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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, May 21. 2013



Kansas House, Senate Move Closer on Sales Tax Rate 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators from the Kansas House and Senate are moving closer to a deal on canceling all or part of a scheduled drop in the state sales tax. Three negotiators resumed their talks on tax issues Tuesday and plan to continue Wednesday. The sales tax is the key issue. It's scheduled by law to decline in July from the current 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent. But the Senate has approved Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan to keep the tax unchanged. The House favored allowing the tax to decline as planned, but the chamber's Republican leaders later proposed resetting it at 6 percent. Senate negotiators Tuesday proposed a sales tax of 6.25 percent. Many GOP legislators want to cut personal income taxes, but lawmakers must stabilize the budget.


Kansas Lawmakers Give Final Approval to Gun Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have given final approval to a bill barring the use of state funds to promote or oppose gun-control policies. The House approved the measure Tuesday on a vote of 83-28. The Senate passed it last week. The bill goes to Republican Governor Sam Brownback. The governor is a strong gun-rights supporter has not said whether he'll sign it. The measure is backed by the National Rifle Association. Supporters contended that state funds shouldn't be used to promote policies opposed by many Kansans. Critics called the bill vague. A Kansas law that took effect in April says the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in the state.


Kansas Senator's Proposed $3.5B Food Stamp Cut Rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate has voted to keep a $400 million annual cut — or roughly a half of 1 percent — to the food stamp program in a farm bill it is considering this week. Food stamps now cost almost $80 billion annually. The chamber rejected by a 58-40 vote an amendment by Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas to expand the cuts to $3.5 billion a year. Senators also rejected, 70-26, an amendment by Democratic Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York to eliminate the cuts entirely. The domestic food aid, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, makes up almost 80 percent of the five-year farm bill, which would cost $100 billion annually. A House version of the farm bill would cut $2 billion a year from the program, which has doubled in cost since 2008.

President Obama Opposes GOP Bill on Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Barack Obama opposes a House bill that would speed approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The White House said Tuesday that the bill "seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes" by removing a requirement for a presidential permit. The legislation also says no new environmental studies are needed. House Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure the long-delayed pipeline is built. The project, which first was proposed in 2008, would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Opponents say the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" that could trigger global warming, while supporters say it would create jobs and bolster North American energy resources. A House vote is expected Wednesday.


Pharmacist Admits Misbranding Dialysis Drugs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Tennessee pharmacist has admitted distributing a misbranded Chinese-made drug that was given to kidney dialysis patients in Kansas. The U.S. Attorney's office says 53-year-old Robert Harshbarger Jr., of Kingsport, Tennessee pleaded guilty Tuesday in Topeka to one count each of distributing a misbranded drug and health care fraud. Harshbarger admitted that from 2004 to 2009, he substituted a cheaper Chinese import for an iron sucrose drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drugs were given to patients of Kansas Dialysis Services. Prosecutors say there were no reports of harm, but patients were put at risk because the FDA could not assure the drugs' effectiveness and safety. Harshbarger's plea deal calls for four years in prison, restitution of nearly $849,000 and a forfeiture of $425,000.


Tea Party Activists Rally Outside KC IRS Building

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — About 30 tea party activists are rallying outside the IRS building in Kansas City to express outrage that the agency singled out conservative political groups for additional scrutiny. The demonstration was among dozens planned nationally Tuesday. IRS officials have acknowledged that some groups received inappropriate attention when they applied for tax-exempt status. The Kansas City protesters held signs and waved flags as they congregated outside the building. One sign had a picture of President Barack Obama with the word "liar." Another said, "Hold IRS Accountable." Fifty-eight-year-old Vicki Watkins of suburban Liberty, Missouri says the extra scrutiny was a way to "get conservative groups to throw in the towel." Another protester, 75-year-old Mary Weimholt of Shawnee described what happened as "scary" and said the IRS has "gotten out of control." Rallies were also held outside IRS offices in Atlanta, Louisville, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities.


Kansas Growers Making Progress on Corn Planting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says Kansas farmers have planted about 70 percent of this year's corn crop. But Monday's weekly update from Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service also says planting of the corn crop trails the 97 percent planted by the same time last year, and the average of 74 percent. The Kansas winter wheat crop is 41 percent headed. Forty-two percent of the wheat is rated in poor to very poor condition, with 30 percent fair, 25 percent good and 3 percent excellent. Some damage was reported from hail and high winds that accompanied weekend rain in parts of Kansas. Despite the rain, subsoil moisture supplies were short to very short across 54 percent of the state. Topsoil moisture supplies remain short to very short in 34 percent of Kansas.

Lero Named to Kansas Prisoner Review Board

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A veteran employee of the Kansas Department of Corrections has been named to the state Prisoner Review Board. Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts announced Monday that Peggy Lero would fill an opening on the three-member board. Lero has been with the corrections agency since 2000 and has nearly 40 years of experience in corrections and criminal justice. She's currently the parole director in the northern parole region in Topeka. The Prisoner Review Board has several responsibilities, including decisions on parole and the conditions of inmates freed on supervised release. Lero replaces Kathleen Graves, who was named deputy director of the Corrections Department's community and field services division.

