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Regional Headlines for Thursday, January 31, 2013



GOP Legislative Plan Aims to End KS Schools Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators are pushing a change in the Kansas Constitution on education funding to end a pending lawsuit. The measure would add a provision to the constitution declaring that the Legislature has the exclusive power to determine how much money is spent on schools. The Senate Education Committee agreed Wednesday to sponsor the measure before it was drafted. Senate Vice President Jeff King, a Republican from Independence, helped draft it and provided a copy of the language to The Associated Press before its formal introduction Thursday. A three-judge panel in Shawnee County recently ordered the state to increase education funding. Constitutional amendments require approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate and by a simple majority of voters. Supporters hope the measure will be placed on the August 2014 ballot.

Kansas Senate Approves Change for Appellate Courts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a proposal to give the governor and legislators more power over appointments to the state's appellate courts. Wednesday's vote on the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution was 28-12, slightly more than the two-thirds majority needed for passage. The measure would have the governor appoint judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court, subject to Senate confirmation. The proposal would scrap an attorney-led commission that screens applicants and nominates three finalists for each vacancy. The governor must pick one, with no role for legislators. The measure goes next to the House, where approval by a two-thirds majority would put it on a statewide ballot in 2014. Amendments to the Kansas Constitution require approval by a simple majority of voters.


UPDATE: Kansas House Passes Bill on Public Employee Union Fundraising

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill restricting political fundraising by public employee unions. The House vote Thursday was 68-56 and sends the measure to the Senate. The bill would bar groups that represent teachers and government workers from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities. Supporters contend the measure would prevent employees from being forced to finance political causes they don't support. Critics say the measure is designed by business groups and their Republican allies to hinder fundraising by public employee groups to decrease their political influence. Similar legislation cleared the House in 2011 but died in the Senate. Its chances of success are considered higher this year, with conservative Republicans who back the measure now in control of both chambers.


Report: Kansas Governor's Tax Plan Causes 2018 Shortfall

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Researchers for the Kansas Legislature are projecting that Governor Sam Brownback's plan for more income tax cuts would create a $782 million budget shortfall in July 2018. But proponents of additional cuts are questioning whether the report Thursday from the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department is too pessimistic. Brownback wants to follow up on aggressive individual income tax cuts enacted last year with a fresh round of rate cuts over three years. He's proposing to stabilize the budget by eliminating two popular income tax deductions for homeowners and raising additional sales tax revenues. Critics were quick to see the numbers as evidence that Brownback's plan is reckless. But Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said the researchers don't account for how further cuts will stimulate economic activity.


Kansas Chief Justice Sends Message to Legislators

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court is asking legislators to spend more money to improve the operations of the court system and allow more flexibility in assigning district judges. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss submitted his annual State of the Judiciary message Thursday in writing. The chief justice has traditionally delivered the address in a speech to the Legislature. But House Speaker Ray Merrick blocked the speech this year, saying lawmakers' time could be better spent on other things. Nuss says additional funds to help the court system modernize its case management system would improve its efficiency. He also renewed the judiciary's request to legislators to abolish a law requiring that a judge be assigned to each of the state's 105 counties. Nuss says the change would improve judicial efficiency.


Kansas Saw $62M in Unexpected Tax Revenues in January

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas revenue officials say the state collected $62 million more in taxes than expected in January. A preliminary report Thursday from the Department of Revenue says January's tax collections totaled nearly $635 million — almost 11 percent above an official forecast for the month. The report also says the state collected about $3.7 billion in the first seven months of the current fiscal year. That's $95 million more than officials had expected. January's larger-than-expected collections are likely to dramatically shrink the projected $267 million gap between anticipated revenues and current spending commitments for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

UPDATE: Anti-Racketeering Bill Approved by KS Senate Committee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has endorsed anti-racketeering legislation aimed at increasing sentences for convicted gang leaders. The Judiciary Committee's action Thursday sends the measure to the full Senate for debate. The Wichita Eagle reports the bill would create the Kansas Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, better known as RICO. The statute would resemble the federal RICO law, which was enacted to combat the Mafia and allows prosecutors to charge gang members for engaging in a string of criminal activity, rather than for individual crimes. A similar bill died in the House two years in a row but it's been updated with stricter provisions focusing mainly on serious felonies. Wichita Police Lieutenant Scott Heimerman helped draft the revised measure, which he says is aimed at gang leaders.


