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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Kansas Slowly Digs Out from Winter Storm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents began the slow process of digging out from a thick blanket of snow, leaving behind closed schools, slick streets and bitter temperatures. The snow had stopped falling by early Wednesday as the storm moved toward the New England states. The National Weather Service said snowfall totals included 9 inches in Wichita and more than a foot in Topeka and surrounding cities. Temperatures for Wednesday were forecast to stay under 10 degrees for much of the state, accompanied by wind chills well below zero. Governor Sam Brownback, who took to a snow plow during the storm Tuesday, closed state government for a second day. Most schools and universities also remained closed on Wednesday.


UPDATE: KS Gov Says State Offices Will Be Open Thursday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says state government offices will resume normal operating hours Thursday after being closed for two days because of a winter storm. The governor had ordered state offices in the Topeka area shut down Tuesday, when the storm dumped more than a foot of snow on the state capital. He gave agencies the discretion to close offices elsewhere across the state. Brownback kept offices in the Topeka area closed Wednesday because of frigid temperatures and winds that could cause snow drifts on roads. The Legislature also called off two days of meetings at the Statehouse, but the House speaker's office confirmed that the chamber would resume its normal schedule Thursday. Brownback also scheduled a Thursday morning briefing on the storm.

Hundreds Seek Shelter at Topeka Mission

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of residents are seeking shelter at the Topeka Rescue Mission from brutal winter weather, with more cold days and nights ahead. Barry Feaker, executive director of the mission, says Wednesday that the shelter is housing 308 people. He says teams had been out trying to coax "hardcore outdoors folks" to come in from the winter conditions. Topeka had more than a foot of snow Tuesday. Temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing, with bitterly cold wind chills, for the next several days. The shelter has additional space if the city gives it permission to use cots. Feaker says some residents with mental illness who don't like being around others may be placed in hotel rooms, if necessary. The shelter serves an average of 1,200 meals a day.


Kansas Senator Outraises GOP Primary Challenger

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senator Pat Roberts reports raising more than twice as much money as his Republican primary challenger during the final three months of 2013. Recently filed finance reports from each campaign also show that a key reason was the three-term incumbent's ability to attract contributions from political action committees. Roberts had net contributions of $614,000 during the period, compared with $238,000 for Leawood radiologist Milton Wolf. The challenger loaned his campaign an additional $30,000. Roberts received $292,000 from non-party committees, compared with $15,000 for Wolf. Wolf spokesman Ben Hartman said Wednesday that Roberts's reliance on PACs shows he's a Washington insider. Roberts spokesman Leroy Towns called the comment sour grapes. Roberts ended the year with more than $2.2 million in cash on hand, while Wolf had $179,000.


Federal Judge Limits Court Review in Voting Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has agreed to limit what material the court can consider in a lawsuit filed by Kansas and Arizona seeking to force federal election officials to modify voter registration forms to require proof-of-citizenship from residents in those states. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren on Wednesday sided with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in limiting his review to the existing administrative record, rather than hold an evidentiary hearing in the case. The decision means that the court will hear only arguments from attorneys instead of considering any new evidence. The election commission won its argument that any judicial review of its January decision to reject the states' request for the documentation requirement should be limited to whether the decision was arbitrary or unlawful based only on the administrative record.


KS Utilities Seek Change in Green Energy Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Utilities in Kansas are lobbying legislators to rewrite a state renewable energy law to provide less of a financial benefit to consumers who install solar panels or windmills. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that bills introduced in the House and Senate worry solar energy advocates. Under the state's so-called "net metering" law, consumers who use renewable resources and generate more electricity than they need get full credit for each extra kilowatt hour they send to the electric grid. Westar Energy, the state's largest electric company, says the practice does not account for fixed costs faced by utilities, such as power plants and lines. But solar-energy device inventor Mark Moser of Manhattan says the changes sought by utilities would make Kansas among the worst states for solar businesses.


Westar Installing Solar Panels in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The largest electric utility in Kansas has begun a $200,000 solar panel project in Lawrence. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Topeka-based Westar Energy is installing 160 solar panels at its maintenance facility and service center in southeast Lawrence. The utility also is installing solar panels on buildings it owns in Manhattan and Shawnee. At the Lawrence facilities, Westar is installing the panels in various locations and at a variety of angles to test their efficiency. The public will also be able to use a company website to monitor how the solar panels are performing. Westar also operates a large, coal-fired power plant outside Lawrence.

