UPDATE: Redistricting Maps Scramble KS House Political Scene
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A federal court ruling has scrambled the political landscape for Kansas House members as it sets new district boundaries to account for population changes over the past decade. Three federal judges ruled late Thursday in a lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to redraw the state's political boundaries. The House achieved a bipartisan consensus on its members' 125 districts, but the judges decided they weren't bound to any plan because nothing was approved by the entire Legislature. The resulting map creates 25 House districts with no incumbents - with the state's candidate filing deadline Monday. The new map also creates 21 districts with a pair of incumbents. And the court also created two House districts that have three incumbents each. One is in Topeka and the other, in east-central Kansas.
Kobach Fears Kansas Voter Confusion from New Maps
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Secretary of State Kris Kobach worries that a federal court ruling setting new political boundaries for Kansas will confuse voters. Kobach said Friday that the districts drawn by three federal judges for state House and state Senate districts are more disruptive than he would have liked. The judges ruled late Thursday in a lawsuit filed over the Legislature's failure to reset political boundaries to account for population changes over the past decade. The secretary of state was a defendant in the lawsuit. He said he's glad the judges ruled this week because that means Kansas elections can proceed on schedule. But he noted that the new lines for legislative districts are so different from the previous ones that many voters are likely to be confused.
New Kansas Senate Boundaries Pair Up Incumbents in Several Districts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Thanks to a federal court order, multiple Kansas Senate districts now have a pair of incumbents. Legislators were still reviewing the boundaries for the 40 Senate districts Friday, the day after three federal judges issued a ruling redrawing the state's political boundaries. The judges were handling a lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to adjust lines to account for population changes over the past decade. In the Kansas City area, the new 37th District includes areas represented by GOP Senator Pat Apple, of Louisburg, and Ray Merrick, of Stilwell. In southeast Kansas, a new 15th District covers people represented by Republican Senators Jeff King, of Independence, and Dwayne Umbarger, of Thayer. In northwest Kansas, the new 40th District will cover a region that had sent Republican Ralph Ostmeyer, of Grinnell, and Democrat Allen Schmidt, of Hays, to the state senate. And a new 21st District has been created in Johnson County because of population growth there. That district number used to belong to a north-central Kansas district, but it has been collapsed. The change throws Republican Senators Roger Reitz, of Manhattan, and Mark Taddiken, of Clifton, into the same district. But Taddiken had already announced that he would not seek re-election.
Judges Draw Two House Districts with 3 Incumbents
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ New Kansas House districts for Topeka and east-central Kansas have three incumbents each. It's an unusual feature of a political map drawn by three federal judges. The judges are handling a lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to pass any proposals for redrawing the state's political boundaries to account for population changes over the past decade. Lawmakers were assessing the effects Friday. The judges said in their order that they placed a relatively low priority on protecting incumbents and refused to pick which incumbents to protect. The newly drawn 53rd Kansas House district for Topeka covers an area currently represented by Democratic Representative Annie Tietze and Republican Representatives Mike Burgess and Lana Gordon. The newly drawn 76th District incorporates a region that includes Republican Representatives Peggy Mast, of Emporia; Bill Otto, of LeRoy, and Willie Prescott, of Osage City.
Federal Panel Also Changes KS Board of Education Districts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two current members of the Kansas State Board of Education are serving in the same district under new boundaries imposed by three federal judges. The judges ruled Thursday in a lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to redraw political boundaries to account for population changes over the past decade. The judges set boundaries for congressional, legislative and Board of Education districts. The new map of the 10-member Board of Education moves Overland Park Democrat Sue Storm from the 2nd District into the 3rd District with Olathe Republican John Bacon. The new district covers southern Johnson and northern Miami counties. Board members serve four-year terms. The 3rd District seat won't be on the ballot until 2014. The 2nd District seat will be on the ballot in November, but Storm has said already said that she will not seek re-election.
Kansas Senate Veteran Vratil Won't Seek Re-Election
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas state Senator John Vratil says he's not running for re-election this year, a decision that will leave moderate Republicans in the Legislature without one of their most visible leaders. The 66-year-old attorney from Leawood said Friday he wants to spend more time with his family. He has served in the Senate since 1998, and has been the chamber's vice president since 2003. Vratil has also chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has sparred frequently with GOP conservatives on budget, tax and social issues, and had been among the moderate incumbents targeted by conservatives for this year's Republican Senate primaries. Vratil endorsed Representative Pat Colloton, a fellow GOP moderate from Leawood, as his choice for a Senate successor. Political redistricting put Colloton in the same House district as another GOP incumbent.
Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges to Follow KBA Audit
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Johnson County's prosecutor says Kansas Bioscience Authority managers violated policy but not the law by charging personal expenses to the agency's credit card. District Attorney Steve Howe said Friday its investigation found policy violations related to travel and personal expenses and a lack of supporting documentation for expenditures. Howe says former KBA president and chief executive officer Tom Thornton violated both the expense and credit card policies. The prosecutor said no criminal charges would be filed against KBA or its personnel. The KBA was established in 2004 to nurture bioscience companies in the state. It has come under scrutiny from Governor Sam Brownback and other Republicans over its management and investments under Thornton, who resigned last year to take a job in Ohio.
UPDATE: Authorities Comb Florida Site of Family's Plane Crash
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Florida crews have apparently recovered the body of a 13-year-old Kansas boy who was killed with his parents and three siblings when the single-engine plane they were in crashed in central Florida. The family's single-turboprop plane went down Thursday in a 4,900-acre preserve about 50 miles southwest of Orlando. The victims were identified as Ron Bramlage, his wife, Rebecca, and their four children, all of Junction City. The Polk County, Florida Sheriff's Office said officers found Boston Bramlage's body Friday afternoon a half mile from the main crash site. The office said the identification is preliminary until tests are done, but that the search has been discontinued. Sheriff Grady Judd said crews are relieved to have found the boy's body so surviving family members can "have some sort of closure."
Bramlage Family Parish Grappling with Loss
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Funeral services are pending for six members of the Junction City family killed when the single engine plane they were in crashed in Florida. Junction City businessman Ron Bramlage, his wife and four children were heading home from the Bahamas when the small plane they were in crashed Thursday in central Florida. Officials said all six family members died in the crash. The Reverend Al Brungardt, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish, said Friday that the family attended services there weekly and Ron Bramlage was a member of the parish council. Brungardt said he hasn't heard from the other family members about funeral services. But he expects the church, which holds about 500, will be too small for the family's services.
Kansas Neighbors Call Bramlage Deaths Huge Loss
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Friends of Ron and Becky Bramlage are calling the deaths of the Junction City couple and their four children in a Florida plane crash a huge loss to the Kansas community. WIBW-TV reports neighbors and friends gathered outside the home late Thursday afternoon as confirmation was arriving of the deaths from the crash several hours earlier. Becky Bramlage was president of the USD 475 School Board in Geary County. Superintendent Ron Walker says the Bramlages were heavily involved in the community, making this "a really great loss for Junction City." Neighbor Deborah Johnston calls the Bramlages an amazing family whose loss will "leave a big hole in the city." And Brett Dean, an architect and longtime family friend, says they were well-respected throughout the city and the state of Kansas.
Industry: Western Kansas Winter Wheat Harvest Disappointing
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Industry leaders say the winter wheat harvest in western Kansas has been disappointing so far because of dry conditions. The assessment comes in the latest harvest update from the Kansas City Board of Trade in cooperation with state wheat groups. Kansas Wheat Commissioner Ron Suppes says yields in the first two days of harvest in the Dighton area have been just 10 to 12 bushels per acre, although test weights are good at about 61 pounds per bushel. Gary Millershaski of Lakin is vice president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. He describes the harvest in Kearny County as dismal. Millershaski said he spent his first days of harvest cutting wheat that died prematurely, and he expects yields of 15 to 25 bushels per acre. The area's better wheat is still green.
Basehor Man Enters Not Guilty Plea in Plot to Kill Wife
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to hire a man to kill his wife. Thirty-seven-year-old Lee D. Smith of Basehor entered the plea Thursday in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri. Prosecutors allege Smith agreed to pay a man $1,800 to murder Smith's wife. They say that to plan the murder, Smith drove the man to an office in Overland Park where his wife worked. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the man Smith had contacted was a confidential law enforcement informant and Smith's wife was never in danger. A motive for the alleged plot has never been disclosed but court records show the couple had financial problems. Smith remains in custody. Last month, a judge declined to set bail for Smith.
