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Regional Headlines for Thursday, December 13, 2012


New Kansas Senate Leaders Pondering Rules Panel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's new Republican leaders are weighing changes in how the chamber settles disputes over its rules. Incoming Senate President Susan Wagle said Wednesday one possibility is forming a rules committee, similar to one in the House. But Wagle said GOP senators haven't worked out the details. New Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson said another possibility is appointing a parliamentarian. In the House, when questions arise, rules committee members have impromptu meetings in the chamber, and the chairman makes a finding. However, the House can vote to overrule the decision. In the Senate, the member presiding over debates or votes makes a decision, subject to being overridden by the chamber. Any changes in that practice would be considered after the 2013 session opens in January.


Audit Questions State of Kansas Computer Security

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new audit in Kansas is raising questions about whether state computer systems are secure enough to protect confidential information. The Legislature's auditing division issued a report Thursday that said a review of nine agencies' systems, training and practices showed significant weaknesses. Auditors said they were able to crack a significant number of computer passwords in six of the agencies because employees didn't create strong ones. Seven of the agencies didn't require employees to do an effective job of changing passwords. The auditors said that in one agency, employees were directed to give their passwords to their supervisors and computer staff, compromising security. The report didn't specify which agencies had particular problems, but the review included the departments of Commerce, Corrections, Education, Labor and Revenue.


Kansas Audit Pegs Cost of New Education Standards

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Auditors say implementing the Common Core education standards could cost Kansas between $34 million and $63 million during the next five years. A Legislative Post Audit report released Thursday attempted to answer legislators' questions about the cost of changes in how public school students are taught. The standards have been approved by 45 states including Kansas. They are an effort to establish shared standards nationally for teaching English and math. The State Board of Education adopted the changes in 2010. The changes are part of the state's federally approved waiver to free it of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Other components include revising teacher evaluations and developing new methods for measuring student progress.

Kansas AG Announces Crime Victims Support Payments

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the Kansas Crime Victims Compensation Board awarded more than $243,000 to victims of violent crimes at its December meeting. Schmidt said Wednesday the board approved cash payments in 60 new cases and 37 that were submitted earlier. The Kansas program was created in 1978 to help victims of violent crime pay for unexpected expenses, including medical treatment, mental health counseling, lost wages and funerals. Awards are capped at $25,000, with limits of $5,000 for funerals, $3,500 for outpatient mental health counseling and $10,000 for inpatient mental health treatment. Families of homicide victims may also receive up to $1,000 for grief counseling. The compensation is funded through court costs, fines, inmate wages, parole fees and restitution paid by offenders.

Kansas to Offer Park Permits with Car Registration

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Kansas agencies are teaming up to make it easier to buy annual permits for visits to state parks. The joint initiative of the Revenue Department and the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism will let residents buy annual park permits when they register vehicles in 2013. Previously, buying the permit and registering a vehicle were two separate transactions. The parks department also says a Kansas State Parks Passport will cost about $15 when bought during the vehicle registration process. The regular price is $25. The parks agency sought the new arrangement in the 2012 legislative session as a way to attract more park visitors. Funding for state parks has dwindled in recent years, resulting in challenges for operations and maintenance.


Koch Industries Plans to Expand Kansas Headquarters

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Koch Industries has announced plans to expand its Wichita headquarters as it seeks to accommodate 745 anticipated new employees. The project includes construction of a three-story, 210,000-square-foot office building slated to be completed in mid-2015. Construction is expected to begin next fall. The building will include a cafe and training space. Koch employs more than 2,800 people in Wichita. The company has roughly 2,400 unfilled jobs nationwide, including more than 150 open jobs at its Wichita headquarters. The company said in May it had outgrown its headquarters and was considering a possible expansion. Dave Robertson, chief operating officer of Koch Industries, said more than a dozen Koch companies have a presence in Wichita.


Kansas Regulators Approve $33M Rate Hike for KCP&L

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City Power & Light has been granted a $33 million rate increase that will add about $74 a year to electric bills for its 242,000 Kansas customers. The increase was approved Thursday by the Kansas Corporation Commission, which says it will boost the average residential customer's costs by $6.20 a month. The Kansas City, Missouri-based utility had sought a nearly $64 million increase for its Kansas customers. KCP&L officials said they needed additional revenue to maintain generating plants and cover new costs of complying with federal environmental regulations. The company also sought to earn a 10.4 percent profit on its operations, but the three-member KCC scaled that figure back to 9.5 percent.