Judge Grants Class Status to National Beef Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has granted conditional class action status to the lawsuit against National Beef by workers at its Liberal slaughterhouse. The decision Thursday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil certifies the class for purposes of sending notices to workers who might wish to join the lawsuit filed last May. Workers at the southwest Kansas plant are seeking unpaid wages and overtime on behalf of some 2,000 employees. At issue is the practice of paying meat-processing workers based on so-called gang time, which counts only the time the production line runs. Vratil has now certified a class comprised of all hourly production workers who have been subject to such compensation in the past three years. She approved Valente Sandoval Barbosa and Carolina Gaytan as class representatives for hourly meat processing workers.

NY Judge Appears Close to Beechcraft Reorganization Plan Approval

NEW YORK (AP) — A bankruptcy judge in New York has signaled that he's close to signing off on a reorganization plan for Kansas aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft. Judge Stuart Bernstein reviewed a draft plan with lawyers Thursday at a federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan. Bernstein said he wanted minor changes in the wording of the plan before granting final approval. There were no serious objections from creditors. A settlement for a new pension plan and other labor concessions were approved without objection. Another hearing was set for April 9.


Shawnee County Approves $45K Settlement in Jail Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Shawnee County Commission has approved a settlement that calls for paying a former inmate $45,000 in damages for a severe hand injury that occurred while she was being held in the county jail. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved the $45,000 settlement, which is $30,000 less than former inmate LaStacia Elliott requested in the lawsuit. The lawsuit petition says Elliott's right had was severely injured in 2009 while she was being held in jail and that she had to have portions of her fingers amputated, leaving three fingers with severe disfigurement. With the settlement, the county acknowledged that Elliott was hurt in the jail but denied negligence.

DA: City of Shawnee Violated Spirit of Open Meetings Law

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Johnson County's district attorney says the Shawnee City Council violated the spirit of the state open meetings law when the council made "deals" to elect the mayor's uncle to a council seat. District Attorney Stephen Howe said Wednesday that it's difficult to determine if the council broke the letter of the law, but it's clear they broke the spirit of the law. He's recommending that the council receive training on the state's open meeting laws. The problem began last May, when several people applied to fill a vacated council seat. But Howe says evidence shows that Mayor Jeff Meyers talked to at least half of the eight council members about appointing his uncle to the seat. The Kansas City Star reports that Meyers didn't return calls seeking comment.


Toddler Shot in Johnson County, KS

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A 3-year-old boy is in critical condition after being shot in an apartment in northeast Kansas' Johnson County. Broadcaster KSHB reports that the child was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital after he was wounded Thursday afternoon with a 9 mm handgun. Mission police believe a single bullet went through the boy's left arm and hit his abdomen. The boy was at home with his father, the father's roommate and the roommate's fiance at the time. Police said the gun was "out and available." Authorities are investigating.


Men to Face Trial in Tabor College Football Player's Death

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — Two suspects in the death of a Tabor College football player will face trial.After a preliminary hearing ended Thursday, Alton Franklin and DeQuinte Flournoy were bound over for trial on charges of being accessories to second-degree murder.Twenty-six-year-old Brandon Brown was found unconscious September 16 at a McPherson Party. The redshirt defensive lineman from Tabor College died about a week later.The suspects both are former McPherson College football players from Dallas. Broadcaster KWCH reports that they remain jailed on $250,000 bond. During the hearing a forensic pathologist testified that Brown died from blunt force trauma to the head, and ethanol poisoning was a secondary cause of death.

Lawyers Named to Represent Defendant in Death Penalty Retrial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The two lawyers who represented a capital murder defendant during his appeal will defend the Topeka man when his case is retried. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday issued a ruling that overturned Phillip D. Cheatham's 2005 murder convictions. He was found guilty of capital murder in the 2003 shooting deaths of two women and was sentenced to death in October 2005. The high court cited ineffective assistance of counsel by Cheatham's defense attorney as the reason for overturning the convictions. The Board of Indigent Defendant Services says it will fund Cheatham's defense, and also says the two attorneys who represented Cheatham in his appeal will represent him in his new trial. The lawyers are Paul Oller, of Hays, and John Wachtel, of Wichita.


