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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, May 22, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas Governor Signs Tax Cuts in Statehouse Ceremony 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed massive cuts in state income taxes into law. Brownback signed the bill during a Statehouse ceremony Tuesday. A contentious debate continues about whether the cuts will usher in economic prosperity or create massive budget problems. The law will cut individual income tax rates for 2013 and eliminate income taxes for the owners of 191,000 businesses. Coupled with a sales tax reduction already scheduled for July 2013, the income tax cuts would provide $231 million in tax relief for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The annual figure would grow to $934 million after six years. A forecast from the Legislature's research staff shows that a budget shortfall would emerge by July 2014 and, if left unchecked, grow to nearly $2.5 billion by July 2018.


27 Want to Jump into Kansas Redistricting Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Most of the main figures in the Kansas Legislature's rancorous debate over redistricting hope to participate in a federal lawsuit over lawmakers' failure to redraw the state's political boundaries. The notable exception is Governor Sam Brownback, who says he hopes and trusts a panel of federal judges handling the case will draw the lines fairly. Kansas lawmakers adjourned Sunday without drawing new district maps for the state House and Senate, the State Board of Education and the four U.S. House districts. Twenty-seven individuals filed requests to intervene in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court before the midnight Monday deadline. Among the latest to file were House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, and three conservative Republican senators who were working on maps for their chamber's 40 districts.


Delays Prompt Kansas to Extend Tag Renewal Deadline

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Long delays caused by a new computer system prompted state officials to extend the time some Kansans have to renew their vehicle tags and get license plates. The Kansas Division of Vehicles announced the extension Monday for those who couldn't meet registration deadlines of backups caused by the computer installation. The delays began when treasurer offices in all 105 counties were closed for a week earlier this month while the system was installed.
The new grace periods are:
— May 31 for tags expired April 30 (last names beginning with C or D)
— June 29 for tags that will expire May 31 (last names E, F or G)
— June 29 for 30-day permits that will expire in May
Cardboard 30-day permits may be displayed through June 29.

Pompeo Won't Seek to Join Kansas Redistricting Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo won't get involved in a federal lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to redraw the boundaries of the state's political districts. Pompeo said Monday he's confident that three federal judges handling the lawsuit will do their best to draw workable maps of the state's four U.S. House districts. He issued the statement after the judges had a hearing in the case and allowed fellow Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder to intervene. Pompeo and Yoder are freshman Republicans. Pompeo represents the 4th Congressional District of south-central Kansas. Yoder represents the 3rd District, centered in the Kansas City metropolitan area. A bitter feud among Republicans prevented the Legislature from approving any new maps of state Senate, House, congressional and Board of Education districts.

Former KS Senate Majority Leader to Head State Board of Regents

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former majority leader of the Kansas Senate will be the next leader of the state Board of Regents. The board announced the election of Tim Emert as chairman on Monday. He begins a one-year term in July, succeeding Ed McKechnie, of Arcadia. The nine-member board also elected Fred Logan, of Leawood, as vice chairman. Emert is a Republican from Independence. He was appointed to the board in 2010 by then-Governor Mark Parkinson, a Democrat. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a law degree from the University of Kansas. Logan was appointed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback in 2011. He earned undergraduate and law degrees from Indiana University. The Board of Regents is the governing body of Kansas's public universities, community colleges and technical colleges.


Lawrence Board Begins School Bond Issue Talks

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence school officials are considering asking voters to approve a new bond issue next year to make upgrades at the city's elementary schools. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Tuesday that the board agreed to begin developing the plan. It could include adding space to remove portable classrooms and upgrade kitchens at the schools. Improving traffic patterns at the schools is another possible target of the bond issue. The board decided in April not to consolidate any of the elementary schools in eastern or central Lawrence. The district is nearing the end of a $54 million bond issue passed in 2005 to upgrade secondary schools in Lawrence. School officials say the goal would be to have a proposal that wouldn't cost residents more in taxes.

Topeka Stores Join Sodium-Reduction Initiative

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Convenience stores aren't especially famous for offering low-salt snack foods. But 13 Topeka stores plan to make it easier for customers to find healthy offerings among the chips and soda. Erin Tynon of the Shawnee County Health Agency says each store has agreed to add a stand-alone rack of "healthy, low-sodium items." The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the agreement is part of an initiative financed by a three-year grant worth more than $930,000. The money comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Topeka Zoo and Shawnee County Department of Corrections also are participating. The zoo is eliminating some high-sodium items at concession stands, and plans to replace them with more fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, the county's inmates are being offered lower-sodium food choices.


