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Regional Headlines for Thursday, May 23, 2013



UPDATE: Kansas Senate Drafting New Tax Plan to Break Impasse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is considering a new tax plan as its Republican leaders hope to end a deadlock with House GOP leaders on raising new revenue from the sales tax. Top Senate Republicans outlined a proposal Thursday to lower the sales tax on groceries to 4.95 percent but keep it at 6.3 percent on all other items. The Senate scheduled the debate after House Republicans rejected a plan to hold votes in both chambers on multiple tax proposals. Republican Governor Sam Brownback wants to cut income taxes further to follow up on massive reductions last year. Raising additional sales tax revenue would prevent budget shortfalls. The sales tax is scheduled by law to drop to 5.7 percent in July. House Republicans had proposed setting the tax at 6 percent.


Kansas Lawmakers' Session Again Exceeds 90 Days

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature's annual session will go into overtime because of disagreements on tax issues among Republicans. Lawmakers were unable to wrap up business Thursday, the 90th day of their session. House Majority Leader Jene (jeen) Vickrey suggested that legislators might be meeting next week. Majority Republicans have been unable to agree on how much new sales tax revenue to raise to prevent budget shortfalls while enacting income tax cuts. GOP leaders had promised that this year's session would last only 80 days. The Kansas Constitution specifies 90-day sessions, but it also grants lawmakers the power to meet longer. Legislators have been in session more than 90 days for 32 of the past 40 years. The longest session was 107 days, in 2002. Last year's session spanned 99 days.


Kansas Governor Urges Lawmakers to Conclude Tax Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is telling Kansas legislators that it's time for them to resolve their differences on tax issues and finish their work for the year. The Republican governor issued his statement Wednesday after negotiations between the House and Senate on adjusting the state sales tax hit a new snag. The legislative negotiators were unable to agree on canceling all or part of a sales tax decline scheduled for July. They planned to meet again Thursday. Brownback wants to keep the sales tax at 6.3 percent to raise revenue so that Kansas can follow the massive income-tax cuts approved last year with more income tax reductions. The governor said the Republican-controlled Legislature is positioning the state for economic growth. But he added, "It is time to wrap up the session."


Brownback Vetoes Bill Expanding Kansas Raffles

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has vetoed legislation that would have allowed limited expansion of charity raffles. The Republican governor said Thursday he determined that the bill violated the Kansas Constitution's provisions on lotteries and gambling. Brownback says he supports the Legislature's intent to allow limited raffles, but he suggested that lawmakers should seek a constitutional amendment instead. The vetoed bill also had provisions amending a state law on DNA sampling and a sentencing rule for firearms violations. Brownback signed six bills Thursday, including one establishing "Celebrate Freedom Week" in public schools and amending a law on bullying in schools. The measure would also let school districts use certain unencumbered funds for certain general operating expenses.


KS Legislature Approves Some Changes to Liquor Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature has approved a bill that makes several changes in alcohol laws. The bill allows alcohol tastings at events put on by nonprofit groups to support the arts. It also will permit hotels to distribute drink coupons for use on site or at certain licensed clubs, and allows the sale of 64-ounce pitchers of mixed drinks. The House approved the bill Wednesday, after the Senate approved it last week. It now goes to Governor Sam Brownback. Nonprofit groups and hotels who provide alcohol tastings or drink coupons will be required to pay the amount of tax the drinks would have accrued if sold. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill also requires that every administrative notice or fine must be settled within 90 days of issuance.


Ammonia Leak at Kansas Tyson Foods Plant Sends 7 to Hospital

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Seven people have been released from an Emporia hospital after an ammonia leak at the city's Tyson Foods plant. KVOE-AM reports that emergency workers were sent to the plant Thursday morning. Officials said the level of ammonia that was leaking was well below what's considered lethal. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson says the leak temporarily disrupted production in part of the processing plant before it was found and stopped. About six weeks ago, Tyson Foods agreed to pay a nearly $4 million civil penalty to settle alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, largely because of ammonia issues. And in April 2009, an accidental release left one person injured.




Fort Riley to Mark Memorial Day

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Leaders of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley will honor fallen soldiers during Memorial Day observances at the northeast Kansas post. Monday's event starts at 11:40 am It will include the laying of a wreath in honor of the soldiers buried at the cemetery near the main post complex. Major General Paul Funk, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, will be joined at the event by Command Sergeant Major Miguel Rivera, the senior enlisted soldier in the division and at Fort Riley. Military installations across the country, including Fort Riley, will have a 21-gun salute at noon, followed by playing the National Anthem and raising the flag to full staff. Fort Riley is home to about 18,000 soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division.



