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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Kansas Lawmakers Could Still Be Meeting Next Week

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top leaders of the Kansas Legislature aren't ruling out the possibility that its annual session might extend into next week. In the Senate, leaders of its Republican majority already have scheduled sessions for Saturday and Sunday. In the House, Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell has warned fellow GOP members that it's possible that lawmakers will still be meeting Monday. They're discussing such plans as private negotiations over tax issues between Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita drag out. Lawmakers need to resolve tax issues to finish work on the next state budget and wrap up their business for the year. GOP leaders had promised that lawmakers would be in session 80 days, trimming 10 days off the normal 90-day schedule. But Wednesday was the 82nd day of the session.


UPDATE: Kansas House Republicans Outline New Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in the Kansas House have drafted a new plan for cutting income taxes in hopes of breaking a stalemate on tax issues. The proposal presented during legislative negotiations Wednesday would stabilize the budget by canceling part of a sales tax decrease scheduled to take effect in July. The 6.3 percent sales tax would drop to 6 percent under the new plan. Under current law, it would decline to 5.7 percent. The Senate backed Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan to keep the sales tax at its current rate. The House wanted to allow the full, scheduled decrease. Income tax rates would drop over four years, but not as much as Brownback or senators had wanted and more than the House's less aggressive reductions. Private negotiations among top Republicans had been stalled.


Brownback: Tax Impasse 'Normal' for Session's End

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says an impasse between the Kansas Legislature's top leaders on tax issues is normal as lawmakers near the end of their session. The Republican governor predicted Wednesday that the GOP-dominated Legislature will come to an agreement on cutting income taxes and potentially canceling a scheduled decrease in the state's sales tax to stabilize the budget. But Brownback told The Associated Press that reaching agreement on major issues is typically difficult when it comes time for leaders to sign off on a compromise. Lawmakers had hoped to finish their business this week. Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick have been having private talks with Brownback on tax issues. On Tuesday, they acknowledged they had an impasse. But Brownback said, "This is normal."

Kansas Chief Justice Claims State Senator Linked Budget, Selection Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court's chief justice is accusing a prominent legislator of pressuring district court judges into endorsing a proposed judicial selection change. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss sent a letter Tuesday to district judges. It said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King "suggested a link" between the judicial selection proposal and a favorable outcome on budget issues. Nuss was not at the meeting, but a member of his staff was. King said the accusation is baseless and demanded a public apology. The Independence Republican released an email from a judge at the meeting saying the allegation is unfounded. King is pushing the proposal. It would amend the Kansas Constitution to require Senate confirmation of appellate court members.


UPDATE: New Court Overhaul Plans Surface in Kansas House

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An influential Kansas legislator has outlined three new plans that would overhaul the state's two highest courts. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer unveiled the proposals Wednesday, a day after the Kansas Bar Association's board opposed a plan he supported. That defeated plan would've empowered the state Senate to confirm new members of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. One of Kinser's measures would amend the Kansas Constitution to require the same Senate confirmation. The second measure would decrease the mandatory retirement age for the courts' members from 75 to 65. And the third measure would create a new Court of Criminal Appeals and limit the Supreme Court's jurisdiction. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee agreed to sponsor Kinzer's measures. They are likely to be considered next year.


Kansas National Guard Braces for Furloughs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas National Guard says it will furlough about 1,100 members for up to 11 days because of federal funding shortfalls. Major General Lee Tafanelli, who heads the Kansas National Guard, said the furloughs will affect members whose jobs are federally funded, such as those in administration and logistical support. No furloughs are planned for active-duty and reserve members. The furloughs were ordered by the Defense Department. Tafanelli says they'll start July 8 at the earliest and run through September 30. Those affected will be out of work one day a week, losing 20 percent of their pay. There are approximately 7,500 members of the Kansas Air and Army National Guard.


