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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, July 25, 2012

UPDATE: Governor: Solid Finances Allow for Tax Cuts 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says the state's finances are now solid enough to allow for the large income tax cuts lawmakers approved earlier this year.  Brownback said Wednesday that he wanted to participate in election-year discussions about the state's finances. Critics worry that the tax cuts will cause future budget problems. Brownback also announced that the state will pay off nearly $25 million in bonds early because it can afford to do so. The bonds helped finance a wide range of projects, including an ongoing renovation of the Statehouse and improvements at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson.   Also Wednesday, Brownback's administration and the Legislature's research staff released preliminary figures showing the state ended its 2012 budget year on June 30 with $466 million in cash reserves.

Senator's Farm Tour to Focus on Conservation, Agriculture

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Senator Jerry Moran plans to tour northeast Kansas next month to highlight water use and conservation. The Kansas Republican will begin the two-day tour August 16, with a full schedule of stops to be announced next week. Moran plans to look at the effects of drought on farmers and ranchers in the region. The tour will also cover regulatory matters, agriculture research and other issues affecting Kansas agriculture.


Kansas Seeks to Halt Releases from 3 Reservoirs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Drought-stricken Kansas is asking the Corps of Engineers to halt releases of water from three of its small reservoirs for downstream navigation. During a drought conference Wednesday, Governor Sam Brownback asked U.S. Senator Pat Roberts to help get the Corps to stop releases from the Milford, Perry and Tuttle Creek reservoirs while some upstream reservoirs remain at flood stage. The governor also asked Roberts to support expanding the Kanopolis reservoir to hold 2 more feet of storage, which could help central Kansas during a future drought. Brownback says he has allowed pumping from all of the state's fishing lakes to water livestock. Kansas has now declared all 105 counties in a drought emergency, with crop losses projected at $1.5 billion.


KS Among States with Voting Systems Vulnerable to Hackers

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new report shows that 24 states are using voting systems for overseas and military voters that could be vulnerable to hackers. Those states let overseas voters return their ballots using the Internet, email or fax, which could fall victim to cyberattacks. The report also shows that polling places in 16 states use paperless machines, so there's no paper record in case of a recount. Other states don't have proper backup plans or audit procedures in place. Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina have been identified as the six states least prepared to deal with voting problems. Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin were singled out as the best prepared. Common Cause, Rutgers Law School and the Verified Voting Foundation teamed to produce the report.

Topeka Hires New City Manager from Arizona

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The City Council in Topeka has chosen an Arizona official as the new city manager. Jim Colson has been deputy city manager since 2009 for Glendale, Arizona, a community of about 226,000 residents. He'll be the permanent successor to Norton Bonaparte, who served as Topeka city manager from March 2006 until he left in July 2011 under a severance agreement. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday night to grant Colson a two-year contract that pays $170,000 a year. He'll start work in late August. Colson is a native of Michigan. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration as well as master's degrees in theology and urban planning.


Union Opposes Hawker Beechcraft Executive Bonuses

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The machinists union is objecting to Hawker Beechcraft's request in its bankruptcy filing for more than $5.3 million in bonuses that would be given to eight top executives. In a filing Wednesday, the union criticized what it called the "complete irony and hypocrisy" of the Wichita airplane maker's request for the bonuses while rank-and-file jobs are lost and the company seeks to eliminate pension plans. A hearing on the bonus request is scheduled Thursday in federal bankruptcy court in New York. Hawker Beechcraft contends the bonus plan recognizes the critical role of certain employees in the bankruptcy process. The company says retaining those executives is crucial to the ongoing business and bankruptcy restructuring. Union officials also are opposing an additional $1.9 million in bonuses to 31 other management-level employees.

KCC Seeks More Time to Investigate Topeka House Explosion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission says it needs more time to investigate a house explosion that killed a Topeka woman. WIBW reports the KCC was to present its findings Tuesday in the January blast that killed 81-year-old Lucinia Tolliver. But the corporation says it needs additional time to complete the investigation. Investigators have said digging in a yard west of Tolliver's home caused a natural gas service line to separate from the main line underground. The natural gas migrated into Tolliver's home, which exploded. She suffered severe burns and died about a week after the explosion.

