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Regional Headlines for Thursday, March 21, 2013


UPDATE: Kansas Senate Approves Budget Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given final approval to a $14 billion budget for the next fiscal year that starts July 1. Thursday's 24-16 vote sends the measure to the House, which has already approved its own budget bill. Negotiators from the two chambers are expected to begin meeting next week to work out a final version. Both bills generally follow spending recommendations laid out by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Each would spend some $6 billion in general state revenues and $8 billion from federal funds and other sources. Budget committee leaders hope to finish work on a reconciled spending bill before legislators take a one-month break starting in early April.


UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Cuts in Sales, Income Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill cutting sales and income taxes. The vote Thursday was 82-39 on a measure mandating small reductions in individual income tax rates each year that overall state revenues grow by more than 2 percent. The bill also allows the state sales tax to drop in July, as scheduled by law. The measure goes next to the GOP-dominated Senate, but senators approved their own tax plan last week. The final version of tax legislation probably will emerge from talks between the two chambers. The Senate embraced proposals from Republican Governor Sam Brownback to guarantee that income tax rates will drop over the next four years — more aggressively than the House proposed. Senators supported Brownback's proposal to keep the sales tax at its current rate.

Plan for $1.5B in Kansas Pension Bonds Advances

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has voted to authorize $1.5 billion in bonds to bolster the state pension system for teachers and state government workers. But the Pensions and Benefits Committee vote Thursday was 7-6, reflecting a split over whether the legislation does enough to address a long-term funding gap facing the pension system. The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System projects a $9.3 billion gap between anticipated revenues and benefits promised to public employees through 2033. The system's assets would cover about 53 percent of its obligations. KPERS Executive Director Alan Conroy has said putting the proceeds from the bonds into the pension system would bump up the funding ratio more quickly than it would rise otherwise. The bill goes next to the full House for debate.


Work Stops on Bill to Change School Bargaining Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have dropped their pursuit of a proposal to narrow the topics permitted in contract negotiations between teachers and school districts. House Commerce Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb confirmed Thursday his committee won't vote this year on a bill on teacher bargaining rights. The measure would reduce the issues that teachers' groups could negotiate with local school boards. Teachers could still bargain on matters like pay and sick leave, but no longer on how they are evaluated. Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, said groups representing teachers, administrators and school boards will try to work out a compromise for legislators to consider next year. Their state associations issued a joint statement saying they hope to draft a new proposal by December.


Kansas House Panel Ends Push for 401(k)-Style Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas who want to put new government employees in a 401(k)-style pension plan have abandoned an effort to pass legislation this year. The GOP-controlled House Pensions and Benefits Committee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have set up such a plan for state and local government employees hired after 2014. The bill would set up a separate, retirement plan for new teachers, also moving them away from traditional pension plans that guarantee benefits up front, based on a worker's years of experience and final salary. Committee members said they'd like to move forward with the legislation but don't think they have enough time in this year's legislative session to hash out the details. Lawmakers hope to wrap up most of their work April 5.


Kansas House Committee Reviewing In-State Tuition Waiver for Illegal Immigrant Students

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An emotional crowd gathered for a House committee hearing on a measure that seeks to repeal a statute allowing in-state tuition for Kansas students without legal residency. The measure would repeal a statute that allows students who graduate from Kansas high schools and have lived in Kansas for at least three years to pay in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges, regardless of residency status. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the committee Wednesday that natives of foreign countries who seek student visas to attend Kansas universities pay out-of-state tuition. The biggest response from the crowded gallery, however, came when Representative Ponka-We Victors (D-Wichita), the lone American Indian in the Legislature, told Kobach that when he hears the term 'illegal immigrant,' "I think of all of you."


KS Board of Ed Sends Letter to Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education has sent a letter to Governor Sam Brownback and state legislators reminding them of the board's authority to set state education standards. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the brief letter doesn't mention specific measures before state lawmakers, but asks that legislators respect the board's "constitutional responsibility for the general supervision of schools, which includes accrediting schools, providing for academic standards and the licensure of teachers." The letter was signed by board chairwoman Jana Shaver on behalf of the board. Shaver says the purpose of the letter was to clarify the board's constitutional role. She also said that a measure before a House committee was the main impetus for the letter. That bill would ban the state's current mathematics and English standards.


