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Regional Headlines for Thursday, April 12, 2012


UPDATE: Kansas Officials Say Agency Changes Will Improve Services

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and top administration officials say a coming reorganization of three major state departments will improve services for the poor, disabled and elderly. Brownback, Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer and the secretaries for the departments of Aging, Health and Environment and Social and Rehabilitation Services touted the reorganization Thursday. It's part of an overhaul of the state's Medicaid program. Brownback issued an order in February to reorganize those agencies. The order takes effect in July because lawmakers didn't attempt to block it. But doubts linger about the governor's plan to turn management of the $2.9-billion-a-year Medicaid over to three private companies next year. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the Republican governor's news conference shows the administration understands it faces difficulty selling the overhaul.


Bartlett Grain Company Cited for Serious Elevator Violations

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — The federal government has cited a grain company for willful safety violations in a northeast Kansas elevator explosion that killed six workers last October. U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a news release Thursday the deaths at the Bartlett Grain Company elevator in Atchison "could have been prevented" if the operators had addressed hazards known in the industry. Kansas investigators previously determined the October 29, 2011 grain dust explosion was accidental. A release from the labor department notes that grain dust is nine times as explosive as coal dust. The agency said problems included a lack of proper preventive maintenance and an inadequate emergency action plan. The president of Kansas City, Mo.-based Bartlett Grain, Bob Knief, said in a statement that the company "adamantly" disagrees with the claims.


Revised Water Rights Program Now Taking Applications

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for a revised program that gives water rights holders more flexibility in managing the way they use their allocations. Changes in the state's multi-year flex account are aimed at conserving water and extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. The new application form is available on the website of the state Division of Water Resources and at its offices. A multi-year flex account lets water right holders pump more water in any year but restricts the total pumping over the five-year period. Participation in the program is voluntary.


Judge: State of Kansas Can Join Tribal Land Dispute Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal magistrate judge has allowed Kansas to join the fight over the Wyandotte Nation's claim to Park City land where the tribe wants to build a casino. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Waxse ruled on Thursday that the state has a strong interest in exercising its sovereignty over the tract the tribe wants to take into trust. The state sought to intervene in the lawsuit to protect its taxing, regulatory and economic interests. Peninsula Gaming has opened a casino in south-central Kansas just 25 miles from the land where the tribe wants to put one. The Wyandotte Nation lawsuit is seeking to force the Interior Department to accept into trust the Park City land the tribe bought in 1992.

Hutchinson Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Could Be Amended to Cover LGBT

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Hutchinson City Council will consider a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. The Hutchinson Human Relations Committee voted Wednesday to recommend the change to the ordinance. The city council will consider the issue in early May. If the council approves the change, sexual orientation and gender identity could not be the basis for discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. The Hutchinson chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition asked the council last November to amend the ordinance. The Hutchinson News reports that people who opposed the change said it would have a negative impact on businesses, religious liberty and churches.

Severe Weather Expected in Eastern Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Severe weather is possible in much of eastern Kansas through Saturday. The National Weather Service in Wichita is predicting strong thunderstorms for a large section of eastern Kansas on Friday. And the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, says the risk for storms that could produce tornadoes is moderate on Saturday in an area that includes the Wichita metropolitan area, along with Salina and Hutchinson. Kansas counties inside the moderate zone include Harper, Kingman, Reno, Saline, Marion, Chase, Harvey, Butler, Sedgwick, Cowley, Sumner, Elk, Greenwood, McPherson and Chautauqua. A slight risk of storms is forecast for most of the rest of Kansas, except the western counties.

KS Atty General to Hold Town Hall Meeting

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt will discuss current legal issues next week during a town hall meeting at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene. The April 17 program is part of a series at the Eisenhower center featuring officials from across Kansas. Schmidt will discuss the state's involvement in the challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court to the Obama administration's health care reforms. Schmidt, a Republican, was elected attorney general in 2010 after 10 years in the state Senate.

Judge: ATF Sting Operation Not Racially Motivated

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected defense claims that a firearms sting using a bogus pawn shop in a heavily black Wichita neighborhood was racially motivated. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot refused Thursday to dismiss indictments stemming from the months-long undercover operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.The sting resulted in federal drug and firearms charges last year against 51 people — 43 of them black, four white and four of races unknown. Defense attorneys argued the storefront targeted black males because it was located in a part of Wichita where blacks accounted for 33 percent of the population. The percentage of blacks citywide is about 11 percent.

