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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, May 15, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas Senate Delays Remap Debate after Angry Caucus 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has postponed debate on a bill for redrawing its 40 districts after an angry meeting of majority Republicans. Senators now plan to debate the measure Wednesday. It is backed by the chamber's moderate Republicans, and conservatives contend it's designed to keep the Senate's moderate GOP leaders in power. The Senate had planned to debate the measure Tuesday. But during a caucus of Republican senators, conservatives attacked the plan and peppered Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens with hostile questions. Owens, a moderate Overland Park Republican, angrily walked out. Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said the debate on the bill was being delayed to give GOP factions a chance to compromise. The impasse threatens to delay the state's August 7 primary election.


Kansas Budget Talks Suspended

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislative negotiators in Kansas have suspended talks on a new state budget with major issues still unresolved. House and Senate negotiators have been working for weeks to reconcile differences between the chambers over the roughly $14 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. But no talks were scheduled Tuesday, and it wasn't clear when the negotiators would meet again. Issues still on the table are plans to provide cities and counties with funding for property tax relief, and how to finance an increase in state aid to public schools. Budget negotiations often bog down during the Legislature's annual wrap-up session as other issues become intertwined in the debate.


Kansas Lawmakers Talk Tax Cuts but Move Little

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have resumed their discussions about reducing taxes, but Senate negotiators are finding they don't have as much room as they'd like to bargain with House members. Three senators and three House members met Tuesday to work on an alternative to massive tax cuts that the Republican-controlled Legislature sent to GOP Gov. Sam Brownback last week. That package cuts individual income tax rates and eliminates income taxes for 191,000 businesses. The state's sales tax rate already was set to drop to 5.7 percent from 6.3 percent, starting in July 2013. Many lawmakers want to reconsider those tax cuts because legislative researchers forecast that they'll leave the state with a budget shortfall by mid-2014. But House members didn't like alternatives presented by senators.


UPDATE: Kansas Legislators Strike Deal on Pensions Measure 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators for the Kansas House and Senate have agreed on a proposal creating a new retirement plan for teachers and government workers hired after 2014. Three senators and three House members resolved the last of their disagreements Tuesday on the pensions legislation. It would move away from traditional state plans that guarantee retirement benefits up front, based on a worker's salary and years of service. But it would not go as far as 401(k) plans that tie benefits solely to the plan's investment earnings. The state would pay 5.25 percent interest on contributions from workers and the state to employees' retirement benefits. Workers would get a lump sum upon retirement, which could be converted into an annuity.


KS Gov Signs Controversial Abortion-Related Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed legislation giving more legal protection to Kansas health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions.  Brownback's office announced the signing Monday, although it took place last week. The governor is a strong abortion opponent and had been expected to sign the measure, which takes effect in July.  Kansas law already protects doctors and hospitals from being forced to participate in abortions. This year's measure extends the so-called "conscience" protection to other health care facilities.  The legislation also says no individuals are required to refer patients for abortion services, or to participate in administering any drug they believe terminates a pregnancy.  Abortion opponents say the measure simply updates existing law. Supporters of abortion rights predict it will restrict access to birth control.


Jostens Plant Closing in Topeka, Moving to Tennessee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Workers at the Jostens plant in Topeka say they are surprised by news that the plant will close and move its work to Tennessee.  The company announced the move yesterday  (MON), affecting 372 jobs. Company officials say the move to Clarksville, Tennessee will help it become more efficient.  The Minnesota-based company, which makes yearbooks, class rings and other products, has been in Topeka since 1969. It has been moving jobs and production out of the city for several years.  Still, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that many workers say they were surprised by Monday's announcement because they believed the plant would not close for at least a year or two.  Union president Mike Vannordstrand says the union is negotiating a severance package for union employees, which includes those in the production department.


Salina Closer to Outlawing Discrimination Against Sexual Orientation

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Salina City Commission has given first round approval to a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.  The commission voted yesterday (MON) to add those categories to an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation. The vote came after four hours of discussion and public comment.  Commissioners will take the issue up on second reading during their regular meeting next week.  The Salina Journal reports that even if the commission passes the issue next week, opponents and proponents both have promised an appeal that could put the issue to a public vote.


Gov Brownback Signs Bill on Dental Hygienists' Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a law that expands the types of work that dental hygienists will be allowed to do.  The new law will allow dental hygienists to perform such tasks as pulling baby teeth, teeth cleaning and providing temporary fillings.  The Kansas City Star reports that the bill was designed to address a shortage of dentists in Kansas, particularly in rural areas. But critics say it doesn't go far enough.  The bill also requires the Board of Regents to add more slots for Kansas residents at the University of Missouri-Kansas City dental school. Those students would be required to work in underserved areas of Kansas for at least four years after graduation.  Kansas does not have a dental school.


