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Your local and regional news for Northeastern Kansas and the surrounding communities, brought to you by the KPR news staff.

Experience at 2008 Final Four Helps KU Prepare for Weekend Game

(photo credit: the Associated Press)

The Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team attended a celebration dinner Thursday night, then held an open practice Friday at the Superdome in New Orleans. That was in addition to participating in more media interviews. So what did Bill Self learn from the Final Four experience in 2008 that's helping him this year? 

 

The Jayhawks will play Ohio State in one of the NCAA national semifinal games Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 7:30. 

 

UPDATE: Mega Millions Jackpot Breaks Global Record at $640 Million

 

UPDATE: CHICAGO (AP) — Across the country, Americans plunked down an estimated $1.5 billion on the longest of long shots: an infinitesimally small chance to win what could end up being the single biggest lottery payout the world has ever seen.  The numbers drawn Friday night in Atlanta were 2-4-23-38-46, Mega Ball 23. Lottery officials have yet to release details about possible winners from Friday night's drawing. 

The Mega Millions jackpot has now reached historic proportions. With no jackpot winner in Tuesday’s drawing, the jackpot for tonight (FRI) is an estimated $640 million.

That's the largest lottery jackpot in world history, surpassing the previous record of $390 million. 

If one ticket matches all six numbers for the mega-jackpot, the winner would have the choice of receiving the full jackpot in 26 annual payments of about $24.6 million, or a cash option of approximately $462 million.  

Kansas Lottery Executive Director Dennis Wilson said, "Tonight’s Mega Millions drawing has created amazing excitement among players across the country and here in Kansas.  Everyone has their eye on the big prize and is thinking about what dreams could come true with $640 million in the bank. Kansas is proud to be one of the 42 states offering a lottery game that is rewriting the history book."  

This jackpot has been growing since January 24 and has now rolled over 18 times without a winner. The odds of winning the jackpot are approximately one in 176 million. The odds of winning any of the Mega Millions prizes are approximately 1 in 40.
 
Mega Millions is played in 44 jurisdictions (42 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands).  Drawings are held Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 p.m. Central Time.


Regional Headlines for Friday, March 30, 2012

 


UPDATE: Kansas Budget Agreement Unravels Just Before Vote 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An agreement among Kansas legislators over a proposed $14.1 billion state budget has unraveled. House negotiators backed away from the compromise spending plan shortly before their chamber was supposed to vote on it Friday. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, then announced that his chamber would not vote before lawmakers adjourned in the evening for their annual spring break. The issue was how to cover $25 million in unexpected costs faced by the state's 286 school districts. The House had proposed diverting money from highway projects, an idea not in Governor Sam Brownback's budget recommendations or approved by the Senate. The budget agreement called for lawmakers to address that issue when they return from their break April 25. But House negotiators wanted senators to reconsider, and senators didn't.

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Kansas Governor Hopeful About Plan for New Arts Group

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is hopeful that legislators will establish a new Creative Industries Commission but says the funding for it must be responsible. Brownback made his comments Friday after House and Senate negotiators agreed on a bill outlining the structure of the new commission. The bill merges the Arts Commission and Film Services Commission, as Brownback has proposed. But lawmakers were considering a proposed state budget that included $700,000 for the new commission for the fiscal year beginning in July. That's $500,000 more than Brownback proposed. Brownback would say only that funding needs to be at a responsible level, without specifying a figure. Brownback has argued that arts programs need to rely more heavily on private dollars. Last year, he vetoed the Arts Commission's entire budget.

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UPDATE: Speaker Says Kansas House Won't Debate Immigration

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Speaker Mike O'Neal doesn't plan to have the Kansas House debate immigration issues this year. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, commented Friday after the House sided with him and blocked debate on an immigration bill. The bill requires companies holding contracts with state or local governments exceeding $5,000 to use the federal E-Verify database to determine whether new employees are in the U.S. legally. The vote was 91-31 against a request from Representative Charlotte O'Hara, an Overland Park Republican, to remove the bill from committee. A proposal to require state agencies -- but not private companies -- to use E-Verify cleared committee Thursday. But O'Neal said he's sure a debate wouldn't be confined to that narrow proposal. Majority Republicans are split, and O'Neal said an immigration debate would be contentious.

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Kansas House Blocks Gambling Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ There won't be a debate in the Kansas House over a bill to modify the state's 2007 gambling laws. Members voted Friday against bringing a bill out of the Federal and State Affairs Committee and forcing debate before the full chamber. The vote was 20 short of the required 70 needed to force the debate. The effort was launched by Representative Bob Grant, a Frontenac Democrat, who along with Representative Doug Gatewood, a Columbus Democrat, have sought to make changes in the law lowering the minimum investment required for constructing a casino in Cherokee or Crawford counties. State law requires the investment to be $225 million, which developers have been unwilling to pay because of the economy and proximity of American Indian casinos just across the Oklahoma border.

