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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, August 1, 2012



Drought Update: Half of US Counties Now Classified as Disaster Areas

ST. LOUIS (AP) — More than half of U.S. counties now are classified by the federal government as natural disaster areas, mostly because of widespread drought. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday added 218 counties in a dozen states as disaster areas. That brings this year's total to 1,584 in 32 states; more than 90 percent of them carry that designation because of the effects of drought. The latest additions make drought-affected farmers and ranchers eligible for federal aid including emergency loans. The USDA also announced ranchers may access some 3.8 million acres of conservation land for haying and grazing, and crop insurance companies have agreed to provide farmers a penalty-free grace period on insurance premiums in 2012. Counties included in the announcement are in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.


Kickapoo Tribe Enacts Water Restrictions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The ongoing drought has led an Indian tribe in northeastern Kansas to impose water conservation measures. Kickapoo Tribal Chairman Steve Cadue said Wednesday the order bans the use of water for lawns, gardens, swimming pools or car washes. It applies to all residents and businesses using water treated by the tribe. Cadue says the Kickapoo were forced to haul water to the reservation several years ago when supplies dwindled. He says that is a possibility again, but not a long-term solution to meeting the tribe's needs. The reservation is located about 50 miles north of Topeka. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, 76 percent of Kansas is in extreme drought, including the Kickapoo lands.

State of KS Launches Program to Aid Livestock Producers Facing Water Supply Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has launched a cost-sharing program to help farmers and ranchers increase water supplies for livestock as the state remains in severe drought. The State Conservation Commission voted this week to spend $500,000 from existing funds for water projects, mainly in pastures that have little or no water supplies. The state will provide up to $2,000 per project and up to $4,000 to each landowner. The Kansas Department of Agriculture is asking applicants to focus on restoring existing ponds, developing wells and springs or completing water storage projects. Officials say applications should be submitted through county conservation districts. The department's Division of Conservation will review the applications.

Drought-Related Loans Open to Non-Farm Businesses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The drought that continues to grip Kansas isn't only affecting farmers and livestock producers. Many nonfarm businesses have also been hurt. The state Agriculture Department says small, nonfarm operations in 47 counties may qualify for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. They're intended to offset economic losses that can be directly linked to drought conditions since mid-July. Qualifying operations may also include small agricultural cooperatives, some nonprofits and a few others.


Survey: Drought Dragging Down Midwest Economy

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The ongoing drought — combined with the global economic turmoil — is hurting business in nine Midwest and Plains states and increasing worries about the possibility of another recession. A report released Wednesday says July's Mid-America Business Conditions Index plunged below growth neutral for the first time since 2008. The index hit 48.7, compared with 57.2 in June. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says the drought will hurt farm income and the strengthening dollar hurts exports. The survey of business leaders and supply managers uses a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Any score above 50 suggests growth while a score below 50 suggests decline for that factor. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.


State of KS Encourages Online Vehicle Registration and Tag Renewal 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is trying to encourage residents to renew their vehicle registrations online by waiving fees for using credit cards or electronic checks. The state Division of Vehicles announced Wednesday that it would waive the fees for a year, starting immediately. It expects the waiver to save people renewing their tags online a total of $1.2 million. The announcement came after problems associated with the rollout of a new, $40 million computer system for handling the renewals. The problems led to long lines and hours of waiting at some county treasurers' offices. But division spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said it isn't anticipating long lines in the future and simply wants to remind Kansans that they can renew their tags online.


Kansas Revenue Tops Expectations in July

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas revenue officials say payments of corporate income taxes helped push state  revenue above expectations for the first month of the new fiscal year. The Revenue Department reported Tuesday that overall receipts in July totaled $457.8 million — about $2.7 million better than the official forecast. Corporations paid nearly $14 million in state income taxes last month, compared with an expected $10 million. Payments of individual income taxes were on the mark at $205 million. The department says use tax receipts were about $1 million more than expected, suggesting businesses are buying more equipment. The overall July receipts came in at $20 million more than total revenue in the same month last year.

Lawrence Police Officer to File Lawsuit Over Dismissal in Ticket-Fixing Scandal

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former Lawrence police officer says he plans to sue the city over his firing after he was accused of fixing traffic tickets. Michael Monroe was one of two officers the city alleged fixed traffic tickets in exchange for tickets to University of Kansas basketball games. City Manager David Corliss has said the person whose traffic tickets were fixed is in federal prison related to a broader University of Kansas ticket scandal. Police Chief Tarik Khatib fired Monroe in March, and Corliss later overruled a city employee grievance board's decision that Monroe should be reinstated with a demotion. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Monroe learned last week that Corliss upheld Khatib's decision. City officials declined to discuss Monroe's grievance. The other officer resigned in February.


