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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Kansas House to Retain Key Committee Leaders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The new speaker of the Kansas House is retaining the chairmen of the chamber's powerful Appropriations, Taxation and Judiciary committees. Incoming House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, announced committee leadership appointments late Tuesday. Members of the chamber's GOP majority chose Merrick as speaker last week. Merrick kept Lance Kinzer, of Olathe, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Kinzer had run against Merrick for speaker. Marc Rhoades of Newton is remaining as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Richard Carlson of St. Marys will continue to head the Taxation Committee. All House committee chairmen and chairwomen are Republicans, in line with the GOP's 92-33 majority. They'll take over when lawmakers convene their 2013 session in mid-January.

Kansas Senate Leader Filed for Bankruptcy in 2010

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's new budget committee chairman filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and listed nearly $885,000 in unsecured debts in a federal court filing. But other incoming Senate leaders defended Andover Republican Ty Masterson after his selection Tuesday as Ways and Means Committee chairman. They said colleagues respect him. The Wichita Eagle reports that Masterson said he's working with creditors to pay off debts that were discharged this year. A GOP leadership panel picked Masterson. He and other incoming Senate leaders will begin their jobs when legislators convene their 2013 session in mid-January. Masterson said he understands that some might question his appointment with the bankruptcy in his background. But he said it gives him a personal perspective on the tough economic times many people are facing.

New Kansas House Speaker Retains Ex-Speaker's Aide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick is keeping his predecessor's chief of staff. Merrick's office confirmed Tuesday that the Stilwell Republican has hired Christie Kriegshauser, who worked nearly two years for former House Speaker Mike O'Neal. Fellow Republicans chose Merrick last week to replace O'Neal when the 2013 session opens in mid-January. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, did not seek another House term this year and is now the CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Kriegshauser previously worked for Merrick for three years, starting in January 2008 when Merrick was House majority leader. She became O'Neal's communications director in January 2011 and was promoted to chief of staff after 11 months.


Kansas Finance Council Approves Funding Requests

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A special council of Kansas officials has approved releasing $1 million to implement the state's new system for administering Medicaid services. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment asked the State Finance Council to approve funds on Wednesday for the billing system for KanCare, the state's revised Medicaid program. Legislators approved spending the money on the billing system during their 2012 session, if federal officials approved a waiver sought to allow Kansas to make changes to the Medicaid program. That approval came Friday, allowing the changes to begin January 1. The council also approved spending $559,000 in the latest installment of pay raises for state workers who earn below the market wage. The increases covered correctional workers and juvenile justice employees.


Kansas Medicaid Ombudsman Named

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence attorney has been appointed ombudsman for the Kansas Medicaid system known as KanCare. The selection of James Bart was announced Wednesday by Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the state Department for Aging and Disability Services. KanCare is the state's new system for providing Medicaid services to the poor and disabled through three managed care organizations. The new system, which recently won federal approval, takes effect January 1. Bart will be responsible for helping recipients resolve problems with access, service and benefits. Sullivan cited Bart's experience as a member of the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities. He's also a former member of an organization called the ARC of Douglas County, which provides developmental disability services in Douglas, Franklin, Jefferson and Osage counties.


Kansas Board of Ed Encourages Cursive Instruction

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Cursive handwriting instruction is getting a nod of support from the Kansas Board of Education. During Wednesday's meeting, the board unanimously adopted a statement encouraging educators to ensure students can write legibly in cursive and comprehend text written in cursive. In a separate 8-2 vote, the board ordered the department to develop model cursive standards. Kansas Department of Education spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes says the standards would establish things like curriculum guidelines and best practices. Toelkes says the measures won support because of research showing the role handwriting plays in cognitive development. A survey discussed at last month's board meeting found that most Kansas elementary students are still learning cursive writing but that interest in teaching the subject has begun to wane.

