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Regional Headlines for Thursday, May 10, 2012



Kansas Budget Negotiations Begin

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiations are under way on the final version of the 2013 Kansas budget as legislators seek a compromise on the $14 billion spending bill. Passage of the bill is central to lawmakers being able to end the legislative session on Friday, which is the scheduled last day. House and Senate budget leaders met Thursday morning to discuss the first offers for reconciling the budget, which includes proposals for increasing spending for public schools and social services. One sticking point will be how much legislators will pay for the schools and how they will find the money. Senators want to increase aid to schools by $50 million in base aid, taking the money from state general revenues. The House plan allocates $25 million more in school funding, which would be drawn from highway funds.


UPDATE: GOP Impasse Continues in Kansas on Senate Remapping 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has endorsed three new proposals for redrawing senators' districts, showing that Republican legislators aren't closer to ending an impasse over the issue. The new plans approved Thursday by the Senate Reapportionment Committee all draw at least three conservative candidates out of the districts of the Senate incumbents they've planned to challenge in GOP primaries. They're unacceptable to GOP conservatives, who hope to wrest control of the Senate from its moderate Republican leaders. The Senate committee's action came the same day the House planned to debate a bill to redraw the 40 Senate districts favored by GOP conservatives, who control the House. The battle over Senate redistricting has stalled action on redrawing other political boundaries and threatens to postpone the August 7 primary election.


No Quick Vote Seen in Kansas Senate on Anti-Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's leader isn't planning to allow a quick vote on a bill aimed at preventing the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly through tax breaks. The House passed the bill earlier this week. Senate President Steve Morris had the option of bypassing committee consideration and allowing an up-or-down vote in his chamber on sending the measure to Governor Sam Brownback. But Morris, a Hugoton Republican, sent the bill to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. Morris said he's concerned about a provision limiting state employees to performing abortions off state property and on their own time. It applies to doctors-in-training at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, and Morris says it could affect the institution's accreditation. Abortion opponents say there's no threat.


UPDATE: Kansas House Approves Property Tax Classification

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have approved a bill seeking to buy time for defining what constitutes real and personal business property. Wednesday's 103-21 vote sends the measure to the Senate. At issue is property that has previously been exempt from property taxes because of abatements granted by cities and counties. As those abatements expire, the property must be classified as either real or personal for tax purposes. However, legislators approved a bill in 2006 that removed business machinery and equipment from tax rolls. Legislators want to take two years to define real and personal property. Their goal is to prevent previously exempt equipment from being reclassified as real property, forcing higher property taxes on businesses. The bill was pushed by a refinery case in Montgomery County.


Kansas House Defeats Repeal of In-State Tuition Program for Illegal Immigrants 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has rejected an effort to repeal a 2004 law allowing some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. The law permits illegal immigrants who meet certain rules, such as graduating from a Kansas high school, to pay the lower tuition Kansas charges to residents of the state. The Kansas Board of Regents says about 500 students participate in the program. House members defeated a proposed repeal Thursday on an unrecorded 68-32 vote during debate on a broader education bill. Those favoring repeal said the tuition program rewards illegal immigrants and serves to attract others to Kansas. But other House members said the students who benefit from the program are working toward citizenship and bettering their lives.


Kansas House Approves Speeded-Up Implementation of Voter-Citizenship Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved Secretary of State Kris Kobach's proposal to require first-time voters to prove their U.S. citizenship starting June 15th. The vote Wednesday was 72-51. The measure goes next to the Senate. Kansas already has the rule for people registering to vote for the first time in the state, but it is not scheduled to take effect until January 2013. Kobach wants the rule in place for the normal surge of voter registrations ahead of this year's presidential election. Critics argue it will suppress voter turnout. The House approved an earlier version of Kobach's plan in February, but the measure stalled in a Senate committee. Kobach's allies hope senators will vote on the latest version without sending it to committee.

Kansas Agencies Wrangle over Pipeline Taxes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There's disagreement in Kansas over whether oil company TransCanada should be exempt from paying millions in property taxes for the section of its Keystone pipeline that moves oil through Kansas to Oklahoma. The Kansas Department of Revenue wants the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals to reconsider its decision to approve TransCanada's 2011 property tax exemption. The department estimates TransCanada owes nearly $19 million in 2011 property taxes for the pipeline that's been operating since last year. The department says the pipeline doesn't meet a requirement that Kansas refineries must have access to the oil in order for TransCanada to get the exemption. The Court of Tax Appeals, however, says the pipeline meets the access requirement because Kansas refineries can get the oil from facilities in Oklahoma.

