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Regional Headlines for Thursday, April 4, 2013


Kansas Agriculture Department Moving to Manhattan

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Agriculture says it will move most of its programs to Manhattan by the summer of 2014. Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman announced the decision Thursday, calling Manhattan the state's "value-added center for agriculture" because of the educational and bio-science entities located there. The agency will be housed in a new building at Kansas State University's research park. Also nearby are the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, on which construction is pending, and other agricultural entities. It wasn't immediately clear how many employees will be affected. The Agriculture Department will keep its main office in Topeka, where it now has 174 employees. Field offices in Stafford, Stockton, Parsons and Garden City will also remain open. The KSU Foundation will construct the building and rent it to the department.


Kansas Agency's Promise Ends Dispute on Quarantine Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A promise from Kansas health officials to continue protecting people with AIDS and HIV from being quarantined has resolved a dispute over legislation designed to help medical personnel and emergency workers. Kansas Equality Coalition executive director Tom Witt said Thursday the group can accept the bill following the pledge from the Department of Health and Environment. The bill directs KDHE to draft rules making it easier for medical personnel and emergency workers to learn whether they've been exposed to infectious diseases. Part of the bill repeals a 1988 law specifically barring health officials from quarantining people with AIDS and HIV. But KDHE promised its rules will continue such a ban. The issue arose as legislative negotiators drafted a final version of the bill, so both chambers can vote on it.


Plan for $1.5B in Pension Bonds Stalls in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislation authorizing $1.5 billion in bonds to bolster the Kansas pension system for teachers and government workers has stalled in the state Senate. A leading backer of the measure, House Pensions Committee Chairman Steve Johnson, said Wednesday the measure is now "dead in the water." Johnson commented after Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson said he won't bring up the bill unless it's tied to a plan for starting a 401(k)-style pension plan for public employees. The House approved the bonding bill last month, but its pensions committee tabled a proposal for a new 401(k)-style public pension plan. If the bonds were issued, the state would pour the funds into the pension system, quickly boosting its assets.


UPDATE: Authorities Say Suspicious Campus Package Was Empty

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in eastern Kansas have reopened the Ottawa University campus after suspicious packages were found to be empty. The Franklin County sheriff's department says a package was reported about 5:45 am Thursday outside Tau Jones Hall at Ottawa University. Officials evacuated the dorm and then closed the campus shortly afterward. Dispatcher Monica Finch says the campus was reopened by mid-morning after authorities determined the package was empty. University spokeswoman Paula Paine says campus security determined that packages left around campus were apparently part of a scavenger hunt that students held Wednesday. She says there was no criminal intent involved and no charges were planned. The university has about 550 students at the Ottawa campus, which is about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City.

Gun Bills Making Slow Progress in KS Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are making slow progress on two gun measures that are expected to win approval from solid gun-rights majorities in the House and Senate. Votes on the bills had been expected Thursday, but members spent much of the day drafting and reviewing final versions. House and Senate leaders now expect final action Friday. One bill declares that the federal government has no power to regulate guns, ammunition and accessories that are made, sold and kept exclusively in Kansas. The measure would make it a felony for a federal agent to enforce restrictions on such items. The other proposal would let public schools and state colleges arm employees with concealed weapons. Also, schools, colleges and local governments couldn't ban concealed guns in buildings unless they had security measures in place.


Democrats Denied Motion to Join Kansas School Finance Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has denied a request from Democratic legislative leaders to intervene in the appeal of a ruling on school finance. Wednesday's order rejects a motion from House Minority Leader Paul Davis and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley to join the appeals process. A three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court ruled in January that the state's current system of funding public schools violates the Kansas Constitution. The panel ordered increases in education spending. The state appealed, and lawyers for the state and the plaintiff school districts and parents have been in mediation toward a settlement. The Supreme Court said that in refusing to let the Democrat lawmakers join the appeal it was not limiting who could participate in the mediation, leaving the decision to the attorneys.

Kansas Lawmakers to Vote on Major Anti-Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are preparing for final votes on a sweeping anti-abortion bill that could send it to Gov. Sam Brownback. The Senate planned to vote first Thursday. The bill blocks tax breaks for abortion providers and outlaws abortions performed solely because of the baby's gender. If the Senate approves the measure as expected, the House will vote on it, possibly as early as Thursday night. The bill also prohibits abortion providers from being involved in public school sex education classes and spells out in more detail what information doctors must provide to patients before performing abortions. The measure declares that life begins "at fertilization." Abortion opponents see the language as a statement of principle and not a ban on the procedure, though the bill's critics are skeptical.