Kobach to Speak Following Remap Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary of State Kris Kobach plans to discuss legal issues surrounding redistricting after a debate in the Kansas Senate on a new plan for redrawing the chamber's 40 districts.  On Tuesday afternoon, senators held debate on a new map favored by moderate Republicans. Kobach is the state's chief elections officer but also a former law professor. He's planned a news conference for tomorrow (WED) to discuss redistricting and a pending federal lawsuit. Passage of a new plan probably wouldn't break a stalemate with GOP conservatives, who have a majority in the House and blocked an earlier proposal for Senate redistricting.  The impasse threatens to delay the state's August 7 primary election. Lawmakers must adjust political boundaries to account for changes in population over the past decade.


April Kansas Jobs Report Due Friday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials will get the latest report on the Kansas economy on Friday with the release of April unemployment figures.  The state's jobless rate stood at 6.2 percent in March, down from 6.8 percent in March 2011.  Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature have been working all session on tax cuts they hope will stimulate growth and promote job creation.  Legislators have sent Brownback one version of the tax plan, but he has encouraged them to work on a compromise that will phase in the cuts and have a smaller effect on state revenue.  Part of the package already approved would eliminate taxes for 191,000 businesses.


Dozens of Businesses Burglarized in Kansas Suburb

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police in a Kansas City suburb say thieves who targeted at least 20 offices got away with televisions, computers and other electronics. Overland Park police were called to the South Creek office park Tuesday morning after receiving several reports of commercial burglaries. The suspects forced their way into two buildings during the night and stole items from the offices. Police spokesman Gary Mason says because of the number of items stolen, more than one suspect had to be involved.


Manhattan Man Sentenced to 5 years for Bank Holdup

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A 23-year-old Manhattan man has been sentenced to about five years in federal prison for robbing two Manhattan banks last year. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a release that Mark Stanton Wyche was sentenced this week to 64 months. He was also ordered to pay $5,400 in restitution. Wyche pleaded guilty in February to two counts of bank robbery, admitting to robbing the Community First National Bank in October and the Kansas State Bank in November.


Kansas Teen Admits Asking Friend to Rob Bank

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A north-central Kansas teenager has pleaded guilty to soliciting a friend to rob a bank where he worked. The U.S. Attorney's office says the plot was foiled when the friend decided instead to record their conversations and went to authorities. Nineteen-year-old Landon Bridgman Hedstrom, of Belleville, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of solicitation to commit bank robbery. He faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing, scheduled for August 13. According to court documents, Hedstrom was working at Citizens National Bank in Concordia last November when he told the friend he had stolen money from the bank. He urged the friend to rob the bank at a time when only one other employee would be working. Hedstrom admitted drawing a map showing where to find the bank's cash.


Ex-Law Officer, School Board Member Sentenced in Child Sex Case

LANSING, Kan. (AP) — A former Lansing police officer and school board member has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison without parole for trying to entice a minor to have sex.  Federal prosecutors announced that 41-year-old William Brian Duncan of Leavenworth was sentenced yesterday (MON).  If he is released from prison at some point, he will be on supervised release for the rest of his life.  Duncan pleaded no contest last October to using the Internet to try to persuade a 14-year-old boy to engage in sex and crossing the state line to meet the minor for sex.  Duncan was a Lansing police officer and a member of the Lansing school board until he resigned from both in November 2010. He was named Lansing's officer of the year in 2008.


Midwest Farmland Values Continued Growth in 1Q

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Reserve says the average value of farmland in several Midwest and Western states grew more than 25 percent in the first quarter as farm income remained strong. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, said Tuesday that higher crop prices and timely rains in the region helped farmers, so demand for cropland persisted. The Federal Reserve says this new survey of 235 banks showed that irrigated land values grew more than 30 percent over last year's first quarter. Non-irrigated land values grew 25 percent, and pasture values grew 16 percent. The 10th Federal Reserve District covers Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri.


