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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, May 29, 2012



UPDATE:  Federal Trial Begins in Kansas Remapping Lawsuit 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The first morning of a federal court trial over the redrawing of Kansas political boundaries was mostly filled with procedural issues.  Attorneys for legislators, business leaders and voters presented evidence Tuesday to three federal judges in Kansas City, Kansas. The judges must adjust boundaries for congressional, state House and Senate and State Board of Education districts to account for population changes in the past decade. The maps became the judges' responsibility after the Legislature could not settle a feud among Republicans over the districts' boundaries. Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state's chief elections official.  However, the judges are allowing 27 other individuals to participate including some lawmakers involved in the Legislature's impasse.

STAR Bond Legislation Awaits KS Governor's Signature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —Governor Sam Brownback has until June 4 to decide whether he'll sign a bill extending the life of an economic development incentive. Lawmakers approved a bill allowing Kansas to authorize bonds for big projects backed by sales tax revenues through June 2017. Such sales tax revenue bonds...referred to as STAR bonds...are considered an effective tool for the state in attracting businesses., and are credited with helping Kansas compete with Missouri for jobs in the Kansas City area. STAR bonds helped finance Kansas Speedway as well as a new stadium for the Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City. But enough legislators had misgivings about the extension bill that it didn't clear the Legislature until shortly before lawmakers adjourned May 20th. The governor's spokeswoman said only that he would review the legislation carefully.

Study Suggests Continued Population Drop in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita State University study projects that most of the state will continue to lose population for decades. The university's Center for Economic Development and Business Research found that the population decline will continue at least through 2040. The Hutchinson News reports the study projected that if migration was not considered, 37 counties would lose population in that time period. When migration is factored in, 83 counties would continue to lose population through 2040. Most of those counties are in western Kansas. The center's director, Jeremy Hill, says any potential growth is likely to occur around the state's larger cities, particularly if the manufacturing sector rebounds.


Brownback Signs Bill Giving State Contract Preference to Companies Hiring the Disabled

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will now give preference in awarding state contracts to companies in which 20 percent of the full-time employees have disabilities. Governor Sam Brownback says the bill he signed Tuesday will help disabled Kansans find steady work and get off aid programs. The bill requires the state to give preference for state contracts to certified businesses if their bids are no more than 10 percent higher than the most competitive bid. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the companies must meet three criteria to take part in the program. The businesses must work mostly in Kansas and have a workforce in which 20 percent of their full-time employees are classified as having a disability. The companies must also contribute at least 75 percent of total health insurance premiums for all workers.


Sprint to End Nextel Service as Early as June 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — Sprint says it will shut down the Nextel network as early as June 30 next year, cutting off service for its characteristic walkie-talkie-like Nextel phones. Sprint Nextel Corporation had already said the shutdown would commence sometime next year, but had not set a date. It's working to move Nextel subscribers to the Sprint network. Sprint bought the Nextel network in 2005, and has lost money every quarter for the last four years as it's struggled with the cost of running two incompatible wireless networks. There were 5.4 million phones active on the Nextel network at the end of March. Many Nextel customers are businesses or government agencies who issue the phones to construction crews and other mobile workers.

Salina TCE Cleanup Settlement Delayed

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There's been a delay in a long-sought settlement that would allow Salina to take over the cleanup of pollution at a former Air Force base. Salina, which acquired the former Schilling Air Force Base when it closed in 1965, filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 to recoup the cost of cleaning up trichloroethylene (TCE) pollution left from when the base was in operation. The cleanup had previously been under the jurisdiction of the federal government. In March, the two sides said they'd agreed in principle to a settlement. They were expected to have a finalized settlement April 27. Since then court documents show they have asked the court to extend that deadline until August 27 to give them time to negotiate the specific terms of the proposed settlement.