Sheriff: Death in Topeka School Lot Not Considered Suspicious

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County officials say the death of a man whose body was found in a car on the campus of a Topeka school is not considered suspicious. A deputy found the man's body in a car late Monday on the grounds of Washburn Rural Middle School. He was described as being in his mid-40s but his name was not released. Martin Weishaar, spokesman for the school district, says the man appeared to have died from a medical condition. The man was not associated with the school. The Shawnee County sheriff's office also said the death didn't appear to be suspicious, although the investigation into the cause of death will continue.

Salina Commission Discusses Sunday Liquor Sales

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina's city commission will consider allowing Sunday liquor sales in the city. The possibility arose during a meeting Monday, when the commission approved an ordinance that allows microbreweries in the city. During discussion of that ordinance, commissioners considered whether to allow Sunday liquor sales. Current Salina law prohibits Sunday sales at liquor stores and other places that sell packaged alcohol. Commissioner Randall Hardy says he thought the current law was a restraint of trade. Other commissioners also indicated they would support Sunday sales. The Salina Journal reports that the city's staff will bring the issue before the commission at its June 3 meeting. And commission members said they welcomed public input during the discussion.

Judge:Juror Committed Contempt at Murder Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County District Judge says a Topeka man committed indirect contempt by posting online comments while serving as a juror in a murder trial. James Reeder was ordered Monday to either pay a $1,000 fine within 30 days or serve three days in jail. Reeder was a juror in the summer of 2012 in the murder trial of Anceo Stovall. During the trial, he posted a comment on The Topeka Capital-Journal's website, which disobeyed orders from the judge. Reeder's attorney argued during Monday's hearing that Reeder believed he did no harm by posting the comments. The Capital-Journal reports that indirect contempt is defined as disobeying a judge's order either outside the courtroom or the judge's presence. Direct contempt is disobeying a judge's order in the judge's presence.


Kansas Deputy Accused of Sexual Contact with Inmate

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A deputy at a central Kansas jail is accused of having illegal sexual relations with a female inmate and bribing or intimidating two others. Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson announced the charges Tuesday against 30-year-old Jonathan Diaz. Henderson says he asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to get involved after learning of the allegations two weeks ago. District Attorney Keith Schroeder, who filed the charges, told The Hutchinson News that the sexual contact charge involves a female inmate more than 18 years old. Schroeder says the two alleged victims of bribery and intimidation are also older than 18. Diaz remained jailed Tuesday on $100,000 bond, with a status hearing scheduled June 4. He does not yet have a lawyer.


Walmart Pledges $1M for Moore Tornado Recovery

MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Walmart says it is pledging $1 million for the recovery from the tornado that devastated Moore, OKlahoma. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said Tuesday that it will make donations of cash and materials equal to $1 million. Walmart is also sending truckloads of food, water and other basic items to serve as immediate aid. The world's largest retailer says no customers or employees were injured in its two stores in Moore. But the company says some workers' homes were destroyed and that it is still checking on the needs of its employees. The company is sending workers from Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas to the affected areas so members of Oklahoma crews can be with their families.


KC Union Station Reopens After Suspicious Package Detonated

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City's Union Station is back in business after being evacuated while police investigated a suspicious package. The package was found early Tuesday near the station's north side. Police closed off surrounding streets while investigators and bomb-sniffing dogs inspected the package. A police robot eventually blew it up. Police spokesman Captain Tye Grant says the package was an empty Styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box.

Would-Be Pipe Bomber Sentenced to 37 Years

CHICAGO (AP) — An Iowa letter carrier has been sentenced to 37 years in prison for sending dud pipe bombs with threatening letters signed "The Bishop." U.S. District Judge Robert Dow issued the sentence Tuesday afternoon, saying John Tomkins "engaged in a reign of terror." The 48-year-old Dubuque, Iowa man previously apologized, saying there were "no words to describe" his "shame." Tomkins was trying to drive up the value of shares he owned. One package was sent to Denver and another to Kansas City, Missouri. Jurors convicted Tomkins last year. The most serious charge was for use of a destructive device while mailing threatening communications. It carried a mandatory sentence of at least 30 years. Tomkins last month said the mandatory minimum was unfair. Prosecutors sought a sentence of around 45 years.


Wounded Iraq Vet Now Says He Won't Refuse Food, Water, Meds

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A paralyzed Iraq war veteran from Kansas City who said earlier this spring that he was ready to die has changed his mind. Tomas Young said in March that he would stop taking food, water and medication so he could die. He is in hospice care at his home for wounds he suffered in 2004 in Iraq. Young, who became an anti-war activist, drew national attention when he made his announcement. On Sunday, Young announced that he would try to stay alive until his pain medication no longer eased his pain. He says he doesn't want his wife and mother to suffer earlier than is necessary. The Kansas City Star reports that Young made his announcement during a screening of a 2007 documentary that discusses his life.


