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Regional Headlines for Friday, June 29, 2012

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has urged a large crowd at the Kansas Statehouse to work to overturn a federal government policy designed to ensure that most employers' health plans cover contraception. Brownback joined the state's Roman Catholic bishops Friday in criticizing the policy as an attack on religious freedom. Several thousand people attended. The rally is part of a nationwide campaign prompted by the mandate announced by President Barack Obama earlier this year.The mandate included a religious exemption for houses of worship but not religiously affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and social service agencies. Obama later announced a modification, but Catholic bishops nationwide viewed it as inadequate. U.S.Senator Jerry Moran had been scheduled to speak but was detained in Washington by Senate business.

Judge Issues Injunction to Stop Kansas from Cutting Family Planning Funds

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has again barred Kansas from stripping federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood clinics in Wichita and Hays as well as an unaffiliated clinic in Dodge City. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten on Friday extended his preliminary injunction first issued a year ago. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and the Dodge City Family Planning Clinic sought the extension after the Legislature this year re-enacted restrictions on family planning funding. The dispute stems from a Kansas law requiring the state to first allocate some federal family planning money to public health departments and hospitals, which leaves no funds for specialty clinics. The move expedites the dispute so the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will have the 2011 and 2012 statutes before it when it rules.


Kansas to Withhold Final Payment on DMV Software Until Glitches Fixed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ State revenue officials say Kansas will not pay the final 10 percent of its contract for a new $40 million motor vehicle system until problems are fixed. The Kansas Department of Revenue notified the 3M Company Thursday that it needs to improve the new software, which has caused long lines and frustration at motor vehicle offices across the state since it was installed seven weeks ago. Donna Shelite, the state director of vehicles, told the Shawnee County Commission that as many as 73,000 records didn't convert correctly to the new system. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Shelite told the commission that Kansas officials have asked 3M to address the system's response times, availability, bugs and maintenance.


State Extends Grace Period for Expired Car Tags

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Continuing problems with the state's new vehicle registration system prompted the state to extend a grace period for some Kansas drivers with expired motor vehicle tags. The Kansas Department of Revenue announced Friday that the grace period will now end July 13. It will apply to those with last names starting in H or I, or vehicles with 30-day temporary tags that expire Saturday. The revenue department says most county motor vehicle offices are no longer experiences backlogs and long lines that began when the state installed the new system in May. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan says in a news release that a widespread slowdown occurred Friday, reducing the number of transactions employees could process. Law enforcement officers will use their discretion in applying the grace period in their counties.

USDA Secretary Presses House on Farm Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is pressing the Republican-led House to vote on a long-term farm policy bill. He says in an Associated Press interview that failure to act on the measure could leave livestock producers exposed to disasters and other farmers uncertain about the future. Vilsack dismisses apparent concerns among House GOP leaders that the half-trillion-dollar farm and food bill could lead to an election-year rebellion among conservatives. He says a bipartisan bill would pass. The Senate last week voted 64-35 to pass a five-year bill. The legislation ends direct payments to farmers regardless of whether they plant crops and sets up new crop support programs. It also reduces the federal deficit by $23 billion over the next 10 years.


Kansas Not Among Latest NCLB Waiver Recipients

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas isn't among the latest five states granted relief from a No Child Left Behind requirement that all students test proficient in math and science by 2014. Federal officials said Friday that they are continuing to review Kansas's application and those of 12 other states. Kansas education department administrator Judi Miller told the state Board of Education earlier this month that federal officials have approved parts of the state's application. One sticking point has been a plan to allow Kansas schools the option of showing progress through an index that awards points for pushing students to a higher level on a five-part scale. Federal officials fear it could mask problems. The waivers are considered a stopgap measure until Congress acts to update the decade-old law.


Kansas Farmers Increase Crop Acreage

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas farmers planted 20.4 million acres this season to their four major crops of wheat, sorghum, corn and soybeans. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service said Friday that acreage is up slightly from the previous year. Almost half of it, or about 9.6 million acres, went into winter wheat. But growers this spring put in 4.7 million acres of corn. That is down about 4 percent from a year ago, but it is still the third largest planted corn acreage since 1936 in Kansas. The service also reported that Kansas farmers have planted or plan to plant some 3.6 million acres into soybeans and some 2.5 million acres into sorghum. Other minor crops in Kansas include sunflowers at 130,000 acres, oats at 90,000 acres and hay at 2.55 million acres.