Wyoming Attorney General Nominated for 10th Circuit Court Seat 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — President Barack Obama has nominated Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips for a seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Phillips has been Wyoming's attorney general since March 2011. Before that he served as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne and also worked as a lawyer for the state and in private practice in Cheyenne. Phillips grew up in Evanston and served as a Democratic state senator from Uinta County from 1993 to 1998. He's a graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law and worked for two years after graduation for U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson in Cheyenne. The Denver-based 10th Circuit covers Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Yellowstone National Park. The nomination is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.


Drug Dealer Sentenced to 26 Years for Having Gun

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 40-year-old Kansas City drug dealer with a long criminal record has been sentenced to more than 26 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Damon L. Collier was found guilty August 14 and sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City. Collier was charged after police responded on July 23, 2011, to a report of a disturbance at a Kansas City apartment complex and found him highly intoxicated, waving a gun around and yelling threats against two people. He was sentenced as an armed criminal offender because of prior felony convictions for serious drug offenses. He has eight felony convictions and was on parole at the time of the gun incident for selling a controlled substance.


DA Clears Wichita Police Officers in Woman's Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A prosecutor has cleared two Wichita police officers of wrongdoing for fatally shooting a woman last summer while investigating a domestic dispute. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett on Thursday released his office's finding in the July 10 shooting of 45-year-old Karen Jackson clearing the officers of any criminal conduct. Police Chief Norman Williams says his department will now conduct its own administrative investigation of the shooting to make sure the officers followed procedures. Williams said after the shooting that Jackson stabbed herself with a knife shortly after police arrived at the scene, then walked toward officers telling them repeatedly to shoot her. Police said the officers fired after Jackson ignored several orders to drop the knife. She died later at a Wichita hospital.

KC Police Investigating Road Rage Fatality

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say they're investigating the death of a woman who was shot and killed during an apparent road rage incident. Police say the woman was driving Wednesday during rush hour in midtown Kansas City when another car pulled up beside her and shots were fired into her car. Police on Thursday identified the victim as 32-year-old Jennifer Jones of Kansas City. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police say another woman was driving the suspect vehicle, which is described as a maroon SUV with tinted windows and no tags. The death was the seventh homicide in Kansas City since Monday and the third on Wednesday.


K-State's Snyder Signs New 5-Year Deal

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has signed a new five-year deal that includes an increase in compensation to $14.75 million over the life of the contract. Snyder's new deal, which includes an automatic rollover provision, increases his salary to $2.75 million for the 2013 season with annual increases of $100,000. The deal was expected to be announced later Thursday. The 73-year-old coach led the Wildcats to an 11-2 record, their second Big 12 championship and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl this past season, and was voted AP's Big 12 coach of the year. It was Snyder's seventh 11-win seasons in 21 seasons in Manhattan, and the first since returning from a brief retirement four years ago. His career record is 170-85-1.

KU Hospital Study Says Yoga Helps Heart

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas Hospital research is finding that regular yoga may help keep heart rhythm disorders in check. The Kansas City Star reports that a KU Hospital study was published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The research finds that regular yoga sessions can help reduce the number of episodes of rapid, out-of-control heartbeats experienced by patients with atrial fibrillation. The preliminary study also shows that the patients cut their blood pressure and lowered their levels of anxiety and depression. Two similar studies are also under way at KU Hospital. KU heart specialist Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy says yoga isn't a solution in itself, but it has profound effects. Lakkireddy wants to see if yoga training can work for patients with other heart rhythm disorders.


UMKC Can Pursue Housing for Hospital Hill Campus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri-Kansas City can move forward with student housing for a campus that includes the dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy programs. The school's Board of Curators voted Thursday to allow officials to issue bonds and send out requests for developers' proposals. The student housing would be the first for the Hospital Hill Campus. The project has a budget of $29.3 million and calls for about 245 beds in an apartment-style design and 196 parking spaces. The goal is to complete the project by July 2014. Chancellor Leo E. Morton said in a news release that the housing would be helpful as the university seek to grow enrollment in its health professions schools. Currently, about 3,000 students are enrolled in the dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy schools.

Wichita Groups Plan Homeless Count, Services Event

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A coalition of community groups in Wichita is holding a homeless count and hosting an event offering services for the city's homeless families. The event runs from 10 am to 2 pm Thursday at the Century II Expo Hall in Wichita. Volunteers will interview homeless individuals to count them and gather information. Services will include haircuts, flu shots and dental screenings; distribution of information about housing and benefits; and a giveaway of socks, hats and gloves. United Way of the Plains is coordinating the count. It's designed to measure the size and scope of Wichita's homeless problem in order to plan services and gauge progress in addressing the issue.