Man Struck and Killed by Train in KC Suburb

MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — Police say a train ran over a man in Johnson County early Wednesday. Merriam police say the train conductor saw the man lying on the tracks but wasn't able to stop the train before striking him. Drivers are being diverted near the scene of the man's death, along a busy Johnson County street. The empty train was on Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks.


Union Pacific Ordered to Pay Whistleblower Fine

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Union Pacific Railroad Company has been ordered to pay more than $38,000 to a Topeka worker for retaliating against him after he reported a work-related injury. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says in a news release Wednesday that the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad must pay the employee $38,561. OSHA says the worker was given a 10-day unpaid suspension after he reported being injured while working in Topeka in July 2011. The worker lost two teeth and had several facial cuts after coupled cars came apart and hit him. OSHA says investigators found the worker was not at fault. It said employees who were in similar incidents — but who were not hurt — were given lesser punishments. Union Pacific has 30 days to object to the findings.


Burglar Who Found Woman Dead in Home Gets 2 Years

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A northeastern Kansas man who stole a neighbor's purse after finding her dead in her home has been sentenced to two years in prison. KCTV reports that 38-year-old Bryan Keylon, of Leavenworth, was sentenced Wednesday for burglary. He pleaded guilty to the charge in June. Keylon admitted breaking into the 54-year-old woman's home in January 2012 and finding the body in a bedroom. He took her purse, then called 911. Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said the woman was found to have suffered a massive heart attack, and Keylon had nothing to do with the death. Keylon first told police he had simply gone to visit the neighbor. But police concluded it was a burglary after they noticed a broken window and a button that matched a coat belonging to Keylon.

Thieves Target Farm Equipment Radiators

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A northeastern Kansas sheriff is warning residents in his area to watch out for thieves who have been going after radiators from tractors and other farm equipment to steal scrap metal. Jackson County Sheriff Tim Morse says most of the thefts have occurred in the rural Holton area. He's urging people to pay close attention to machinery equipped with radiators and says they should take measures to secure the equipment. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that one resident had a close brush with possible radiator thieves over the weekend. The man had put out several radiators for pickup after removing them from his machinery. He reported that two women in a suspicious vehicle sped away after claiming to have car trouble.


Drought Leaving Some KS Rivers Dry Earlier Than Usual

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — More than a month before Kansas rivers typically reach their low marks, some rivers are already running dry. The Hutchinson News reports the Ninnescah River started going dry near the Cheney Reservoir a few weeks ago. The Arkansas River near Hutchinson last week was flowing at 25 cubic feet per second, the lowest flow in 52 years. It stopped flowing at Great Bend a few days ago. Normally, the Arkansas would be flowing around 265 cubic feet per second this time of year. U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Brian Loving predicts more rivers and streams will reach record low levels in coming months. The drought is expected to continue through at least September, while water consumption from irrigators and others will increase because of the lack of rain.


KC Agrees to Improve Access for Disabled

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department to improve access for people with disabilities. The Justice Department said Wednesday the agreement includes making modifications to several city facilities so they're accessible to the disabled and designating a city employee to coordinate its compliance efforts. The agreement also requires the city to make most of the modifications within three years. Mayor Sly James said in a statement the agreement ensures that the city can be explored and enjoyed by everyone. The Justice Department says it's the 200th settlement that the department has reached under its Project Civic Access. That's an initiative aimed at ensuring that cities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments.


Woman at Center of Religious Freedom Case Now Too Ill for Transplant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas woman's victory in a religious freedom case has come too late for her to get a life-saving liver transplant. Mary Stinemetz of Hill City is terminally ill with chronic liver disease. The 65-year-old woman is a Jehovah's Witness, a religion that forbids blood transfusions. She won a legal battle last year that forced the state to pay for a transplant in Nebraska that did not require a blood transfusion. Kansas officials had argued that a bloodless transplant was not a medical necessity, and Stinemetz's religion should not determine insurance coverage. The Kansas City Star reports the legal victory has come too late for Stinemetz to benefit from it. Her condition has now deteriorated so much that she is not eligible to receive a new liver, despite winning the legal case.