Convicted Killer, Roger Hollister, Dies in KS Prison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted in 2011 in the death of a 58-year-old woman has died at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 61-year-old Roger Hollister died yesterday (WED) at the prison. Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections, said the prison couldn't immediately release details about the circumstances surrounding Hollister's death because family members were still being notified. Hollister was serving a life sentence without parole for the first-degree murder of Patricia Kimmi of rural Horton. She disappeared in November 2009, and her remains weren't found until May 2010. Hollister was convicted of capital murder in Atchison County in 2011.


Beechcraft Sues Over Lost US Air Force Contract

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Beechcraft is contesting the U.S. Air Force's decision to award a contract for a light air support plane to Sierra Nevada Corporation. The Wichita-based aircraft maker announced today (THURS) that it had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington. The contract for 20 planes for use in Afghanistan is worth more than $427 million. It could be worth as much as $1 billion, depending on future orders. Beechcraft says its plane is cheaper and better. The Air Force defended its decision last week, saying it restarted the competition for the contract last May with a new evaluation team as well as internal and external advisers. The statement says the Air Force is confident its decision is well supported and the proposals were fairly evaluated.


Embattled Franklin County Sheriff to Resign April 1

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) _ An eastern Kansas sheriff who is facing criminal charges says he will resign after the end of the month. The Kansas City Star reports that Franklin County Sheriff Jeffry Curry announced Thursday through his attorney that he will be leaving office effective April 1. That prompted the county prosecutor's office to announce a petition to remove Curry from office will be dismissed April 2. Curry and deputy Jerrod Fredricks are charged with one felony count of interference with law enforcement for allegedly providing false information to investigators. Curry also is facing a misdemeanor official misconduct charge accusing him of using confidential information to benefit himself or someone else. Curry has been with the Sheriff's Office since 1994 and was appointed in sheriff in 2012 before being elected last year.

Injured Fraternity Member Suing KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A University of Kansas student who says underage drinking led to his severe head injury is suing a fraternity. Andrew Johnson of Salina says he and other underage fraternity members of Sigma Phi Epsilon were provided unlimited access to alcohol and encouraged to drink during a 2011 party. Johnson says another student later rammed his head into a concrete wall and he now has brain damage.


Newton Chamber Employee Charged with Embezzlement

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — A former employee with the Newton Chamber of Commerce has been charged with stealing from the organization. Harvey County Prosecutor David Yoder says 43-year-old Kayla Tillery was charged yesterday (WED) with forgery and theft. She's accused of forging a $5,500 check in the name of the Chamber of Commerce and with stealing more than $25,000 from the Chamber's "Newton Bucks" program. "Newton Bucks" can be used like cash and are part of program encouraging residents to shop locally. KAKE-TV reports that Tillery has served prison sentences for forgery, theft and criminal use of a financial card in Kansas and in Arizona. She was hired by the chamber in 2012 and terminated February 28. It was unclear if Tillery has a lawyer.

Bankers Say Farm Income Helping Rural Economy

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Bankers in 10 Midwest and Plains states expect the rural economy to continue growing in the months ahead because of the strength of farm income. The overall economic index on the March Rural Mainstreet survey remained at a healthy level of 56.9 even though it was down from February's 58.2. Any score above 50 on the index, which ranges from 0 to 100, suggests growth in the months ahead. Scores below 50 suggest contraction. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the report. He says the survey suggests farmland values will continue to grow and home sales are beginning to grow. The index is based on a survey of rural bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.


Toby Keith Signs On for the Kansas State Fair

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Country music star Toby Keith has been announced as the latest act in this year's Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson. The Hutchinson News reports the singer ("Should've Been A Cowboy" and "American Soldier") is slated to perform at 7:30 pm on September 15 at the U.S. Cellular Grandstand. Ticket prices range from $20 to $100.  Keith joins a lineup that already includes Kansas, the Eli Young Band, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers with Billy Dean and Jars of Clay.