Kansas Senate Approves $202M NBAF Bond Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas senators have approved a bill authorizing the state to issue an additional $202 million in bonds for a new biodefense lab in Manhattan. The Senate voted 32-8 on Wednesday despite concerns from conservative Republicans that the state couldn't afford the additional investment. Governor Sam Brownback says the bonds will complete the state's financial obligation to the federal government to build the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility at Kansas State University. The lab would research dangerous animal diseases and replace an aging facility on Plum Island, New York. Its projected cost has more than doubled to $1.15 billion since Kansas landed it in 2009. Kansas previously authorized $105 million in bonds for the lab. President Barack Obama's latest budget proposal includes $714 million for the project.


Longtime Royals Broadcaster White Dies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Longtime Kansas City Royals broadcaster Fred White died Wednesday of complications from cancer. He was 76. The Royals were informed of White's passing by his son, Joe. White died in hospice one day after the team announced his retirement after 40 years working for the organization. White was the sports anchor for Topeka's WIBW-TV and broadcast Kansas State athletics before joining the Royals in 1973. He would work with Denny Matthews as their primary broadcasting through the 2008 season, when the team was well into its lengthy decline. Over those 25 years, though, White helped call six division championships, an American League pennant in 1980 and the Royals' only World Series championship in 1985. White also broadcast basketball games for ESPN and other networks. Upon leaving the broadcast booth, he headed up the Royals Radio Network and supervised the Royals Alumni, assisting with clinics, appearances and the team's fantasy camp.


Forecasters: Bad Weather May Be Headed for Nation's Midsection

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Forecasters say portions of the central United States could see severe weather this weekend and Monday. The Storm Prediction Center at Norman, Oklahoma said Wednesday a bout of "fairly substantial" bad weather is possible in Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas on Saturday, from Oklahoma to Iowa on Sunday and from Oklahoma to Illinois on Monday. Storms could become steadily worse through the period — starting with hail and high winds Saturday and evolving into a system with tornadoes possible by Monday in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. The bad weather could extend into Tuesday but forecasters said a longer term storm prediction was not possible yet.

Wichita Fined Nearly $700,000 for Sewage Leak

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The leak from a sewage treatment plant will cost the city of Wichita hundreds of thousands of dollars. The state health department has fined the city nearly $700,000 for the leak last May that dumped partially-treated sewage into the Arkansas River, killing over 800 fish. Wichita public works director Alan King said a gate at the plant failed, which allowed the sewage into the river. He also said two plant employees were fired because of the leak. The city will pay a fine of about $243,000. Another $455,000 will be used to help pay for a study of possible risks at the south Wichita plant. The city plans to spend another $1.5 million to study its other sewer plants.

1 Dead Following Accident at Hiawatha Mill

HIAWATHA, Kan. (AP) — A man is dead after an accident at a mill in northeast Kansas. Police chief John Defore says the man died Tuesday afternoon while working at the Fairview Mills facility in Hiawatha. Defore says the victim became entangled in a piece of machinery commonly known as a "clump buster." KNZA reports the man's name has not been released as the investigation continues.


Kansas Prison Officials Charge Doctor's Killer with Intimidation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prison officials are accusing the convicted killer of abortion provider George Tiller with trying to intimidate the woman who reopened his Wichita clinic. The Kansas Department of Corrections said Tuesday it filed an administrative charge against Scott Roeder under a prison regulation which prohibits threatening or intimidating anyone. The 55-year-old Roeder is serving a life sentence at the prison in Lansing for Tiller's 2009 murder at the physician's church. Prison spokesman Jeremy Barclay says an administrative hearing will be scheduled to determine whether Roeder is guilty. Such offenses can result in segregation, loss of privileges and extra work. The charge stems from a recorded phone call an abortion opponent posted on YouTube in which Roeder says reopening the clinic is almost like putting a target on the clinic director's back.