Wheat Prices Climb as Dry Spell Hits Kansas Crop

Wheat prices are climbing as crop conditions in parts of Kansas are deteriorating in dry weather. Wheat rose 10.25 cents to finish Tuesday at $6.085 per bushel. There has been a lack of significant rain recently in many wheat growing regions in Kansas. The crop is about three weeks ahead of normal because of a mild spring. The U.S. Agriculture Department says 52 percent of the Kansas crop was in good-to-excellent condition as of Sunday. That compares with 60 percent in that range the previous week. In addition, some wheat-growing regions in the Soviet Union reportedly have experienced dry weather. Other commodities are mixed as worries about Greece overshadow some positive U.S. economic news. Prices for gold, silver, copper and oil are lower. Platinum, palladium and natural gas are higher.


Former Wildcat Tapped for College Football Hall of Fame 

Former Kansas State All-American linebacker Mark Simoneau has been selected for inclusion in the College Football Hall of Fame. He'll join the other honorees for a dinner in New York this December, the officially inducted in the summer of 2013. Simoneau, who played for the Wildcats from 1996 to 1999, is the first K-Stater who played for Coach Bill Snyder to be chosen for the honor. He's the second K-State player overall to make it into the College Football Hall of Fame...another former linebacker, Gary Spani, was inducted as part of the 2002 class. 


Kansas City Police Investigate Burning Body

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say a body found burning in a parking lot belonged to a black woman with short, dyed red hair.  The body was found yesterday (MON) evening behind a Faultless Linen Service office in east Kansas City.  Police say the woman was between 5-feet-2-inches and 5-feet-6 inches tall.  Investigators are trying to identify the body and a cause of death.


Former KS Attorney General Wants 2 Justices Recused in Ethics Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline is asking two Kansas Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from ruling in his ethics case. He contends the judges hold biases that could influence their decision.  An attorney for Kline says in documents released late yesterday (MON) that Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justice Carol Beier should not be allowed to rule on an administrative panel's recommendation that his law license be suspended indefinitely.  The case stems from Kline's criminal investigation of Kansas abortion providers that began during his one term as attorney general. The state Board for Discipline of Attorneys said Kline repeatedly misled other officials or allowed subordinates to mislead others to during the investigation.  Kline strongly disputes those conclusions.

Charges Possible Against 3 Teens in Restaurant Prank

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say three teenagers who pranked customers at a Subway restaurant are lucky someone didn't take action in the heat of the moment. KWCH-TV reports two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old walked into the store Monday just after 11 am and ordered everyone to get on the floor. Police say one of the 15-year-olds started counting people while the other two ran out. The boy didn't take anything and nobody was hurt. Police spokesman Lieutenant Doug Nolte says the teens' actions clearly mimicked a robbery and could have turned dangerous if someone had confronted them. He says the case will be turned over to the district attorney's office for possible charges.


Kansan Sentenced for Trafficking in Painkillers

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northeastern Kansas man who peddled prescription painkillers in parking lots is going to prison for 30 months.  The U.S. Attorney's office says 31-year-old Joseph R. Jenkins, of Merriam, was sentenced yesterday (MON) in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas.  He was also ordered to pay nearly $11,000 to cover the federal government's expenses in making undercover buys of Oxycodone.  Jenkins pleaded guilty last year, admitting he sold the prescription pain pills a half-dozen times to undercover agents at locations around Johnson County.  The sites included the parking lots of a Cheesecake Factory, a Wholesale Foods store and a Chinese restaurant, all in Overland Park. Other sales took place outside an apartment complex in Merriam.


Architect Proposes Design Changes for Eisenhower Memorial

WASHINGTON (AP) — Designers from architect Frank Gehry's firm are preparing to unveil some changes to a planned memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington after hearing complaints from members of Eisenhower's family.  The Eisenhower Memorial Commission will hold a public meeting today (TUE) on Capitol Hill to hear about proposed changes.  Gehry's design has called for a memorial park framed by metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower's boyhood home in Kansas. Carved stones would depict Ike as president and World War II hero, along with a statue of a young Eisenhower.  Eisenhower's family says it focuses on his humble roots, rather than his accomplishments. One granddaughter compared Gehry's tapestries to fences from concentration camps in the Holocaust.  Memorial commissioners said Gehry has their full support. The commission includes lawmakers and citizen members.


KS Early-College Program Graduates Second Class

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A math and science academy created to keep some of Kansas' top students from leaving the state has graduated its second class.  Students chosen for the program begin living at Fort Hays State University and taking classes there after their sophomore year in high school. They finish the early-college-entry program with their high school diplomas and up to 68 hours of college credit.  The second class of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science arrived at Fort Hays State in August 2010. Earlier this month, 20 of them graduated.  Nine will continue their education at Fort Hays State. Others are moving on to Georgia Tech, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, Oklahoma State University, UCLA, Rockhurst University in Kansas City and Washington University in St. Louis.


