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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Kansas GOP Leaders Say Talks on Tax Issues Stalled

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature's top Republican leaders are acknowledging that their private negotiations on tax issues have hit an impasse. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita told fellow GOP senators Tuesday that her chamber and the House don't even agree on assumptions to use in projecting state revenues and spending. Republican leaders want to follow up on last year's cuts in personal income taxes with additional reductions. But the state must stabilize its budget, and the Senate has approved a bill canceling decrease in the sales tax scheduled for July. The House wants to let the tax drop as planned. Wagle said the House is using unrealistic assumptions to make its proposals look better. House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell said that's not the case.


Kansas Senate Advances $202M in New Bonds for NBAF

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to authorize an additional $202 million in bonds for a new, national biodefense lab in Manhattan. The bill advanced Tuesday on a voice vote after brief debate. Approval on a second vote scheduled Wednesday would send it to the House. Brownback has said the measure fulfills the state's commitment to fund part of the cost of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility at Kansas State University. The lab would research dangerous animal diseases and replace an aging facility on Plum Island, New York. Its projected cost has more than doubled to $1.15 billion since Kansas landed it in 2009. Kansas previously authorized $105 million in bonds for the lab. President Barack Obama's latest budget proposal includes $714 million for the project.


Kansas Chief Justice: Senator Linked Budget, Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court's chief justice is accusing a prominent legislator of pressuring district court judges into endorsing a proposed judicial selection change. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss sent a letter Tuesday to district judges. It said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King "suggested a link" between the judicial selection proposal and a favorable outcome on budget issues. Nuss was not at the meeting, but a member of his staff was. King said the accusation is baseless and demanded a public apology. The Independence Republican released an email from a judge at the meeting saying the allegation is unfounded. King is pushing the proposal. It would amend the Kansas Constitution to require Senate confirmation of appellate court members.


Kansas Bar Association Board Rejects Judiciary Selection Proposal 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bar Association's board has rejected a legislative proposal to require Senate confirmation of appointees to the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Association President Lee Smithyman says the board voted unanimously Tuesday against endorsing the proposal to amend the state constitution crafted by lawmakers. The association's board held a private teleconference, and Smithyman disclosed the results to The Associated Press before the group announced it publicly. Supporters of the proposal were waiting on the Bar Association board's decision, because they don't think lawmakers will pass it without the group's endorsement. Currently, a nine-member nominating commission screens applicants and names three finalists for each vacancy. The governor appoints one of the finalists, with no role for legislators. The proposal would preserve the commission but change its membership and add Senate confirmation.

Kansas House Democratic Leader Upset over Private Talks on Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top Kansas Democrat is criticizing Republican Governor Sam Brownback and GOP legislative leaders for holding private talks to resolve tax issues. House Minority Leader Paul Davis says discussions of tax issues should occur during public meetings of negotiators appointed by House and Senate leaders to resolve the chambers' differences. Davis, of Lawrence, issued a statement Monday saying the Republicans' private talks "betray democracy" and deny the public chance to weigh in. Brownback has been meeting with Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick about cutting income taxes and canceling some or all of a sales tax decrease scheduled by law to take effect in July. Wagle said such private talks are common on big issues.


Kansas Board of Ed Member Criticized for Racial Comment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several black leaders in Topeka say a Kansas State Board of Education member's use of a racial slur during a meeting last month was unnecessary and inappropriate. Carolyn Campbell, the only black member of the board, and other black community leaders criticized board member Steve Roberts on Tuesday for using the slur at April's board meeting. Roberts said he used the slur "clinically" during a discussion of state history standards. At the time, he noted that Martin Luther King Jr. twice mentioned the "N-word" in his April 16, 1963 letter from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama. King wrote the famous letter after his arrest during a civil rights protest. Roberts said the slur is highly offensive but said history shouldn't be censored.

Topeka Officers' Names Added to National Memorial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The names of two Topeka police officers who were shot to death last year are now displayed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. Family members of officer Jeff Atherly and Corporal David Gogian were among those attending ceremonies Monday when the names of 321 U.S. law enforcement officers were formally dedicated on the walls of the memorial. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Topeka Police Chief Ron Miller also attended the vigil. The officers were killed last December at a Topeka grocery store while investigating a report of suspicious activity. Other officers later shot and killed the suspect, 22-year-old David Tiscareno. The national law enforcement memorial now includes 19,981 names.