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Judge Sides with ACLU in Kansas Abortion Insurance Ruling

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union has won a legal round in its efforts to overturn a Kansas law restricting abortion insurance coverage. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson on Thursday sided with the American Civil Liberties Union in rejecting the state's request to dismiss a key claim over equal protection of the law. The ACLU contends the Kansas law discriminates against women because men can buy full comprehensive coverage for all their health needs, but women need to buy a separate policy to add abortion coverage. It contends the purpose of the law is to inhibit women from getting abortion care. Robinson said the ACLU might be able to show at trial that Kansas imposed an undue burden by creating a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.

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Kansas Jobless Rate Holds Steady in February

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas unemployment levels remained flat in February, with the jobless rate holding steady at 6.1 percent. An economist with the state Department of Labor said Friday the seasonally adjusted rate and overall employment report did not indicate significant change from January. The jobless rate was 6.9 percent in February 2011. The agency said eight of 11 industry sectors reported gains in the past 12 months, with the professional and business services industries adding 11,900 jobs, an 8.2 percent increase. Overall, the economy has added 21,300 private sector jobs. Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee said the February numbers alone suggest a "lukewarm" labor market. But she says the growth over the past year has been healthy. Initial unemployment claims were down in February, as were continuing benefit claims.

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$325M Westar Project Enters Critical Stage 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Westar Energy has temporarily shut down a unit that generates more than half of the Lawrence Energy Center's power to make environmental upgrades. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the work is part of a $325 million effort that started in 2009 to reduce the amount of pollutants coming from the plant. This spring, the utility entered into the heart of the work at Unit 5, which typically generates 64 percent of the plant's 585 megawatts of electricity. Crews are working to complete the construction before Westar heads into the demanding summer season. Work on the pollution upgrades is expected to wrap up in 2013. The project is designed to reduce the fine particle, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions coming from two of the plant's three coal-burning units.

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Topeka Man Faces June Hearing in Girl's Killing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge will decide this summer whether there is enough evidence to try a 28-year-old Topeka man in the sexual assault and killing of an 8-year-old neighbor girl. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the preliminary hearing for Billy Frank Davis Jr. is set for June 12 and 13. Davis faces a host of charges, including capital murder, in the March 13 killing of Ahliyah Irvin. The capital murder charge could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Family said Ahliyah was sleeping when she was snatched from her apartment. Her body was found after a brief search of her housing complex. Later that day, Davis was found hiding in a creek bed. Davis is jailed on a $10 million bond. His attorney's office has declined to comment.

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K-State Student Hits Police Car; Accused of Drunken Driving 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas State University student has been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after hitting a police car and another vehicle. The Manhattan Mercury reported that the crashes happened early Thursday. Lieutenant Josh Kyle says an officer saw the 24-year-old suspect drive into a yard. The officer was on foot and attempted to stop the driver. Instead, the officer said the suspect drove through more yards and hit a parked vehicle. Kyle said the officer radioed for back up. The suspect's vehicle eventually failed to stop at an intersection and struck a marked Riley County Police Department vehicle. The officer inside the police car and the suspected drunken driver were treated at a Manhattan hospital and released.

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University of Kentucky Freshman Named AP Player of the Year; KU Player Comes in Second

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis is The Associated Press' college basketball Player of the Year, the first Kentucky player and second freshman to win the award. He received 43 votes Friday from the 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Balloting was done before the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-10 player from Chicago is the Southeastern Conference's Player, Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.6 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent. His block total is a school record and third best for a freshman. Thomas Robinson of the University of Kansas was second with 20 votes, and Draymond Green of Michigan State received the other two votes. Jimmer Fredette of BYU won the award last season.

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Controlled Burn Planned As Part of Nature Project Near Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A few employees at Alcoa Aerospace Center in Hutchinson were hoping to conduct a controlled burn north of the plant to help establish an area of native grass and wildflowers. The Hutchinson News reports that wind would determine whether the burn happens. Production manager Roger Regehr says the idea is to make the field more colorful and nice to look at for people using a quarter-mile gravel walking path. Production at the plant has significantly increased over the past year. Company officials have established several sustainability goals, including completely eliminating waste it sends to the local landfill. Regehr says the controlled burn is necessary to allow flowers in the field to better develop. He says he plans to do a similar project around his home near Inman.