Kansas Teacher Arrested after Threats Toward School

MAIZE, Kan. (AP) — A teacher at a suburban Wichita high school was arrested after the district reported he had made criminal threats against the school. The 39-year-old teacher at Maize High School reportedly made the comments during a soccer game Tuesday night. The school's principal, Chris Botts, said in an email sent to school parents Wednesday the comments suggested possible violence toward the school. He says the school was searched and there was no indication the threat was valid. Sedgwick County jail records show the teacher was booked on charges of criminal threat and was held on $250,000 bond. Maize school administrators said the teacher has been placed on paid leave until the investigation is complete.


Wichita Might Fine Residents over Excessive Water Use


WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita residents and businesses might be required to pay a $1,000 fine a month if they use too much water. The city staff made that recommendation as part of a water conservation proposal unveiled Wednesday. The fine would be imposed on those who use 310 percent more than their average winter water usage. Public Works official Ben Nelson says surveys and meetings found that water rates and indoor and business water use were residents' top priorities, while outdoor use was the lowest priority. This recommendation will go before the Wichita City Council June 4. Wichita is working to respond to low water in Cheney Reservoir, which provides 64 percent of the city's water. Currently, the reservoir is forecast to go dry in mid-2015.


NE Kansas Man Accused of Threatening Police

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City, Kansas man has been indicted on charges of threatening the city's police chief and other law enforcement officers. Federal court records show 42-year-old John D. Hudson was arrested Thursday, one day after being indicted on four counts of retaliating against a witness. Prosecutors allege Hudson told someone in 2012 the police officers were "rats" who would be "eliminated" for giving information to FBI agents. The FBI at the time was investigating unspecified criminal civil rights violations. The indictment also accuses Hudson of saying in March 2013 that he would "start taking them out one by one." The threats allegedly referred to Police Chief Rick Armstrong, Captain Greg Lawson and other law enforcement officers. No one answered Hudson's phone Thursday, and court records do not list an attorney.


Worker Exposed to Ammonia at Fertilizer Plant Dies

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — A man who was working for a subcontractor at a Simplot fertilizer plant near Pocatello, Idaho has died at a Utah hospital after being exposed to ammonia last weekend. University of Utah Hospital officials say 23-year-old Derrick E. Martinez of Garden City, Kansas died Wednesday. Martinez was found unconscious in a mobile testing trailer at the plant on Saturday. Martinez was taken to a Pocatello hospital and then flown to the Utah hospital. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in the air causes burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Martinez worked for a Simplot subcontractor, Blick's Phosphate Conversion. Blick's spokesman Kenny Kalb says the cause of the man's exposure is still being investigated.

June Sentencing in Kansas for Dad Who Bound Kids

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A June sentencing date has been scheduled for a suburban Chicago man who was arrested after two of his children were found bound and blindfolded in a Wal-Mart parking lot in eastern Kansas. Fifty-three-year-old Adolfo Gomez and his wife, Deborah Gomez, of Northlake, Illinois, were arrested last June 13 in Lawrence. Police reported finding two of their children, ages 5 and 7, bound by their hands and feet in the store parking lot. Adolfo Gomez pleaded no contest to felony child abuse and child endangerment. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Gomez is scheduled to be sentenced June 19. A plea agreement between prosecutors and Gomez's previous attorney specified a 30-month prison sentence. Deborah Gomez was sentenced earlier to one year of probation after pleading no contest to child endangerment.


Salina Resident Accused of LA Gang Activity

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — California authorities have arrested a 31-year-old Kansas resident who's accused of helping coordinate gang activities in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Francis Hardiman was in Salina on Wednesday to arrest the woman. Hardiman told The Salina Journal the woman's accused of using cellphones and computers from her Salina home to help coordinate criminal activity of the Surenos street gang in Los Angeles and Mexican Mafia members in the Los Angeles County jail. The Los Angeles County prosecutor's office said Thursday formal charges hadn't been filed. Hardiman said it's not uncommon for a gang member in her position to be located far from the prison where gang members are housed. Salina police say she's being held in the Saline County jail pending extradition, which could take two weeks.


Ex-Kansas Doctor Indicted on Firearm, Drug Charges

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal grand jury has formally charged a former Kansas doctor with illegally having a handgun as a convicted felon. A three-count indictment handed down Wednesday charges Lawrence Simons with unlawful possession of a firearm, ammunition and controlled substances. Simons was arrested last week on a criminal complaint. Prosecutors say he gave a bondsman a gun as partial payment for bailing him out of jail last month in an unrelated criminal threat case. His attorney has declined to comment on the case. The 57-year-old Wichita doctor has a 2010 felony conviction for unlawfully distributing prescription drugs. He had surrendered his license to write prescriptions, and could not lawfully possess controlled substances. The indictment alleges prescription drugs were found at three storage units after Simons stopped making lease payments.