Kansas Workers Sue Meatpacking Plant over Wages 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A southwestern Kansas packing plant is being sued by workers alleging they're short-changed on wages and overtime pay. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of 2,000 workers at National Beef Packing Company's plant in Liberal. It challenges the practice of paying hourly meat-processing workers based on so-called "gang time," which pays only for the time the production line is running. The suit seeks class-action status. National Beef did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday. Similar lawsuits were filed last year against Creekstone Farms Premium Beef in Arkansas City, Kansas, and last month against the Farmland Foods slaughterhouse in Monmouth, Illinois. All three lawsuits were filed by attorney Mark Kistler, of Overland Park. Kistler says such wage practices are pervasive in the meatpacking industry.


Salina Approves Amendment of Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina's anti-discrimination ordinance will include gays, lesbians and transgender people starting June 4. Salina's city commission on Monday amended the ordinance to prohibit discrimination against those groups in employment, housing and public accommodations. Companies that do less than $20,000 a year in business with the city or have fewer than four employees will be exempt. The vote came after several months of discussion and controversy over the proposal. KSAL reports the controversy might not be over. Opponents of the ordinance could collect petitions to put the proposal to a public vote.

Ex-Official Seeks Leniency in Barber County Theft Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former public works director who admitted stealing equipment from a Kansas county is pleading with a federal judge to spare him from prison. Steven Collier has pleaded guilty to two counts of theft from Barber County in 2010. He agreed to pay more than $116,310 in restitution. His sentencing was rescheduled to June 12. Collier's lawyer attorney filed a motion Monday seeking a shorter term than the 12 to 18 months required by federal guidelines. Collier says he strayed from his marriage and stole because of a toxic relationship with his girlfriend. He says he used the money to pay debts and buy things for the woman. Collier says he now has a comfortable monthly income and needs to remain free so he can support his disabled wife.


KU to Hold 4-Hour Emergency Exercise

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of law enforcement officers and emergency personnel will swarm part of the University of Kansas campus on Wednesday for an annual readiness exercise. The university's Public Safety Office says the emergency response management drill will begin at 10 am and last about four hours. University spokesman Gavin Young told The Lawrence Journal-World the exercise will involve a crisis scenario at Corbin Hall. Some streets around the residence hall may be blocked for the drill. Agencies taking part include the Lawrence, Eudora and Baldwin City police departments, the Lawrence County sheriff's department and Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical services. Young says the exercise gives participants a chance to assess and improve their overall readiness for responding to emergencies.


Judge Delays Sentencing in Kansas Teen's Murder

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge has delayed the sentencing of a Great Bend man convicted of killing a 14-year-old cheerleader whose charred body was found at the asphalt plant where he worked. No new sentencing date has been set for 38-year-old Adam Longoria. A jury found him guilty in April of guilty of capital murder for the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt. Sentencing had been scheduled for June 8, but Barton County District Judge Hannelore Kitts on Tuesday delayed it. There was no explanation in court records. Prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty, but a capital murder conviction carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Alicia disappeared the weekend before she was due to start her freshman year of high school. Her remains were found three days later.

KS Schools Win Praise for Fitness Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas schools are winning recognition for keeping students active. The Kansas State Department of Education says it worked with the Midwest Dairy Council to encourage schools to upload videos showing how their schools are active each day. The grand prize winner in the Fuel Up to Play 60 Physical Activity Challenge was Gardiner Elementary School in Wichita. Runner-up schools are in Norton, McPherson, Olathe and Blue Rapids. Fuel Up to Play 60 is a school nutrition and physical activity program. It's created in partnership with Midwest Dairy Council and the National Football League. This year's focus was on efforts ranging from walking club to in-class activity breaks.


Woman Dies in Early Morning Kansas City House Fire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A woman has died in an early morning house fire on Kansas City's east side. Battalion Chief Lew Hendricks says the fire had largely burned itself out when firefighters arrived around 4:35 am Tuesday. The Kansas City Star reported that the woman was found about seven feet from the home's door. She was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Authorities didn't immediately release her name. A man also was in the home when the fire broke out, but he got out. Firefighters investigating the cause of the blaze are focused on the badly damaged kitchen. Hendricks says the smoke detectors were so damaged from the fire that it was unclear whether they had been working.

Thief Uses Rock to Steal $8 at Drive-Thru 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are looking for a man who approached a customer in a McDonald's drive-thru lane, bashed him on the head and walked off with less than $10 in cash. The weapon is described as a rock the size of a baseball. The Wichita Eagle reports the incident happened just before 11:30 pm Monday. The victim told officers the man walked up to his vehicle, asked what he was doing and clubbed his head with the rock. The assailant then walked away with the victim's $8. Police Captain Troy Livingston says the victim was not seriously injured.