Shawnee County Trial Delayed for Accused Child Killer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A jury trial for a Topeka man charged with kidnapping and killing an 8-year-old girl has been postponed until next year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Billy Frank Davis Jr. had been scheduled to go on trial October 7. But a Shawnee County judge on Tuesday granted a defense request to postpone the trial. It's now scheduled for March 24, 2014. Davis faces two alternative counts of capital murder in the March 2012 death of 8-year-old Ahliyah Nachelle Irvin. He's also charged with rape, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary. Davis could face the death penalty if he's convicted. Police say he told detectives that he kidnapped and choked the girl during a flashback to his military service in Iraq.

5 Convicted in Kansas City Stock Fraud Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A jury has convicted the founder of a Kansas City, Missouri company and four of his associates of cheating investors by selling millions of dollars of worthless stock and spending the money on themselves. Petro America founder Isreal Owen Hawkins was convicted Wednesday of conspiracy, securities fraud, aggravated currency structuring and other charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison for the most serious charge. Hawkins's co-defendants were each convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud, which could get each up to five years in prison. Prosecutors say Hawkins and his associates sold $7.2 million in Petro America stock from 2008 through 2010, at an initial rate of $100 per 100,000 shares. They told investors the stock would sell for $24 per share when the company eventually went public.


Deal Reached in KC Diocese Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A settlement is reached in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Bishop Robert Finn over a priest's child porn case, hours after a federal judge dismissed one of two civil counts. The suit was filed by a victim who was 2 years old when the Reverend Shawn Ratigan took lewd pictures of her in May 2006. He pleaded guilty in August to a charge of taking pornographic pictures of the girl and awaits sentencing. One of the girl's attorneys, Gregg Meyers in St. Paul, Minnesota, told The Associated Press on Wednesday before it was officially announced that the remaining count was settled late Tuesday afternoon for $600,000. The deal still must be approved by a judge.

Kansas Common Core Critics Voice Concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Critics of the Kansas Board of Education's decision to adopt national standards for math and reading urged the board to reconsider its decision to join the education program. Opponents of the Common Core standards, which were developed by a national consortium, spent nearly two hours criticizing the standards during a hearing Tuesday. Kansas is among 46 states that have adopted the national standards, which set out the academic expectations for students from kindergarten through high school. Kansas adopted the standards in 2010 and school districts have begun implementing them in the classrooms and in teacher training. Critics argue that using the Common Core curriculum is too expensive and turns over local districts' control of education standards to a national consortium. Supporters say the standards will improve academic rigor.


Ex-Doctor to Stay in Jail Until Trial in Gun Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas doctor will stay behind bars until his federal trial on a charge of using a gun to partially pay a bondsman who got him out of jail in a domestic case. A federal magistrate judge ordered Lawrence Simons detained following a hearing Wednesday. Simons was arrested Monday on a federal charge of unlawful possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. The 57-year-old Wichita man was sentenced in January 2010 to two years in prison followed by three years' probation for unlawfully distributing controlled substances. Simons was out on supervised release when he was arrested on charges of making a criminal threat in a domestic case. Prosecutors allege Simons gave a bonding company a pistol as partial payment on the $2,500 it paid to bail him out.

Silent Woman Turns Up in Hutch, Now Jailed

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Texas woman who's been aimlessly roaming Hutchinson for several weeks, refusing to talk and rebuffing offers of help, now at least has shelter at the county jail after being arrested for criminal trespass. Police Sergeant Eric Buller told The Hutchinson News police have identified her as 52-year-old Theresa M. Thomas of Dallas. He says she arrived in the south-central Kansas city a month ago on a bus. She communicates only with an occasional note and has been "walking around like she was lost." Buller says the woman has taken a vow of silence and has turned down all offers of help. She's in the Reno County jail after being arrested Monday for trespassing. The judge entered a not guilty plea for her after she refused to answer questions.

