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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, June 12, 2013





Lawrence Man Gets Life Sentence for Rape

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man will spend at least 25 years in prison for the rape of a young girl who told police she was repeatedly abused over a period of years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports a Douglas County judge on Wednesday gave Robert Leo Hill two life sentences — one for rape, the other for aggravated indecent liberties. The 42-year-old Lawrence man pleaded no contest to the charges last month. Prosecutors dropped eight other counts in exchange for Hill's acceptance of the life sentences. The sentences will run together, and Hill will be eligible for parole after 25 years. Hill told the judge Wednesday he was "very, very, very sorry" and never meant to harm the victim, who is now 12 years old and has moved out of Kansas.


Brownback to Sign Kansas Tax Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Sam Brownback has scheduled two ceremonies to sign a tax bill that makes additional cuts to the Kansas income tax rate while lowering the sales tax rate. The Republican governor will sign the bill at stops Thursday at a construction site in Overland Park and a business in Wichita. Legislators sent Brownback the bill on June 2, following massive individual income tax cuts enacted last year. The measure cuts income tax rates again over the next five years. But those new rate reductions are tied to other revenue-raising measures, including a provision setting the sales tax at 6.15 percent. The mix of policies in this year's bill is expected to generate a net gain in state revenues of $777 million over the next five years.


Ex-NASA Official to Join KS Governor's Staff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former NASA communications official who also is an astronaut's wife will be Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's new chief spokeswoman. Brownback's office announced Wednesday that Eileen Hawley will join his staff June 24 as communications director and press secretary. Hawley will replace Sherriene (shuh-REEN') Jones-Sontag, who will become deputy director of the Kansas Lottery next month. Hawley is vice president of operations for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. But before moving to Kansas in 2008, she directed communications for the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She also served as an adviser to senior NASA officials and was the center's voice for dozens of space shuttle missions. She is married to Steve Hawley, a Kansas native who flew five space shuttle missions and now teaches at the University of Kansas.


KS Wheat Outlook Improving Amid Spring Rains

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new government forecast for the size of the 2013 Kansas winter wheat crop reflects improvements amid the state's wet spring weather. The National Agricultural Statistics Service on Wednesday revised its Kansas production estimate to 307.8 million bushels. That's up 3 percent from last month's forecast but would still be down 21 percent from last year's crop. The agency also revised its average yield estimate to 38 bushels an acre. That is up 1 bushel from what had been expected just a month ago, but 4 bushels per acre fewer than what Kansas growers were cutting last year. The 8.1 million wheat acres anticipated to be harvested in Kansas this year remain unchanged from last month's estimate. It is down 11 percent from a year ago.


Ex-jailer files whistleblower suit against sheriff

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former jailer has sued the Ellis County Sheriff's Department claiming he was fired as retaliation for reporting a co-worker who repeatedly used a stun gun on a handcuffed inmate. Attorneys for David Vaughan of Hays filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging violations under the Kansas Whistleblower Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sheriff Ed Harbin did not immediately return phone and email messages. The lawsuit says Vaughan filed a voluntary statement on March 7, 2011, alleging a jailer used physical force and a stun gun on the inmate. The following month, Vaughan asked his employer for "reasonable accommodations" for his disabilities. He suffers from diabetes and depression. Vaughan alleges he was fired in September 2011 due to his disability and for "whistleblowing."


Record Heat Bakes Garden City

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Record-breaking heat is settling in over parts of western Kansas, and there's concern that gusting winds could create a fire hazard. The Garden City Telegram reports high temperatures in that city broke long-standing records Monday and Tuesday. The mercury hit 108 both days, and Wednesday's high was expected to reach 101. The heat is being joined by winds gusting to as high as 36 mph. It's a combination that put much of southwest Kansas under a red flag warning, meaning that conditions are favorable for fires. Garden City and other spots around the western half of Kansas are expected to be at or near 100 through Friday, with cooler — but still hot — temperatures arriving this weekend along with a chance for isolated storms.


