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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Kansas Budget Negotiations Begin

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House and Senate negotiators have started meetings to settle differences over the 2014 state budget, a process expected to continue over the next two weeks. Two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber met Tuesday morning to hear an offer from the House on resolving several hundred line items. The House and Senate have both approved $14 billion spending plans for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Leaders have said the negotiations could last several weeks. The work is tied to progress on tax legislation pending in both chambers. The House and Senate's budgets closely resemble the spending proposal offered by Republican Governor Sam Brownback at the start of the session. Each would spend about $6 billion in state revenue and $8 billion from other sources.


Kansas Proposal for $1.5B in Pension Bonds Advances

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have given first-round approval to a bill authorizing $1.5 billion in bonds to boost the financial health of the state pension system for teachers and government workers. The bill advanced Tuesday on a voice vote. House members expected to take final action on the bill by Wednesday, when passage would send it to the Senate. The bill follows two years of legislation overhauling the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to eliminate a projected $9.3 billion gap between anticipated revenues and benefits promised to public employees through 2033. Supporters contend that injecting bond proceeds into KPERS will accelerate the pace at which the gap closes. But critics say the state is gambling that KPERS investment earnings will outstrip what the state pays on the bonds.


Kansas Anti-Abortion Measure Not Enough for Some Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is preparing to take up legislation blocking tax breaks for abortion providers, but some lawmakers want to go further by pursuing a ban on most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The measure on the Senate's agenda for debate Tuesday or Wednesday not only deals with tax exemptions and credits for abortion providers but bars them from providing materials or instructors for sex education classes in public schools. It also includes a statement that life begins at fertilization and is worth protecting. The measure has passed the House. But a House committee heard testimony Tuesday on banning most abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed such a measure Tuesday.


Kansas House Adopts Resolution Endorsing Keystone XL Permit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members are pressing the White House and the U.S. State Department to approve a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. The House of Representatives voted 108-11 on Tuesday to adopt a nonbinding resolution urging President Barack Obama and the State Department to approve permits to allow construction to begin. Federal approval is required because the pipeline crosses international boundaries. Opponents have delayed the project for four years over concerns that extracting oil from Alberta tar sands would increase global warming. The project was further delayed when Nebraska officials objected to the proposed route through the state. A recent State Department report raised no major objections to the project, which has already been constructed through Kansas. The House resolution now goes to the Senate.

Kansas House Defeats School Choice Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has defeated legislation that would have established a school choice scholarship program funded by corporate donations. House members voted 63-56 Monday against advancing the bill to final action. The measure would have let parents of low-income or special needs children in elementary or secondary grades apply for scholarships to send their children to private or parochial schools. Corporations would receive tax credits for contributions to a qualifying scholarship-granting organization. The program would have been capped at $10 million annually. Supporters said the proposal would give parents who might not otherwise afford it an alternative to sending their children to public schools. Opponents argued there were too many questions about the tax credit provisions and whether schools accepting the scholarships would be accredited.

Feds Approve Phase 1 of Salina Cleanup Settlement

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The federal government has agreed to a settlement requiring it to pay 90 percent of the costs for devising a plan to clean up groundwater pollution at a former U.S. Air Force base in central Kansas. Court documents filed Tuesday show the Department of Justice has approved the settlement that requires the government to pay $8.4 million toward developing a plan to clean up the industrial solvent TCE at the former Schilling Air Force Base in Salina. TCE, now a known carcinogen, was used to clean weapons at military bases. Several Salina entities, including the Salina Airport Authority, had already approved the first-phase settlement plan, which still requires approval of the federal judge in Kansas hearing the case. Payment for implementing the cleanup plan hasn't been negotiated yet.


City Lawyer: Airport Unit That Killed KS Boy Was Not Inspected

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A lawyer for the city of Birmingham says a large cabinet housing flight information monitors that toppled and killed a 10-year-old boy inside a newly renovated airport terminal wasn't inspected by the city after installation. The monitors were installed in a $201 million upgrade at Birmingham's airport. Assistant city attorney Steve Stine said Tuesday the monitor display didn't require city inspection under municipal code because it wasn't a structural component of the building. The lawyer says the unit that killed Luke Bresette was a free-standing cabinet housing video monitors that rested on the floor, similar to a home entertainment center. The child's mother and a brother remain hospitalized after being struck Friday as the family was traveling toward home in Overland Park, Kansas, following a Florida Panhandle beach vacation.


Kansas Military School Received 339 Abuse Complaints

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — About 340 current and former students have complained to a Kansas military school, saying they were beaten, hazed, harassed or abused over the past five years. Twenty-one said they were branded. The numbers surfaced last week in the latest documents filed in a federal lawsuit brought by 11 former cadets and their families against St. John's Military School. The document makes public for the first time the extent of abuse that the plaintiffs claim is part of the culture at the Salina boarding school. The school says the number reflects its concern for student safety because it investigates and records every complaint, no matter how minor. School president Andy England also said in an email to The Associated Press that some students see branding as "a badge of honor."