Federal Reserve: Farm Income Weaker in 1Q

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Reserve says farm income growth slowed across the Plains and western states in the first quarter as costs increased and a drought lingered. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, said Wednesday that the growth in farm income has slowed this year because farmers and ranchers are dealing with higher costs. Bankers expect farm income to weaken further in the region over during the second quarter. But land values continued to increase in the first quarter on top of several years of significant growth. Cropland values rose 20 percent over 2012, and ranchland values grew 14 percent. The 10th Federal Reserve District covers Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri.

Ellis County Voters Approve New Tax Hike

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Ellis County voters easily approved a half-cent sales tax increase to improve county buildings. The Hays Daily News reports the issue was approved Tuesday with 82 percent of the vote, 2,603 to 569. The increased revenue will help pay for a $14.3 million building for the county's EMS and rural fire trucks. It will also pay to expand and renovate the county jail, law enforcement center and courthouse. The sales tax will take effect no sooner than October 1. It is scheduled to end in five years or when the project is paid off, whichever comes sooner.

$1 Million Gift to KU for Geology Professorship

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The widow of a man who became a successful geologist has donated $1 million to the University of Kansas. The university announced the gift Tuesday from Kathleen Hall of Lecompton. She and her husband, Hubert Hall, both earned bachelor's degrees from Kansas in 1949. She says several other members of Hubert Hall's family attended the university. The gift will establish the Hubert H. and Kathleen M. Hall Professorship in Geology. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the position is  intended for a mid-career faculty member or an incoming professor. Hub Hall worked for Standard Oil, now ExxonMobil, and led the company's exploration around the world. He and his wife retired to Kansas in 1986, and he died in 2010. The Halls have made several other donations to the university.


Koch Nitrogen to Build Plant in Oklahoma

ENID, Okla. (AP) — Kansas-based Koch Industries has announced plans to build a new fertilizer plant at its Koch Nitrogen facility in Enid, Oklahoma. Koch said in a news release Wednesday that it will invest $1 billion and increase fertilizer production at the facility by more than 1 million tons per year. The company says construction is expected to begin during the fourth quarter of 2014 and the plant is to be operational in 2016. Koch estimates the project will create 500 to 800 construction jobs and the company says it expects to hire 20 to 30 new employees for the plant.


Kansas, Armenia Tout Continued Ties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas adjutant general and top officials with the Armenian Ministry of Defense say a 10-year relationship between the state and the former Soviet republic has yielded benefits for both groups. Delegations from Kansas and Armenia have worked since 2003 to forge ties within their military, government, business and legal communities. Sergey Abrahamyan, a defense ministry official from Armenia, said Wednesday his central Asian country has learned a lot from Kansas that it is using in its new democracy. His visit this week was a follow up to a recent delegation visit to view the American legal system. Previous Kansas delegations to Armenia have helped establish a noncommissioned officer program in the military and emergency medical services.

Wichita: Good Place to Be a Mail Carrier

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Postal Service says Los Angeles was the worst city in America for dog attacks on letter carriers last year, and it urged pet owners to help reduce the attacks. The agency on Wednesday released its city rankings ahead of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, which starts Monday. The Postal Service said nearly 5,900 postal workers were attacked last year, a tiny portion of the 4.7 million Americans bitten by dogs annually. Los Angeles was the worst with 69 attacks, followed by San Antonio with 42 and Chicago with 41. The city with the least attacks was Wichita, with 20. If letter carriers feel threatened by a dog, they can skip delivery to the house and ask the customer to retrieve any mail at the post office instead.

Small Kansas Town Ready for Big Rodeo Weekend

ABBYVILLE, Kan. (AP) — The small central Kansas town of Abbyville is ready for its annual influx of cowboys. The 51st annual Abbyville rodeo is scheduled for this weekend. It draws thousands of contestants and spectators to the Reno County town of 87 residents. The Hutchinson News reports that Abbyville Frontier Days also includes good food, music, a parade and a cowboy church service on Sunday. Events begin Thursday, with the first rodeo competition on Friday evening.


