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Regional Headlines for Friday, March 2, 2012



19 Kansas Counties Now Covered by Gov's Disaster Declaration

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has declared a disaster emergency in 19 counties hit this week by violent weather, including the storm that spawned a deadly tornado in the eastern Kansas town of Harveyville.  The governor made the disaster declaration yesterday (THUR).  Brownback had already declared of a state of emergency Tuesday night in Wabaunsee County after the tornado hit Harveyville. But other areas also had damaging winds, hail and tornadoes.  In addition to Wabaunsee County, the new declaration covers the following counties: Butler, Chautauqua, Coffey, Cowley, Crawford, Douglas, Franklin, Harper, Kingman, Labette, Leavenworth, Marion, Montgomery, McPherson, Reno, Republic, Sumner and Wilson counties.


Brownback Visits Hard-Hit Town of Harveyville

HARVEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has met with the family of a Harveyville man who suffered fatal injuries when a tornado lifted his home off its foundation.  Yesterday's (THUR) visit came less than a day after 53-year-old Richard Slade was taken off life support and died at a Topeka hospital. The trip to the Wabaunsee County town also gave Brownback a chance to see the damage caused by Tuesday night's EF2 tornado, which packed winds of up to 130 miles per hour.  Brownback said he had high praise for the large number of volunteers who rushed to the town's aid. He remarked that roofs already were being rebuilt.  While touring the area, Brownback received a call from President Barack Obama. The president also took time to talk to Harveyville's mayor, Dustin Kuntz.


New Assessment Reduces Risk Factor for NBAF in Manhattan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new assessment on the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan concludes that changes in the lab's design have sharply reduced the risk for accidental release of deadly diseases.  The assessment released today (FRI) by the Department of Homeland Security updates a report issued in 2010. The new document puts the risk of an accidental release at one-tenth of 1 percent, down from the previous calculation of a 70 percent chance of release.  Supporters credit design changes made since the first report for the lower risk.  Homeland Security plans to build the lab near the campus of Kansas State University. The assessment calculated the risk to the human population living near the lab, as well as the large number of livestock in the region.


First Lady Michelle Obama to Attend Events in KC, St. Louis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Michelle Obama will be in Kansas City and St. Louis next week for Democratic Party events.  Obama's office says the first lady will to speak Monday at a Democratic National Committee luncheon in Kansas City, then fly to St. Louis later in the day to speak at a DNC reception. No other details of those appearances were announced.  The White House says Obama will greet National Guard members and military veterans when she arrives at airports in Kansas City and St. Louis.


Kansas Groups Launch Education Petition Drive

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three Kansas organizations have launched a petition drive against Governor Sam Brownback and legislators over proposals for public education.  The online signature drive is led by Kansas Families for Education, Kansans United in Voice and Spirit and the Kansas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. They're asking that the Republican governor and legislators increase funding for public schools.  Kansas has cut education funding in recent years because of tight state revenues. The groups behind the petition say the cuts have resulted in larger class sizes, lower academic achievement and less time for students to be with teachers.  Brownback is proposing to change the way Kansas finances public education, partly by granting local districts more authority to raise funds for their schools.


Employee Groups Uncertain About Kansas Pension Plan

 TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Public employee groups in Kansas have misgivings about a new legislative proposal for overhauling the state pension system. Their representatives expressed misgivings Friday even though the proposal backs away from starting a 401(k)-style plan for new teachers and government workers. The proposal was unveiled during a meeting of the House Pensions and Benefits Committee by its chairman.  Its key feature is a new retirement plan for public employees hired starting in 2014, one designed to limit financial risks both for the state and the workers. The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System projects an $8.3 billion shortfall between anticipated revenues and benefits promised to employees through 2033. The new plan attempts to address concerns about a 401(k)-style plan, but public employee groups still worry workers would see diminished retirement benefits.


 KS Lawmakers Push to End All Energy Subsidies

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo has joined a Republican push in Washington D.C. to end all energy tax credits.  Pompeo, who represents the Wichita area, is sponsoring House legislation ending the production tax credit for electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind, biomass and hydropower.  He was joined at a Washington news conference yesterday (THUR) by Republican Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.  The legislation would also end tax credits for plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles, alternative fuel mixtures, clean coal investment and oil and gas production from marginal wells.  Pompeo says he wants to create a level playing field for energy companies. Some other lawmakers from states like Kansas that are trying to develop wind energy support the wind energy tax credits.


KS Senator Says Some Postal Jobs May be Coming to Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senator Jerry Moran says the postal service plans to consolidate work from a repair shop in Texas with work at its Topeka repair shop. He says the move will bring some jobs to Topeka but it's not clear how many. The announcement comes about a week after the postal service said it was moving work from its mail processing center in Topeka to Kansas City. That will cost Topeka 133 jobs.


KS House Panel Considers More Congressional Maps

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is already considering a half-dozen proposals for redrawing the state's congressional districts, but it's likely to review even more.  Today's (FRI) meeting of the Redistricting Committee was scheduled to give members an opportunity to present more ideas before the panel begins its discussions.  Kansas lawmakers must redraw the state's four U.S. House districts to account for population changes. The 1st District of western and central Kansas is nearly 58,000 residents short of the ideal of about 713,000 and must gain territory.  The Senate has approved a bipartisan plan. But many Republicans don't like it because it would create a slightly more Democratic 2nd District in eastern Kansas for Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, the senior member of the state's all-GOP House delegation.