Inmate Sentenced for Escape from Ottawa Jail

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. (AP) — A judge has sentenced an inmate to about 11 years for escaping from the Ottawa County jail. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says in a release that 22-year-old Drew Edward Wade of Topeka was sentenced to 136 months after pleading guilty to the escape charge in January. Wade was ordered to serve the 11-year sentence consecutively to the seven years he's serving for previous convictions in Shawnee County. Wade and four other inmates escaped from the Ottawa jail in April 2012. A second inmate, Eric James, was sentenced in July to 18 years in federal prison for carjacking charges related to the escape. The other two inmates haven't been sentenced yet.


UPDATE: River Search Called Off for Alleged Bridge Jumpers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Fire department rescue crews have halted a nearly two-hour search of the frigid Missouri River near downtown Kansas City after a witness reported seeing two people jump from a highway bridge into the water. Fire department spokesman James Garrett says the witness reported seeing two people jump from the Bond Bridge on Thursday morning. He says three fire department boats began scouring the river before noon and estimated the distance from the bridge to the water is equivalent to "at least four to five stories." Deputy Chief Jeff Grote says the search was called off after about an hour and 45 minutes after no bodies were found. He says given the distance of the fall and the hazardous wintry conditions recovery of the bodies was unlikely.


Pastor Accused of Molesting Teenager Returns to KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Kansas City, Missouri pastor accused of molesting a teenager at church is back in Missouri after being extradited from New Orleans. Registered sex offender George Spencer arrived in Kansas City on Thursday afternoon. The 48-year-old Kansas City, Kansas man is facing seven Jackson County counts including forcible sodomy, child molestation and sexual misconduct stemming from a Feb. 22, 2012, incident at Greater Works CME Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Prosecutors say Spencer, who was the church's associate pastor, took a 13-year-old girl into the basement of the church to counsel her, but instead molested her while her mother and grandmother were upstairs. Spencer served prison time in Kansas after being convicted in 1993 of aggravated sexual battery and in 1999 of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.


Sedgwick County Deputies Get Carnegie Hero Medals

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has presented medals to two Sedgwick County sheriff's deputies who pulled a 65-year-old Wichita man from a burning vehicle. Deputies Thomas Delgado and Joseph Page say they were just doing their job when they rescued David Ong in 2011 from his burning car. Page and Delgado were among 18 people across the U.S. and Canada to be selected as the latest recipients of the Carnegie Hero award, which was established by steel baron Andrew Carnegie in 1904. The Pittsburgh-based commission that administers the fund chooses recipients four times a year and has awarded more than $34.8 million to more than 9,500 honorees.


KCK to Host World Cup Qualifier

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. has announced the venues for its final four home World Cup qualifiers. The Americans, who lost 2-1 to Honduras on February 6, play their first home match of qualifying against Costa Rica on Friday night at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. The other U.S. home games are against Panama on June 11 in Seattle; against Honduras on June 18 in Sandy, Utah; against Mexico on September 10 in Columbus, Ohio; and against Jamaica on October 11 in Kansas City, Kansas. The men's national team also will play Germany on June 2 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., as part of U.S. Soccer's 100th anniversary celebration. The women's national team is to play Canada at BMOM Field in Toronto the same day.

Spring Break Won't Halt School for Some KC Pupils

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Spring break won't be much of a break for more than 1,000 students in the Kansas City district. Nearly every school is offering educational sessions next week. The district has offered spring break sessions in the past, but they were limited to only a few schools. Teachers will tutor elementary pupils in reading, writing and math. Older students will get help preparing for end-of-course exams. The district says the sessions are vital as students prepare for state tests that begin next month. Most sessions will meet from 9 am to noon over a three-day period. Nearly 1,400 students already have registered to participate, and more students are expected to show up when classes begin. But only students who signed up early will qualify for transportation.