Worker Dies at Kansas Transformer Recycling Plant

SOLOMON, Kan. (AP) — Officials with a central Kansas equipment company say one worker was killed and another was injured when a 9,000-pound electrical transformer they were salvaging tipped over. The Abilene Reflector-Chronicle reports the accident occurred around 7 am  Friday at Solomon Corporation's reclamation facility in Solomon. The company manufactures, maintains and recycles electrical equipment such as transformers and voltage regulators. Company vice president Tom Hemmer identified the man who was pinned under the transformer as eight-year employee Vicente Castaneda. The other employee was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.


Report: Alleged Marijuana Dealer Supplied KU Basketball Players 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A newspaper report says a man at the center of a large-scale marijuana case allegedly supplied the drug to multiple players from the 2010-11 University of Kansas men's basketball team. The Kansas City Star reported Friday that an assistant U.S. attorney made the claim during a detention hearing for Samuel Villeareal III. Villeareal was among numerous defendants charged June 11 with a scheme to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. The newspaper obtained a court transcript from a June 18 hearing in which prosecutor Terra Morehead claims Villeareal supplied pot to multiple members of the Jayhawks squad. University of Kansas athletic officials declined comment Friday when reached by The Associated Press. Two players from the team contacted by the Star said they'd never heard of Villeareal. Two others refused to comment.


Kansas Pair Sentenced to 25 to Life for Child Abuse

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A northeastern Kansas judge has imposed maximum sentences on a man and woman convicted in the sexual abuse of two girls who lived in their home. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the 39-year-old woman became violently ill after being sentenced Friday in Jackson County District Court to 25 years to life in prison. She was convicted in May of aiding and abetting the abuse. The 51-year-old man was convicted earlier of multiple counts of rape and indecent liberties. He received two consecutive sentences of 25 years to life. Authorities said the girls, now 11 and 13 years old, were molested over seven months beginning in December 2008. A prosecutor argued the female defendant had been a social services investigator and knew what she should have done to stop the abuse.


Kansas-Based Retailer Duckwall-Alco Gets New Name

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas-based retailer Duckwall-Alco is dropping the Duckwall from its name as the multistate chain moves away from its five-and-dime store roots. The company said in a news release Thursday that starting July 6, it will go by the name Alco Stores Inc. and change its ticker symbol on NASDAQ to ALCS. The change was finalized at a shareholder meeting Wednesday. The 111-year-old company focuses on serving small towns and has its headquarters in Abilene. Early on, Duckwall customers could purchase almost anything in the store for either 5 or 10 cents. The company began discussing the name change in November 2010, when it announced plans to close its 44 Duckwall stores and reallocate resources to the larger Alco stores. It now operates 216 stores in 23 states.


Fireworks Blamed for Saline County Fires

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — While dozens of Kansas communities are banning fireworks because of bone-dry conditions, it seems that some people haven't grasped the full extent of the state's fire danger. KSAL-AM reports that fireworks went on sale Wednesday in Salina and surrounding Saline County. Before the day was out, fireworks were being blamed for two separate fires. One blaze was reported in a vacant field around 11 pm within the city limits. That fire spread quickly but did not cause any structural damage. In the county, Sheriff Glen Kochanowski says rural crews responded around 10:45 pm Wednesday to another field fire. The sheriff says it appeared that someone discharged fireworks from a road into dry wheat stubble.


Roberts: KU Cancer Center to Receive Coveted Designation

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Senator Pat Roberts says the University of Kansas Cancer Center will be named a National Cancer Institute, although an official announcement isn't expected until July. Roberts posted the news on his Facebook page on Thursday. His spokeswoman says Roberts' office was told good news is headed Kansas's way. Kansas officials have said the designation would bring in millions research dollars and high-paying jobs to the center in Kansas City, Kansas. It also would give cancer patients access to clinical trials open only to patients at NCI-designated centers. Ed McKechnie, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, told the Lawrence Journal-World that the announcement is coming and he's excited. He did not elaborate. University of Kansas spokesman Tim Caboni says an official announcement is scheduled for July 12.


Forecast: No Relief in Sight from Kansas Heat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Forecasters see no relief in sight anytime soon from the scorching Kansas heat wave that has plunged the state into triple-digit temperatures. Meteorologist Chris Jakub of the National Weather Service in Wichita said Thursday that the forecast is for temperatures mostly above 100 until Wednesday of next week. And it could continue beyond that. An upper level high pressure zone sitting over the Central Plains refuses to break down or move out of the area. The heat is brutal in Hill City, which has record the hottest temperature in the nation for five of the last seven days. Highs reached 115 Wednesday in Hill City.