Wisconsin Man Indicted in Koch Industries Cyberattack

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wisconsin man has been charged with joining a cyberattack on Wichita-based Koch Industries organized by the computer hacker group Anonymous. The U.S. attorney's office said Tuesday that 37-year-old Eric J. Rosol of Black Creek, Wisconsin was indicted on one count each of damaging a computer and conspiracy to damage a computer. The indictment alleges that Anonymous asked conspirators in February 2011 to launch a so-called Low Orbit Ion Cannon that sent a high volume of repeated requests to a Koch website. Numerous conspirators complied, and the company's website crashed. Rosol also is accused of sending a code that damaged the company's computer. A phone message left for Rosol at his home was not immediately returned. Prosecutors do not know whether he has retained an attorney.


Wichita Police Seek Suspect in 3 Holdups

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita are looking for a gunman suspected of robbing four people, including one who died of an apparent illness several hours later. KFDI-FM reports that the 73-year-old man told police he was driving out of a parking lot in southwest Wichita about 8:30 pm Monday when the robber opened a passenger door and pointed a gun. The victim handed over some money and the robber left in another vehicle. The 73-year-old died several hours later of what was described as a sudden illness, but police don't believe the death and the robbery were related. The same gunman is suspected of robbing one person around 10:30 pm Monday and two victims at 3:30 am Tuesday, also in southern and western Wichita.


Woman Gets Prison Time in 'Total Identity Theft'

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An illegal immigrant accused of assuming a Texas teacher's persona has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Benita Cardona-Gonzalez pleaded guilty in January to possessing fraudulent identification documents in a deal with prosecutors. The Mexican national has been living in Topeka. Monday's sentencing was the first time Candida Gutierrez, the Houston elementary school teacher who was the victim in the case, saw Cardona-Gonzalez. The case put a face on the growing crime of "total identity theft" in the U.S. Gutierrez says she wanted her identity thief to see the person who paid the price for her living her dream. She says Cardona-Gonzalez's dream was her nightmare. For 12 years, Cardona-Gonzalez used Gutierrez's identity to get a job, credit, a mortgage, food stamps and medical care.


Police Seize 4 Computers from Missouri Parish

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities have taken four computers from a Catholic parish office in Independence after determining child pornography had been downloaded on the parish's unsecured Wi-Fi address. A spokesman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said detectives told parish officials Tuesday they found two downloads of child porn from peer-to-peer websites through an Internet service address associated with the parish. The spokesman, Jack Smith, says detectives told him the files were downloaded February 5. Independence police referred questions about the investigation to the Jackson County(Missouri) prosecutor's office, which didn't immediately return phone messages. Smith says the parish office's wi-fi address wasn't password-protected, meaning people nearby could have used the parish's connection to download the material. He says the parish's four employees denied involvement in the illegal downloads.


Victim of Fatal Kansas Bridge Fall Identified

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified a man killed in a fall last week from a northeast Kansas bridge, but they're still investigating how it happened. The Kansas Highway Patrol on Monday identified 37-year-old William Bratton Jr. of Junction City as one of three drivers involved in a crash on an icy Kansas 18 bridge over the Kansas River near Manhattan. The patrol says Bratton lost control of his pickup around 5:45 am Friday and struck another vehicle. Bratton's truck was then hit by a third vehicle. WIBW-TV reports Bratton got out of his truck to check the damage and went off the bridge, landing on the rocky river bed about 30 feet below. The patrol says Bratton may have slipped, or may have jumped to avoid being hit by other vehicles.


Wichita Police Find 2 Children Outside in Pajamas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say 2-year-old twins are fine after they were found outside in freezing weather wearing only their pajamas. The Wichita Eagle reports that the children were found outside Monday in 27-degree weather with no shoes and wearing pajamas but nothing else. Police Lieutenant Doug Nolte said Tuesday that the children had been living with their mother when they were found Monday, and that they have been released to their father. He says the children's mother has a medical condition that contributed to the situation, and that police did not suspect child neglect or endangerment.


Cosmosphere Gets Apollo-Era Rocket Engines

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Rocket engine parts that were recovered last week from the ocean will be preserved by a division of the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson. The F-1 engine parts arrived Monday at the SpaceWorks division of the Cosmosphere. They were part of the Saturn V rocket that boosted Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s. The engines broke up after falling back into the ocean. The Hutchinson News reports that parts from two of the engines were raised last week from the ocean about 360 miles off the coast of Florida. Cosmosphere officials say the goal of this project is to preserve the integrity and original materials of the engines and prevent any further damage. The engines will not be rebuilt with new materials or replicated.

2 Charged in Kansas with Training Dogs for Fighting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal authorities in Kansas say they have broken up a multi-state dogfighting ring that included training pit bulls to fight in Kansas, Missouri and Texas. Pete Davis Jr. and Melvin L. Robinson were charged in a criminal complaint unsealed Monday in the U.S. District Court for Kansas. Court documents say each man faces one count of transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture in interstate commerce. The complaint and other online court records don't list lawyers for either man. The complaint accuses the men of holding weekly dogfights in northwest Missouri, training the dogs at a Kansas City, Kansas residence, where the dogs were put on treadmills with live chickens used as bait. The complaint also says at least one dog was taken to Texas last weekend for fighting.