KDOT Awards Funds for Transportation Projects

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Transportation has awarded nearly $18 million to 35 projects around the state through its transportation enhancement program. The agency says it received 91 applications seeking more than $63 million from the federally funded program. The winning communities include Wichita, Abilene, Pittsburg, Lawrence, Dodge City and Council Grove. The applicants must cover at least 20 percent of the cost of their project. The enhancement program helps counties, cities and other agencies with projects in such areas as bike paths, pedestrian traffic, education, historic restoration and conversion of abandoned railroad lines into trails.



KS School Board Approves New Science Standards

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas state school board has approved new science standards for public schools that treat both evolution and climate change as key concepts to be taught from kindergarten through the 12th grade.  The board voted 8-to-2 yesterday (TUE) for standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council.  The new guidelines are designed to shift the emphasis in science classes to doing hands-on projects and experiments and blending material about engineering and technology into lessons.  Past work on science standards in Kansas have been overshadowed by debates about how evolution should be taught. The latest standards were adopted in 2007 and treat evolution as a well-established, core scientific concept.  Kansas law requires academic standards to be updated at least once every seven years.


Backers of Multistate Standards Pack KS BOE Meeting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education is hearing strong support for multistate reading and math standards.  Superintendents and teachers testified yesterday (TUE) in favor of standards adopted in 2010 by the board. Known as Common Core, the standards have sparked controversy, particularly among conservative Republican legislators.  But educators filled the board's meeting room to extol the standards as a major step forward in education, saying they emphasize critical thinking skills over rote memorization.  In trying to persuade the board to rethink its approval of the standards, critics are questioning whether they represent a loss of control for the state over its public schools. They also say the standards will be expensive to implement.


Olathe Voters Easily Approve School Bond Package

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Olathe residents gave overwhelming approval to a $244.8 million school bond issue that will be used for new schools and improved school security.  Unofficial results of Tuesday's election showed the issue passed with over 77 percent approval. The Kansas City Star reports that it's the 11th consecutive bond package voters have approved in a district that has been growing for 40 years.  Superintendent Marlin Berry said the district will now buy 80 acres and begin planning for a $114.4 million high school. The district also plans to build its 36th elementary school.  New security measures include tightening access to some of the schools, more indoor and outdoor cameras and more keyless entries for first responders.  The bonds will not require an increase in the school district's property tax levy.


KCK Man Sentenced for Raping Children

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man is going to prison for nearly 20 years for traveling into Missouri to have sex with a child.  The U.S. Attorney's office says 39-year-old Robert Poe III, of Kansas City, Kansas was sentenced yesterday (TUE) in federal court.  Poe pleaded guilty earlier to three counts of crossing state lines to engage in sex with a child.  The charges stemmed from a complaint to Kansas City, Kan., police in November 2000 by the mother of a 7-year-old boy. The mother said Poe was a friend of her boyfriend and sometimes babysat her son.  The child told investigators Poe forced him at gunpoint to perform a sex act. Investigators were also told that Poe and the mother's boyfriend molested the boy and his brother.  


Former High School Coach Pleads to Soliciting Prostitution

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas high school football coach avoided jail time by agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of patronizing a prostitute.  Former Garden Plain football coach and teacher Todd Puetz was given a 30-day suspended sentence after his plea. The plea agreement was approved on Friday.  He was one of seven men arrested in October 2011 who police say used electronic media to try to meet underage girls for sex.  He was acquitted of two charges in April but the jury could not reach a verdict on a third count of electronic solicitation of a child. A retrial on that charge was scheduled to begin June 24 before the plea agreement was reached.


KCK Police Investigate Double Homicide

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas are investigating a double homicide in a basement hallway at an apartment building.  KCTV reports callers reported hearing shots fired shortly before 9am Tuesday at the Suntree Plaza Apartments. Officers found two men dead of apparent gunshot wounds in a hallway leading to a laundry room.  A third man was found wounded in one of the apartments, where two women were taken into custody for questioning. Police say that man was expected to make a full recovery. It wasn't clear if or how he was involved in the fatal shootings downstairs.  Names and ages of the two men who died were being withheld Tuesday afternoon while police notified their families.