KS Ins Commissioner, Gov Disagree on Health Law Implementation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger says the state shouldn't wait until after November's presidential election to move toward complying with a key part of the federal health care law. Praeger's comments Thursday about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding the federal law put her at odds with Governor Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican. Brownback said he wants to wait until after the election to decide what Kansas will do about setting up an online health insurance marketplace. The health care law requires each state to have one operating in 2014. The governor predicted that if GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney gets elected, states won't face the requirement. But Praeger says the state should still work on developing an online insurance marketplace so that it has some say in how the program is run.


State of Kansas Extends Hours for Sandhill Crane Hunting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas has extended the hours for hunting sandhill cranes, raising concern among conservationists who say the longer hours could imperil the endangered whooping crane. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism recently approved extending the hours for sandhill crane hunting from sunrise to sunset. The hours previously had been one half hour after sunrise until 2 pm. The season runs from early November to early January. Ron Klataske, director of the Audubon of Kansas, says the longer hours put the endangered whooping crane at risk because whooping cranes migrate through some of the same habitat in Kansas that the sandhill cranes use. Whooping cranes and sandhill cranes look similar. Shooting a whooping crane can bring a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to one year in prison.


Fort Hays State University Wind Turbine Plans Move Forward

HAYS, Kan. (AP) _ A plan to build two wind turbines to supply energy to Fort Hays State University is closer to reality. The Ellis County planning and zoning commission on Wednesday approved a conditional-use permit for two 2.1-megawatt wind turbines on private land near the university. The turbines would use underground cables to provide electricity to the university. The commission's approval hinges on the developer providing insurance certification and a final transportation plan. The Ellis County Commission would make the final decision. The Hays Daily News reports the turbines are part of a long-term plan by Fort Hays State to own and operate its own power plant. The university says the project could save $367,000 a year in energy costs.


Future of Kemper Arena Unclear Following Management Change

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The future of Kemper Arena in Kansas City is uncertain after the city decided to change management of the building. The Kansas City Council on Thursday ended Anschutz Entertainment Group's contract to manage the arena six months early. City officials say ending the contract early will save the city more than $400,000 a year. The Kansas City Star reports the city will no longer market Kemper as an alternative site for the downtown Sprint Center. The city will keep Kemper functioning for American Royal events but will not market it for other events. The American Royal Association has suggested demolishing and replacing Kemper. Others want the city to save Kemper and find a new use for it.


Former Colorado Governor Criticizes Planned Presidential Visit

DENVER (AP) — Former Republican Governor Bill Owens says President Barack Obama's visit to fire-ravaged Colorado is a distraction. Owens said Thursday that Obama's planned Colorado Springs visit Friday diverts "time, equipment, energy and resources" from fighting wildfires. The White House says Obama and his team are sensitive to ensuring visits to emergency response areas don't impede the response. President Obama plans to thank first responders and ask if they need additional resources. Owens was governor in 2002 during another historic wildfire season. He says he declined an offer at that time for a visit from then-President George W. Bush. Current Governor John Hickenlooper says Obama made clear he didn't want his visit to be a distraction. Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach says he appreciates the President's visit — and plans to ask for cash.


Hospitals Join Forces to Encourage Breastfeeding

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Three hospitals in Missouri and one in Kansas are joining a national effort to improve breastfeeding rates. They are Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, the University of Missouri's Women's and Children's Hospital in Columbia and Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. The institutions are among 90 hospitals chosen to take part in a program called Best Fed Beginnings. The hospitals will get help implementing recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They include establishing support groups and helping mothers nurse their babies within a half-hour of birth. Breastfeeding has health benefits for moms and babies. But studies show that half of U.S.-born babies are given formula in their first week. By nine months, only 31 percent of babies are breastfeeding at all.


Kansas Catholic Bishops Sponsoring Statehouse Rally

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A large crowd is rallying at the Kansas Statehouse against what the state's Catholic bishops and other social conservatives view as attacks by the federal government on religious freedom. Governor Sam Brownback and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran are among the scheduled speakers at Friday afternoon's event. The crowd appeared to swell to several thousand, and Brownback said it was the biggest rally he'd seen at the Statehouse. The rally is part of a nationwide campaign prompted by a mandate announced by President Barack Obama earlier this year requiring most employers to provide health insurance covering birth control. The mandate included a religious exemption for houses of worship but not for religiously affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and social service agencies. President Obama later announced a modification, but Catholic bishops nationwide viewed it as inadequate.

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

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