Lawmakers Send Reduced Boat Taxes Cut to Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would reduce property taxes on boats and other watercraft is on its way to Gov. Sam Brownback. The House and Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would reduce the taxes from 30 percent of appraised value to 11.5 percent next year. Boat taxes would be reduced to 5 percent in 2015 and beyond. The bill was introduced after 54 percent of Kansas voters approved a change to the state Constitution last fall that allowed the Legislature to set up a new watercraft tax system. The Wichita Eagle reports that supporters of the bill said the current tax rate encouraged Kansans to keep their boats in other states.

Senate Passes Bill Legalizing Switchblades

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed a bill making it legal to own switchblade knives and stilettos. The bill is expected to go to the House for a vote Thursday, where it might face some opposition. Representative Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita and a former city prosecutor, said switchblade knives were banned decades ago because it was mostly gangs and criminals who used them. He says the potential for harm from the weapons outweighs any good from legalizing them. Supporters say switchblades can be useful for emergency workers, farmers and others who need to open a knife with one hand while holding something with the other. The Wichita Eagle reports switchblades and stilettos would still be banned at schools, jails and juvenile corrections facilities.

Senators Approve Kansas Reading Initiative

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a modified version of Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to hold back young pupils who lack sufficient reading skills. The compromise measure worked out with House negotiators cleared the Senate Thursday on a vote of 29-11. A vote in the House was expected Friday. The bill would require low-performing school districts to retain first-graders who aren't proficient in reading based on an assessment. Any decision to hold a child back would require consultation between parents and school officials. Brownback proposed in January that third-graders be held back if their reading scores were lacking. The proposal was part of his policy to improve fourth-grade reading scores statewide.


Emporia Soybean Plant Lays Off Workers, Cuts Hours

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — About one-third of the employees at an Emporia soybean processing plant will be temporarily laid off because of a lack of a crop. Officials with the Bunge plant announced Tuesday that crush operations at the plant will be suspended, effective May 1. The company says crush operations are expected to resume with the fall harvest. A spokeswoman for the company says the drought depleted the available soybean crop. That combined with a strong export demand in Asia led to the layoffs. The remaining employees will work reduced hours, doing maintenance and other projects. The Emporia Gazette reports City Manager Matt Zimmerman said about 21 employees will be laid off. He says it's the first factory Bunge is temporarily closing, and if the drought continues the plant might not reopen.

3 Kansans Accused in Synthetic Marijuana Ring

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors allege three Kansas men ran a worldwide synthetic marijuana operation that made them millions of dollars. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announced the indictment Wednesday against 55-year-old Bradley Miller of Wichita; his brother, 54-year-old Clark Sloan of Tonganoxie; and Sloan's son, 32-year-old Jonathon Sloan, of Lawrence. They are charged with conspiracy, distribution of misbranded drugs, mail fraud and smuggling. Prosecutors allege the men began by selling the synthetic marijuana known as K2 in Lawrence and then expanded to an international business. Federal officials say the men sold the products as incense but always intended that they be smoked like marijuana. The indictment says the men marketed and distributed their products across the United States and from South America to Asia and Eastern Europe.


New Abortion Clinic Opens in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new clinic offering abortions and other medical services to women has opened in Wichita nearly four years after Dr. George Tiller was murdered. The South Wind Women's Clinic saw its first patient Thursday in the building where Tiller practiced. The building was purchased by the abortion rights group Trust Women Foundation. The group's spokeswoman, Kerry Townsend Jacob, cited privacy rights in declining to say whether its first patient, a Wichita woman, had an abortion or some other service. The clinic opened uneventfully on Wednesday but did not have a patient scheduled until Thursday. No abortions have been performed openly in Wichita since the death of Tiller, who was one of the nation's few doctors performing late-term abortions. He was gunned down at his church by an anti-abortion zealot in May 2009.

Assessment Finds Wolf Creek Operated Safely

BURLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — Federal regulators say the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington is operating safely except for its oversight of contractors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a news release Thursday it will discuss its findings in a public meeting at 7 pm April 18 in New Strawn. Overall, the NRC found Wolf Creek operated safely last year. But inspectors found the plant's workers didn't provide adequate oversight for work that could affect safety-related equipment. The plant also has recurring problems with its emergency diesel generators. Because Wolf Creek is considered to be in degraded condition, the plant receives increased oversight. The release says on a scale of one to five, Wolf Creek is a three. The agency plans to conduct future inspections to follow up on the implementation of corrective actions.

