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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, March 7, 2012



Santorum Says Kansas Voting Important in GOP Race

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says it's important for him to win the GOP caucuses in Kansas as he tries to overcome front-runner Mitt Romney. Santorum had a rally Wednesday afternoon at a commercial printing business in Lenexa. About 200 people attended, sometimes chanting his first name, while several dozen more waited outside. Santorum's visit was a nod to the state's suddenly heavily contested GOP caucuses, which are Saturday. He said he plans to return to Kansas on Friday and his wife, Karen, will visit the state Saturday. Lenexa is located in Johnson County, a GOP stronghold that's home to more than one-fifth of Kansas' registered Republicans. Texas Congressman Ron Paul is planning multiple events Friday in Kansas, but former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday scrubbed his planned Kansas appearances.


Gingrich Cancels Planned Kansas Stops

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) _ Republican presidential Newt Gingrich is scrapping plans to visit Kansas ahead of the state's caucuses, in order to focus his efforts on key Southern states. State Representative Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who is a member of Gingrich's Kansas leadership team, said Wednesday that the former House speaker had decided to cancel stops in the state. Gingrich was to have made stops in Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas ahead of Saturday's GOP caucuses. He was to appear Saturday in Wichita and Hutchinson during the caucuses.
Gingrich won Tuesday's primary in his home state of Georgia, and is now turning his efforts to other upcoming Southern contests.


Kansas Legislators Urge Delay in Medicaid Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bipartisan group of Kansas legislators wants Governor Sam Brownback to delay his proposed changes in the state's Medicaid program until 2013. The lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — are circulating a petition among colleagues. They said Wednesday there are too many unknowns about the Republican administration's plans to move to a managed-care system of health plans for poor and elderly Kansans. The administration wants to award three contracts to manage the program. But the legislators worry the changes will reduce benefits for Medicaid recipients or reimbursements for providers. Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer says delaying the changes would do nothing to slow the state's rising health care costs. Colyer says nearly 75 percent of Kansas Medicaid recipients are already covered by managed-care programs.

Kansas House Panel Named to Review Complaint

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal has named three Republicans and three Democrats to review a complaint filed by legislators against a Wichita Democrat accused of misleading the chamber during floor debate. A group of 26 Republicans filed the complaint against Representative Jim Ward. They allege he intentionally misled legislators about the true meaning of an amendment he made to a property tax bill last month. The potential punishments that the panel could consider include removing Ward from the Legislature. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, named Republican Representatives Clark Shultz of Lindsborg, Joe Patton of Topeka and Lance Kinzer of Olathe to the panel. Democrats named were Representatives Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, Ed Trimmer of Winfield and Mike Slattery of Mission.

House Approves Kansas Happy Hour Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ House members have approved a bill that would reinstate happy hour at Kansas bars, restaurants and clubs. Today's (WED) vote was 80-41, sending the bill to the Senate, which has already approved a similar measure. The intent is to repeal a law that prohibits businesses that sell alcoholic drinks from setting different prices at different times of the day. The ban on happy hour dates to 1985 when legislators worried about increasing alcohol abuse. Legislators are considering more than a dozen liquor bills this year to loosen state laws that dictate who can sell beer, wine and hard liquor and under what conditions. A House committee reviewed a proposal Tuesday that eventually would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine.


Defense Budget Trimming Leads to Cutbacks in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Budget cuts announced by the Department of Defense will cost the Kansas Air National Guard about more than 25 employees. The state's adjutant general, Major General Lee Tafanelli, said the 184th Intelligence Wing in Wichita will lose 23 full-time positions and two part-time positions. Two part-time positions with the 190th Air Refueling Wing in Topeka will also be cut. Tafanelli said in a news release Tuesday that the state had expected to lose some jobs after the budget cuts were announced. The Department of Defense announced earlier this year it would cut $487 billion over the next 10 years. The Kansas National Guard has 5,300 Army Guard members, 2,200 Air Guard members, 36 armories and two air wings.