Judge Finds Juror Misconduct in Kansas Murder Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County District Court judge says a juror who posted comments on a newspaper website during a murder trial committed misconduct. The ruling issued Monday requires the Shawnee County district attorney to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the misconduct did not affect the trial against Anceo D. Stovall. The juror posted a comment on a Topeka Capital-Journal story about the trial while the jury was recessed. Stovall was one of nine suspects in the July 2011 killing of Natalie Gibson and the wounding of her life partner, Lori Allison. His trial ended in a hung jury on nine counts, an acquittal on one count and a conviction on another count. The Capital-Journal reports that Stovall is seeking a new trial based on juror misconduct.

Topeka Driver Convicted of Second-Degree Murder

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man could be sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison after being convicted in a car accident that killed a 15-year-old passenger. A Shawnee County jury on Tuesday convicted 19-year-old Hunter Hillmer of reckless second-degree murder for the March 19 death of Madison Naill. He was also convicted of aggravated battery for injuries suffered by a second passenger and driving under the influence of alcohol. The wreck left Hillmer a paraplegic. Witnesses testified that Hillmer's speeding Cadillac went airborne for about 50 feet, shattered a utility pole and struck a tree with its roof. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports investigators said Hillmer had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent and tested positive for marijuana use. An autopsy found Naill didn't have any alcohol or marijuana in her system.

Fire in KC Suburb Displaces About 50 People

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A hotel fire in a Kansas City suburb forced the evacuation of about 50 people but caused no serious injuries. Fire officials say one firefighter was treated and released for injuries after falling from a second-floor balcony at the Days Inn in Liberty early Wednesday. The Liberty Fire Department says 30 rooms were occupied and about 50 people were evacuated. Two people had to be rescued from the motel's second floor. A damage estimate was not immediately available but authorities say up to eight rooms were heavily damaged. The State Fire Marshal will investigate the cause of the fire.

Wichita Union Approves Spirit AeroSystems Contract

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Members of an engineering union at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita have overwhelmingly approved a six-year contract. Union officials say 92 percent of the 252 members who voted Tuesday supported the contract. The Wichita Eagle reports that the union represents 811 engineers at Spirit, and 451 members were eligible to vote. The contract included a minimum salary guarantee fund of 3 percent in the second and fourth year of the contract. It also includes premium-free dental coverage and improvements in job security related to outsourcing. Engineers will pay 15 percent of the cost of insurance premiums next year, increasing to 16 percent in 2014, 18 percent in 2015 and 20 percent in the remaining years. In return, the engineers will get better insurance coverage, with lower co-payments and deductibles.

Masonic Foundation Gives $1M for Cancer Patient Counseling

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A $1 million gift from the Kansas Masonic Foundation will be used to provide counseling to people who have been treated for cancer and those who love them. The foundation's gift to the University of Kansas Endowment, which was announced Monday, will fund a therapist position for Susan Krigel, a postdoctoral fellow in clinical psychology. She'll provide services for members of the Midwest Cancer Alliance, a network of 19 hospitals and research institutions across Kansas and the Kansas City, Missouri area. Krigel says cancer patients sometimes suffer through emotional trauma after they complete their treatments and start reflecting on what happened to them. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Krigel will use interactive television systems to provide individual and group therapy for cancer patients and their caregivers.


Kansas Event Seeks to Break Record for Hunger Relief

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three Kansas groups are seeking 2,000 volunteers to pack thousands of meals for children in Haiti and possibly set a world record in the process. The effort is being put together by Volunteer Kansas, the hunger relief group Numana and The Downtown Rotary Club of Wichita. The goal is to package 208,000 meals in one hour on February 16 at the Kansas Coliseum pavilions in Wichita. The groups say the 208,000 meals would be a Guinness world record and provide a year's worth of lunches for 800 school children in Haiti. Volunteers are also being asked to bring two canned goods to help stock the Kansas Food Bank and feed children in Kansas.