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Soldier Suspected in Afghan Killings to Undergo Psychiatric Exam

SEATTLE (AP) — The attorney for the soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians says the military is planning to conduct a comprehensive mental health evaluation of his client. John Henry Browne says at a Friday news conference that officials would likely travel to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth to conduct the assessment of his client, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Browne says the military initiated the evaluation and that it will take place within the next two months. He says it will likely delay the overall legal process involving Bales. Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. The military says he left his base in southern Afghanistan and went on a shooting rampage through two villages on March 11.

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Wichita Man Hospitalized after Lightning Strike

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 64-year-old Wichita man has survived being struck by lightning. The Wichita Eagle reported that the man was taken to an area hospital for what are described as non-life-threatening injuries. Dispatchers received the call about the lighting strike at 9:26 pm Thursday. The National Weather Service says the odds of being struck by lightning in a person's lifetime are one in 10,000. Over the last 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 55 reported lightning fatalities per year. The National Weather Service said that only about 10 percent of people who are struck by lightning are killed.

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Wrong-Way Crash in Kansas Kills California Man

LOUISBURG, Kan. (AP) _ A California man has died after a car he was driving was hit by a vehicle going the wrong way on a divided highway in northeastern Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol identifies the victim as 57-year-old Scott Klein of San Clemente, California. The crash happened around 5:30 am Thursday on U.S. 69 in Miami County, just west of Louisburg, Kansas. The patrol says a van driven by a 45-year-old woman from Drexel, Missouri was heading northbound in the southbound lanes when it hit the car driven by Klein. Troopers said the van crossed a grass median and traveled more than a mile in the wrong direction before the crash. Other motorists had called 911 reporting a minivan driving erratically, but the crash occurred before officers could locate the van. The van's driver had serious injuries.

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Trial Begins in Kansas Teen Cheerleader's Death

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) _ Prosecutors have begun laying out their case against a Kansas man accused of killing a 14-year-old cheerleader. But his attorneys claim the case is built on circumstantial evidence. Opening statements Thursday in the trial of 38-year-old Adam Longoria offered jurors conflicting views of the strength of the capital murder case. The Great Bend man faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. Prosecutors told jurors Longoria asked several friends to lie about his whereabouts that night. The cited DNA evidence in his vehicle. His tennis shoes tested positive for gasoline. But the defense tried to cast doubt among jurors by telling them the state's case is not as strong as prosecutors want the jury to think.

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Former Koch Lobbyist Leads Anti-Obama Ad Campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An outside group is blaming higher gasoline prices on President Barack Obama's energy policies, airing $3.6 million in ads in eight key states. The ads attack Obama's recent decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada. The ads aired by the American Energy Alliance seek to undercut Obama's message that he has increased oil drilling and pushed for renewable energy sources. The ads are running in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan. The organization's president is a former lobbyist for Kansas-based Koch Industries, an industrial firm whose top executives, Charles and David Koch, have been prominent supporters of conservative causes. Democrats say the organization is a "front group for big oil."

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94-Year-Old Salina Flower Shop Worker Honored

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A 94-year-old Salina flower shop worker is being honored as the oldest still-working Kansan. The Salina Journal reported that George Aden is sure there's a worker who is older than him. But not according to the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Older Kansans Employment Program. They've checked the ledgers, and say he's it. Besides working two days a week at Designs by Cunningham, the retired bookkeeper volunteers at his church and spends time with friends at the Salina Senior Center. Aden says he loves his job and calls the flower shop "a relaxing place." When he decided at the age of 85 that he was done delivering flowers, his employers switched him to processing flowers. Four years ago he cut back to handling just the roses.

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Kansas Legislators Break Off Talks over Tax Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawmakers won't agree on the final version of tax-cutting legislation until they return in late April from their annual spring break. House and Senate negotiators suspended talks Thursday on working out their chambers' differences on bills reducing individual income taxes and eliminating the income tax for some businesses. They also remain divided on cutting the sales tax. The lead negotiators for both chambers said the talks are complicated because they want a package that doesn't create budget problems. The House and Senate have approved different versions of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for cutting income taxes. Lawmakers are set to adjourn Friday and return April 25th to wrap up the year's business.

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Kansas Lawmakers to Vote on $14.1B Compromise Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators are preparing to consider a compromise $14.1 billion state budget drafted by negotiators for the House and Senate. The House was scheduled to vote first on the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Senate planned to take it up before lawmakers adjourned for their annual spring break. Three senators and three House members wrapped up their talks Thursday evening. However, negotiators left some decisions for a budget cleanup bill they'll consider later, such as longevity bonuses for state employees. Lawmakers return April 25 to wrap up the year's business. The measure includes nearly $13 million in spending on social services included by the Senate but not the House. But the budget is likely to cut overall spending about 4 percent.