KC Couple Charged with Locking Girl in Basement

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City couple has been charged with keeping a 9-year-old girl in a filthy basement and allowing her to go to the bathroom only outdoors. Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutors announced Wednesday that the girl's 30-year-old father and his 27-year-old live-in girlfriend each face one count of abuse or neglect of a child, child endangerment and felonious restraint. Court records say authorities were called after a school nurse became concerned. The parents told authorities that the girl had slept in the basement since February and was locked there during the day as punishment for a recent school suspension. Deputies said that sewage was leaking into the basement and that the girl slept on a deflated air mattress. The couple said the girl stayed down there because she lacks bladder control.


KC Teen Sentenced for Attack on Elderly Couple

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man has been sentenced to life in prison for raping an 84-year-old woman during a break-in at the home she shared with her 93-year-old husband. The sentence imposed Wednesday on 19-year-old Tony Putman also includes a total of 10 years for kidnapping and robbery. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor says in all, Putman is expected to spend more than 34 years behind bars. Putman pleaded guilty in March to charges linked to the July 2012 attack. The woman told police she came home from running errands, heard her husband moaning and confronted an intruder who demanded money. The woman gave the intruder $400, after which he raped her and drove off in the couple's vehicle with some jewelry. Putman was arrested about 30 minutes later.

Convicted Sex Offender Accused of Coaching Youth

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A northwest Missouri man who is a convicted sex offender faces new charges after allegedly coaching a youth basketball team. Forty-six-year-old Darin Lance Mason of Lake Waukomis pleaded not guilty Tuesday to violating a state law that prohibits sex offenders from coaching, managing or training sports teams with members younger than 17. Mason pleaded guilty in 2001 in Platte County to second-degree statutory rape and second-degree statutory sodomy for having sex with a 15-year-old player on his girls basketball team at Oak Park High School. In the new case, Mason is charged with coaching the KC Pumas sixth- and seventh-grade boys team on March 15 during a tournament in Clay County.

KU Lures Top Prospect Andrew Wiggins to Allen Fieldhouse

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The nation's top basketball recruit is headed to the University of Kansas, and expectations at the perennial contender are soaring once again. The Jayhawks are losing all five starters from last year's team, which won its ninth straight Big 12 title. But the news Tuesday that Andrew Wiggins would be attending Kansas suddenly makes the Jayhawks the team to beat once again. Wiggins joins a recruiting class that was already ranked number 2 nationally by most recruiting services, and which includes five-star prospects Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid. A 6-foot-7 forward from Huntington Prep in West Virginia, Wiggins has been called the next LeBron James, though coach Bill Self said he reminds him more of Tracy McGrady. Either way, he should be enough to make the Jayhawks title contenders once again.

Kansas GOP Lawmakers Issue Dueling Invitations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in the Kansas House and Senate have issued dueling invitations for joint meetings to air their differences on budget and tax issues. House Republicans said Wednesday that they were planning to caucus on tax and budget issues and invited GOP senators. The announcement didn't set a time. Senate Republican leaders said their lawmakers couldn't make a meeting Wednesday and invited House Republicans to a Senate GOP caucus Thursday morning. Republicans and Democrats in each chamber meet separately nearly every day to discuss bills that will be considered by the House or Senate. But a joint meeting of Republicans or Democrats from both chambers is uncommon. The invitations came a day after House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle acknowledged an impasse in private negotiations over tax issues.

**this story has been updated. Please see above.

Kansas House Panel Endorses Judicial Overhaul

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has endorsed three measures that would give the governor more power in appointing judges, force judges to retire earlier and diminish the authority of the Kansas Supreme Court. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved the measures from Representative Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican. Kinzer says his proposals include a state constitutional amendment to adopt the federal system of judicial appointments with the governor nominating and the Senate confirming those appointments. Another bill would reduce the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 65 for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The third bill would create a new Kansas Court of Criminal Appeals that would handle all criminal cases now under jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

**this story has been updated and re-written for more clarity by the Associated Press. Please see above. 


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