HHS Review Shows Suspect Billings at 2,600 Drugstores

WASHINGTON (AP) — Medicare paid $5.6 billion to 2,600 pharmacies with questionable billings, including a Kansas drugstore that submitted more than 1,000 prescriptions each for two patients in just one year, government investigators have found. The new report by the inspector general of the Health and Human Services department finds the corner drugstore is vulnerable to fraud, partly because Medicare does not require the private insurers that deliver prescription benefits to seniors to report suspicious billing patterns. "While some pharmacies may be billing extremely high amounts for legitimate reasons, all warrant further scrutiny," said the report being issued Thursday. The analysis broke new ground by scrutinizing every claim submitted by the nation's 59,000 retail pharmacies during 2009 — nearly 1 billion prescriptions. Using statistical analysis, investigators were able to reveal contrasts between normal business practices and potential criminal behavior.
In written comments, Medicare administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the agency mostly agrees with the inspector general's call to action. But she suggested that requiring private insurers to monitor and report suspicious activity could place a burden on the companies and may flood government officials with leads that turn out to be useless.
Medicare also said it has anti-fraud contractors that are already keeping close tabs on the program. Overall, only a small fraction of retail pharmacies — 4.4 percent — were found to have telltale patterns of questionable billings. But in some parts of the country, the share was much higher, reaching nearly 20 percent of pharmacies in Miami, an area known as an incubator for Medicare fraud. In Los Angeles, where 12 percent of pharmacies had questionable billings, one drugstore in a suburban strip mall billed Medicare more than $8.4 million, nine times the national average. Nationally, independent pharmacies were more likely to have problems than chain drugstores.

A pharmacy trade group stressed that the vast majority of drugstores are law abiding businesses. Kevin Schweers, spokesman for the National Community Pharmacists Association, said the report "lacks sufficient detail to evaluate the medical legitimacy and appropriateness of the claims reviewed."

Medicare says it has been using computer analysis to look for evidence of suspicious activity by providers, but the new analysis was apparently the first such template for the $53 billion program as a whole. Previously, there were no comprehensive data about pharmacies' typical billing patterns, or types of questionable billings. "The program has limited safeguards in place and is vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse," the report said. For example, the private insurers who serve as program middlemen are encouraged to report fraud, but they are not required to do so. "Because (insurers) are on the front lines of detecting fraud, waste and abuse ... a significant vulnerability exists when (they) are not required to report this information," the report found. It urged Medicare to develop a fraud risk rating for each individual pharmacy.

Whooping Cough Outbreak Reported in Johnson County

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — An outbreak of whooping cough is being reported in Johnson County. County health officials said Wednesday that 70 confirmed or probable cases of whooping cough have been reported in the county this year. The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment said people who have regular contact with infants should get a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine. Health care providers are being urged to consider the possibility of whooping cough when evaluating patients with a serious cough.

2 Kansas Hospitals Receive Level 4 Trauma Center Designations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hospitals in Sabetha and Beloit are the first in the state to be designated as Level 4 trauma centers. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday announced the designation for Mitchell County Hospital Health Systems in Beloit and Sabetha Community Hospital. The designation means the two hospitals have met requirements for equipment and resources to provide urgent care for seriously injured patients. They also have established relationships with other trauma centers if a higher level of care is needed. WIBW reports the Legislature gave KDHE authority earlier this year to begin designating Level IV trauma centers. The state has four separate categories of designation, with each category having different, specific criteria.


Kansas Beats National Average in Science Test

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says Kansas eighth-graders scored higher than the national average on a science proficiency exam. State officials said Thursday that Kansas students had an average scaled score of 156 out of 300 on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. That is higher than 26 other states and lower than 15 states. The national average was 151. The report says 35 percent of Kansas eighth-graders scored "proficient" or above in science. The national average was 31 percent. Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said the state was in "a good position from which to grow." The U.S. Education Department says the results show that eighth-graders nationwide are doing better in science than they were two years ago, but seven out of 10 still are not considered proficient.