Testimony Starts in Trial of Ex-Kansas Officer

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a former Kansas police instructor killed his wife because she was divorcing him, then burned down the couple's home in Kingman to hide evidence. But attorneys for Brett Seacat contend his wife, 34-year-old Vashti Seacat, was depressed and shot herself and set the fire in April 2011. Her husband and two young children escaped the fire. The attorneys outlined their differing scenarios during opening statements Wednesday in Seacat's trial for first-degree murder. The Hutchinson News reports that the statements were presented after a jury of five women and 10 men, including three alternates, was selected. A coroner couldn't determine whether Vashti Seacat's death was a homicide or suicide. Brett Seacat is a former instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Reno County.

Meteorologists: Kansas Weekend Tornado Classified as an EF4

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — The National Weather Service says a tornado that traveled seven miles across rural western Kansas during the weekend was an EF4, with winds of 165 to 185 miles per hour. The report from the agency's Dodge City office follows a survey of the tornado's path Saturday night in Pawnee County. An EF4 is the second-strongest on the scale used to measure the strength of tornadoes. No injuries occurred, but one farmhouse lost most of its roof and some walls and four others sustained lesser damage as the tornado traveled from six miles southwest of Rozel to about one mile west of the small town. The Weather Service says the tornado then turned to the northwest and dissipated about three miles northwest of town. The tornado measured 1,100 yards across at its maximum width.


Missouri Woman Indicted on Civil Rights Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A western Missouri woman has been charged with violating the civil rights of a black family by their home on fire. The U.S. Attorney's office says a federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment Thursday against 33-year-old Victoria Cheek-Herrera, of Independence. Prosecutors allege that Cheek-Herrera conspired with others, who were not named, to threaten and intimidate a black couple and their two children who were renting an Independence home in June 2008. Investigators said Cheek-Herrera and another person wrote the words "White Power" on the family's driveway, then set fire to their home with a Molotov cocktail. A phone number for Cheek-Herrera could not be found Thursday, and it wasn't clear if she had a lawyer.


Senators Praise McConnell Tanker Decision

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Senator Jerry Moran says the Air Force decision to base a new air refueling tanker at McConnell Air Force Base will help protect the base against any future military cutbacks or closures. The Kansas congressional delegation says McConnell will be the main operating site for the KC-46A, which will replace the KC-135. The Air Force will base 36 of the new aircraft at McConnell starting in 2016 and will spent $192 million on upgrades. McConnell was chosen over bases in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Washington. Republican Senator Pat Roberts says McConnell's makeover following the devastating tornado in 1991 gave it a solid platform and a "leg up" in the competition. He says it also fulfills an Air Force general's promise made after bombers were relocated to base in South Dakota.

3 SW Kansas Children Found Safe 5 Miles from Home

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — Three young children who wandered five miles from their southwest Kansas farmhouse have been found safe after a frantic, 15-hour search. The High Plains Daily Leader reports authorities in Seward County were notified of the children's disappearance Tuesday evening. A citizen spotted them around 9:30 am Wednesday in Liberal and took them to a business. They were reported to be tired and hungry. A family member had been looking after the children — two girls, ages 3 and 5, and a 7-year-old boy — at their rural Seward County home Tuesday while other relatives went to Liberal on errands. Law enforcement officers and first responders from southwest Kansas and nearby Oklahoma searched for the children throughout the night, scouring fields on ATV's. Search dogs from Wichita and Hutchinson also took part.

Kansas City Plans Event to Mark World Trade Week

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City business leaders will highlight the value of the region's exports at an international trade event. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce says more than 200 people are expected to attend KC World Trade Day on Thursday at Richards-Gebaur Commerce Park. Kansas City Area Development Council president and CEO Bob Marcusse will discuss how the area is competing on a global scale. The afternoon's sessions will be focused on the region's logistics assets.

UPDATE: Still No Agreement on Kansas Tax Rates at KS Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Senate negotiators have rejected the latest offer from House counterparts on a deal to adjust Kansas tax rates and end the annual session. The top two Republicans at the negotiating table expressed disappointment over where talks were headed. More meetings were likely later Thursday. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and most members of the GOP-dominated Legislature want to cut income taxes further following massive reductions last year. Brownback argues the state must raise additional sales tax revenue to prevent budget problems. The 6.3 percent sales tax is set by law to fall to 5.7 percent in July. GOP lawmakers can't agree on how much of the decrease to cancel.

 **This story has been updated. Please see above for latest information. 


UPDATE: Kansas Senate GOP Leaders Push for Votes on Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in the Kansas Senate are pushing for a flurry of votes on tax issues in hopes of breaking a deadlock with the House's GOP leaders. GOP senators proposed having each chamber vote Thursday on as many as three different plans for raising new sales tax revenues while reducing individual income tax rates. They floated the idea during negotiations with House members. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and most members of the GOP-dominated Legislature want to cut income taxes further following massive reductions last year. Brownback argues the state must raise additional sales tax revenue to prevent budget problems. The 6.3 percent sales tax is set by law to fall to 5.7 percent in July. GOP lawmakers can't agree on how much of the planned decrease to cancel.


**This story has been updated. Please see above for latest information. 



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