Wheat Turning Color in Kansas as Harvest Nears

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Winter wheat fields across Kansas are turning color, in still another sign that this year's harvest will be especially early.  The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reports that half the fields in south-central and southeastern Kansas have already turned color as the wheat continues to ripen three weeks ahead of normal.  Statewide, about 26 percent of wheat fields have turned color.  But the crop's condition continues to decline, due largely to a shortage of rain in many of the state's major wheat-growing areas.  The agency says that 16 percent of the Kansas crop is in poor to very poor condition. About 32 percent is rated as fair, with 41 percent rated in good shape and 11 percent in excellent condition.  


Lee's Summit Police Confirm Identity of Burned Body

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) _ Lee's Summit, Missouri police have confirmed the identity of a burned body found last week.  Police said Tuesday that DNA tests confirmed the body was that of 27-year-old Christopher McQueen of Leawood, Kansas.  His body was found May 7 behind a Lee's Summit home.  McQueen was reported missing May 6 when he didn't return to his Leawood home after working overnight. His vehicle was found Thursday at an apartment complex in south Kansas City.


KS Closer to Using Casinos to Support Pensions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators from the Kansas House and Senate are close to a deal on using revenues generated by state-owned casinos to support pensions for teachers and government workers.  Senators agreed during talks yesterday (MON) to include a proposal in legislation overhauling the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. They're negotiating with House members over how much revenue should be set aside.  KPERS projects an $8.3 billion shortfall between anticipated revenues and benefits promised public employees through 2033.  The state has committed $10.5 million a year in casino revenues to state universities' engineering programs. The House version of the pensions legislation says after that, 75 percent would go to KPERS.  Senators didn't consider the idea previously, but their negotiators are now proposing to set aside 50 percent of the remaining casino revenues.

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


UPDATE: Kansas Lawmakers Move Closer to State Pensions Deal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators for the Kansas House and Senate have settled some key issues on pensions legislation but they're still haggling over the details of a new retirement plan for future public employees. Three senators and three House members met Tuesday to work on the final version of a pensions bill. They agreed on using some revenues from state-owned casinos to bolster the long-term health of the state pension system. And House members dropped a proposal to create a new, voluntary 401(k)-style plan for new hires. But they haven't agreed on details of new plan for public employees hired after 2014. It would move away from guaranteeing benefits based on a worker's salary and years of service, but it doesn't go as far as a 401(k)-style plan.

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


KS Senate to Debate Redistricting Measure Again

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate plans to debate a proposal favored by moderate Republicans for redrawing the chamber's 40 districts.  Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, predicts the bill will pass following the scheduled debate Tuesday.  But passage probably won't break a stalemate with GOP conservatives, who have a majority in the House and have blocked an earlier proposal for Senate redistricting.  Conservatives have said both Senate proposals were designed to keep the chamber's moderate GOP leaders in power. They've responded with proposals seen by many lawmakers as attempts to boost the right's chances for toppling Senate leaders.  The impasse threatens to delay the state's August 7 primary election. Lawmakers must adjust political boundaries to account for changes in population over the past decade.

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


Kansas Senate Remap Debate to Test Room for Movement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is preparing to take up legislation redrawing the chamber's 40 districts, with the debate testing whether there's room for compromise among Republicans. The bill up for debate Tuesday evening is favored by moderate Republicans. Conservatives believe it's designed to keep the chamber's moderate GOP leaders in power. The measure would remove three conservative Republicans from the districts of the incumbent senators they planned to challenge in GOP primaries. It also puts conservative Republican Senators Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, and Ty Masterson, of Andover, in the same district. Senators said talks between the two factions continued and the debate created an opportunity for a compromise to emerge.

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


Tensions Running High in Advance of Kansas Senate Redistricting Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in the Kansas Senate have been feuding openly ahead of a planned evening debate on a proposal for redrawing the chamber's 40 districts. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens angrily walked out of a meeting of fellow GOP senators late Tuesday afternoon. Owens, an Overland Park Republican, was to present a plan favored by fellow GOP moderates. Conservative Republicans repeatedly attacked the plan. The measure would remove three conservative Republicans from the districts of the incumbent senators they planned to challenge in GOP primaries. It also puts conservative Republican Senators Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, and Ty Masterson, of Andover, in the same district. The ongoing impasse over redistricting threatens to delay the state's August 7 primary election. 

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

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