Farm Tractor Sales Increase Nationwide Despite Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new industry snapshot suggests this year's drought has had little effect on sales of farm machinery around the country. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers said Tuesday that sales of farm tractors were up 10.5 percent in November from the same month a year ago. Retailers reported selling 10,352 tractors nationwide. Sales of combines were down 1.3 percent with 517 sold in November. So far this year, sales of farm tractors have been up 10 percent over the first 11 months of last year with slightly more than 167,000 tractors sold. Sales of combines dipped a fraction of a percent, with nearly 8,900 sold.

4 Shot Near Kansas City Bar; 1 Critical Injuries

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say four people were shot outside a bar, leaving one with critical injuries. The shooting occurred as the group stood outside Champ's Lounge & Grill in east Kansas City Tuesday night. Police say a man wearing black fired at the group, hitting two women and two men. One of the female victims was critically injured and the other suffered nonlife-threatening injuries. Both women were driven to a hospital. One of the male victims was shot in the arm and the other was hit in the leg. Police say both are expected to recover. No arrests have been made.

US Representative Stripped of Assignment Wants More Answers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A conservative Republican Congressmen from Michigan who was among four stripped of plum committee assignments says he wants more answers. Justin Amash of Michigan issued a statement Tuesday night saying he wants Speaker John Boehner to release a "secret scorecard" used in the decisions. A letter dated Monday from Boehner to Amash that was released by Amash's office denies the use of such a scorecard. Amash represents the Grand Rapids area. Amash and U.S. Representatives Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and David Schweikert of Arizona made an initial request for information in a letter sent Friday to Boehner. Those three lawmakers, along with Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina, recently lost their assignments after they bucked party leaders on key votes.

Mother of Robbery Attempt Suspect Turns Son Over to Police

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City woman who spotted her 16-year-old son on surveillance video of an attempted restaurant holdup is getting praise and criticism for hauling him before police. The teen is one of three people suspected of trying to hold up a Church's Chicken on Sunday night. They fled when a manager wrestled a gun away. The mother saw surveillance tape on a TV news report and took her son to a police station Monday night, securing him in her car by hitting the child safety locks. KMBC-TV reports that the restaurant manager is grateful to the woman, who stopped with her son at the restaurant on the way to the police station. But police say she's also getting grief from some people for her decision to turn him in.

Wichita Man Fined for Holiday Lights on Truck

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who decorated his extended-cab pickup truck with nearly 900 Christmas lights has drawn plenty of attention, including the unwelcome kind. KAKE-TV reports that David Hill hit the streets two weeks ago, hoping to spread holiday cheer. But he also drew the notice of police, who stopped the truck and handed Hill a $274 citation as a safety hazard. Wichita police Lieutenant Joe Schroeder says it's a safety issue. Schroeder says drivers distracted by the glowing pickup could get involved in accidents. The lights are strung on roughly 1,000 feet of wiring and run by a generator in the truck's bed. Hill's not too discouraged. He's hoping word of his traffic ticket will call attention to a group he's involved with called OneSpark, which helps people in need.


KSU Would Rank 17th If BCS Were Based on Academics

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kansas State would have come in 17th in the Bowl Championship Series if the rankings were based on academics rather than athletics. That's according to the nonpartisan New America Foundation think tank. It released its sixth annual BCS Academic Bowl rankings. The foundation examines graduation rate and academic progress data collected by the NCAA for the top 25 teams in the BCS final standings. Game performance isn't a factor in ranking the school's academically. Kansas State ended the season ranked fifth in the regular BCS and will play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. The Foundation ranked Northwestern first in the Academic Bowl. It found the school had the highest graduation rate among football players at 90 percent. In the regular BCS, the school ranked 20th.