Kansas Realtors Solicited to Support Governor's Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas Department of Revenue official has sent email from a personal account to friends in the real estate business in effort to build support for Governor Sam Brownback's income tax proposal. Chad Bettes, chief of staff for Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan, sent the email from his personal account to six real estate friends who are also members of the Kansas Association of Realtors. Included in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, was a letter stating why the sender backed the Republican governor's plan, including elimination of the state's home mortgage deduction and favored other tax changes. Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor's spokeswoman, said the communication was part of the effort to reach Brownback supporters on policy proposals.


Bill Would Have Kansas Regulators Oversee Fracking

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Energy and environmental advocates have joined in  an unusual alliance to support a bill that would give state regulators the authority to oversee hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in Kansas. The Kansas Corporation Commission currently regulates the state's oil and gas industry. The proposed bill had a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Utilities Committee. It would specify that the KCC have authority over fracking regulations. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a succession of attorneys general have said the agency does not have the authority to write rules specifically concerning hydraulic fracturing, called "fracking." Currently, the only way to regulate fracking is to have the Legislature pass a law. Representatives from the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association and the Sierra Club testified in favor of the bill.


Kansas Refinery Agrees to Fine and Pollution Controls

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Coffeyville Resources Refining & Marketing has agreed to pay a civil penalty and install new pollution controls and processes to settle alleged environmental violations at its Kansas refinery. The settlement announced Tuesday by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency includes a $970,000 fine. It also requires the Coffeyville refinery to put in $4.25 million in upgraded pollution controls and $6.5 million in operating costs. Regulators say the improvements are designed to benefit the environment and protect the health of residents living near the facility. The agreement includes more stringent emission limits and more aggressive leak detection and repair practices. Environmental regulators say sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted from refineries can cause health problems and contribute to acid rain, smog and haze.

City of Lawrence Approves $100K for Homeless Shelter

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Lawrence city commissioners have approved giving $100,000 to a homeless shelter that supporters say is in a crisis situation. Joe Baker, treasurer of the Lawrence Community Shelter's board, told commissioners Tuesday that the shelter needed $100,000 to avoid being broke for much of in April before receiving more grants. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that commissioners agreed to take the money out of a $300,000 reserve fund that gets its money from the liquor drink tax. Commissioners did not make any commitment for future funding. The shelter successfully raised $1.3 million to buy and renovate a building near the Douglas County Jail in eastern Lawrence to replace its current downtown shelter. That depleted the shelter's reserves, but shelter leaders said will be aggressive in future fundraising to improve finances.

Escaped Inmate Back in Custody

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Wichita police have captured a man who escaped from the Sedgwick County Jail last month. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's office says 33-year-old Sean McKenzie was captured Tuesday during a traffic stop. No other details of the arrest were released. McKenzie walked away from the jail February 26 while and other trustees were taking out trash. He was being held on burglary, theft and drug charges.

Wichita Police Seeking Maker of Homemade Bomb

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Wichita police are searching for suspects after a homemade bomb exploded and sent shrapnel onto the bed of a sleeping 2-year-old. No one was injured in the blast early today (WED) in northwest Wichita. Police say a fire extinguisher filled with black powder exploded at an apartment complex in northwest Wichita. Captain Max Tenbook of the Wichita bomb squad said shrapnel from the blast broke an apartment window and landed on the bed of a sleeping 2-year-old. Officers said the device is similar to one that exploded in downtown Wichita last year.

Kansas Murder Victim Had Helped Suspect Flee

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The daughter of a Kansas commune leader charged in a group member's 2003 death says her father could not have hurt the woman because she had done so much for him. Windy Aleman told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview that  Daniel U. Perez had fled sentencing in a Texas case several years earlier with the help of Patricia Hughes, the woman he is accused of killing.  Police had believed the 26-year-old Hughes drowned while trying to rescue her 2-year-old daugher from a swimming pool at the Valley Center compound where the commune once took up residence. Now, prosecutors must show they have evidence to prove Hughes's death was premeditated murder, perpetrated by the leader of a group that lived off millions of dollars in life insurance payouts from dead members.