Daycare Suspended after 3-Year-Old Left at Movie Theater
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials have suspended the license of a daycare center after staff members left a 3-year-old at a Johnson County movie theater. The Kansas City Star reports the state Department of Health and Environment issued the emergency suspension Friday against Back 2 Basics Learning Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The KDHE order says two 16-year-old staff members took 14 younger children and two 13-year-olds to a Merriam movie theater Tuesday. After the group left, a theater employee found the 3-year-old unattended in a restroom. The order says it was two hours before the daycare center called looking for the girl. The state cited a number of alleged violations of employee training rules and failure to maintain required documents. The voicemail box at the daycare center was full Friday.
Topeka Couple Leaves $1.7 Million Gift to KU
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka couple left the University of Kansas $1.7 million to encourage study in Germany. The university announced the gift Thursday from the late Dean and Elisabeth Collins. Dean Collins was a Kansas native who graduated from the University of Kansas in 1955. He met his wife while serving a residency in West Germany. The university says the endowment will be used to support Kansas students who want to study in Germany. University officials say the scholarship is intended primarily for music students but will be open to students in many majors. The Topeka Capital Journal reports the Collinses were psychiatrists. They also loved opera and attended hundreds of operas around the world. Dean Collins died in 2004 and his wife died in 2011.
Kansas Governor Jokes at Boys' State: Apparently, He's Not a Belieber
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — High school students attending Kansas Boys' State in Manhattan have received some serious advice from Governor Sam Brownback: Develop strong friendships. Find worthy mentors. And the governor also jokingly pushed a piece of legislation for consideration during the week of mock government activities: Do something about pop superstar Justin Bieber. KMAN-AM reports the governor drew cheers and applause with the suggestion Wednesday night. Brownback mentioned he has a 14-year-old daughter, then added, "I would love you guys to outlaw Justin Bieber or something like that." Boys' State brings together young men entering their senior year of high school for a weeklong exercise in creating a mock society and government and learning how to run it efficiently. This week's session is the 75th anniversary of the event in Kansas.
Trial Set for Lawsuit Against Kansas Military School
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A lawsuit that alleges that St. John's Military School in Salina allowed and encouraged abuse of cadets will go to trial in October 2013. The Salina Journal reports federal Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale set the trial date earlier this week, along with several other deadlines. Seven former cadets at the school allege in the lawsuit that the school encouraged older students to discipline younger ones by beating and otherwise abusing them. The school has denied the allegations. Gale's order gave plaintiff's attorneys until October 26 to propose a settlement. The school has until November 23 to respond before trying to resolve the case with a mediator. St. John's has settled nine other abuse lawsuits since 2006.
Topeka Tornado Anniversary
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Forty-six years ago, a tornado tore through downtown Topeka, leaving 16 people dead and more than $100 million in damage. The tornado hit Topeka at 6:55 pm on June 8, 1966, and stayed on the ground for 39 minutes. It followed a 22-mile path through the heart of the city. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that if adjusted for inflation, the damage total today would be around $716 million. Despite the destruction and deaths, many Topekans believe more people would have been killed if residents had not sought cover. Bill Kurtis, a newsman at WIBW-TV at the time, is credited with saving lives. His urgent warning "For God's sake, take cover'' is now part of the city's lore.
Baby Addax Born at Kansas Wildlife Preserve
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure park near Salina has a new addition. The Salina Journal reports that the baby addax was born Monday. Zoo curator Peter Burvenich said the addax is also known as the screwhorn antelope. It's a critically endangered species of Saharan desert antelope that has a pale coat and long, twisted horns. Burvenich said the species has been hunted close to extinction, but it's slowly coming back. Mother and baby addax are on view to the public in the addax exhibit at the zoo west of Salina.
Two Soldiers Shocked in Accident Still Hospitalized
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (AP) _ Two of three Missouri National Guard soldiers injured in a training accident earlier this week remain hospitalized, while the third has returned to duty. The Guard said in a news release that the two soldiers were in stable condition Friday at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The soldiers were injured Wednesday when they were shocked while working with a tactical antenna system. They were conducting annual training with their unit, the 135th Signal Company out of Kansas City. The accident is still under investigation. No names have been released.
Via Christi in Pittsburg Plans New Surgery Center
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) _ Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg is planning a new $18 million surgery center. Hospital CEO Randy Cason said Thursday that the 40,000-square-foot center will be the hospital's largest expansion since the hospital was built in 1969. Hospital spokesman Michael Hayslip says the plan is scheduled to be completed in 18 to 24 months. He says the expansion could bring jobs for about 20 surgeons, physicians and specialists. The Joplin Globe reports the new surgery center is the latest in a string of improvements at the hospital, which has spent nearly $56 million on new projects since 2004. Plans for the future include a new pediatric unit, a medical unit, an oncology unit, a surgical unit and a rehabilitation unit, all by 2016.