Salina Man Gets Nearly 6 Years in Shooting Death

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Salina man was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for killing a man in a dispute over a stolen go-kart. Kyle A. Nelson was sentenced Monday for voluntary manslaughter in the July 2012 shooting death of 37-year-old Jeffrey B. Powell. The Salina Journal reports Nelson testified during the trial that he shot Powell in self-defense during an argument over the go-kart, which had been stolen from Nelson's children. However, prosecutors argued there was no evidence to back up Nelson's testimony that Powell had threatened him before the shooting.

Report: 31 Percent of Kansas Wheat in Poor Condition

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government snapshot of the Kansas winter wheat crop is still portraying a grim picture. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 31 percent of the wheat is in poor to very poor condition. About 40 percent is rated fair with 27 percent in good and 2 percent excellent condition. About 5 percent of the crop has now jointed. The agency also says that topsoil moisture levels statewide are 47 percent short to very short. Subsoil moisture supplies are faring far worse, with 82 percent reported as short to very short.


Iowa Trucking Company to Pay Back Wages to Drivers

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Labor Department says a Des Moines trucking company failed to properly pay some employees for overtime. The department's Wage and Hour Division says Contract Transport Inc. did not pay some drivers for delay time during trips and instead paid them based on a predetermined number of hours. Some delays were caused by weather, construction or other factors. The company has agreed to pay 201 drivers more than $160,000 in back wages and fringe benefits. Some of the drivers work at Contract Transport's headquarters in Des Moines, and some work from the company's Kansas City, Missouri  facility. The company also has agreed to train both office staff and drivers about properly documenting their hours. Contract Transport has a contract to haul mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

Kansas Study Suggests Thick Shoes Change Foot Strike

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Attention, runners: your expensive shoes may not be doing you any favors. A new University of Kansas study finds that the extra padding found in conventional running shoes may be changing the way runners strike the ground and could eventually lead to injury. The Kansas City Star reports that University of Kansas researchers put high school athletes on a treadmill. Running barefoot produced forefoot striking, believed by many to be a more natural way to run. Putting on conventional, cushioned-heel shoes led the runners to land on their heels -- which some experts say can lead to knee and hip injuries over time. So-called "minimalist" shoes that mimic the barefoot experience are catching on with consumers, but experts say anyone making the switch should go slowly to avoid injury.


Group Plans Large Greenhouse Farm in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A private group is planning to build a large hydroponic greenhouse along the riverfront in Kansas City. City officials and leaders of BrightFarms Incorporated announced Monday that the company had made a deal with the Port Authority of Kansas City to build a $4 million, 100,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse near Berkley Riverfront Park in Kansas City. Hydroponic greenhouses use water instead of soil. The greenhouse will grow mostly lettuce, tomatoes and herbs for wholesale distribution. Paul Lightfoot of BrightFarms says the company hopes to work with a Kansas City grocery store chain to distribute the produce. BrightFarms estimated the greenhouse will provide 25 permanent jobs when it opens in the fall. The Port Authority will make infrastructure improvements to assist the project but BrightFarms was not offered incentives.

3 Finalists Picked in Cowley College President Search

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Three finalists have been chosen in the search for a new president for Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City. The three finalists are: Clark Williams, vice president and chief operating officer of Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon; Robert Riza, vice president of student services for Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas; and Michael Calvert, campus president and college vice president for Central Community College in Grand Island, Nebraska. The Arkansas City Traveler reports the finalists will be on campus for public forums and interviews next month. The three were chosen from 28 candidates presented to the college's board by a search firm. The new president will replace Patrick McAtee, who retired in December 2012 after more than 25 years as president.

Kansas Women Top South Carolina in 2nd Round at NCAA Tourney

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Senior Monica Engelman scored a career-high 27 points and Kansas became just the second No. 12 seed to advance to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament with a 75-69 upset of fourth-seeded South Carolina on Monday night. Angel Goodrich added 20 points for the Jayhawks (20-13), who joined San Francisco in 1996 as the only No. 12 seeds to follow up a win in the opening round with another in the second. Fourth-seeded South Carolina (25-8) was denied in its quest for its 26th win, which would have been the program's most since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1991-92. Instead, it's Kansas, which lost seven of its last 11 games before the tournament. The Jayhawks move on to Norfolk, Virginia, where they face the winner of Tuesday's game between Notre Dame and Iowa in the regional semifinals Sunday. Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch each scored 16 points for the Gamecocks.

Arvest Bank Completes Acquisition of Bank of America Branches; 1 in KS

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arvest Bank says it's completed the acquisition of 29 Bank of America locations in four states. The Fayetteville, Arkansas-based bank announced Monday that the deal closed last week for the new locations. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but it included one branch in Kansas,15 branches in Missouri, nine in Arkansas and four in Oklahoma. Arkansas Business reports that Arvest received regulatory approval for the purchase on February 18. Under the deal, Arvest took ownership of 18 branch locations and assumed lease obligations for 11 others. Arvest says the new banks represent about $750 million total in deposits.

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