Some Recreational Areas to Reopen at Scorched Grassland Park

ELKHART, Kan. (AP) — Several popular recreation areas in the Cimarron National Grassland in southwestern Kansas have reopened to the public, nearly a year after a fire burned thousands of acres. But the U.S. Forest Service says the campground at the Cimarron Recreation Area will remain closed until rebuilding is complete. The Forest Service said Wednesday it has reopened Cimarron River Corridor, Turkey Trail, River Trail, Race Track, Mallard Pond, Wilburton Pond and the Cimarron Recreation Area itself. More than 19,000 acres of public land and private pasture within the 108,000-acre Cimarron National Grassland burned last May in what became known as the Tunner Fire.

14 Charged in Connection with Alleged Cocaine Smuggling Ring

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged 14 people in an alleged cocaine smuggling ring in Wichita. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a release Thursday that the 63-count indictment alleges that the drug trafficking organization was active in Wichita from October 2010 until this month. The indictment also accuses 30-year-old Juvenal Fernandez Jr., of Wichita, of conspiring with his father, 56-year-old Juvenal G. Fernandez, also of Wichita, to launder about $174,000 in drug proceeds by buying real estate. An attorney listed on the charging documents for Juvenal Fernandez Jr. did not immediately return a call seeking comment. An attorney was not listed for the elder Fernandez. The others charged in the indictment are accused of possessing or distributing cocaine. They are listed as residents of Wichita and Amarillo, Texas.

Syrian Rights Activist to Speak at KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A human rights activist from Syria is scheduled to speak next week in Lawrence about the turmoil in his country. The University of Kansas says that Radwan Ziadeh will be at the university's Dole Institute of Politics on Tuesday for a free afternoon forum. Institute director Bill Lacy said Ziadeh will discuss Syria's current struggle. Ziadeh has been involved in documenting human rights violations since the Syrian uprising began. Last year he was elected director of the Foreign Relations Office for the Syrian National Council, the main umbrella organization for the Syrian opposition. He's a senior fellow at the U.S Institute of Peace and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, D.C.


Manning Adds 3 with Kansas Ties to Tulsa Coaching Staff 

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — New University of Tulsa head coach Danny Manning's staff will have a distinct Kansas flavor. Manning announced Thursday that he has hired Brett Ballard and Steve Woodberry to be assistants on his coaching staff. Ballard spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Baker University and was previously on the University of Kansas staff with Manning. Woodberry was an assistant at Missouri State for the past six seasons. Both previously played at KU, Manning's alma mater. Manning also announced that San Francisco assistant coach Justin Bauman will be Tulsa's new director of basketball operations. He, too, has ties to KU as a former student manager and student assistant for the Jayhawks.

Kevin Costner to Attend Memorial Dedication Ceremony Honoring 2 KS Soldiers

FORT KNOX, Ky. (AP) — Actor Kevin Costner will be at Fort Knox, Kentucky this weekend for the unveiling of a memorial honoring soldiers under the 11th Aviation Command and subordinate units. Costner will speak at the memorial Saturday morning and will dedicate a song, "The Angels Came Down," that he wrote in honor of those who have lost family members in war. A public affairs officer says that the soldiers being honored include two native Kansans:  Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols of Hays, and Specialist Spencer Duncan of Olathe. The other soldiers being honored are Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Carter of Centennial, Colorado;  Staff Sgt. Patrick Hamburger of Lincoln, Nebraska; and Sgt. Alexander Bennett of Tacoma, Washington. They died with 25 other service members in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last year. The 11th Aviation Command is an Army Reserve headquarters unit stationed at Fort Knox.

KS Photographer Sues over Totaled Ford Explorer 

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Kansas storm chaser and photographer who said his 1994 Ford Explorer traveled more than 350,000 miles through hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather has filed a lawsuit after the vehicle was totaled in a crash in a Montana snowstorm. The Independent Record newspaper reports Jim Reed of Wichita filed the lawsuit last week against the East Helena, Montana man whose vehicle struck him, seeking unspecified compensation for the "unique value" of his cranberry-colored SUV. He said the SUV was featured in much of his work, including a two-page spread in the June 2009 National Geographic. Reed also is seeking compensation for pain and suffering and his inability to pursue his work while he recovered from injuries suffered in the November 2010 crash.