Kansas Education Board to Review Fitness Study

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The State Board of Education will review a recent study of Kansas elementary and middle school students linking fitness to academic success. The results of the Kansas Fitness Information Tracking, or K-FIT, showed that students who were able to reach fitness goals in five areas scored significantly higher on math and reading tests than students who weren't fit. The state board will review the study on February 11 at its monthly meeting in Topeka. The study, funded through the Kansas Health Foundation, compared the fitness results of 13,000 students in grade four through nine with those students' test scores from the 2011-12 school year. Another study is underway involving more than 56,000 students at 900 schools statewide.


Kansas FedEx Driver Threatened at Gunpoint

COLWICH, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Wichita man is accused of pointing a shotgun at a FedEx driver who delivered a package to the wrong house. The Sedgwick County sheriff's office says the incident happened around noon Tuesday near Colwich, in the northwestern part of the county. The driver told deputies he had just left the package at a home when a man opened the door, pointed a shotgun at him and told him to come and take it away. The driver obeyed, then called 911. Deputies arrested the 71-year-old man and booked him into jail on suspicion of aggravated assault. Sheriff's Lieutenant Dave Mattingly says the package should have been delivered to the house next door, but authorities still aren't sure why the resident reacted to the mix-up with a firearm.


Judge Sets New Hearing in Suicide Bomb Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has reset a date to hear arguments over the government's request to limit who can see some evidence in the case of an alleged suicide bomb plot at a Wichita airport. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Tuesday scheduled a February 11 hearing in the case of Terry L. Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician facing terror-related charges. Prosecutors are seeking an order restricting handling of evidence. The government has requested a hearing under the Classified Information Procedures Act, and also wants the case designated as "complex" to ease speedy trial concerns and give the parties more time to prepare for their cases. Loewen has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.


Weather Linked to South-Central KS Fatal Crash

HESSTON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says a fatal crash of two trucks on Interstate 135 in south-central Kansas appears to have been weather-related, making it the third fatality linked to a winter storm. The patrol reported that a northbound Chevy truck went out of control Tuesday morning on I-135 just north of Hesston and spun through the median into the southbound lanes. Another Chevy truck struck it. The driver of the first truck died Wednesday at a hospital. The patrol identified him as 58-year-old Richard Lynn Conquest of Moundridge. Earlier, the patrol had reported that a weather-related, two-car crash Tuesday afternoon on U.S. 69 near Pittsburg left two people dead. A winter storm hit Kansas on Tuesday, dumping heavy snow and making driving conditions hazardous.


Southwest Jet Gets Stuck in Snow at Kansas City Airport

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Southwest Airlines jet arriving from Denver got stuck in a snow bank at Kansas City International Airport. Airline officials say the Boeing 737, with 55 passengers aboard, hit the snow bank Tuesday evening as it was taxiing to Terminal B. A Southwest spokesman said all the passengers on Flight 305 were placed on buses and taken to the terminal. No injuries were reported. Most flights at KCI were canceled after noon on Tuesday as up to 10 inches of snow fell in the region.


Decomposed Body in Kansas Identified

ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police in a Kansas City suburb have identified a decomposed body that was found Sunday. Officials say the body was that of 43-year-old Sandra Herron-Burns, who had been reported missing from a nearby apartment in December. Her body was discovered Sunday in Roeland Park. Police used fingerprints to identify her and an autopsy will be conducted to determine her cause of death.


Pit Bulls No Longer Classified as Vicious in Garden City

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Pit bulls and similar breeds are no longer considered vicious dogs in Garden City. The city commission voted Tuesday to remove the breed from its vicious dog ordinance. The decision includes any American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier, or any mixed animal that appears to be predominantly one of those breeds. The Garden City Telegram reports the decision means owners of those types of dogs no longer have to post signs or maintain pens or structures unless their animals are declared vicious in municipal court. Owners also can walk their dogs without muzzles. City Attorney Randy Grisell says decisions on whether a dog is vicious now will be based solely on the animal's conduct.