Olathe Child Injured in Fall from 3rd-Floor Window

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Olathe fire department says a 3-year-old child was injured after falling from a third-floor window. The fire department says the incident was reported Wednesday morning, and when firefighters arrived they found the boy had fallen out of a window on the building's third floor. The department says it appears the child fell when he leaned against a screened window and the screen gave way. The child was taken to an area hospital and was reported in stable condition later Wednesday.


New PAC Funded by Owner of Closed Kansas Dog Tracks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of two closed Kansas dog racing tracks is funding a new political action committee that is helping moderate Republican candidates for state Senate seats. A campaign finance report filed Wednesday by the Kansas Wins PAC showed it received more than $144,000 from Phil Ruffin. He owns Wichita Greyhound Park and Camptown Greyhound Park outside Pittsburg. A 2007 law allows slot machines at both tracks and the Woodlands dog and horse racing complex in Kansas City, Kansas. But Ruffin has argued that the law isn't generous enough to track owners to make the machines financially viable. The campaign finance report showed that, starting last week, the PAC spent more than $122,000 on mailings and radio ads, mostly for GOP moderates facing conservative opponents for Senate seats in Tuesday's primary.

Attorneys Seek $1.7 Million from Hawker Beechcraft

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys representing Wichita aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft in its bankruptcy proceeding are seeking more than $1 million for work they performed in June. The New York law firm of Kirkland and Ellis LLP filed a monthly statement Tuesday. The firm is seeking payment of 80 percent of the more than $1.75 million it says it ran up in attorney fees, plus a little more than $57,000 in expenses. The firm says 35 lawyers spent 2,444 billable hours on the Hawker Beechcraft case in June, with three partners billing as much as $1,045 per hour. Kirkland and Ellis also says a dozen paraprofessionals worked 260 billable hours on the case. The biggest chunk of the legal fees come from work on employee issues, benefits and the pension.

Man Guilty of Stealing Nearly 70 Air Conditioners

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has admitted he stole copper from nearly 70 air conditioners earlier this year. Forty-one-year-old Byron Stuckey will be sentenced August 30 for felony theft and attempting to elude officers. Stuckey was captured July 11 after stealing copper from an air conditioner at a southeast Wichita house. Police say they believe Stuckey stole at least 68 air conditioners, including from several churches. The cost of replacing the damaged units exceeded $100,000. Stuckey pleaded guilty last Friday in Sedgwick County District Court.


Wichita Airport to Expand Security Checkpoints

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita plans to increase its security by installing four new X-ray machines. Airport officials say they hope the new machines will speed security checks and reduce long waiting times at the airport, particularly in the mornings. The installation will begin Friday. The Wichita Eagle reports three of the machines are scheduled to be installed by August 14, with the last operational by August 22. Keith Osborn, of the Transportation Security Administration in Wichita, says passengers should expect delays and some narrow walkways when during construction.


Families File Lawsuits over 4 Deaths in Kansas House Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Survivors of four people who died in a western Kansas house fire have sued the owner of the rental home and a home health care agency. The March 10 fire in Scott City killed Jackie Coberly, who was quadriplegic; her 4-year-old son, Brandon Carter; and two girls who were also in the home. The families filed suit Wednesday in state court, seeking damages for wrongful death. They claim Windsor Place At-Home Care failed to provide health care services because its provider was not present when the fire started. They also contend the rental house lacked smoke detectors. Windsor Place says Coberly had chosen "self-directed care" in which she hired and managed her own caregivers. The agency was only responsible for administrative tasks, such as filing the payroll paperwork and taxes.

Church Submits High Bid for Former Wichita School

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A church in need of a permanent home has submitted the winning bid for a former elementary school in Wichita. The 21,000-square-foot Booth Elementary School has been used for storage since students were moved to a nearby school in 2003. The Wichita Eagle reports that a nondenominational Christian church called Hope International Fellowship submitted a winning bid of $83,000 for Booth Elementary during an auction Tuesday. The Wichita school board must approve the sale. Hope International has about 70 to 100 members who've been meeting for years in a school gymnasium rented from the Wichita district. Senior pastor Ed Belsan says he's thrilled with the prospect of moving into a permanent home. District officials and neighbors of Booth Elementary also said they were pleased with the sale.


Kansas Man Sentenced to 33 Years for Oklahoma Bank Heists

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A man from Coffeyville, Kansas has been sentenced to 33 years and one month in prison for armed robberies at two Tulsa banks. The U.S. Attorney's office says 29-year-old Calvin Shobe was formally sentenced on Tuesday. A jury convicted Shobe in March of conspiracy, armed bank robbery, using a firearm during a crime of violence and possessing a firearm while being a previously convicted felon. Investigators allege Shobe planned and directed a 16-year-old to rob the City National Bank in July 2011, and manipulated a man with a mental disability to rob an Arvest Bank in August 2011. More than $8,400 in total was taken in both heists. Shobe's attorney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment left after hours.