Several Cities to Show Robinson Film in Advance

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City won't be the only place in the country offering advance public screenings of the new Jackie Robinson movie "42" after all. Organizers of Kansas City's April 11 advance screening told the media Wednesday the city was the only place other than Los Angeles where movie would be shown to the public ahead of the its April 12 opening. But on Thursday, a representative for Warner Brothers said the movie would be screened in several markets across the U.S. between the April 9 premiere in L.A. and the official opening. Warner Brothers also announced Thursday that Chadwick Boseman, who plays Robinson in the movie, will join Harrison Ford and Robinson's son, David Robinson, at Kansas City's screenings. Proceeds will benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.


KC Police ID Man Who Died at Union Station

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police have released the name of the motorist who died after he became pinned at a parking garage toll booth while leaving Union Station. Sixty-eight-year-old Leonard Prestia, of Gladstone, was identified Thursday as the man killed in the accident a day earlier. Investigators said Prestia dropped his parking money, leaned down to pick it up and inadvertently hit the gas in his truck. He then became pinned between the toll booth and a garage pillar. Bystanders were able to unpin him and also help two young children who were in Prestia's truck.

Cass County Identifies Body Pulled From Lake

HARRISONVILLE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities have identified a body found inside a partially submerged vehicle in a conservation area in western Missouri. The Cass County Sheriff's Department says in a release that the Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office identified the victim as 27-year-old George Wood of Belton. The vehicle and body were discovered in the Bittern Bottoms Conservation Area south of Harrisonville on Monday. Sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Kevin Tieman says there appears to be no sign of foul play, but he says that Cass County detectives are waiting for additional test results before making a final determination on the cause of death.

Clay County Judge Says Hospital Can Add to Board

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A ruling from the Clay County (Missouri) Circuit Court allows North Kansas City to appoint new members to the city's hospital board. The Kansas City Star reports that the judge also issued an injunction this week saying the hospital can't be sold until a pending lawsuit decides whether the city has the authority to make the sale. The rulings came after North Kansas City Hospital filed the lawsuit seeking to keep the city from appointing new board members. The lawsuit claimed the city was trying to pack the board so the institution could be sold. The judge's ruling says the city has the authority to appoint more board members regardless of its intentions. The city says no sale is imminent.


KS House Speaker Expects Tax Measure to Pass

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Speaker Ray Merrick expects the Kansas House to approve a bill cutting sales and income taxes that's an alternative to a tax plan from Governor Sam Brownback. The House is scheduled to take final action today (THUR) on its measure. House members gave it first-round approval yesterday (WED) on an 82-to-37 vote. Brownback and most GOP legislators want to follow up on massive personal income tax cuts enacted last year with additional reductions in income tax rates. The House plan promises rate reductions in years in which state revenues grow more than 2 percent. Brownback wants guaranteed rate cuts. Brownback would cancel a sales tax decrease scheduled by law for July, and the House bill wouldn't. The Senate passed a tax bill in line with Brownback on those two points.

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

Missouri Officials Search River for 2 People

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Fire department rescue crews are searching the frigid Missouri River near downtown Kansas City after a witness reported seeing at least two people jump off a highway bridge into the water. Fire department spokesman James Garrett says the witness reported seeing two people jump from the Bond Bridge on Thursday morning. He says three fire department boats scouring the river had found no one as of noon. Garrett says the witness report is "credible until proven otherwise." He estimates the distance from the bridge to the water is equivalent to "at least four to five stories." Snow has been falling heavily since late morning and the temperature is below freezing. Garrett says the water is turbulent and cold, and that the shock of hitting the surface could be life-threatening.

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


Kansas Senate Set to Approve Budget Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators are one step away from beginning negotiations on how Kansas will spend some $14 billion on government programs in the next fiscal year. The Senate is scheduled to take final action today (THUR) on its version of the bill after debating the measure for nearly five hours yesterday (WED). The House has already given final approval to its own version of the budget. Both bills generally follow spending recommendations laid out by Republican Governor Sam Brownback. Each would spend some $6 billion in general state revenues and $8 billion from federal funds and other sources in each of the next two years. Negotiator will try to forge a compromise on spending priorities before legislators are scheduled to take a one-month break starting in early April.

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

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