High Winds Complicate Firefighting in Areas of Kansas

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ High winds and low humidity added up to difficult conditions for firefighters in parts of Kansas. Two houses went up in flames Tuesday in Hutchinson, where Fire Chief Kim Forbes says winds gusting up to 40 mph complicated firefighting efforts. Forbes said crews planned to remain at the scene of the second fire Tuesday night to monitor the area. In northeastern Kansas, a mile-wide grass fire spread from Jackson County into Brown County on Tuesday afternoon. The cause is unknown. Crews had to battle winds of up to 35 mph to bring that fire under control. Traffic in Wichita was snarled Tuesday afternoon when a grass fire forced police to close a ramp from Kansas 96 to Interstate 235. Wind gusts of nearly 50 mph were recorded in the city.


Wind Fuels Fires in Kansas and Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Wind-blown fires have burned hundreds of acres in several southwestern and southeastern Missouri counties. Smaller isolated fires also were reported in Kansas. The southwest Missouri fire started around noon Tuesday. It covered more than 1,500 acres near Bennett Spring State Park before it was contained early Wednesday.
In the southeastern part of the state, a large forest fire began burning Tuesday afternoon between Wappapello and Greenville. A country dispatcher says hundreds of acres burned in a clear cut section of forest.
In Kansas, wind gusts of nearly 50 mph were reported Tuesday, and most of the state was under a red flag fire warning. Authorities said a two-vehicle collision Tuesday in Wichita ignited a grass fire that needed six fire trucks and their crews to extinguish.

Former Kansas Official to Plead Guilty in Theft Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A former south-central Kansas official accused of stealing trucks and other equipment is now expected to plead guilty next week to federal charges. Forty-nine-year-old Steven Collier, of Nashville, Kansas is the former public works director for Barber County. A docket entry in U.S. District Court in Wichita shows Collier scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Monday. Collier and his wife, Diana Collier, of Medicine Lodge, are charged with theft, interstate transportation of stolen property and sale of stolen property. They're accused of stealing trucks, a bulldozer, a tractor and other items from the Barber County. The thefts occurred while Steven Collier was responsible for road and bridge maintenance and construction projects within the county. Diana Collier's case remains set for trial March 13.


Garden City Advances Plan for Major Retail Center

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A North Carolina developer's plan for a $67 million shopping center in southwestern Kansas has moved another step forward.The Garden City Commission on Tuesday approved a resolution of intent to create a redevelopment district on roughly 61 acres on the eastern side of town. The Garden City Telegram reports that establishing the district is the first step toward creating a tax-increment financing district — a method of paying for infrastructure improvements for the project. Commercial real estate company Collett & Associates, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is proposing to build 400,000 square feet of retail space, to include at least two big-box stores as well as smaller shops and restaurants. City Manager Matt Allen says the retail center would help Garden City attract shoppers, create jobs and bring in revenue.

Dodge City Conditionally Agrees to Help Lobby for Rail Service

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The Dodge City Commission has agreed to contribute up to $20,000 to lobbying efforts to keep an Amtrak rail line running through Kansas. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports the commission voted Tuesday to contribute the money only if other cities along the Southwest Chief passenger line also contribute. The lobbying is aimed at securing federal funding to repair the railroad lines from Chicago to Los Angeles that stops in Dodge City, Garden City, Hutchinson and Newton, along with Lamar and La Junta, Colorado. Amtrak uses BNSF Railway lines. Because of dispute over rail maintenance, Amtrak is considering an alternate route that would go south from Newton through the Texas Panhandle to New Mexico. Garden City and Hutchinson have already committed funds to the lobbying effort.


