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Regional Headlines for Thursday, May 17, 2012



UPDATE: New Kansas Tax Cut Deal Appears to Be Unraveling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An agreement among Kansas legislators on cutting income taxes appears to be unraveling. Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Hugoton Republican, said he doesn't like the plan because he sees it as too aggressive and believes it could lead to future budget problems. Conservative Republicans in the Kansas House grumbled Thursday that the proposal drafted by House and Senate negotiators is not aggressive enough. It reduces individual income tax rates and phases out income taxes for 191,000 businesses. The House kept the process moving forward late Thursday afternoon by voting 66 to 49 to suspend a rule requiring all negotiators to sign off on a compromise proposal. The Senate must approve the same motion to keep the compromise alive. The proposal is also opposed by a number of Democrats, who fear that it will lead to budget cuts. 


UPDATE: Kansas Lawmakers Approve Compromise Pension Measure 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature has given final approval to a bill aimed at bolstering the long-term financial health of the state's pension system by using gambling dollars to pay for retirement benefits. The House approved the measure Thursday on a 74-42 vote, hours after the Senate passed it, 35-2. The legislation is a compromise drafted by House and Senate negotiators to resolve dozens of differences between their chambers. The bill will go to Governor Sam Brownback, who told The Associated Press that he'll sign it. The legislation would direct future revenues from state-owned casinos to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. It also creates a new retirement plan for teachers and government workers hired after 2014. The measure passed over the objections of public employee groups.


New Kansas Congressional Redistricting Plan Emerges

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new plan for redrawing Kansas congressional districts has emerged in the Kansas House. The House Redistricting Committee approved a proposal Thursday to adjust the lines of the four congressional districts to reflect changes in the state's population over the past decade. The latest plan creates slightly more Republican districts for three of the four members of the state's all-GOP delegation in the U.S. House. The map splits Lawrence between the 2nd District of eastern Kansas and the 1st District of western and central Kansas. The city is now split between the 2nd and the 3rd District, which is centered on the Kansas City metro area. The committee's 9-7 vote sends the measure to the House for debate, which is expected Friday.


Kansas Senate Leader Hospitalized over High Blood Pressure Concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler has been hospitalized because of high blood pressure. Emler's office confirmed Thursday that he's been undergoing medical tests at an area hospital, though it declined to say which one. Emler has been absent from the Statehouse since Wednesday. The Lindsborg Republican's office said he is expected to return Friday for legislative business. Emler, a 62-year-old attorney, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and is serving his third term. He's in his second year as majority leader, and he previously served as chairman of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee.


UPDATE: Kansas Senators Continue Negotiations over Remap Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Members of the Kansas Senate are still negotiating over proposals to redraw the chamber's 40 districts. They were hoping Thursday to end a feud among Republicans. An impasse between GOP conservatives and moderates has prevented the Legislature from passing any proposal to redraw political boundaries to reflect population shifts over the past decade. A federal lawsuit over redistricting is pending. The defendant is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and he's asked to have three federal judges settle redistricting issues for lawmakers. Republicans are at odds because GOP conservatives and moderates are battling for control of the chamber in this year's primary elections. Conservatives believe GOP moderates are drawing lines to keep the chamber's current leaders in power, while moderates are suspicious of proposals from conservatives.


Parties in Kansas Remap Lawsuit Given Deadline for Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Parties in a federal lawsuit filed over the Kansas Legislature's failure to redraw the state's political boundaries have until May 29 to submit their own proposals to the court. Chief U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil set the deadline Thursday. Vratil also scheduled a hearing in the case for the same day, saying it will continue to May 30 if necessary. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe. The defendant is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state's chief elections officer. An impasse among Senate Republicans has prevented any proposal for redrawing political boundaries from winning legislative approval. Kobach asked Wednesday for the appointment of three federal judges to hear the lawsuit and impose new political boundaries for legislators.


NBAF Funding Approved by US House Committee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A U.S. House committee has approved funding for construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday included $75 million for construction of the biosecurity lab in its budget for the next fiscal year. The appropriations bill now goes to the full House for consideration. The committee also recommended releasing a total of $90 million that had been previously appropriated for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. The Topeka Capital Journal reports $40 million of that money would be used for construction of a central utility plant, with the other $50 million for general construction of the facility on the Kansas State University campus. The $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility would be a center for research of deadly animal diseases.