**this story is being updated throughout the day. Please see above. 

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Kansas Lawmakers to Vote on $14.1B Compromise Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A compromise $14.1 billion state budget before the Kansas Legislature could set up another confrontation with Governor Sam Brownback over arts funding. The House was to scheduled to vote first on the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Senate plans to take up the issue later in the day. The measure, drafted by House and Senate negotiators, includes $700,000 for a new Creative Industries Commission, which would merge the existing Kansas Arts Commission and the Film Services Commission. Brownback proposed the merger but recommended only $200,000 in funding. The governor has argued that arts programs need to rely more heavily on private dollars. Last year, he vetoed the Arts Commission's entire budget, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate funding for the arts. 

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

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Kansas House to Vote on Possible Debate of Immigration Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas House members face a decision on debating proposals for cracking down on illegal immigration. The House was set to vote Friday on a request from Representative Charlotte O'Hara, an Overland Park Republican, to remove an immigration bill from committee and debate it. She needed support from 70 of the House's 125 members. The bill would require companies holding contracts with state or local government agencies worth more than $5,000 to use the federal E-Verify database to determine whether new employees are in the U.S. legally. A proposal to require state agencies -- but not private companies -- to use E-Verify cleared committee Thursday, but its future is uncertain. House GOP leaders have said they don't want to debate immigration this year because majority Republicans are split on the issue.

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

Different Circumstances Distinguish KU/OSU Rematch

When the Kansas Jayhawks defeated Ohio State at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, the Buckeyes were without their best basketball player, Jared Sullinger (SULL-in-jer).  He didn’t play because of back spasms.   But Sullinger is expected to be on the floor tomorrow (SAT) night when the Jayhawks and Buckeyes square-off again -- this time in the second national semifinal game around 7:30.  As KPR's Greg Echlin reports, Sullinger wasn’t the only player hurting in that first game between the two teams.

 

 

Local Projects Unearth Underground Railroad History

Former Joel and Emily Grover Barn, Stonebarn Terrace, Lawrence, Kan., as seen from north side. (Photo by Judy Sweets)One-hundred-and-fifty-years ago, knowing too much about it could land you in jail...or worse. But these days, the Underground Railroad is making appearances all over eastern Kansas. In part two of her two-part series, KPR news intern Justine Greve talked to some of the people researching this hidden history about their efforts to bring it to light.

This Sunday, the Ritchie House in Topeka will host a free screening of Gary Jenkins' documentary "Freedom Seekers." Show times are 1:30 and 4 p.m. The Ritchie House is located at 1118 SE Madison.

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Part 1 - Originally Aired 3/29/12

Tracing the Tracks of the Underground Railroad Through Kansas

Ritchie House (Photo Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)

The years leading up to the Civil War were full of raids and massacres, as well as tales of compassion and the fight for freedom. All of these elements came together on the Underground Railroad. In part one of a two-part series, KPR news intern Justine Greve went to learn more about the role Kansas played in this secret network north to Canada.

KPR news intern Justine Greve has a degree in history from Baker University and is currently a grad student in American Studies at the University of Kansas. Join us at this time tomorrow for the second part of this two-part series.

 

Jayhawks Prepare for Ohio State while Danny Manning Prepares for Job in Tulsa

As the Kansas Jayhawks prepare for their Final Four game against Ohio State tomorrow (SAT) night, KU's assistant coach - Danny Manning - is preparing for a new coaching job in Oklahoma.  Manning has been selected for the head coaching job at Tulsa University.  As a star player for KU, Manning helped the Jayhawks win the NCAA national championship in 1988.  He's been on the coaching staff of KU head coach Bill Self for the past nine years.KU Assistant Coach Danny Manning (Photo courtesy of KU Athletics)  Tulsa officials are planning an introductory news conference for Manning next week.  Manning's move comes on the heels of Barry Hinson's decision to take over as the head coach at Southern Illinois.  Hinson has been KU's director of basketball operations.  Like Manning, Hinson plans to be with the Jayhawks in New Orleans.  KU coach Bill Self says he's glad the news is out about these departures, because he didn't want any uncertainty lingering through the Final Four weekend.



Meanwhile, Jayhawk fans who won't be at the game in New Orleans this weekend are encouraged to watch the game in the "Phog" Allen Fieldhouse Saturday night.  Doors open at 6pm and the game will begin at approximately 7:45pm.