Former IRS Agent Gets Probation for Theft

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former Internal Revenue Service agent has been spared any prison time after admitting she was paid for meetings with taxpayers that never occurred. The U.S. Attorney's office says Becky L. Book, of Pittsburg, was sentenced on Tuesday to two years of probation and ordered to pay restitution of about $26,450. Book pleaded guilty in February to receiving more than $26,000 in salary and mileage payments that she didn't earn. Prosecutors say Book claimed she worked 744 hours between March 2010 and April 2011, but she actually used those hours as unauthorized personal time. Book agreed to pay $13,000 in partial payment of restitution at her sentencing.

2 New Lawsuits Filed over KC Priest Sex Abuse

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two new lawsuits have been filed against a Kansas City priest convicted of taking lewd photographs and the officials who oversaw him. Plaintiff's attorney Rebecca Randles says the latest suits bring the total number of cases filed over the Reverend Shawn Ratigan's conduct to seven. Ratigan pleaded guilty in August to producing child pornography after police learned of hundreds of images of children, most of them clothed, with the focus on their crotch areas. Ratigan's case led Bishop Robert Finn to be charged with failing to report suspected abuse because there was a delay in notifying authorities. Finn became the highest-ranking U.S. church official to be convicted of a crime related to the child sexual abuse scandal. The diocese released a statement expressing "profound sorrow" for any harm Ratigan caused.


Engineering Firm to Appeal Wolf Creek Whistleblower Decision

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An engineering firm says it plans to appeal a decision by federal regulators in favor of a whistleblower allegedly fired for reporting unsafe conditions at a nuclear power plant in eastern Kansas. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Georgia-based Enercon Services violated whistleblower protections when it retaliated against an engineer for raising concerns during construction work at the Wolf Creek plant in Burlington. OSHA acting regional administrator Marcia Drumm said in a news release Monday that professionals in the nuclear power industry have a right and responsibility to report safety-related concerns. Enercon said in an email Monday it welcomes the opportunity for a full hearing to establish the firing was for legitimate reasons and not for reporting safety concerns. The company provides engineering support services to nuclear plants nationwide.

Kansas Man Gets 260 Years for Producing Child Porn

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A central Kansas man has been sentenced to 260 years in prison for using a 9-year-old girl to produce child pornography. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten handed down the punishment Monday to 50-year-old Philip Andra Grigsby, of Marquette. Grigsby pleaded guilty earlier to eight counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count each of possession of child pornography and unlawful possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says in a news release that he wants the sentence to send a message. The investigation began after Grigsby sent emails containing child porn to an Australian man. Investigators were able to identify the victim after noticing the name of a middle school on a physical fitness certificate. A restitution hearing is scheduled for June 24.

Sprint Boosts Buyout Offer for Clearwire

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Sprint says it has raised its buyout offer for the stake in Clearwire it does not already own by 14 percent. Sprint Nextel said Tuesday that it is offering $3.40 per share for Clearwire Corporation. Its previous offer, from December, was for $2.97 per share for the wireless data operator. Sprint says this is its best and final offer. A vote on the previous offer had been scheduled for Tuesday. A representative for Clearwire could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning. Sprint is Clearwire's only major wholesale customer, and uses its network to provide "Sprint 4G" service.

Sprint to Consider Dish Network Offer

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Wireless company Sprint Nextel says it can now let Dish Network Corporation see its books and talk with Dish to see whether its competing offer to buy Sprint is better than its current deal with Japan's SoftBank. Sprint said late Monday that SoftBank had waived some provisions of its deal so that Sprint will be able to talk with Dish. SoftBank currently has a $20.1 billion deal with Sprint to buy 70 percent of the company. Dish last month offered $25.5 billion for the whole company. Softbank says it brings expertise and cash to Sprint. It says it still wants to close its deal by July 1. Many Wall Street analysts view Dish's bid as superior but risky, as it will result in a combined company with high debt.

Big 12 Delays Baseball Tournament Following OKC Tornado

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Big 12 is delaying the start of its baseball tournament in Oklahoma City after this week's deadly tornado. The league announced Tuesday that the tournament will change from a double-elimination format to pool play and start on Thursday instead of Wednesday. Conference spokesman Bob Burda says Oklahoma City leaders asked the Big 12 not to cancel the tournament and allow it to show "the strong Oklahoma spirit and to the resiliency of the Oklahoma people." One pool will feature regular-season champion Kansas State, number 4 seed Oklahoma, number 5 seed Baylor and number 8 seed Texas Tech. The other will feature second-seeded Oklahoma State, number 3 seed West Virginia, number 6 seed KU and number 7 seed TCU. The championship is Sunday.

KU Lands Transfer Tarik Black from Memphis

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Memphis forward Tarik Black is transferring to the University of Kansas and will be eligible to play immediately. Black has graduated from Memphis and has one year of eligibility left. Last season, Black started five of 32 games played for Memphis and averaged 8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds. His 58.9 field goal percentage was second best on the team. He had 20 blocked shots and 22 steals at the power forward position. For his career, Black has averaged 9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds and made 60 starts.


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