Salina Hospital Official Hurt in Hunting Accident

TIPTON, Kan. (AP) — A Salina hospital official sustained minor injuries when he was accidentally shot during a weekend hunting excursion in northern Kansas. The Salina Journal reports that Joel Phelps, chief operating officer of Salina Regional Health Center, suffered pellet injuries mostly to his legs in the accident Saturday. Phelps says he was injured when another hunter tripped and the gun that hunter was carrying discharged. He declined to name the other hunter. A Salina trauma surgeon who was also part of the hunting group treated Phelps at the ranch and said the wounds were superficial. Phelps says he was back at work Monday and that he reported the incident Wednesday after learning that all shooting incidents have to be reported.


BLM Oil, Gas Leases in North Dakota Fetch $11.4 Million

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management says its most recent sale of oil and gas leases in North Dakota totaled more than $11.4 million. BLM says Slawson Exploration Company of Wichita had the highest bid in Wednesday's sale. The company bid nearly $1.6 million for an 80-acre parcel in Mountrail County, North Dakota. The agency says 25 parcels totaling 2,831 acres were offered and all received bids. Competitive oil and gas lease sales are conducted at the BLM's Montana state office in Billings. Money from the sales is shared with states and counties. All leases are issued for a 10-year term.

Traveling Alligator Exhibit Coming to Topeka Zoo

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Topeka Zoo will host a traveling alligator exhibit beginning later this year. Zoo director Brendan Wiley said at a news conference Thursday that the exhibit, called "Alligator Frenzy... A Bayou Adventure," will feature a rare, 7-foot-long Albino alligator, and a feeding lagoon with 40 juvenile American Alligators. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the exhibit will be at the zoo from May 9 through September 30. Wiley says the zoo's general admission fee will include entry to the exhibit, though there will be additional fees for holding an alligator. Wiley says alligators were nearly extinct in the U.S. by 1960, and soon afterward were put on the endangered species. The American Alligator made a strong comeback and now numbers nearly 3 million. They are mostly located in Florida and Louisiana.

KCMO Lawyer Admits to Money Laundering Conspiracy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City, Missouri lawyer has pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder the drug money of an undercover agent posing as a marijuana dealer. Sixty-six-year-old Ronald Partee entered the plea Wednesday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. Partee admitted that he and the operators of a credit counseling service agreed to funnel drug money through Kansas bank accounts. As part of the scheme, a certificate saying the purported dealer had completed training as a bankruptcy specialist was created. Prosecutors say that Partee served on the counseling service's board and approved two wire transfers that he believed were drug funds. He also engaged in a discussion with the undercover agent about the storage of marijuana. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a five-year prison sentence. A sentencing date hasn't been set.

Former Fed Reserve Building in KC Set for Auction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The former Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City building is scheduled to hit the auction block. The Kansas City Star reports that the 21-story downtown building will be sold Monday in a trustee auction at the Jackson County Courthouse. The move comes after a five-year effort by a developer to revive the building, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007. Great Western Bank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota holds a $14.3 million promissory note on the vacant property, which was bought in 2005 for $12 million. The Kansas City Federal Reserve has been in a new building since 2008.

UMKC to Kick Off So-Called 'Digital Sandbox'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri-Kansas City's Innovation Center is starting a new program to help entrepreneurs build sustainable high-tech startups and create jobs. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and top executives from Sprint, Hallmark, Cerner Corporation and other businesses will be at the university on Friday to inaugurate the Digital Sandbox KC. The project is funded partly with a $1 million federal grant. Grant recipients use the money to create and expand what are known as "proof of concept" centers, where technology can be developed further and markets can be studied. The centers also provide seed funding and expert support.

Hearing to Resume in Tabor Football Player's Death

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A preliminary hearing resumes Thursday afternoon for two suspects in the death of a Tabor College football player. The hearing for Alton Franklin and DeQuinte Flournoy began last week. But it was continued to give prosecutors time to search for a key witness to a fight that led to the death of 26-year-old Brandon Brown. The redshirt defensive lineman from Tabor College was found unconscious Sept. 16 at a McPherson Party and died about a week later. The suspects both are former McPherson College football players. They're charged with being accessories to second-degree murder. The missing witness moved back to Texas after the case was delayed in October and a subpoena to compel him testify was returned earlier this month as undeliverable.

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

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