Salazar: Build Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he believes the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada should be built. Salazar said at an energy conference in Houston Wednesday that the pipeline could be built safely, as long as conditions are imposed. Those conditions would require the pipeline operator to meet tough environmental standards and even pay for conservation programs along the pipeline route. Salazar told The Associated Press that the pipeline could be a "win-win" project that benefits U.S. energy security while boosting conservation efforts in Montana, South Dakota and other affected states. Salazar's comments follow a State Department report last week that raised no major environmental objections to the $7 billion pipeline. The pipeline would carry oil from western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.


Clay Center Voters Approve Tax for Swimming Pool

CLAY CENTER, Kan. (AP) — Clay Center voters have again approved a new tax to build a swimming pool to replace one built in 1937. A special election that ended Tuesday passed 549-251. The Clay County Clerk's office says 27 percent of eligible voters participated. Voters had approved a 0.5 percent sales tax October 1 to raise between $30,000 to $35,000 a month to help fund a $7.2 million pool. The vote raised Clay Center's sales tax rate to 9.15 percent on January 1. The Salina Journal reports that a group opposed to the city carrying the debt collected petitions last fall to force a special election. Voters were asked whether a public building commission should issue revenue bonds to finance construction and debt service for the new pool.

Missouri River Committee Meeting in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A committee that advises the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies on Missouri River recovery efforts is meeting next week in Kansas City. The corps says the committee will gather February 11-13 at the Westin Crown Center hotel, with most sessions open to the public. The committee's members include representatives of eight states, several American Indian tribes and interests such as navigation, irrigation and recreation. The committee will hear from scientists and discuss efforts to help the pallid sturgeon and two other federal protected species.

Judge: Great-Grandmother Not Fit to Raise Child

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County District Court judge's ruling in a fight over a 2-year-old girl has left the girl's future undecided. Judge Robb Rumsey ruled Monday that the girl's 67-year-old great-grandmother is not fit to adopt the girl, who has been in a Wichita foster home since shortly after she was born. But Rumsey's ruling also denied a request by the girl's foster parents to adopt the child, although she will stay in their home for now. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Department of Children and Families will retain custody of the child until an adoptive family is found. Rumsey said DCF should consider the child's foster parents, the child's paternal great-uncle and other family and nonfamily members as possibilities for adoption. The great-uncle has adopted the girl's three older sisters.


MO Lawmakers Hear Plans to End KS Tax Break "Border War"

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers appear ready to embrace a proposed truce with Kansas in a tax-break battle for businesses. Missouri House and Senate committees each heard testimony Wednesday on legislation that would call for a moratorium on tax incentives for businesses in the Kansas City region relocating from one side of the state line to another. The legislation would apply to businesses moving between the Missouri counties of Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass and the Kansas counties of Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas and Miami. Missouri's bill says its moratorium will kick in as soon as Kansas takes a similar action. No one testified against it Wednesday. A study by the Hall Family Foundation found that Kansas and Missouri have waived $217 million of taxes through two programs to shuffle businesses in recent years.


Kansas Teen Uses 3-D Printer to Make Hand for Boy

LOUISBURG, Kan. (AP) — A 16-year-old Kansas boy's interest in 3-D printers led to a new hand for a 9-year-old family friend. Mason Wilde of Louisburg recently used a 3-D printer at the Johnson County Library to make a prosthetic hand for a friend named Matthew, who was born without fingers on one hand. Matthew's mother did not want his last name or hometown publicized. The Kansas City Star reports that the device, called a Robohand, is driven by the motion of the wrist. The hand opens when the wrist moves up and closes when it moves down. Matthew says he's grateful to Wilde. He and Wilde have become fast friends, and Wilde says he plans to stay in touch to keep improving and "tweaking" Matthew's Robohand.

Improvements Planned for Kansas Aviation Museum

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Wichita will help finance a $1.8 million project at the Kansas Aviation Museum to upgrade the aging building. Museum officials said in a news release Tuesday that the city will contribute $900,000 for the work, with the museum pay the rest. Plans include installation of an elevator and modern heating and air conditioning and restrooms that meet federal accessibility requirements. The museum says the upgrades will help it earn more income from facility rentals, boost its education program and provide a better experience for visitors.


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