KC Police Offer New Text-Messaging Service for Residents

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are starting a text messaging service to inform residents about law enforcement matters. The Kansas City Star reports Police Chief Darryl Forte announced the new service on Wednesday. The chief says it will help people be aware of safety issues in their neighborhoods and help police solve crimes. Kansas City residents can sign up for the free service by logging onto or texting their ZIP code or "KCPD" to 888777. Users can customize the kinds of alerts they want to receive and whether they want to get them by text, email or online. Police will also use the service in July to provide specific information about the Major League Baseball's All-Star Game being played at Kauffman Stadium.

Auction Scheduled for Items from Unusual Woman's Estate

WINONA, Kan. (AP) — Items accumulated by a woman who led a fascinating life among the rich and famous before dying as a pauper in northwest Kansas will go up for auction this weekend. Barbara Bishop spent time with movie stars, once dated Johnny Carson and spent an inherited fortune on expensive items and homes. The Salina Journal reports she died last November at the age of 85 as a pauper in Winona, a town of about 160 people. The third and final of a series of Barbara Bishop estate auctions will be held this weekend in Colby. More than 1,000 pieces of jewelry, 34 cashmere, mink and other fur coats, bulk silver and gold and other antiques will be auctioned.

Why Is Jeff Francoeur So Popular in Oakland? 2 Words: "Bacon" and "Pizza"

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Pizza delivery, courtesy of Jeff Francoeur. The Kansas City Royals' right fielder had 20 personal pizzas delivered Wednesday to Oakland Athletics fans in section 149. The gesture came a day after the second annual "Bacon Tuesday," as it has become known. Last year, Francoeur tossed a ball wrapped in a $100 bill into the elevated seats above his outfield spot, instructing fans to use it to buy bacon or beer. They now love Francoeur and cheer him at every chance. On Tuesday, fans wore "Bacon Tuesday" shirts, and there's a large piece of paper bacon hanging from the railing. They'll have to enjoy the pizza while they can. Wednesday marked the Royals' lone trip to the Bay Area this year. The Royals lost in extra innings 5-4 last night.

New Grain Elevator Being Built in Atchison

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — Residents of Atchison are looking forward to the opening of a new grain elevator, which will replace a Bartlett Grain Company elevator destroyed by a fatal explosion. The company announced it would rebuild soon after an explosion last October killed six and seriously injured two others. The concrete was poured last Friday, and the grain elevator is expected to open in September. Bartlett is contracting grain from farmers for this year's harvest. The St. Joseph News-Press reports the elevator will have a capacity of 1 million bushels of grain, 20 percent more than the old elevator. Bartlett officials say new technology will significantly improve unloading speeds. City Manager Trey Cocking says the elevator construction is like a rebirth for the city.

Mother: Teen Driving RV in Kansas Crash a 'Hero'

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The mother of a teenager who was driving an RV when it crashed in Kansas, killing five family members, is calling her son a hero. Pauline Kerber spoke in a prepared statement from the Minnesota hospital where 17-year-old Adam Kerber is being treated. She said Adam "did everything he possibly could to save 13 lives." Adam is in fair condition at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota. The mother and son were among 18 family members and friends traveling back to Minnesota from Texas on April 1st when their RV broke through a guardrail and concrete bridge rail and crashed in a ditch.

SRS Says Investigation at Kansas School Not Yet Completed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is disputing claims from a military boarding school that the agency investigated and found no validity to abuse allegations made by a 14-year-old former cadet. The boy suffered two broken legs during four days in August that he attended St. John's Military School. SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha told The Associated Press its investigation is under way and the agency has reached no conclusions yet. Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell said Wednesday that Salina police asked her to review the case for possible prosecution. Mitchell says she concluded there was insufficient evidence to show a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. The teen is among seven former cadets whose families are suing the school. St. John's has settled nine abuse lawsuits since 2006.


Governor Brownback, Officials to Discuss Medicaid Overhaul

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and top officials in his administration are preparing to reorganize three departments as part of an overhaul of the Medicaid program. Brownback scheduled a Thursday morning news conference to discuss the project. The governor was being joined by Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, who led the team that drafted the Medicaid overhaul plan, and secretaries of the departments of Aging, Health and Environment, and Social and Rehabilitation Services. Brownback issued an order in February to reorganize those agencies. The order takes effect in July because lawmakers didn't attempt to block it. The administration plans to turn management of Medicaid over to three private companies next year. The $2.9 billion-a-year program covers medical services for the poor, elderly and disabled.

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

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