KU Proposes Tougher Admissions Standards

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is proposing new standards that would make its admission criteria more stringent than those of any other of the state's universities. Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little discussed the proposed new standards Wednesday with the Kansas Board of Regents. Currently, all six regents universities have the same admissions standards. The proposed standards would raise the required GPA score of high school students and require students to apply by February 1. Students who don't meet the automatic qualifications could still be admitted by a review committee that would consider several other factors. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the Regents did not take action on the proposal Wednesday but seemed mostly supportive.

Settlement Gives Buyers Partial Refunds on Shoes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has joined a national settlement with Skechers USA Inc. over claims it made about some of its shoes. Kansas joined 42 other states and the Federal Trade Commission in filing agreements to resolve allegations against Skechers. The company claimed its Shape-Ups, Tone-Ups and Resistance Runner athletic shoes could tone muscles and help people lose weight. The deal requires the company to allocate up to $40 million for consumer refunds nationwide. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release Wednesday that Kansans who bought the shoes can go to the attorney general's website or call his office for information on how to obtain a partial refund.

Kansas Governor Signs Apology for Segregation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation apologizing to African-American citizens for the years of segregation sanctioned by state laws. Brownback signed the proclamation Thursday, the 58th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. The 1954 ruling declared separate schools for blacks and whites inherently unequal and struck down the doctrine of "separate but equal" as a justification for segregated educational facilities. Among those in attendance were Deborah Dandridge, chairwoman of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, and Mildred Edwards, the commission's executive director.


Emporia State Names New Dean

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The Emporia State Teachers College has named a new dean. The university said Thursday that Ken Weaver, an associate dean of the college, will replace Phil Bennett, who retires June 9. Weaver, who has been at Emporia State for 26 years, received his bachelor's degree in biology and master's in science education from the University of South Carolina. Emporia State said Weaver's doctoral degree in educational psychology is from Columbia University. Weaver is also president of the Kansas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and a fellow of the American Psychological Association.


Water Company Employee from Kansas Dies on the Job

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man has died from injuries he suffered at a work site in Joplin. Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel says 40-year-old Robert W. Clark of Baxter Springs died Wednesday. He was an employee of Missouri-American Water Company. The Joplin Globe reports Clark was working on a water main when a saw kicked back and cut him. He was taken by co-workers to the emergency room of St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, where he was pronounced dead.

Soldier Found Dead at Fort Riley

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — The Army is investigating the death of a Fort Riley soldier from upstate New York. Officials at the northeastern Kansas post say 21-year-old Private Thomas Lavrey was pronounced dead after being found unresponsive in his living quarters on Sunday. The cause of death remained under investigation Wednesday. Lavrey was a native of West Seneca, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. He joined the Army in March 2010 and was assigned to Fort Riley in September of that year. He was a utilities equipment repairman assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

MO Man with 14 DUI Convictions Charged Again in KS

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A 50-year-old Missouri man with at least 14 prior drunken driving convictions is facing a new DUI charge after a traffic accident and altercation in Johnson County, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that John Charles Howard, of Branson, was arrested this week by Overland Park police on a report that he wrecked his car and threatened another man with a knife. Besides DUI, the Johnson County charges include fleeing from a law enforcement officer and driving with a suspended license. Court records show Howard formerly lived in the Kansas City area and has DUI convictions in both Kansas and Missouri. There was no phone listing for Howard in Branson, and he had not been assigned a Johnson County public defender by Wednesday.


Wolf Mask-Wearing Robber Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A 21-year-old Salina man accused of robbing a former business while wearing a wolf mask and holding a meat cleaver has been sentenced to more than three years behind bars. The Salina Journal reports Joel K. Chenault was sentenced Monday in Saline County District Court to 40 months. He also was sentenced to six months for breaking another inmate's jaw, to run concurrent with the other sentence. He pleaded no contest in March to one count of robbery and two counts of aggravated assault. Prosecutors say in addition to the meat cleaver, Chenault was holding a 2-by-2-inch board when he went into the Grind on January 4, 2011, to rob it.