Kansas Woman Given 15 Years in Husband's Death

MARYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ A Marysville woman has been sentenced to nearly 15 years in prison in the death of her husband. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said 25-year-old Amanda Baynton was sentenced Tuesday for second-degree intentional murder and aggravated assault. Baynton pleaded no contest to the charges in January in the June 2011 death of her husband, 24-year-old Derek Bjorn Baynton. Marysville police have said Derek Baynton died after being shot several times at a home.

Lawrence Woman Sentenced in Ex-Boyfriend's Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A 32-year-old Lawrence woman has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for planning the murder of her ex-boyfriend in Missouri. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Annette Cross pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced for second-degree murder and other charges in the 2009 death of 37-year-old Andrew Day. Howell County, Missouri prosecutors accused Cross of driving her brother, Dale Cross, of Hannibal, to Day's his home outside Mountain View, Missouri. Dale Cross shot Day and they burned down the home, with Day's body inside. Dale Cross was given the same sentence earlier this year. The Crosses' mother, Joann Cross, and Dale Cross's fiancee, Kristin Smith, both of Hannibal, are serving 11-year and 10-year prison sentences respectively after they pleaded to conspiracy for their help buying the gun.


Schools Face Tough Calls with Tornado Outbreaks 

HENRYVILLE, Ind. (AP) _ School officials say tornadoes like the ones that devastated rural communities in Indiana, Kentucky and other states Friday pose unique challenges because they strike suddenly, leaving little time to scramble to safety. Some school officials prefer to dismiss early when there's a warning, saying it lessens the chance of a massive loss of life. But others say they can't do that every time there's a storm since many often don't develop into funnel clouds, and in some communities, school buildings offer the best protection. Students in Henryville, Indiana got lucky Friday. They were already on their buses when tornado sirens went off. The drivers raced them home, and all are safe. Meanwhile, the tornado hit their school, tearing it apart.

Smoky Hills Winery Sold

SALINA, Kan. (AP) _ The Smoky Hills Vineyards and Winery north of Salina has been sold. The Salina Journal reports the owners of the 20-year-old winery declined to say who bought the winery, or discuss any future plans for the land. The winery was sold through an online auction that ended February 29. Real estate agent Curt Marshall says three buyers purchased the 8.73-acre winery and three adjoining tracts about 40 miles north of Salina. Online bidding on the names of the wines, production methods and other intellectual property will end March 16. Norm Jennings and his wife have run the winery since his father, co-founder Steve Jennings, died in a tractor accident in 2005. The couple announced last March they planned to sell the operation to begin a career in lay ministry.


Kansas House Member Faces Complaint over Tax Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democrat in the Kansas House faces an investigation into whether he intentionally misled colleagues during a debate last month on property tax legislation. Twenty-six House Republicans filed a complaint Tuesday with the chamber's chief clerk against Representative Jim Ward, of Wichita. House rules require that a committee be appointed to investigate, but Ward says there was no wrongdoing. The Republicans want the House to consider removing Ward from his seat. The GOP lawmakers contend Ward misled them about an amendment he offered to a bill imposing a cap on local property taxes. Ward says Republicans didn't read the text of his amendment, which provided $45 million to local governments for property tax relief. The House passed the bill with Ward's amendment, but reversed course a few days later.

GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum to Visit Kansas Ahead of Caucuses

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) _ A visit to northeast Kansas from Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum signals that the state's GOP caucuses have become more hotly contested. The former Pennsylvania senator scheduled his event for this (WED) afternoon at Harvest Graphics, a printing and business communications firm in Lenexa. The state's GOP caucuses will be held on Saturday. Another Republican hopeful, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, has scheduled appearances in Wichita, Topeka and Lawrence on Friday.  The Kansas GOP had hoped the state would get such attention when it scheduled the caucuses from the Saturday after Super Tuesday, which featured voting across 10 other states. State GOP officials are also hoping for a visit from front-runner Mitt Romney. 



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