 

KHI In-Depth Report: Washburn Law Scholar Predicts ACA Will Be Upheld

Washburn University Law Professor William Rich (Photo Courtesy of Washburn University)Many observers expect the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the federal health reform law when it issues a ruling in June. They say that questions asked by the Court's five conservative justices during this week's oral arguments signaled their intention to strike down the law. But in an interview with Jim McLean of the KHI News Service, Washburn University law professor Bill Rich says overturning the law would be a case of judicial activism.

That's Washburn University constitutional law professor Bill Rich. He was interviewed by Jim McLean of the KHI News Service. For more coverage of the challenge to the health reform law, visit the Kansas Health Institute online.

Washburn Law Professor: Overturning National Health Law Would be "Judicial Activism"

 

Many observers of the U.S. Supreme Court are predicting that it will overturn the nation's federal health law.  They’re basing those predictions on questions raised this week by the Court’s conservative justices.  But as Jim McLean of the KHI News Service reports, a Washburn University law professor says the law should be upheld.

 

 

 

 

Regional Headlines for Thursday, March 29, 2012

 



Kansas Legislators Break Off Tax Cut Talks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers won't agree on the final version of tax-cutting legislation until they return in late April from their annual spring break. House and Senate negotiators suspended talks Thursday on working out their chambers' differences on bills reducing individual income taxes and eliminating the income tax for some businesses. They also remain divided on cutting the sales tax. The lead negotiators for both chambers said the talks are complicated because they want a package that doesn't create budget problems. The House and Senate have approved different versions of Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for cutting income taxes. Lawmakers are set to adjourn Friday and return April 25 to wrap up the year's business.

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Kansas House Approves Congressional Redistricting Plan Splitting Topeka 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has passed a redistricting bill splitting Topeka between two congressional districts. But key senators said even before Thursday's vote 81-43 vote in the House that they oppose the measure. The Senate approved its own plan last month, and negotiators for the two chambers must compromise. Topeka currently is in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, and the House's plan would move part of it into the 1st District of western and central Kansas. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, noted that his chamber rejected other plans that kept Topeka in a single district. But Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, called splitting Topeka absurd. And Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said he opposes the idea.

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GOP Deflects Attack on Kansas Governor's Medicaid Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans who support GOP Governor Sam Brownback's overhaul of the Kansas Medicaid program have brushed aside an attack on his efforts in the state House. The House voted 69-54 Thursday to send back to its Appropriations Committee a bill creating a legislative oversight panel on Medicaid. The $2.9 billion-a-year program covers health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. Brownback's administration plans to issue contracts this summer to three private companies to manage the Medicaid program. Supporters argue the overhaul will lead to better coordination of care and save money. The House's move cut off debate and blocked a vote on a proposal from Democratic Representative Jim Ward, of Wichita, to exempt developmentally disabled Kansans from the Medicaid overhaul. Critics, including some Republicans, say the administration is moving too fast.

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UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Religious Freedom Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — House members have approved a bill that aims to put certain guarantees of religious freedoms in Kansas law, codifying current legal precedents. The 91-33 vote Thursday sends the bill to the Senate. Conservative Republicans drafted the bill to protect Kansas residents from laws that they say infringe upon their rights to religious freedom. The bill declares that state and local government policies shall not "substantially burden" people's right to exercise their religious beliefs without showing a compelling interest and imposing the burden in the least restrictive way possible. It also declares that people have the right to sue state and local government agencies if they feel their religious freedoms have been abridged. Critics argue the bill would allow discrimination under the guise of protecting religious beliefs.

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UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Abortion 'Conscience' Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill sought by abortion opponents in Kansas that also could limit access to birth control has now cleared the state House. The House voted 95-29 on Thursday to approve the measure, which is designed to give health care providers greater legal protections if they refuse to have any involvement in abortions. The bill now goes to the Senate. Kansas already has laws that say no person or hospital can be forced to participate in abortions or sterilizations. This year's measure extends such protections to facilities other than hospitals and says providers couldn't be required to refer patients for abortions or dispense abortion-inducing drugs. The anti-abortion group Kansans for Life acknowledges the bill protects doctors or pharmacists who refuse to provide birth control if they reasonably believe it terminates pregnancies.

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UPDATE: House Approves Bill Creating Prayer & Meditation Room 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have approved a bill creating a prayer room at the Statehouse. The 107-17 vote Thursday sent the measure to the Senate. During a debate Wednesday, supporters said other states, including Florida and Arizona, and Congress have set aside space at the state capitol for prayer. The bill does not list a location within the Statehouse for the prayer room. House Majority Leader Representative Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, originally sought to create an all-faiths chapel. But he and other supporters said the Prayer and Meditation Room would contain no religious symbols, and religious materials would not be kept there permanently. Also, the room would be set up using private donated funds, and donors' names would be kept confidential.