KC Man Accused of Pointing Laser at Police Helicopter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 24-year-old man has been accused of pointing a laser at a Kansas City police helicopter as it flew overhead. The Kansas City Star reports Grant Doverspike of Kansas City was issued a summons early Sunday to appear in municipal court after the helicopter's crew reported being targeted by a green laser downtown. Police say the pilots directed officers to an apartment at 17th and Oak streets, where they found Doverspike and confiscated a green laser. Similar incidents have resulted in federal charges, including one earlier this year in St. Louis when a man was charged with interfering with an aircraft after allegedly pointing a laser at an airplane and helicopter.


UPDATE: Body Found in Hunt for Missing Student Identified as Kansas Native  

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The body of a Harvard Business School student has been recovered from a Maine harbor, three days after being told to leave a waterfront bar for being intoxicated while celebrating his upcoming graduation with two friends. Police said a diver recovered the body of 31-year-old Nathan Bihlmaier of Cambridge, Massachusetts shortly before noon Tuesday from Portland Harbor near Custom House Wharf. Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Bihlmaier was separated from friends after leaving the Ri Ra Irish Pub at 11:30 pm Saturday. He later called his friends to tell them he was lost. A native of Osborne, Kansas, Bihlmaier was a University of Kansas graduate. He was due to graduate from Harvard on Thursday. His wife is pregnant with their first child. Police say an autopsy is scheduled.


$3.4 Billion Native American Land Royalty Settlement Upheld 

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A panel of appellate judges has upheld a $3.4 billion settlement between the U.S. government and hundreds of thousands of Native American plaintiffs whose land trust royalties the Department of Interior mismanaged. The three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a challenge of the settlement Tuesday. The judges said the deal approved by Congress in 2010 is fair and the best that can be hoped for without years of additional litigation. Kimberly Craven of Boulder, Colorado had objected that the settlement did not include an accounting for how much money was lost and said some beneficiaries would be overcompensated. The settlement is the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by Blackfeet tribal member Elouise Cobell, who died of cancer in October.

Larned Hospital Superintendent Resigns

LARNED, Kan. (AP) — The top official at Larned State Hospital has resigned after eight months leading the state's largest psychiatric facility. Christopher Burke joined the staff at the central Kansas facility in 2005. He was director of the sexual predator treatment program before being named superintendent last fall by then-Secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services Rob Siedlecki. Current SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said Monday that Burke was leaving for other career opportunities. Gilmore named Thomas Kinlen interim director. Kinlen has been on the Larned staff since 2003, serving as director of psychology since 2008. Kansas lawmakers have approved funding increases for the hospital to help ease difficulties in recruiting doctors, nurses and other staff.

Former Thayer City Clerk Admits Embezzling $120,000

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former southeastern Kansas city clerk has admitted embezzling $120,000 in a deal with federal prosecutors to pay the money back. Forty-nine-year-old Laura Whittley was accused of stealing from the city of Thayer in a scheme that continued until July of last year. The U.S. attorney's office says Whittley pleaded guilty Monday to one count each of bank fraud and money laundering. She faces sentencing August 13. Whittley admitted pocketing cash paid by residents for utility bills, municipal court payments, park fees and wildlife licenses and permits. She also issued additional paychecks to herself, paid personal bills from city funds, charged personal expenses to the city and submitted fraudulent bills for cleanup work after a storm in May 2009.

Ex-Police Officer Accused of Stealing Poster

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former southeast Kansas police officer is accused of stealing a framed poster of a controversial Arizona sheriff while executing a search warrant for narcotics. A criminal information filed Monday in federal court charges 42-year-old Spencer Coate with a misdemeanor count of depriving a citizen of his constitutional rights. The document says Coate was taking part in a search for drugs at a Galena building in June 2009 when he took the poster of Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County. Arpaio is known nationwide for his tough talk and hardline stance on illegal immigration. Coate is also accused of stealing a framed print of a duck. His attorney, Robin Fowler, says he will make the "appropriate comment" in court. Galena Police Chief Larry Delmont says Coate was fired in May 2010.