Incoming Kansas Senate President Hires 2 Staffers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle has hired two aides from the staffs of departing Republican leaders in the House. Wagle announced the appointments Thursday of Ryan Gilliland as her chief of staff and Aly Rodee as communications director. Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said she wanted an experienced staff. She takes over as Senate president when lawmakers convene their 2013 session January 14. Gilliland most recently served as chief of staff for House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid. Rodee was communications director for House Speaker Mike O'Neal. O'Neal did not seek re-election to the House and is CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Siegfreid remains in the House but gave up the majority leader's job for an unsuccessful bid to be the next speaker.

US House Passes Resolution on WWI Centennial in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a resolution to make the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City the official "National World War I Museum and Memorial." It also would make the Kansas City monument the anchor of a national observance of the centennial of World War I. The Senate must still consider the resolution. The Kansas City Star reports that the resolution is a compromise between the Liberty Memorial and others who want a national World War I memorial in Washington D.C. The bill allows those groups to also establish a memorial in the nation's capital.

Nebraska Utility Energizes Line to Kansas

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Public Power District says it's energized a new 345,000-kilovolt transmission line that will help ease a bottleneck in the regional transmission grid. NPPD says energizing the line from Axtell to a line in Kansas indicates the project is nearing conclusion. In May 2010 the Nebraska Power Review Board approved construction of the 53-mile stretch from Axtell to the state line. The project includes a line south to Spearville, Kansas, extending a total of 225 miles between the two towns. NPPD said the line is needed to ease congestion on its other transmission lines, raise the reliability of the regional transmission grid and improve the flow of electricity in western Nebraska.

U.S. Interior Secretary: West Running Out of Water

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rising demand and falling supply have water managers in the arid West projecting that the Colorado River won't be able to meet the demands over the next 50 years of a population of 40 million people and growing. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday issued what he termed "a call to action" along with a three-year study of the river, its flows and its ability to meet the future needs of city-dwellers, Native Americans, businesses, ranchers and farmers in seven Western states. The study found the population in the West could double, while today's drought-stricken Colorado River is expected to only recover about 85 percent of its historic flows. The report dismisses some proposals, such as towing icebergs from Alaska, as impractical. But Salazar says there is "no one solution" to the challenge.


Nebraska Officials: Forecasting Will Helps Predict Water Shortages

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — New forecasting methods are helping Nebraska officials anticipate when they are at risk of a water shortage in the Republican River basin. Regulators with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources say the techniques they've used have evolved since 2007, when a state law was passed to require closer scrutiny of river flows and water storage in reservoirs. The computer models are crucial to helping Nebraska stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact, a legally binding water-sharing agreement with Colorado and Kansas. Nebraska Department of Natural Resources deputy director Jim Schneider says that, without the model, state regulators would have to be overly conservative with water usage in years when water is more abundant. The forecast is predicting that Nebraska will face a water shortage next year.


7 in KCMO Area Charged with Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Six Kansas City municipal employees and one Jackson County worker are facing federal wire fraud charges, accusing them of using an insurance benefit program to receive thousands of dollars in gift cards. A law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday about the grand jury indictment, which was handed down Wednesday. Prosecutors say the defendants misused a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City benefit program that awarded points for participating in healthy activities; the more strenuous the exercise, the higher the point values. Prosecutors say defendants got points for reporting children as young as 1 were running triathlons. The defendants allegedly received gift cards of up to $250 by redeeming falsely reported points. One is accused of compiling 383 gift cards worth more than $185,000.


Kansas Woman Sentenced for Teacher's Killing

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas woman will spend at least 25 years behind bars for helping murder her boyfriend's grandmother one year ago. KAKE-TV reports that 20-year-old Lyndsey Giovinazzo was sentenced Thursday in Butler County District Court to 25 years to life in prison. Giovinazzo pleaded guilty in July to first-degree murder in the December 2011 strangling of Loyce Cody, grandmother of Jacob Allen Hoyt. The 69-year-old pre-school teacher was strangled in her Augusta home, where a car, debit cards and candy were stolen. Hoyt's trial had been scheduled for this month but has been postponed. Hoyt and Giovinazzo were arrested shortly after the killing. They were driving Cody's car when they arrested after a chase that reached 100 mph through Butler and Cowley counties.