State Seeking "Hard 50" Sentence in Seacat Killing

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — A case that riveted the attention of many across the nation has culminated in the conviction of a former Kansas lawman in the death of his wife.  Yesterday (TUE), a jury in Kingman found Brett Seacat guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his 34-year-old wife, Vashti Seacat, in their home just days after she filed for divorce in 2011.  Sentencing was set for August 5. Prosecutors say they intend to seek what they call a "hard 50" sentence, which means Seacat would have no chance for parole for at least 50 years.  Investigators found Vashti Seacat's body among the charred remains of the Kingman house where the couple lived with their two sons, ages 2 and 4.
Brett Seacat is a former police instructor.


Agency: KCC Violated Open Meetings Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state consumer agency is alleging that the Kansas Corporation Commission violated the state's open meeting law when it approved a water rate increase without a public vote.  The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board has filed a complaint over the KCC's decision to allow a private water provider in Salina a total rate increase of $47,231 - a 127 percent increase for customers.  The complaint sent to prosecutors alleges the KCC may have been routinely violating the open meetings law for the last four years by using a practice called "pink sheeting" to make decisions without a public meeting.  The Wichita Eagle reports that  the corporation commission's lawyers said the commission uses pink sheeting to approve orders when it's inconvenient for the three commissioners to get together for a meeting.


University Flags Racy Kansas Merchandise, Sites

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas officials are asking a racy online site to stop selling merchandise with the official school trademark.  The university's official licensing company wrote to the owners of a website called in May ordering them to stop selling merchandise by Wednesday. That site was taken down as of Tuesday by web hosting company Go Daddy. Messages left with Go Daddy seeking an explanation for the action were not immediately returned.  The online store has companion sites on Facebook and Twitter encouraging people to submit photos of women wearing KU or Jayhawk T-shirts showing their chests.  The letter also asks the website's owners how much merchandise with university trademarks they sold so that damages could be assessed.


Autopsy Released on KS Man Found Long after Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An autopsy shows that a man whose body went undiscovered in his Wichita apartment for 12 weeks after a fire died of smoke inhalation.  The Wichita Eagle reports that investigators have ruled out foul play in the death of 65-year-old Louis Cervantes, described by authorities as a "hoarder." The autopsy showed some burns to the head but no other injuries, and no drugs or alcohol in his system.  The fire occurred December 27 and has been ruled accidental. It was confined to an area around a space heater and extension cord.  The cluttered apartment was searched after the fire and again after neighbors reported not seeing Cervantes for weeks. But crews did not find Cervantes' body under several layers of clothing. It was discovered March 12 by workers cleaning the apartment.


Reno County Seeks Exemption from Concealed Carry Law

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County will seek a one-year exemption from a new state law that requires counties to allow concealed handguns in public buildings unless adequate security is installed.
The county commission voted Tuesday to seek the exemption. Commissioners said they hoped during the year that some questions about the new law will be clarified.  The Hutchinson News reports that the county will make a plan for new security measures at the county courthouse. County Administrator Gary Meagher said if the county develops a plan for the courthouse, it could then ask for a four-year exemption from the law.  The law takes effect July 1 but counties that notify the Kansas Attorney General are allowed to exempt themselves until January 1.


Kansas Bio Agency Approves Aid to Companies

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bioscience Authority will spend $750,000 to buy a nearly 4 percent stake in a company that makes biodegradable plastics.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that  the investment in Green Dot Holdings, of Cottonwood Falls, was one of three loans and investments totaling $1.8 million approved Monday by the agency's executive committee.  The Bioscience Authority helps new Kansas companies in the biosciences and life sciences fields. A strategy adopted this spring focuses more on investments that will provide returns than in awarding grants.  Committee members also approved a $700,000 loan to SmartVet USA Inc., of Olathe (oh-LAY'-thuh), to help build a plant that will make medicine capsules for cattle.  An investment of about $300,000 was approved for a third company whose identity remains confidential for now at the firm's request.




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