historic headstones from a cemetery and threw them into a roadside ditch.  A Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy came across the headstones Monday. The oldest dated to 1867, and the newest to 1907.  Investigators say they've determined the stones came from Wichita's Highland Cemetery. Photos of the headstones were released to the news media, and people responded with numerous tips.  


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush Rallies Kansas Business Leaders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has told Kansas business leaders that the nation needs a change of direction and called for a "patriot" energy policy, better education and an overhaul of the federal tax code.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Bush spoke last (TUE) night at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner.  While he steered clear of presidential campaign politics, Bush was sharply critical of President Barack Obama's polices on domestic energy production, education and environmental regulations.  "We need to celebrate every time someone starts a business in this country — not regulate it to death," Bush said.


KS Students Create Art for Dream Rocket Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Art created by Kansas students will be among those wrapped around a 365-foot replica of the Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  A visiting assistant professor at Washburn University helped elementary students from Rossville and St. Mary create 550 pieces of artwork for the Dream Rocket Project.  A news release from the Topeka university says the Saturn V rocket will be wrapped with more than 8,000 pieces of art in 2014.  Beforehand, all submissions are being displayed in venues such as libraries, schools and museums. A show is planned at the Wamego Public Library in April.  The young artists submitting their work come from hundreds of cities across the United States and other countries.


KS House Advances Child Abuse Reporting Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a bill amending state law on mandatory reporting of alleged child abuse. Supporters said Wednesday the changes were in direct response to the allegations of child sex abuse at Penn State University involving former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The bill expands the list of individuals required to report allegations of child abuse to authorities for investigation. It also strengthens the penalty for failure to report cases of suspected sexual abuse. It also would remove the defense that a person believed someone else was going to file the report, unless a report had actually been made, or that a person did not make a report for fear of reprisal or any other consequence.


Kansas Attracts Five bidders for Medicaid Contracts 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has received bids from five companies for three contracts for managing the state's $2.9 billion Medicaid program. Legislators who have been skeptical of Gov. Sam Brownback's Medicaid overhaul plan saw the number of bidders Wednesday as relatively low and suggested it signals trouble. Medicaidprovides health coverage for the needy, disabled and elderly. But House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, said he thinks the five bids are sufficient for a competitive process. Brownback's administration plans to award the contracts this summer. 

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