Farmers Test-Cutting Wheat in Southern Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Farmers are beginning to test-cut some winter wheat fields in southern Kansas with harvest likely to start within days. Steve Inslee, general manager of OK Co-op Grain in Kiowa, said Monday that early test-cuttings show the wheat is still not dry enough to harvest. Still, he expects farmers in that area to be cutting in earnest by Wednesday. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 14 percent of the wheat in south-central Kansas and 19 percent in the southeast has matured. The rate is 5 percent statewide. But the wheat's condition is declining. The agency says 22 percent of the crop is now rated in poor to very poor condition. About 35 percent is in fair shape, with 36 percent rated good and 7 percent rated excellent.

Wichita Art Museum Names New Director

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita Art Museum did not have to look far for its new director. The museum announced Tuesday that Wichita State University's Patricia McDonnell will replace Charles Steiner as director. McDonnell currently is director of Wichita State's Ulrich Museum of Art. Her new position is effective August 20. The Wichita Eagle reports McDonnell will be allowed to finish work on some Ulrich projects, including a gallery renovation and the museum's reopening after being closed for nine months. She was hired as director of the Ulrich in 2007. Before that, she was chief curator at the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washington and curator of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Bishop's Lawyers Renew Effort to Dismiss Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawyers representing Catholic Bishop Robert W. Finn are trying again to have misdemeanor charges dismissed against him and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The Kansas City Star reports the lawyers filed motions last week arguing a state law that requires clergy and certain others to report any suspicions of child abuse is unconstitutionally vague. A grand jury in October charged Finn and the diocese each with one misdemeanor of failing to report abuse allegations against Reverend Shawn Ratigan, who faces federal and state charges involving child pornography. If the charges aren't dismissed on constitutional grounds, defense lawyers asked that Finn and the diocese not be subject to being charged with multiple counts.

KC to Consider New Uses for Closed Schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City school district is making plans to transform more of its closed buildings. The cash-strapped district shuttered nearly half its schools two years ago. A committee has been working since then to find new uses for those schools and others closed previously. At a meeting Wednesday, the school board will consider proposals from administrators to turn one school into a grocery store. A second school would be used for senior housing and a health clinic, and a third would house medical offices. Several other proposals have been discussed or approved.


Say Hello to My Li'l Friends: Man Wants to Bring Pet Alligators to Court

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man accused of 17 animal abuse charges wants to bring live alligators into a Columbia courtroom when he goes on trial in July. The Columbia Daily Tribune reports an attorney for 67-year-old Ken Henderson made the request to Boone County Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter. Henderson was charged last June after animal control officials searched his van at Boone County Fairgrounds and found several animals, including seven alligators. Attorney Kevin O'Brien says the defense wants to show jurors that the alligators are domesticated and that Henderson takes care of them like pets. Henderson, who has appeared on the cable channel Animal Planet, was ordered last year not to bring his animals back to Boone County.


KC Royals Greats to Lend Local Flavor in All-Star Weekend Softball Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals will lend some hometown flavor to the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game during All-Star Weekend at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, Bo Jackson and Mike Sweeney are among the former Royals players on the roster for the six-inning game, which is scheduled for July 8. The All-Star Game takes place July 10. Ernie Banks, Joe Carter, Andre Dawson, Rollie Fingers and Ricky Henderson are also scheduled to participate in the game, along with Ozzie Smith, Mike Piazza and Dave Winfield. The softball game follows the Futures Game on Sunday of All-Star weekend, and will air on ESPN after the Home Run Derby the following night.

Divers Continue Search for Kansas Man Missing in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Divers with side-scanning sonar are expected to return to Portland Harbor to search for a Harvard Business School student from Kansas who disappeared while celebrating his upcoming graduation with two friends. Divers are scheduled to return to the water on Tuesday after finding clothing Monday belonging to 31-year-old Nathan Bihlmaier of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Police say Bihlmaier was asked to leave a waterfront pub Saturday night because he was visibly intoxicated. He was separated from his friends and failed to return to his hotel. He was reported missing by the friends on Sunday. The Portland (ME) Press Herald reports that Bihlmaier is a native of Osborne, Kansas and a graduate of the University of Kansas. His wife is pregnant with their first child and he was scheduled to graduate Thursday.

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


Kansas Governor to Sign Tax Cut Bill into Law 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is planning to sign massive income tax cuts into law during a Statehouse ceremony. Brownback's office announced that he would sign the measure at noon Tuesday. The governor and his fellow conservative Republicans contend that the cuts will stimulate the state's economy and generate new jobs. But critics worry that the cuts will create a budget crisis, based on projections from the Legislature's staff showing a budget shortfall emerging by July 2014. The bill would cut top individual income tax rates for 2013 and eliminate income taxes for the owners of 191,000 businesses. Coupled with a sales tax reduction already scheduled for July 2013, the income tax cuts would provide $231 million in tax relief for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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

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