Commune Leader Ordered to Stand Trial in Kansas Murder Case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The self-proclaimed leader of a Kansas commune that lived off life insurance payouts of its dead members has been ordered to stand trial on a charge of premeditated first-degree murder. Sedgwick County District Judge Clark Owens entered the order Thursday at the end of a preliminary hearing for 52-year-old Daniel U. Perez. Perez is accused in the 2003 death of Patricia Hughes, whose death at a compound near Wichita was initially listed as accidental. Defense lawyers contended there was not enough evidence to put Perez on trial. Owens disagreed and scheduled a jury trial for July 30. Perez did not speak at Thursday's proceeding. The judge entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to charges including murder, rape, sodomy, sexual exploitation of a child and lying on life insurance applications.
Secretary of the Interior Could Broker Eisenhower Memorial Deal
WASHINGTON (AP) — A member of President Barack Obama's cabinet is taking a direct interest in helping to resolve a dispute over the design of a national memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, likely delaying the project beyond the summer. Interior Department spokesman Adam Fetcher said Thursday that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has expressed interest in viewing models of architect Frank Gehry's design with the key parties involved. No meeting has been set, but Salazar could hold discussions about how the memorial project in the nation's capital could move forward. Eisenhower's family has objected to the design. Memorial commission members Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts say they will work with the Interior Department but hope to avoid excessive delays.
MO Sanctuary Owner Wins Damages in Monkey Theft
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A Jackson County (MO) jury awarded damages to the owner of a northwest Missouri animal sanctuary after three monkeys were taken from the preserve. Two of the monkeys have been returned to the Monkey Island Rescue and Zoological Sanctuary in Greenwood since they were taken in October 2007. The other monkey remains missing. On Thursday, a jury awarded $58,000 for emotional distress to Dana Savorelli, the sanctuary owner. The Kansas City Star reports the jury found against Catherine Montes, a former sanctuary volunteer; Lisa Shinkle, on whose land the monkeys were found, and Skinkle's son. Montes had contended that she owned one of the monkeys.
Federal Judges Impose New Kansas Political District Boundaries
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three federal judges have set new political boundaries for Kansas, making a change in congressional districts that many Republican legislators have opposed. The panel issued an order Thursday night in a federal lawsuit filed last month. The judges drew new boundaries for congressional, state House, state Senate and State Board of Education districts because the Republican-dominated Legislature failed to do so. A key change in the state's congressional map will expand the 1st District of western and central Kansas so that it takes in Manhattan, home to Kansas State University. Many Republicans wanted it to stay in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas. The order was more than 200 pages, and it wasn't immediately clear whether the new legislative districts favor conservative or moderate Republicans, whose feud created the legislative stalemate.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.
Kansas Family Killed in Florida Plane Crash
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas community of Junction City is in mourning after a prominent businessman, his wife and their four children were killed when their small plane crashed into a swampy area of central Florida. The Polk County (FL) Sheriff's office says the plane went down about 12:30 pm Thursday in Tiger Creek Preserve. Junction City businessman Ron Bramlage was piloting the single-turboprop, fixed-wing plane when it broke apart and crashed, killing him, his wife and their four children, ages 8 to 15. Bramlage was the owner of Roadside Ventures LLC in Junction City. The family was well known in town and at Kansas State University, where the basketball arena is named for Bramlage's grandfather.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.
UPDATE: Junction City Mourning Florida Plane Crash Victims
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Junction City's mayor says the deaths of a well-known local family in a Florida plane crash are a "horrific loss."
Businessman Ron Bramlage, his wife Rebecca and their four children -- Brandon, Boston, Beau and Roxanne -- died Thursday when their plane crashed in central Florida as they headed home from the Bahamas. The kids were 15, 13, 11 and 8. Mayor Pat Landes says the couple supported many local projects and provided college scholarships. The Kansas State University basketball arena is named for Ron Bramlage's grandfather and a library in town is named for his grandmother. Rebecca Bramlage headed the local school board. People have been leaving flowers outside their home. One neighbor says they were "a beautiful family'' and another says it will take a long time to get over the tragedy.
**this story has been updated. Please see above.