Pittsburg State Students Help with Stranger's Funeral

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A Pittsburg man who fell to his death in a strip mining pit will be buried Thursday, thanks to a group of caring Pittsburg State students. Mateo V. Lorenzo died on November 24 at a Pittsburg park. His mother, Becky Jones, couldn't afford to pay for his funeral. A funeral home wouldn't bury him without the money upfront because Jones owed money for the funeral of her daughter, who died last August. That prompted Samantha York, who used to work with Jones, to begin raising funds for funeral expenses. She and several other Pittsburg State students held fundraisers, went door-to-door and put out collection cans. The Joplin Globe reports that someone donated enough money to cover the funeral. The money the students raised will go to that donor.


State of Missouri Employee Surrenders After Brief Standoff

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say a suicidal state employee barricaded himself inside his office with a gun before negotiators were able to talk him out of the building. No one was injured during the one-hour drama Thursday at the Missouri Department of Probation and Parole office in midtown Kansas City. Police spokesman Darin Snapp says other employees called 911 when the man locked himself in his office after threatening suicide. He says the man did not threaten anyone and no one else was in danger. One shot was fired inside the man's office but Snapp says it's unclear why the shot went off. Witnesses told police the man had several problems in his personal life. Negotiators talked the man out of the building about 12:30 pm.


Body Found in Wreckage of St. Joseph Garage

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Investigators in northwest Missouri are trying to identify a body discovered by trash haulers amid the debris of a burned-out garage. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that the remains were found Thursday morning inside a trash bin near the detached garage that burned down December 7. St. Joseph police Captain Janice Rothganger says a woman and child who lived in a rental home on the property are accounted for. Police aren't sure when or how the person died or was placed in the trash bin, although the body was burned. Rothganger also says police have no missing-persons reports at the moment. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday.

Kansas City Zoo Will Get Female Polar Bear

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Zoo's lone polar bear, a male named Nikita, is about to get some company. Zoo officials said Wednesday they had decided to bring a female polar bear named Berlin to the zoo. She's been living at a St. Paul, Minnesota zoo after her home at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth flooded this summer. The transfer became official after zoo veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer visited the Minnesota zoo be sure Berlin was up to the trip after a recent surgery. The Kansas City Star reports that Berlin could arrive by next week and will be quarantined for 30 days. Officials hope the 23-year-old female will mate with Nikita, who is a 6-year-old.

3-Toed Dinosaur Foot Returns to Cosmosphere

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A three-toed dinosaur foot estimated to be between 70 million and 100 million years old is back on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. The foot was one of the first displays at the Hutchinson museum and has been returned for the center's 50th anniversary. It will be on display through January. The Hutchinson News reports that the foot is from a duck-billed dinosaur believed to have lived in the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic Era. The Cosmosphere first displayed it in 1964. The 200-pound foot was found in a coal mine at Dragerton, Utah. It eventually ended up in the home of a Hutchinson man. That man sold the foot before he died. But his grandson, Tom Zarnowski, spent seven years looking before finding it in Hutchinson.

Blood Drive Pits KS Firefighters vs. Law Enforcement

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas firefighters, law enforcement officers and their supporters are rolling up their sleeves for a friendly competition known as the annual Battle of the Badges blood drive. The Wichita Eagle reports that more than 100 hospitals in Kansas and Oklahoma will benefit from blood donated during the drive, running from Thursday through New Year's Day. Terri Dunaway is chief executive officer of the Midway Kansas chapter of the American Red Cross. Dunaway says blood donations typically decline in December because students are home from school, many businesses operate only skeleton crews and families are busy with holiday celebrations. Anyone older than 16 may donate at the Wichita Blood Donor Center. Donors get a free T-shirt and can then vote for either firefighters or law enforcement.

KC Voters Approve Funding for Downtown Streetcars

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Downtown Kansas City is on track to get a two-mile $100 million streetcar system. City officials said Wednesday that voters who live in the streetcar district approved a 1-cent sales tax increase and property tax increases to help pay for the $100 million system. It will run from River Market to Union Station. The vote authorizes the tax increases for 25 years. It will apply only within the boundaries of a downtown streetcar district. Only registered voters in the streetcar district voted on the issue. The Kansas City Star reports that the city plans to begin construction next year and start running the streetcars in 2015. Supporters say they hope the two-mile system is the beginning of a much more extensive streetcar system across the city.