KC Man Pleads Not Guilty to Disrupting Mayor's Speech

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man accused of disrupting a speech by Mayor Sly James has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges in the case. The Kansas City Star reports that Derron Black pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of third-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and obstructing government operations. He also requested a public defender and is due back in court April 18. Black is accused of interrupting James's speech March 19 by storming on stage and yelling into the microphone for a few seconds before he was handcuffed and taken to jail. James delivered the rest of his speech and said he never felt in harm's way. Police Chief Darryl Forte has said Black's anger was not directed at the mayor.


KC Man Sentenced to 64 Years for Mall Shooting

INDEPEDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A 25-year-old Kansas City man has been sentenced to 64 years in prison for shooting and wounding two people at an area shopping mall. The Jackson County prosecutor's office says Eric D. Bratton was sentenced Thursday for the 2012 shooting at Independence Center, which is located about 10 miles east of Kansas City. Two teenagers were wounded in the shooting, which police said occurred after two men had an altercation with the victims. Bratton was convicted in January on two counts of armed criminal action and two counts of assault. He was sentenced to 25 years on each count of armed criminal action, and seven years on each count of assault. The judge ordered the sentences to run consecutively.

Slain KS Teen's Mom Supporting Cellphone Search Law in RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The mother of an 18-year-old woman murdered in Kansas is in Rhode Island, where she urged lawmakers to pass a law requiring cellphone providers to provide data about the location of a missing person's phone. Missy Smith addressed lawmakers Thursday on why she believes the proposal would help police find missing people. The legislation would compel cellphone companies to provide information on a phone's whereabouts if police determine the person is in danger. Following Smith's testimony, the Senate committee voted to forward the bill to the full Senate. Smith's daughter Kelsey was abducted and murdered in 2007. Her cellphone provider initially refused to give police data on the location of her phone, information that ultimately led officers to her body. Similar laws have been enacted in eight states.


Emporia State Debate Team Makes History

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A two-man debate team from Emporia State is enjoying the notoriety of being the first team to win two prestigious national tournaments in a week. And they did it as the first black team to win, using a style honed in urban debate leagues. Ryan Wash and Elijah Smith won the National Debate Tournament Tuesday in Utah, just a week after winning the Cross Examination Debate Association national tournament a week before. Wash, a graduate of Kansas City's Central High School, used a tactic that is criticized in the debate world. The Kansas City Star reports that the team personalized its arguments, when traditional debate encourages sticking to the topic. Wash and Smith were honored Wednesday at Emporia State with an indoor parade while students and faculty applauded.


Mayors Make Friendly Wager on Outcome of NCAA Games

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is offering a bourbon and some other trinkets to back up his wager that the University of Louisville men's and women's basketball teams will advance to the NCAA championship games. Fischer's office said he made the bets by phone Thursday with Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Berkeley, California Mayor Tom Bates. Louisville's men's team plays Wichita State in a semifinal game Saturday night, and Louisville meets California in women's semifinal action Sunday night. Fischer is offering a trunk containing several brands of bourbon as well as T-shirts, hats, candles and glasses. Brewer has wagered steaks and beef from Cargill Meats in Wichita on the men, and Bates will send a dozen bottles of local California red wines if the Cardinals win the women's game.

Wichita Seeks Residents' Views on Drought Response

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Wichita wants to hear residents' ideas on how the region should respond to prolonged drought. Wichita is in the third year of drought, and it is unclear when it will end or how severe it will be. Officials have scheduled six public meetings around the city April 16-18 to hear how residents are affected by the drought and how they think the city might extend its water supply. The public feedback will be presented later to the City Council. Wichita gets about 60 percent of its water from Cheney Reservoir. Officials have predicted that if consumption remains unchanged and weather conditions don't improve, the reservoir won't be able to provide drinking water to the city by August 2015.

Kansas Man Dies Avoiding Car During Police Chase

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says a Manhattan man died when the vehicle he was riding in ran off the interstate to avoid a car being chased by a patrol trooper. The patrol says the accident Wednesday evening on Interstate 70 in Junction City killed 53-year-old Jake S. Black. He was a passenger in a car that went off the interstate to avoid a vehicle going west in the eastbound lanes of the interstate. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the driver of the wrong-way car was not injured and was arrested at the scene. The driver and another passenger in the car Black was in were taken to Geary Community Hospital for treatment. Additional details weren't immediately available.