Computer Thieves Hit Kansas City Schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are looking for three men who they believe stole more than $50,000 worth of equipment from schools. Police say the men stole 13 computers from Avila University on April 20. KSHB-TV reports  two weeks later, the same trio tried to take computers at DeVry University but a security guard frightened them away. That same day, the men took seven computers from the Derrick Thomas Academy in Kansas City.

Peacock Spotted along I-70 in Eastern Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Drivers along the Kansas Turnpike near Eudora are reporting they have seen a peacock wandering around along the shoulder of eastbound Interstate 70 near the Tonganoxie-Eudora exit. Kansas Turnpike officials say they've received several reports about the bird in the last week and a half. The Lawrence Journal-World reports maintenance crews and a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper have tried unsuccessfully to capture the bird. Turnpike spokeswoman Lisa Callahan says crews want to capture the bird for its safety and the safety of drivers who might be distracted by it. Callahan said no one knows where the bird came from.


Wichita Mosque Fire Declared an Arson

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita fire official says a blaze at a mosque in the city was intentionally set. The fire last Halloween at the Islamic Association of Mid Kansas mosque caused about $120,000 in damage but no one was injured. The Wichita Eagle reports the congregation was able to return to the mosque last Friday. Fire Captain Stuart Bevis said Wednesday test results from federal officials ruled out the last possible accidental source of the fire. He says at this point, all leads in the case have been investigated. The mosque was the first formal mosque in Kansas when it opened in 1978. It had received anti-Islam letters before the fire but Bevis says investigators weren't able to prove a connection between the letters and the fire.

Cosmosphere Names New CEO and President/COO

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center has a new leadership team. The Hutchinson organization announced Thursday that it had selected Dick Hollowell as new CEO. Hollowell has been interim CEO since November 2011. The Cosmosphere also appointed Jim Remar as president and chief operating officer. He worked at the museum as senior vice president from 2000 to 2008. The Hutchinson News reports Hollowell has started several programs since he became interim CEO, bringing in new revenues and also reducing expenses by more than $200,000 annually. Remar will start his new job at the Cosmosphere June 4.

Reno Air Races Hires Mediator to Work Toward Lawsuit Settlements

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A lawyer for the Reno Air Racing Association says they are working with attorneys for several families of victims of September's deadly crash to try to settle their lawsuits out of court. Ken Feinberg told a U.S. magistrate in Reno, Nevada on Wednesday they brought in renowned mediator Ken Feinberg to help resolve claims stemming from the crash that killed 11 people...including some from Kansas...and seriously injured 70. As a result, the Reno Gazette-Journal reports lawyers in several of those cases have agreed to put them on hold. Feinberg was the special master of a federal compensation fund for victims of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. He also administered funds for victims of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and victims of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.


OKC Thunder to Play Preseason Game in Wichita 

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder will play preseason games this year in two cities where exhibition play was scrubbed last fall by the NBA lockout. The Thunder announced Thursday they'll play the Phoenix Suns on October 19 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, followed by a matchup October 24 with the Dallas Mavericks at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita. It's the first time the Thunder will play in Wichita. They've played three other preseason games in Tulsa. Tickets for both games go on sale May 23. The Thunder will announce the rest of their preseason schedule later.

Escaped Sex Offender Captured

LANSING, Kan. (AP) — A convicted child sex offender who escaped from a northeastern Kansas prison three weeks ago has been captured in Kansas City, Kansas. State corrections officials say 59-year-old Gary Leslie Furthmyer was taken into custody at 2 pm Wednesday. He was positively identified at the Wyandotte County jail and returned to the Lansing Correctional Facility. The Corrections Department credits the apprehension to one of a dozen tips made to a Crime Stoppers hotline. Furthmyer escaped around 3 am April 18th from his minimum security job at the Lansing prison's steam plant. He was serving a six- to 25-year sentence out of Sedgwick County for indecent liberties with a child and aggravated failure to appear. Officials had said last week there were possible sightings of Furthmyer at homeless shelters in Kansas City, Missouri.