Kansas Common Core Critics Voice Concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Critics of the Kansas Board of Education's decision to adopt national standards for math and reading urged the board to reconsider its decision to join the education program. Opponents of the Common Core standards, which were developed by a national consortium, spent nearly two hours criticizing the standards during a hearing Tuesday. Kansas is among 46 states that have adopted the national standards, which set out the academic expectations for students from kindergarten through high school. Kansas adopted the standards in 2010 and school districts have begun implementing them in the classrooms and in teacher training. Critics argue that Common Core is too expensive and turns over local districts' control of education standards to a national consortium. Supporters say the standards will improve and increase academic rigor.


Kansas Board of Ed to Seek AG Opinion on Innovative Education Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas education commissioner Diane DeBacker says the department will seek an opinion from the state attorney general's office on implementing a new law that would allow school districts to be named innovative districts. The measure was signed by Governor Sam Brownback last month. It allows up to 29 of the state's 286 school districts to apply for innovative district status, which would make them exempt from certain state laws and regulations. Supporters say the goal is to improve student achievement. DeBacker told the State Board of Education Tuesday that there are many questions about which laws and regulations would be included as possible exemptions. The law takes effect July 1. State staff is developing the innovative district application.


Mayor Names Advisory Board on KC Airport's Future

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Amid talk of rebuilding Kansas City International Airport with a single terminal, Mayor Sly James has created a 24-member advisory group to study if the current layout is adequate. KMBC-TV reports that the panel appointed Tuesday is made up chiefly of business people, civic leaders and former public officials, including former Kansas City, Kansas Mayor Joe Reardon. It also includes a prominent critic of a plan to do away with KCI's current three-terminal layout, which critics call inefficient. Kevin Koster started a website, called "Save KCI," as the city accelerated plans for the one-terminal renovation. Koster says his inclusion on the panel proves its membership is not stacked. James is among the supporters of redesigning the 40-year-old airport. Fans of the current design say it's easy to get to and from gates.


KU Faculty, Staff Seek Improved Tuition Benefits

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Some University of Kansas faculty and staff are asking for expanded tuition benefits for their families. University officials say they will consider the request but note it could be difficult to fund more benefits in a time of tight state budgets. A report released last month found that the University of Kansas lags behind many other public universities in tuition benefits for families of faculty and staff. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that KU is the only Board of Regents university in the state that doesn't offer assistance to dependents. Kansas and Washburn University are the only two in the state that don't offer tuition assistance for spouses. Supporters say improving tuition benefits would help attract top faculty and staff to Kansas.

More Than Half of Kansas Wheat Showing Freeze Damage

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new government report says just over half the Kansas winter wheat crop shows damage from the hard freezes that hit the state in April. But Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service also reported Monday the wheat is running about three weeks behind normal development amid unseasonably cool spring temperatures. The agency rated the crop as 21 percent very poor, 20 percent poor, 31 percent fair, 25 percent good and 3 percent excellent. Farmers took advantage of a few dry days last week to plant and prepare fields, although they're getting a late start. Corn planting is running well behind average at only 31 percent complete. Plantings of sorghum, soybeans and cotton were all only 1 percent completed. Pasture conditions remain poor to very poor across 60 percent of Kansas.


Officials to Continue Conserving Missouri River Water

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The amount of water flowing into the Missouri River is expected to remain lower than usual, so officials are conserving water in the river's reservoirs. Officials said Tuesday the drought continues to affect the river because much of the snowmelt and rainfall in the seven-state region is being absorbed into the soil. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts the amount of runoff flowing into the river this year will be about 79 percent of normal. So the corps has been releasing only enough water for a minimal navigation channel on the river. The navigation season could be shortened by as much as 15 days if the summer is dry. But officials warn the risk of flooding is roughly normal along the river, so flood-prone locations could still have problems.