Jury: Use of Garden City Police Dog Not Excessive

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Finney County jury found that a Garden City police officer didn't use excessive force when a police dog was used to subdue a man during a traffic stop. The jury deliberated only 45 minutes Tuesday before reaching a verdict in the lawsuit filed by former Garden City resident Jack Nemechek against Garden City and police officer David Wheet. The Garden City Telegram reports  Nemechek was stopped in February 2004 by three police officers for a traffic violation. Police say Nemechek was combative and the officers eventually released the police dog to help subdue him. Wheet made the decision to use the dog. Nemechek, who lives in Wichita, denied hitting the officers.


Man Pleads Not Guilty in Salina Child's Death

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Salina man admits he spanked his fiance's 14-month-old son with a 10-inch piece of board but insists he did not kill the child. Antonio M. Brown pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the October 2011 death of Clayden Lee Urbanek. He is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and interference with law enforcement. The Salina Journal reports that Brown admitted in an interview with police that he caused severe bruising on the boy's bottom by spanking him with a board. But he insisted he didn't know how the boy suffered fatal injuries to his abdomen or bruises covering most of his body. Brown's trial is scheduled for October 9. Clayden's mother, Brittney M. Betzold, was bound over for trial Monday in the child's death. She has not entered a plea.

Baby Dies after Being Pulled from Swimming Pool

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita say a 1-year-old boy has died after being pulled from a backyard swimming pool. KAKE-TV reports the baby's 18-year-old mother found him unresponsive in the water around 11 am Tuesday. The toddler had gone outside while the mother and five other children were sleeping. The boy had been pulled from the pool by the time first responders arrived. He was taken to a hospital in extremely critical condition and died a few hours later.

KC Diocese Dismissed from Priest Abuse Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has been removed from a civil lawsuit over alleged child sexual abuse by a priest. Jackson County (Missouri) Judge Ann Mesle dismissed one count of failure to supervise children and two counts of fraudulent misrepresentation in a lawsuit against the Reverend Michael Tierney. The judge dismissed three similar counts against Tierney but he still faces civil counts of child sexual abuse and battery. The suit alleges that Tierney abused a 13-year-old boy in the 1970s. Tierney has denied any wrongdoing. The Kansas City Star reports Mesle said in her three-page order Friday that previous court rulings have explicitly allowed lawsuits only for negligent failure to supervise children, not the intentional failure to supervise that was alleged in the lawsuit.

Veteran Catcher Jason Kendall Retires

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Veteran Kansas City Royals catcher Jason Kendall is hanging up his spikes. The 38-year-old Kendall announced his retirement Tuesday, less than a week after signing a minor league contract with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Kendall was a career .288 hitter in 2,085 games for Pittsburgh (1996-2004), Oakland (2005-07), Chicago Cubs (2007), Milwaukee (2008-09) and Kansas City (2010). He ranks fifth all-time in baseball history with 2,025 games caught. He made the All-Star game in 1996, 1998 and 2000, all when he played for the Pirates. He missed the final month of 2010 and all of 2011 with shoulder surgery. Royals slugger Billy Butler said it was an honor to be Kendall's teammate, tweeting that Kendall "was old school and played the game right & all while being a great dad."


Brownback to Review Kansas Financial Standing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback plans to visit with reporters to review the state's finances as the books are closed on the latest fiscal year. Brownback scheduled a news conference Wednesday to discuss where the state's finances stood when the 2012 fiscal year ended on June 30. The governor also is expected to discuss the state's ability to retire some of its bond debt ahead of schedule. Brownback has made debt reduction a priority since he took office in January 2011. Kansas ended the fiscal year with a revenue surplus, although the precise amount has not been disclosed. The surplus is being applied to government programs for the fiscal year that began July 1.

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

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