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Governor Brownback Signs Bills Repealing Old Kansas Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed his first batch of bills repealing a number of Kansas laws identified by his administration as outdated. The four bills signed Thursday were the first group to make it to the Republican governor's desk out of 51 individual statutes recommended for removal. He was joined by Secretary of Administration Dennis Taylor, who has been assigned to identify specific items for repeal. Brownback created the repeal office within Taylor's agency in 2011, saying there was a need for the state to identify and remove statutes and regulation that were unnecessary and viewed as an impediment to government efficiency. The governor said Thursday the changes would streamline licensing and application processes so the state can focus on growing business and families.

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Kansas Legislators Continue Negotiating Tax Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ House and Senate negotiators are continuing their discussions on measures to reduce Kansas tax rates. Three senators and three House members scheduled meetings throughout the day today (THU) as they try to find a compromise between tax-cut measures approved by each chamber. Both proposals are loosely based on recommendations from Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The governor is pushing legislators to cut taxes this year, saying the move would stimulate the Kansas economy. Both chambers' bills would cut income taxes for individuals and some businesses. But they differ on how to treat a raft of tax credits and exemptions. Legislators are also discussing what to do with the state sales tax rate, currently at 6.3 percent.

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KS House to Vote on Congressional Redistricting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders are hoping the Kansas House approves a congressional redistricting bill after a previous measure failed. The bill up for a final vote Thursday splits Topeka between two congressional districts. The entire city currently is in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, and the bill would move part of it into the 1st District of western and central Kansas. Topeka-area legislators oppose the bill, arguing it's not necessary to divide the city to even out the populations of the state's four U-S House districts. But last week, the House rejected a proposal to keep all of Topeka in the 2nd District while dramatically redrawing district lines in south-central and southeast Kansas.The Senate has passed a different plan, and the two chambers would have to agree on a compromise.

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UPDATE: Brownback Says Beef Additive Concerns Unwarranted

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says the controversy over what the beef industry calls finely textured lean beef "is unmerited and unwarranted." Speaking to reporters Thursday in Topeka, the Republican governor and former Kansas agriculture secretary said the substance, called "pink slime" by its detractors, has been used by the meat industry for decades and its use in beef products is safe. Beef Products Incorporated is the main producer of the cheap lean beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. It has drawn extra scrutiny because of concerns about the ammonium hydroxide it treats meat with to slightly change the acidity of the beef and kill bacteria. Brownback will be touring a beef plant in Nebraska along with Texas Governor Rick Perry and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to see how the product is made.

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SE Kansas Democrat Renews Push to Lower Corporations' Required Casino Buy-In 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A southeastern Kansas Democrat is renewing his effort to pull a bill that would modify the state's gambling laws to the floor for a debate before the 2012 session ends. Representative Bob Grant of Frontenac made a motion Thursday to pull a bill he and fellow Democrat sponsored out of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. A similar effort was defeated earlier in the week. Grant wants the chamber to consider the measure, which would change the investment threshold for constructing a state-owned casino in either Cherokee or Crawford counties. Voters there have approved allowing for a casino but no developer has been willing to make the required $225 million initial investment. The bill would lower the investment to $100 million.

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Beef Plant Closure to Affect Western Kansas Students

HOLCOMB, Kan. (AP) — About 220 western Kansas students have parents who work at a now-shuttered processing plant that had produced a beef product known by its critics as "pink slime." The Garden City Telegram reported that the number of affected students comes from administrators in the Garden City and Holcomb school districts. Officials at Beef Products Incorporated announced Monday that production had stopped at its Holcomb plant, along with production facilities in Amarillo, Texas and Waterloo, Iowa. The plants produce what's known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," but is referred to as "pink slime" by those seeking to have it banned. The suspension of operations at the Holcomb plant has caused a loss of 236 local jobs. Employees will receive full salary and benefits until May 25. It's unclear whether the closings will be permanent.

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Hundreds Turn Out for KU Final Four Sendoff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 500 people turned up at Forbes Field to cheer on members of the University of Kansas men's basketball team as they prepared to leave for the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the crowd Wednesday chanted and waved flags and handmade signs as the team walked through the airport. Fans also reached out for autographs and high fives as the team made its way to the back of the airport through a path kept clear by yellow rope. Among the loudest of cheers came when KU's Jeff Withey entered the airport. He said the team was grateful for the fans who came out to support them.