Attorneys Make Closing Arguments in Petro America Trial

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City securities fraud case involving a company whose leaders told potential investors the opportunity to buy stock was a blessing from God has gone to jurors after three weeks of testimony. Petro America founder Isreal Owen Hawkins told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday that his company is real, with real assets, and that the federal government was determined to destroy it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Mahoney countered that Petro America's gold mine and oil well assets aren't worth $284 billion, as company leaders had claimed, and that Petro's stock was as valuable as "a pile of Kleenex." Hawkins, Johnny Heurung, Martin Roper, Theresa Brown and William Miller are accused of selling unregistered stock to unaccredited investors despite a Missouri cease and desist order telling them to stop.


Audit Finds Annual College Baseball Tournament in Trouble

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Auditors say an annual college baseball tournament held in Wichita since 1935 is in financial trouble. The audit of the city-owned National Baseball Congress found the regional tournament is more than a quarter-million dollars in debt and owes two years of lease payments for Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. City officials say the tournament's financial problems threaten its future. The city has begun a study to rescue the tournament, which made only $1,100 in profit last year. The Wichita Eagle reports that initial plans are to seek corporate sponsorships and increase marketing of the tournament through 2014. The tournament is managed by the minor league Wichita Wingnuts. The audit found the tournament's finances have been mingled with the Wingnuts' books for the last two years.

2nd Kansas Honor Flight of 2013 Takes Off Wednesday

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The year's second Kansas Honor Flight is scheduled to take 24 World War II veterans and their guardians to Washington, D.C., where they will spend two days visiting various memorials. The group plans to leave Wichita at 6:25 am Wednesday and return Friday afternoon. The trip is organized by Kansas Honor Flight Incorporated, which has the mission of transporting veterans to Washington at no cost. Among those expected to make the trip this week is Wichita resident Eddie Graham, who survived the Bataan Death March. Public contributions cover the trips for veterans, while their guardians pay their own way. Organizers say additional trips are scheduled for the summer and fall.

Uncle of Missouri Lawmaker Admits to Voter Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The uncle of a Democratic Missouri lawmaker has pleaded guilty to voter fraud in an election that his nephew won by a single vote. John Moretina pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to giving false information when registering and voting. Moretina lived in Gladstone but admitted to giving a false address in July 2010 that allowed him to vote in the 40th House District where his nephew John Rizzo was a candidate. Rizzo defeated Will Royster by a single vote in the August 2010 Democratic primary. Royster alleged voter fraud at the time but an appeals court rejected his request for a new election. Rizzo won re-election last year and remains in the Missouri House. He said Tuesday that he had not been contacted by authorities about his uncle's activities.


Crop Duster Crashes in SE Kansas

CRESTLINE, Kan. (AP) — A pilot is recovering from injuries he suffered when his crop duster crashed in far southeastern Kansas. KOAM-TV reports that the plane went down shortly before 11 am Tuesday near an industrial park north of the Cherokee County town of Crestline. Sheriff David Groves identified the pilot as a 48-year-old man from Cherokee County. The sheriff says the pilot was able to walk away from the plane to find the landowners and call emergency crews. His injuries are described as non-life-threatening. The sheriff's office says the plane was carrying a fungicide, but adds that there was no danger from the chemical following the crash.


Kansas City Royals' Fred White Retires After 40 Years

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals veteran Fred White announced his retirement Tuesday after 40 years with the organization, most recently as director of broadcast services and the franchise's alumni. White was a sports anchor at a Topeka television station and the voice of Kansas State athletics before joining the Royals, where he spent 25 years in the broadcast booth. He continued to do Big 12 basketball games while also working for ESPN and others. Upon leaving the broadcast booth, White headed up the Royals Radio Network and supervised the Royals Alumni, assisting with clinics, appearances and the team's fantasy camp. In a statement issued by the team, White said he was retiring due to recent health issues.


Top Hoops Prospect Andrew Wiggins to Attend KU

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Top basketball prospect Andrew Wiggins is headed to the University of Kansas. Wiggins signed a letter-of-intent with the Jayhawks at a private ceremony Tuesday afternoon in Huntington. He previously narrowed his choices to KU, Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State. The Canadian star averaged 23.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season for West Virginia's Huntington Prep. Initially rated as a 2014 prospect, Wiggins shot to the top of recruiting charts when he decided last October to reclassify into his original high school class of 2013. The four major recruiting services have rated Wiggins as the No. 1 overall prospect. Although his parents both attended Florida State, the Toronto-born Wiggins had kept quiet about his intentions. He had until Wednesday to sign with a Division I school.




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