Former Youth Pastor Facing Child Porn Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former suburban Kansas City youth minister is facing federal charges accusing him of viewing and receiving child pornography over the internet. Acting U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark says 52-year-old Dennis Myers of Blue Springs was charged in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on Wednesday. Myers is charged in the three-count indictment with viewing child pornography between April 1 and September 16, 2011, receiving a video of child pornography over the Internet and possessing child porn. He is a former youth pastor at churches in Independence and in Arkansas. A spokesman for Ketchmark says Myers did not appear to have obtained an attorney.

Man Dead, Woman Critical in Wichita Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a man died and a woman is in critical condition after a shooting in Wichita. Wichita police Lieutenant Chris Halloran says officers went to a home in southeast Wichita Wednesday evening after a man said his daughter had called and said she shot her husband. When officers arrived at the home, they heard another gunshot. Halloran says both people suffered gunshot wounds. The man was dead at the scene. Halloran says the couple was alone in the house and police do not believe a third party was involved.


Arkansas-Based Bank to Purchase 29 Bank of America Sites

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas-based Arvest Bank has announced an agreement in which it will purchase 29 banking locations in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas from Bank of America Corporation. Terms of the purchase were not released. Arvest says it will acquire Bank of America assets at the involved banks that include checking, savings, IRA and CD accounts. The transaction does not include credit card, mortgage, brokerage and trust accounts. The banks involved in Arkansas are in Hot Springs, Hot Springs Village, Mountain Home and Russellville. In Kansas, the locations affected are in Pittsburg. In Missouri, the affected banks are in Aurora, Branson, Branson West, Carthage, Cassville, Forsyth, Joplin, Lebanon, Lockwood, Monett, Mountain Grove, Neosho, Nevada, Shell Knob and West Plains. Other affected banks are located in Muskogee and Tahlequah in Oklahoma. Arvest said in a news release that the purchase is pending approval of regulators.

Hutchinson Baby Who Swallowed Feather Back at Home

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson baby who apparently ingested a feather is home from the hospital and doing well. The nearly 7-month-old girl, Mya Whittington, was hospitalized during the weekend while doctors tried to determine why her jaw swelled. Eventually, a doctor pulled a 2-inch feather out of her neck area. The girl's father, Aaron Whittington, said Wednesday the baby was home from the hospital. Doctors decided not to treat an enlarged area on her neck that has a hard knot inside it. They say the area will heal on its own. The Hutchinson News reports the little girl has become something of a media star. Aaron Whittington says the family has received numerous requests for interviews to discuss his daughter's unusual medical drama.

Sprint to Purchase Remaining Stake in Clearwire

NEW YORK (AP) — Sprint Nextel is offering to buy the 49 percent of Clearwire that it doesn't already own for $2.1 billion. Sprint Nextel Corporation said Thursday in a regulatory filing that its board reviewed a deal the day before that spells out specifics of the proposed transaction. The deal works out to $2.90 per share. Clearwire stock is up 27 cents, or 10 percent, to $3.02 in premarket trading. Sprint uses Clearwire's network to provide "Sprint 4G," but it's building its own 4G network at the same time, and would like to see Clearwire upgrade its network to use a compatible technology. Clearwire is strapped financially, and lacks the funds for a comprehensive upgrade. The deal was reported earlier this week by CNBC and The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources.

Kansas Event Seeks to Break Record for Hunger Relief

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three Kansas groups are seeking 2,000 volunteers to pack thousands of meals for children in Haiti and possibly set a world record in the process. The effort is being put together by Volunteer Kansas, the hunger relief group Numana Incorporated and The Downtown Rotary Club of Wichita. The goal is to package 208,000 meals in one hour on February 16th at the Kansas Coliseum pavilions in Wichita. The groups say the 208,000 meals would be a Guinness world record and provide a year's worth of lunches for 800 school children in Haiti. Volunteers are also being asked to bring two canned goods to help stock the Kansas Food Bank and feed children in Kansas.

Kansas Board of Ed Supports Cursive Instruction

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Cursive handwriting instruction is getting a nod of support from the Kansas Board of Education. During Wednesday's meeting, the board unanimously adopted a statement encouraging educators to ensure students can write legibly in cursive and comprehend text written in cursive. In a separate 8-2 vote, the board ordered the department to develop model cursive standards. Kansas Department of Education spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes says the standards would establish things like curriculum guidelines and best practices. Toelkes says the measures won support because of research showing the role handwriting plays in cognitive development. A survey discussed at last month's board meeting found that most Kansas elementary students are still learning cursive writing but that interest in teaching the subject has begun to wane.

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