Newly-Formed Kansas PAC Jumps into Senate Races

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — After only eight days in existence, a new Kansas political action committee jumped into contested Republican primaries for state Senate seats to help GOP moderates. The Kansas Values PAC formed July 16, listing a Topeka address and Ryan Wright as its chairman and treasurer. Wright did not return a telephone message Tuesday evening. Three days after its creation, Kansas Values PAC received a $40,000 contribution from the Kansas Jobs PAC, established in June to help GOP moderates. The Kansas Jobs PAC has been funded by labor unions and a PAC controlled by Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Republican from Hugoton. Last week, eight days after forming, the Kansas Values PAC contributed $1,000 to each of 11 moderate GOP Senate candidates.

Kansas Chamber Spends $231K on Mailers & Ads in July

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has spent more than $231,000 this month on mailers and broadcast advertising designed to help conservative candidates in GOP state Senate primaries. The chamber's political action committee disclosed the spending in a campaign finance report filed this week with the secretary of state's office. A dozen moderate Republican senators face conservative challengers in the August 7 primary. The biggest donor to the chamber's efforts remains Wichita-based Koch Industries, which contributed $125,000 to the PAC earlier this month. That's more than half of the $228,000 the PAC raised since the beginning of the year. The chamber reported spending $130,000 on radio and cable television advertising to influence state Senate races and more than $101,000 on printing and postage for mailers.

Kansas Senate Leader's PAC Extends Reach in Races

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A political action committee led by Kansas Senate President Steve Morris has extended its reach by largely funding another PAC helping his fellow moderate Republicans. Campaign finance reports filed this week with the secretary of state's office showed that Morris's PAC, the Senate Leadership Committee, contributed $70,000 in June and July to the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority PAC. That's most of the $81,000 the Traditional Republican Majority PAC has raised since the beginning of last year. Another $10,000 was contributed last year by the United Transportation Union, based in Ohio. A dozen moderate GOP senators, including Morris, face conservative challengers in the August 7 primary. Both Morris's PAC and the Traditional Republican Majority PAC are allowed by Kansas law to give a maximum contribution of $1,000 to each candidate.


Heat Blamed for Another Death in KC Area

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The continuing hot, dry weather is being blamed for another death in the Kansas City area. The Kansas City Health Department said Wednesday a woman born in 1960 has died of heat-related causes, bringing the number of heat-related deaths in the Kansas City metro area to three this year. The department says that another seven deaths in the area are being investigated as possibly heat-related. State health officials say there have been 28 confirmed heat deaths in Missouri this year. Missouri's blistering summer has been approaching several weather records. St. Louis has had a record 11 days with highs of at least 105. Temperatures have climbed that high for eight days in Columbia. And in Kansas City, the temperatures have been hovering around the 100-degree mark for weeks.


KC Man Kills Girlfriend; Notifies Police 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police have arrested a man after he called police to report having killed his girlfriend. Police spokesman Captain Steve Young says the man called police early Wednesday and told them he had beaten his girlfriend to death. Officers went to the man's house with a search warrant and found a dead woman inside. The 42-year-old man, who was waiting for police at the home, was arrested and taken into custody. Young says the victim has not been identified, and homicide detectives are investigating.

KC Priest to Plead Guilty in Child Pornography Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City priest accused of producing and possessing child pornography is scheduled to plead guilty in federal court to at least some of the charges against him. The Reverend Shawn Ratigan was charged last year with 13 federal child pornography counts and three in Clay County (Missouri) after a computer technician discovered hundreds of troubling images on the 46-year-old priest's laptop in December 2010. Ratigan pleaded not guilty, but a change of plea hearing has been scheduled in federal court for Thursday. Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutors charged Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph with failing to report suspected child abuse to the state, a misdemeanor. Both have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in September.

Teen Accused of Attacking Elderly Kansas City Pair

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City teenager is accused of beating a 93-year-old man and raping an 84-year-old woman during a daytime burglary at the couple's home. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office announced the charges Tuesday against 18-year-old Tony Putman, who was arrested a day earlier in what police said was the couple's car. A phone number for Putman could not be found. Court records did not list a lawyer for him Tuesday. Police said the husband was napping Monday afternoon when an intruder hit him in the face and tied him with belts. The wife returned home from errands and was also tied. Investigators say the wife gave the intruder $5 to start, then $400 she had just withdrawn from a bank. Police say the intruder then raped the woman and fled.

Court Rejects Man's Religious Claim to Name Change

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An appeals court has rejected a Kansas man's claim that the federal justice system's refusal to recognize his new Muslim name violates his constitutional religious rights. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Michael White failed to show it was unreasonable to deny his request to amend all records in his criminal case. A lower court held that replacing the name Michael White with Abdul Hakeem Kareem Mujahid in all federal court records would create confusion. Mujahid is serving 10 years at a prison in Colorado for killing another inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth. A Kansas court granted his petition to change his name in December 2010.


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