McPherson Oil Refinery to Receive Upgrade

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A multi-million dollar upgrade is planned at the oil refinery at McPherson. The National Cooperative Refinery Association refinery is the largest buyer of oil in Kansas. More than half of the 115,000 barrels of oil produced in the state every day goes through McPherson. NCRA is owned directly by three farm cooperatives, the majority of it by CHS of St. Paul, Minnesota. The Wichita Eagle reports that the company is planning a $550 million replacement of its coker unit. That unit is used to process crude oil, mostly into gasoline and diesel oil. Construction is expected to start early next year and be completed in 2015.


TX-Based Companies to Pay Penalty for Pipeline Spills in KS, NE, IA 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Two Houston-based companies have agreed to pay a civil penalty of more than $1 million for pipeline spills in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that the fine is part of a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Omaha. In the decree, Mid-America Pipeline Company and Enterprise Products agreed to reduce external threats to the pipeline and improve their reporting of spills. The EPA says Mid-America owns and Enterprise operates the pipeline that carries gasoline products between Conway, Kansas and Pine Bend, Minnesota. The Nebraska spill of about 71,000 gallons occurred near Yutan on March 2007. The Kansas spill of around 75,600 gallons occurred near Niles in April 2010. The Iowa spill of nearly 34,500 gallons occurred near Onawa in August 2011.


Kansas Turkey Hunters Find Stolen Explosives

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — The theft of 185 pounds of explosives from a southeastern Kansas company nearly four years ago has been partially solved. Burglars made off with the explosives in September 2008 from a Martin Marietta facility in Butler County. The company used the explosives in its gravel-mining operations. KWCH-TV reports that a pair of turkey hunters called authorities after spotting the tubes of explosives Monday night near Towanda. Sheriff Kelly Herzet says cardboard boxes containing the tubes apparently deteriorated over time. He says the explosives weren't dangerous because they lacked detonators, but he's glad they've been recovered. The ATF in Wichita is continuing to investigate.


Early Results from KS Wheat Harvest Show Promise

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — It's early, but initial returns from the Kansas wheat harvest near Salina are giving farmers some hope. In central Kansas, west of Salina, farmers are reporting surprisingly good yields. The Salina Journal reports Tuesday that test weights at one spot were at 60 pounds to the bushel and moisture content was nearly 14 percent. One farmer guessed his yield would top 50 bushels per acre — about 10 bushels above his original estimate. But it's too soon to know if such early numbers can be sustained and reverse the fortunes predicted earlier this month. Agriculture experts have said lack of rain, disease pressure and high temperatures would take their toll on yields.

Garden City's 'Big Pool' Opens to Large Crowds

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — High heat is headed to southwest Kansas, and one of the world's largest swimming pools is ready. Saturday's opening day for the "Big Pool" in Garden City drew an estimated 1,200 people, and business figures to pick up this weekend as temperatures are forecast to hit the 90s. Billed as the world's largest outdoor municipal concrete swimming pool, the pool is about the size of a football field and holds more than 2.5 million gallons of water. More than 40 lifeguards work at the Big Pool, with about 20 on duty at any given time. Officials say the pool is so big, they aren't really certain how many people it could hold. It takes about 24 hours to fill the pool with water.


UPDATE: Prosecutor Claims Commune Murder Suspect Told Child to Lie about Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A prosecutor says a Kansas commune leader accused of killing a group member directed a child to lie to police about the woman's 2003 death. Prosecutor Kim Parker began laying out the case against Daniel U. Perez during a preliminary hearing Tuesday. Prosecutors must show a judge enough evidence this week to justify a murder trial. Law enforcement officials have refused to say what led them to charge Perez with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of 26-year-old Patricia Hughes. Police first believed Hughes drowned while trying to rescue her 2-year-old daughter from a pool at the Valley Center compound where the commune lived. Perez was known for years as Lou Castro, a false identity. He also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape and other crimes.

KC Police See Surge in PCP Usage

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say the use of PCP is increasing, particularly in the city's urban core. Officers are concerned because they say PCP users often are violent and unpredictable. The drug induces hallucinations and makes many users combative and unable to feel pain. Police Captain Todd Paulson calls PCP the scariest drug on the streets. He was one of six officers who were needed to subdue a PCP user in January. The Kansas City Star reports officers used to see a brief increase in PCP arrests after a shipment came in but would then go weeks without any arrests. Police are now averaging two to three PCP arrests a week, most involving small amounts for personal use.