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UPDATE: Jury Seated in Trial of Man Accused of Killing Kansas Cheerleader

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) _ A jury has been seated in the trial of a Kansas man accused of killing a 14-year-old cheerleader and burning her body at an asphalt plant. Opening statements are planned for Thursday afternoon in the trial of 38-year-old Adam Longoria. The Great Bend man faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. He also is charged with vehicle burglary and theft. To convict him of capital murder, prosecutors must also prove aggravating circumstances such as sodomy or attempted rape when Alicia was killed. The state is not seeking the death penalty. Prosecutors say Longoria was obsessed with Alicia. She was killed the weekend before she was to start her freshman year of high school.

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Ex-Kansas Prosecutor Convicted of Meth Charges

COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) _ A former assistant prosecutor in southeastern Kansas has been convicted of methamphetamine-related charges stemming from a search of his former Galena law office. A Cherokee County jury found 47-year-old Jeffrey Pittman of Carterville, Missouri guilty of conspiracy to possess meth and to traffic contraband into a correctional institution. Pittman was stopped in Galena for a defective brake light in June 2009 and arrested on an Oklahoma warrant for possessing meth ingredients. Authorities said a search of his former law office in Galena turned up meth ingredients, items used to make the illegal drug and drug paraphernalia. Pittman was assistant Cherokee County attorney from March 2001 to February 2002.

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Drought Affecting Kansas Aquifers

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ The lack of rainfall in Kansas in 2011 led to intense declines in groundwater levels around the state. The Ogallala Aquifer in southwest Kansas usually sees annual declines, but its decline in 2011 was one of the worst in decades. Officials with the Kansas Geological Survey said the aquifer there dropped an average 3.78 feet in 2011. That's compared to a drop of about 3 feet in 2010 and 1.39 feet in 2009. Much of Kansas received 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation last year. In central and south-central Kansas where groundwater levels usually show gains or only modest declines, the water table in the Equus Beds decreased an average 3.17 feet, and Big Bend district No. 5 dropped an average 3 feet.

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Lawyer: Afghan Massacre Suspect Depressed Following Service in Iraq

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ An attorney for the U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians says his client suffered a traumatic incident in Iraq that triggered tremendous depression and anxiety. Lawyer John Henry Browne says that he cannot discuss the details of the matter because it remains classified. But he expects the issue to become a focal point in the case against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Browne previously said Bales experienced other major dangers in his deployments, including a serious foot injury and head trauma. He also said a fellow soldier's leg had been blown off days before the Afghanistan massacre. Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes, and he is being held at a U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth.

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KU's Danny Manning to Take Head Coach Position at Tulsa

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Danny Manning, the University of Kansas assistant coach and former star for the Jayhawks, has agreed to coach the University of Tulsa men's basketball team. Tulsa announced the hire on Thursday. The 45-year-old Manning is in New Orleans, where KU will play Ohio State in the NCAA tournament semifinals on Saturday night. He won't join the Golden Hurricane until next week. Manning has spent nine years on the KU men's basketball staff and has been a full-time assistant since 2007. He won national championships as a player (1988) and assistant (2008). The school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder takes over for Doug Wojcik, who was fired by Tulsa after failing to make the NCAA tournament in six seasons.

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Communities Selected for Workplace Wellness Program

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Ten Kansas communities have been selected to be champions for workplace wellness. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the participating communities are Lawrence, Beloit, Clifton, Coffeyville, Great Bend, Independence, McPherson, Clearwater, Newton and Wellington. They are benefiting from a new three-year state initiative called WorkWell KS. The effort is funded with a $700,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation and administered by the Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care. In each community, at least seven businesses will complete an in-depth assessment of their wellness efforts. Then, leaders will be sent to training sessions on how to develop or strengthen wellness programs. Ideas for improving workplace wellness include health fairs and assessments, educational programs and walk-in medical clinics.

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Kansas Motorcyclist Injured in Collision with Buffalo

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — A collision between a motorcycle and a buffalo has landed a southeastern Kansas man in the hospital with serious injuries. Montgomery County sheriff's Deputy Kyle Hand told The Independence Daily Reporter the collision happened around 4:25 am Thursday on a county road southwest of the city. The deputy says a 49-year-old Independence man was riding his motorcycle when he ran into a buffalo that was in the roadway. The man was airlifted to Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Missouri for surgery. Sheriff Robert Dierks told the newspaper the man was in critical condition Thursday afternoon.