Oklahoma Man Killed in Kansas Motorcycle Crash

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — A 38-year-old Oklahoma man has been killed in a motorcycle crash in southwest Kansas. The Hutchinson News reports that J. Chad Cheyenne McIntire of Turpin, Oklahoma died early Thursday when he lost control of his motorcycle on U.S. 83 in Seward County near Liberal. McIntire was northbound on U.S. 83 when the motorcycle went off the right side of the road. The Kansas Highway Patrol said he was not wearing a helmet.


A First for Kansas: Baby Born from Frozen Egg

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas Hospital officials say a baby girl born two weeks ago is a pioneer in Kansas. They say Morgan Belle Dickson is the first child born in the state using a frozen egg. Her parents are Jessica and Ryan Dickson of Kansas City. Dr. Samuel Kim heads the hospital's Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Clinic. He froze Dickson's eggs in February 2011 while the couple decided how to start a family after having trouble conceiving a child. The Kansas City Star reports that two fertilized eggs were implanted in August. Dickson found out she was pregnant in November. Kim says the process has been available for decades but before now was used in the U.S. mostly on the East and West coasts.

Kansas Senate Expected to Vote on Pensions Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is preparing to vote on a bill designed to bolster the long-term financial health of the state pension system for teachers and government workers. The measure on the Senate's agenda Thursday is a compromise drafted by negotiators who settled differences between the two chambers. If the House also approves it, the plan will go to Governor Sam Brownback. The compromise includes a plan to use casino revenues to bolster the long-term financial health of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The legislation also includes a new retirement plan for public employees hired after 2014. The proposal calls for moving away from traditional plans guaranteeing retirement benefits based on a worker's salary and years of service. But the new plan also isn't a 401(k)-style plan.

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

Kansas Senate Cancels Remapping Debate Though Talks Will Continue

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has put off a debate on a proposal for redrawing the chamber's 40 districts as talks involving Republicans continue. Aides to Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler said Wednesday the Lindsborg Republican was called away by family business, leading to the cancellation of the debate. But even in Emler's absence, conservative and moderate Republican senators were negotiating privately over adjustments of district boundaries to account for changes in population over the past decade. The Senate's Democratic leader also was involved. The dispute among Republicans over redistricting threatens to delay the state's August 7th primary election. Also Wednesday, Secretary of State Kris Kobach asked a federal court to resolve redistricting issues for legislators. Kobach is the defendant in a federal lawsuit over redistricting.

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

Aggressive Tax Cut Bill Sent to Governor Brownback

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An aggressive package of income tax cuts has gone to Governor Sam Brownback, who has until May 26th to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. The bill reached Brownback's desk Wednesday, the same day the Republican-led House and Senate agreed on a revised version that would phase in the cuts approved by lawmakers last week. The new proposal keeps the main features of the earlier version, by lowering individual income tax rates and eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses. But those changes would be phased in over six years, to reduce the effect on state revenue and prevent an expected shortfall by mid-2018.

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

Kansas Budget Negotiators Resume Talks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislative negotiators working on the Kansas budget say state spending for education and other programs is tied to a pending compromise on tax cuts. The budget talks resumed Wednesday after the conferees made little progress Tuesday. They're trying to resolve differences between the House and Senate on the $14 billion spending plan for the budget year that starts July 1st. A new tax bill that emerged Wednesday would blunt the effects of a plan legislators approved last week. It would leave the state with healthier ending balances and would not require significant cuts in spending to balance the budget. The budget negotiators met Wednesday and planned to resume their talks Thursday ahead of a key vote on the new tax plan.

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


UPDATE: Kansas Senate Approves Compromise Pension Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed a bill aimed at stabilizing the long-term financial health of the state pension system for teachers and government workers. The measure, approved on a 35-2 vote Thursday, is a compromise drafted by negotiators who settled differences between the two chambers. The House also expected to vote on it Thursday, and its approval would send the measure to Governor Sam Brownback. The compromise would set aside casino revenues to bolster the long-term financial health of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The legislation also includes a new retirement plan for public employees hired after 2014. The proposal calls for moving away from traditional plans guaranteeing retirement benefits based on a worker's salary and years of service. But the new plan also isn't a 401(k)-style plan.

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


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