Police Seek Link Between Missouri Body, Missing Kansan

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Authorities in two states are checking possible links between a burned body found in a suburban Kansas City backyard and a missing persons case in northeastern Kansas. The tenant of a rental home in Lee's Summit, Missouri found the body of a middle-aged, heavyset white male Monday in the backyard. Police had not identified the man by Wednesday, and still weren't sure if he died in the fire or was set ablaze after being killed. Detectives are looking into possible connections with a report filed Sunday of a person missing from Leawood, Kansas about 15 miles away. Police were not releasing that person's name on Wednesday, but they're asking the public's help in locating the individual's vehicle. It's a black, 2005 Jeep Cherokee with Kansas license plate 726-CSI.


Motorcycle Group Tries to Help Small Kansas Cafes

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Owners of small cafes in Kansas are happy to see one group of motorcyclists pull up for a bite to eat. The Retired Old Motorcyclists Eating Out — or ROMEOS — make an effort to provide some cash and customers for mom-and-pop restaurants across the state. The Hutchinson News reports the group was started a dozen years ago by Richard Kutz of Lindsborg, who recruited a small group of friends to ride to restaurants every week. Today, the ROMEOS have split into five clubs with nearly 500 members. Kutz says the group knows it's hard for small towns to recover if they lose their cafes, so they try to support and publicize those restaurants. The group has traveled this spring to diners in Sun City, Luray, Haven, and Wakefield.

MLB to Build 9 Homes in Tornado-Ravaged Cities

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Major League Baseball and a charitable foundation for players plans to build two house frames outside Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium during the league's All-Star game on July 10th. MLB officials and corporate sponsor State Farm said yesterday in Kansas City they want to use the effort to remind fans that the storm-ravaged communities of Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama still need help. Five of the proposed nine Habitat homes will go to Joplin, which lost an estimated 7,500 homes in the EF5 tornado last May that killed 161 people. The other four will go to Tuscaloosa, where more than 50 people died in an EF4 tornado in late April 2011.


Governor Brownback: Lawmakers Should Keep Working on Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas legislators should keep working on tax issues, even though they've already sent him a bill reducing income and sales taxes. The measure cleared the House Wednesday on a 64-59 vote, and Brownback says he's prepared to sign it. The Senate had approved it earlier, though many members didn't like much of it and worried it could create budget problems. The bill reduces individual income tax rates, eliminates income taxes for 191,000 businesses and lowers the 6.3 percent sales tax to 5.7 percent in July 2013. But the Legislature's staff has predicted the cuts will create a budget shortfall that could exceed $2.7 billion by July 2017. The House's action prevented the Senate from voting on a less aggressive alternative.

Kansas House Advances Property Tax Classification Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have given first-round approval to a bill that seeks to buy time for defining what constitutes real and personal business property. Wednesday's voice vote advanced the measure to final House action, expected Thursday. House passage would send the measure to the Senate. At issue is property that has previously been exempt from property taxes because of abatements granted by cities and counties. As those abatements expire, the property must be classified as either real or personal for tax purposes. However, legislators approved a bill in 2006 that removed business machinery and equipment from tax rolls. Legislators want to take two years to define real and personal property. Their goal is to prevent previously exempt equipment from being reclassified as real property, forcing higher property taxes on businesses.

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

Senate Redistricting Debate Delayed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House postponed debate on proposed new boundaries of the state Senate's 40 districts. House leaders cited scheduling issues in delaying Wednesday's planned debate until Thursday. Many legislators believe the map being considered by the House would help conservatives wrest control of the Senate from its moderate GOP leaders in this year's elections. Conservatives contend a bipartisan redistricting proposal approved last week by the Senate is designed to keep the chamber's current leaders in power. The dispute over Senate redistricting has stalled action on redrawing House, State Board of Education and congressional districts. If the impasse drags on, the state could be forced to postpone its August 7th primary election.

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


UPDATE: Kansas House to Take Up Senate Redistricting Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House is preparing to debate a plan for drawing new state Senate districts backed by conservative Republicans. A bill on Thursday's agenda in the House would adjust the lines of the 40 Senate districts to account for changes in population over the past decade. A debate Wednesday was postponed. Many legislators believe the map would help conservatives take control of the Senate from its moderate GOP leaders in this year's elections. But conservatives argue a bipartisan redistricting proposal approved last week by the Senate is designed to keep the chamber's current leaders in power. The battle among Republicans over Senate redistricting has stalled action on redrawing House, State Board of Education and congressional districts. If the impasse drags on, the state could postpone its August 7 primary election.

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

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