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Wichita Man Sentenced on Child Porn Charges

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita man has been sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for possessing child pornography. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Wednesday that Kenneth Cheatum was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison after pleading guilty earlier to one count of possession of child pornography. The Wichita Eagle reports that Cheatum admitted accessing a website to download child pornography, most recently in March 2010.0

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KC School Board Agrees to Property Sales 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City School Board has agreed to sell two more of its 30 vacant properties. The board Wednesday agreed to sell Douglass School and Seven Oaks School. The district's list of unused schools grew in June 2010 after a massive consolidation effort. The Kansas City Star reports that the agreements Wednesday are part of a recent rush of activity as the district works to find new uses for the vacant properties. An earlier sale of another property was finalized Friday. The district's repurposing office last week began public presentations where potential buyers showed their proposals for four other schools. All proposals still have to go back to the district's repurposing office's internal committee, with possibly more public presentations, before they can go to the school board.

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Hallmark Cards Cutting Subsidiary Jobs in Indiana 

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) _ A greeting card company is eliminating 90 jobs in southern Indiana as it moves business operations of a subsidiary to Missouri. The decision by Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards to shift the Sunrise Greetings jobs from Bloomington comes about two years after Hallmark stopped manufacturing work in the city. Hallmark spokeswoman Julie O'Dell tells The Herald-Times that Sunrise employees were told Wednesday about the cost-saving move and that current workers could apply for open Hallmark positions in Kansas City. The relocation will begin in April and be finished this year. Sunrise Greetings was founded in Bloomington in 1974. At its peak in the late 1990s, it employed about 700 people. Hallmark bought Sunrise in 1998 and says it is continuing the Sunrise brand.

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Opening Statements Expected in Kansas Murder Trial 

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys are expected to lay out their cases in the trial of a Kansas man accused of killing a 14-year-old girl and burning her body at the asphalt plant where he worked. Opening statements are set Thursday in the capital murder trial of 38-year-old Adam Longoria. The Great Bend man faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. Prosecutors have portrayed Longoria as obsessed with the girl since meeting her at a party. Jury selection edged closer to completion Wednesday with 44 jurors accepted into the pool after three days of questioning. A panel of 12 jurors and two alternates will be finalized Thursday once attorneys use their rights to dismiss some jury candidates without having to offer a reason.

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

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Governors Urge Consumers to Reconsider "Pink Slime"

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ The main producer of the so-called food additive "pink slime" will have a hard time persuading consumers and grocery stores to accept the product, even if it the processed beef trimmings are as safe as the industry insists. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, along with two other  governors and two lieutenant governors, plan to tour Beef Products Incorporated's plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska this (THUR) afternoon to support the company and the several thousand jobs it creates in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas. Critics call the product an unappetizing example of industrialized food production and have dubbed it "pink slime." But the product, which has been used for years, meets federal food safety standards. Larry Smith, with the Institute for Crisis Management, says he's not sure the company will be able to overcome the public stigma at this point. 

**this story has been updated with comments from Governor Brownback. Please see above.

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Kansas House Advances Religious Freedom Bill to Final Action

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill that supporters say enshrines religious freedom in state statutes has won first-round approval in the Kansas House. The 89-27 vote Wednesday sent the measure to final action, set for Thursday. Conservative Republicans drafted the bill to protect Kansas residents from laws that they say infringe upon their rights to religious freedom. The bill declares that state and local government policies shall not "substantially burden'' people's right to exercise their religious beliefs without showing a compelling interest and imposing the burden in the least restrictive way possible. It also declares that people have the right to sue state and local government agencies if they feel their religious freedoms have been abridged. Critics argue the bill would allow discrimination under the guise of protecting religious beliefs.

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

 

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Kansas House Advances Prayer & Meditation Room Proposal 

The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a bill creating a prayer room at the Statehouse. The House planned to take final action on it Thursday. Approval would send it to the Senate. During a debate Wednesday, supporters said other states, including Florida and Arizona, and Congress have set aside capitol space for prayer. The bill does not list a location within the Statehouse for the prayer room. House Majority Leader Representative Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, originally sought to create an all-faiths chapel. But he and other supporters said the Prayer and Meditation Room would contain no religious symbols, and religious materials would not be kept there permanently. Also, the room would be set up using private donated funds, and donors' names would be kept confidential.

 

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Kansas House Advances Abortion 'Conscience' Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill aimed at giving Kansas health care providers more legal protection if they want to avoid any involvement in abortions is moving toward House passage. The House gave the bill first-round approval Wednesday on a voice vote. A final vote is set for Thursday, and the measure is expected to pass and go to the Senate. Supporters brushed aside criticism that the bill is broad enough to let doctors and pharmacists refuse to provide birth control. Kansas already has a law that says that no one can be forced to participate in an abortion or penalized for refusing. This year's measure says health care providers couldn't be required to refer patients for abortion care or to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs.

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

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