Kansas Concealed Carry Applications Set New Record

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas received a record number of applications for concealed carry permits in March, reaching a new high for the third consecutive month. Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office said Wednesday that 4,072 Kansans applied for permits last month. That's 14 percent more than the previous records of 3,573 set in February. The state received 3,167 applications in January. Before this year, the record was 1,651 in March 2012. Schmidt's office said that almost 53,300 Kansans already have permits. Gun sales and applications for gun permits have increased across the country in response to discussions about new federal gun-control measures. The discussions follow the December shooting that left 20 elementary school students and six teachers dead at a Newtown, Connecticut school.


Police: Wichita Robbery Suspect Shot Himself

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County authorities say a man who died after an attempted robbery shot himself in the head. Sheriff Jeff Easter says the suspect, 26-year-old Horace Gwyn, was also shot by a sheriff's deputy after he ran from the Credit Union of America early Wednesday. But the county coroner ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound was the cause of death. Police say Gwyn ambushed two workers who opened the credit union. When he forced them into a bank vault, a silent alarm went off, and a nearby deputy responded. When the deputy arrived, Gwyn ran out of the bank. Easter says Gwyn fired at the deputy then turned and raised the gun to his head. The deputy fired, hitting Gwyn in the back at the same time Gwyn shot himself.

Kansas Man Drowns in Lake Taneycomo

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A man from Kansas drowned while fishing at Lake Taneycomo in southwest Missouri. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says 66-year-old Robert Rossman of Princeton, Kansas, died Wednesday after he fell out of his boat. The patrol says Rossman apparently slipped before falling into the water. His son and a bystander pulled him from the water and performed CPR but he was pronounced dead. An autopsy is planned.

Hutchinson Community College Hosts Big Tournament

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson Community College will be the center of the forensic tournament world this weekend. The college is hosting the American Forensic Association-National Individual Events Tournament. It's expected to bring 1,000 people to the city for the competition Saturday through Monday. The events will be held at the college, the Cosmosphere and the Ramada Conference Center. About 80 schools will participate. Travis Roberts, coach of forensics and debate at the college, says he didn't expect the college to be named as host when he first applied. But Hutchinson met the requirements of being near a major airport and having enough classrooms and hotel rooms. The Hutchinson Daily News reports that some schools are already in the city practicing for the event.

KC Creating Hundreds of Miles of Bike Routes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City public works crews have begun installing signs designating 352 lane-miles of bicycle routes throughout the city as part of a plan to create a 600-mile bikeway system. Project manager Mario Vasquez says installing the signs is the third and final phase of a project that started in 2002. Vasquez says some streets that are wide enough will have bicycle lanes painted onto the pavement, while others will designate bike routes with "share the road" signs. Officials say when the project is completed the city will have 600 miles of on-street bicycle lanes and 230 miles of shared-use trails. Vasquez says initial signage efforts have focused on suburban areas where traffic is light, but eventually will move to denser downtown city streets.

Shockers to Headline Field for CBE Classic in Fall

ATLANTA (AP) — Wichita State is going from surprising Final Four contender to tournament headliner. The Shockers will participate in the CBE Classic in November at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., as part of the College Basketball Hall of Fame induction festivities. They'll be joined by Texas, BYU and DePaul in the tournament championship rounds. The semifinals will be held November 25 with the third-place and title games the following night. The Shockers will be playing Louisville on Saturday night in their first Final Four since 1965. BYU went 24-12 and reached the NIT semifinals this season, while the Longhorns (16-18) and Blue Demons (11-21) will be trying to rebound from subpar years. The University of Kansas beat fellow NCAA tournament participant Saint Louis to win last year's CBE Classic.


Ottawa University Closes After Suspicious Packages Found

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in eastern Kansas have evacuated a university residence hall and closed the campus after suspicious packages were found. The Franklin County sheriff's department says a package was reported about 5:45 am Thursday outside Tau Jones Hall at Ottawa University. University spokeswoman Paula Paine told The Kansas City Star that campus security found other packages at other buildings, and the campus was closed about 7 am. The buildings were evacuated and people have been warned to stay off campus. Paine says authorities are investigating the possibility that the packages could be related to a scavenger hunt that students held Wednesday. The university has about 550 students at the Ottawa campus, which is about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City.

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

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