New Sex Assault Charge for Colorado Slaying Suspect

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — A teen accused of kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old Colorado girl now faces an additional sexual assault charge. Prosecutors said Wednesday that they've charged 17-year-old Austin Sigg with using physical force and threats to sexually assault 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. They've also tweaked the language of charges previously filed in Jessica's disappearance and slaying in October. She was abducted as she walked to school in the Denver suburb of Westminster. Jessica's father and other relatives live in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Missouri. Sigg is also accused of attacking a 22-year-old woman in Jessica's neighborhood in May. She escaped. The judge in the case said Wednesday he would bar the public and the media from a preliminary hearing for Sigg, saying he wanted to avoid influencing any potential jurors if Sigg's case goes to trial.

Baby Recovers After Feather Causes Health Problems

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 7-month-old girl was admitted to a Hutchinson hospital Saturday, suffering from a bit of a medical mystery. An area of the baby's jaw swelled up larger than a golf ball. Luckily, a doctor at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center discovered the problem when she pulled a 2-inch black feather out of young Mya Whittington's neck area. The Hutchinson News reports the girl at some point likely swallowed or inhaled the feather, which then pierced the inside of her cheek or throat. The feather was trying to force its way out of her body, which caused the swelling. Doctors say the girl probably had been in a lot of pain for quite a while. But her mother, Emma Whittington, says her daughter cried only when nurses poked her.

11 Face Federal Charges in Fatal Home Invasion

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) _ A federal grand jury has returned indictments against 11 people related to a home invasion that led to three deaths last month in Independence. Federal prosecutors say 33-year-old Kevin Finley, 32-year-old Antonio Cervantes and 37-year-old Bobbi Jo Phillips, all of Independence; 22-year-old Raul Soto of Kansas City, Kansas; and 27-year-old Carlos Zambrano Jr. of Kansas City, Missouri, participated in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Finley and Soto also are charged with killing Maria Hernandez; her son, Antonio Hernandez; and her boyfriend, Tomas Dominguez. All five already were charged in Jackson County (Missouri) for the November 16 attacks. Six others were charged Tuesday with disposing of evidence or not revealing the conspiracy. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office says it doesn't appear any of the defendants had obtained an attorney.


Ex-BPI Worker Sues ABC, Chef over 'Pink Slime' Phrase

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) _ A former worker at a South Dakota beef processor is suing ABC News, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and a food blogger, saying their use of the phrase "pink slime'' to describe one of the company's products led to him being laid off. Bruce Smith was among about 750 people who lost their jobs at Beef Products Incorporated after the company took a financial hit over social media and news reports about lean, finely textured beef. Smith is seeking $70,000 in damages in the civil suit. BPI has sued ABC News for $1.2 billion for defamation. That lawsuit is pending. Messages have been left with ABC News and Oliver seeking comment. Blogger Bettina Siegel says she believes she is protected by the First Amendment.


Mourners Gather at Funeral for Chiefs' Belcher 

DIX HILLS, N.Y. (AP) — Several hundred mourners gathered Wednesday for the funeral of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher near his hometown on Long Island. The 25-year-old Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then himself December 1. He was remembered at the service for the accomplishments in his life. A photo slide show playing on a large screen at the front of the auditorium included the words "In loving memory of" Belcher and Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his 3-month-old daughter. After a series of pictures of Perkins and baby Zoey came the message, "Keep this little girl in your prayers."


Jamaal Charles Starring for Chiefs after Tragedy 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jamaal Charles is carrying the football these days with a heavy heart. The Chiefs' running back was friends with linebacker Jovan Belcher, and helped introduce Belcher to his wife Tiffany's cousin, Kasandra Perkins. Two weeks ago Saturday, Belcher fatally shot Perkins and then killed himself. Charles hasn't spoken publicly since the incident, but he's still turning out big performances on the field. He leads the AFC with 1,220 yards rushing, and his four carries of 40-plus yards this season are tied for second-most in the NFL. That makes Charles a bright spot in a bleak season for the 2-11 Chiefs, who play at Oakland this weekend.

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