"Funny Money" Floating around St. Joseph, Missouri

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — St. Joseph police say someone has been passing counterfeit $20 bills around town for the past couple of weeks.  Detective Richard Shelton says most of the bills have the same serial number, which leads him to believe the counterfeiters are local. At least eight businesses have reported receiving the fake money.  The St. Joseph News-Press reports that the manager of a U.S. Oil store says someone tried to use two fake $20 bills last month, but a clerk became suspicious and determined they were counterfeit. The manager says the customer put the bills on the counter and ran.  The St. Joseph Police Department is helping the Secret Service investigate because possessing or producing counterfeit money is a federal crime.


Koch Brothers File KS Lawsuit over Think Tank Ownership

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Cato Institute's CEO says billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are attempting a hostile takeover of the libertarian-leaning think tank through a lawsuit they filed in Kansas.  The Koch brothers are longtime shareholders in the institute. Their lawsuit seeks a court ruling that would leave the institute with only one other shareholder, President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Crane.  Crane said yesterday (THUR) that the lawsuit is an effort by Charles Koch to turn the institute into a group serving his partisan agenda.  An attorney for the brothers said they've tried for months to resolve differences over the status of a 25 percent ownership interest of a shareholder who died in October.  The brothers filed their lawsuit this week in state court in Johnson County, where the institute lists an office.  


Officials in Oklahoma Town Urge Evacuation Amid Gas Leak

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Residents of a small Oklahoma town are being urged to evacuate as propane leaked for a third straight day out of a well at a fuel plant.  Officials in Medford near Oklahoma's state line with Kansas said yesterday (THUR) afternoon they feared a fire hazard if strong winds carried the gas to the town 2.5 miles away.  The leak began Tuesday night when a saltwater brine mixture used to move the propane out of a well at the ONEOK plant spilled onto the ground, causing propane to vaporize. The company insisted the air levels posted no risk to the public and disagreed with the town's evacuation recommendation.  It wasn't immediately clear how many of the some 1,000 residents of Medford were leaving last (THUR) night.  A shelter was being set up in the nearby town of Wakita, Oklahoma.


Judge Allows Text Messages into Evidence at Great Bend Murder Trial

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Text messages between a 38-year-old Kansas man and a 14-year-old girl he's accused of killing will be allowed as evidence in his murder trial later this month.  Lawyers for Adam Longoria wanted to exclude dozens of text messages he exchanged with Alicia DeBolt after they met at a party in Great Bend. DeBolt's burned body was found in August 2010 at a Barton County asphalt plant where Longoria worked.  The Hutchinson News reports that Barton County District Judge Hannelore Kitts denied the defense motion yesterday (THUR).  Prosecutors say Longoria was obsessed with DeBolt, and the text messages over the course of more than a month indicate that. Defense attorneys say prosecutors are blatantly trying to prejudice jurors by presenting the text messages.  Longoria's trial is scheduled for March 26.


Few People Using KS Fund for Problem Gamblers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials want to raise awareness of a fund that helps people with gambling addictions, which is getting little use.  Just over 100 Kansans have sought help from the fund in the year since it became available. It gets 2 percent of gaming revenues from state-owned casinos.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the fund has just more than $3.5 million for this fiscal year and is projected to have $7.3 million in the fiscal year 2013 budget.  Paul Hahn is the problem gambling services coordinator for the state. He says the state knows the need for treatment is high but is concerned residents aren't aware the fund is available.  The fund provides 12 counseling sessions for gambling addicts. More treatment is available if mental health professionals say it's necessary.


KU Prof: Gay Marriage Bans Had "Ironic Outcome"

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas researcher says that gay marriage bans may have generated empathy for same-sex couples and their families.  Political science professor Don Haider-Markel has researched gay and lesbian political movements in the United States. He also wrote "Out and Running: Gay and Lesbian Candidates, Elections and Policy Representation."  Haider-Markel says that without states pushing to ban same-sex marriage in the 1990s, people might not have been exposed to stories about the difficulties gay couples experience without marriage. Haider-Markel called that opinion-changing coverage "an ironic outcome."  Today, six states and the District of Columbia have made same-sex marriage legal, and 12 more recognize civil unions or have domestic partner laws. Recently, three more state legislatures voted to permit gay marriage, although the New Jersey legislation was vetoed.


Pittsburg State Works to Become "Greener" University

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Pittsburg State University wants to become a little greener by better monitoring utility usage.  Workers have been installing devices that will record and transmit real-time information about electric, water, gas and steam use to an on-campus server.  The southeastern Kansas school says the information will be used to track campus utility use, evaluate energy conservation efforts and identify other ways to save energy. All data can be viewed instantaneously and recorded for historical comparisons and analysis.  Pittsburg State also plans to install one or more kiosks around campus this spring. They'll give students, faculty and staff a chance to access all of the real-time data, as well as sustainability information.



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