Kansas Man Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City, Kansas man has admitted in federal court that he took a 16-year-old girl across state lines to work as a prostitute. The U.S. Attorney's office says 26-year-old Otis Warren pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of transporting a minor for illegal sexual activity. He faces a maximum 30 years in prison at sentencing, scheduled for September 25. Warren was arrested after undercover police investigators from Prairie Village agreed last November to pay $250 an hour to have sex with the girl. Prosecutors said Warren drove the girl from Kansas City, Missouri to a house in Prairie Village and dropped her off. He was arrested while driving away. Investigators said the girl worked for Warren, who kept most of the money she earned.

KU Basketball Player Gets Diversion in Alcohol Possession Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas basketball player Ben McLemore has entered into a diversion agreement in a minor in possession of alcohol case. The Lawrence Journal-World reports court records show the 19-year-old McLemore's case was disposed of on Friday. Under the diversion agreement, McLemore also will pay $160 in court costs and a $200 fine. McLemore was ticketed November 4 after allegedly being caught with a drink at a Lawrence bar. The freshman from St. Louis was able to practice but not play for the Jayhawks last season because of academic problems.

Soldier's Body Returned Home on Memorial Day

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — The remains of an Overland Park soldier who died in Afghanistan returned home on Memorial Day. More than 100 people solemnly greeted the body of Sergeant Michael Knapp when it arrived Monday at Kansas City International Airport. Knapp and another soldier died May 18th when their unit was hit by enemy rocket fire that also killed three civilians. He earned several military honors, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion Air Assault, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade. The 28-year-old Shawnee Mission North graduate leaves behind a wife and 9-month-old daughter. Knapp's family has set a fund for his daughter. Donations are being accepted at any Valley View Bank. Knapp previously served in Kosovo and two deployments in Iraq.

Assistant State AG to Run for Ford County Attorney

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Assistant Attorney General Natalie Randall says she plans to run in the Republican primary election for Ford County attorney. Randall was an assistant Ford County attorney until joining Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office a year ago. Randall told The Dodge City Daily Globe that she misses working in Ford County and wants to restore a full time prosecutor to the position. Randall is a member of the Republican Women's Association and the First United Methodist Church. She lives in Dodge City with her husband and daughter.

KS Cancer Survivor Training to Run Marine Corps Marathon

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A Pittsburg woman who survived a rare, malignant type of brain tumor is training to run a marathon to support military veterans. Kimberly Harris lived in St. Louis in 2005 when the tumor was discovered. After surgery, chemo, radiation and intensive care, she and her husband and two children moved to Oklahoma. The family has lived in Pittsburg since 2009, where Kimberly and her husband work at Pittsburg State University in Kansas. This fall, to celebrate her 40th birthday, Harris will run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. She is dedicating money she raises to the Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. Harris says she wants to honor those whose illnesses are caused by war.


Federal Judges Plan 2-Day Trial in Kansas Remapping Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys for Kansas officials, business leaders and voters are heading to federal court for the trial of a lawsuit targeting the Legislature's failure to redraw the state's political district boundaries. Three federal judges must adjust congressional, state House, state Senate and State Board of Education districts to account for population changes over the past decade. The judges hope the trial in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas can be wrapped up in two days. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state's chief elections official. However, the judges are allowing 27 other individuals to participate, including key figures in the Legislature's impasse. The parties are represented by more than three dozen attorneys.

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

Commune Leader's Hearing Offers Glimpse into Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors are preparing to present evidence to justify a murder trial for a 2003 death initially thought to be an accidental drowning. A preliminary hearing for 52-year-old Daniel Perez begins today (TUE). Perez is accused of the premeditated murder of Patricia Hughes. She died at a Valley Center compound where Perez and others allegedly lived off life insurance payouts from deceased members of their group. An attorney for Perez did not return a message seeking comment. Perez also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat and making false statements on credit applications.

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

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