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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, March 13, 2013



Work on 2014 Kansas Budget Continues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are making progress on drafting a new state budget, hoping to have it ready for debate in the coming weeks. Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committees spent much of Tuesday studying subcommittee reports upon which the final budget will draw. Those reports include recommendations on spending for public employees and higher education. State Treasurer Ron Estes scheduled a news conference Wednesday to discuss the budget and the importance of leaving sufficient reserves for the state to make required payments on time. Kansas is required to have a balanced budget each year with a reserve account equal to 7.5 percent of all spending from the state general fund. The new budget will take effect in the 2014 fiscal year, which starts July 1.



Brownback Sales Tax Plan Survives Senate Vote 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan to cancel a scheduled decline in the state sales tax has survived a vote in the Kansas Senate. Senators voted 24-10 on Wednesday to keep the sales tax at its current rate, but the chamber could revisit the issue. The Senate took up a bill including most of Brownback's plan for following up for massive income tax cuts enacted last year. Brownback is proposing a second round of cuts in individual income tax rates. But to stabilize the state budget, the bill would cancel the decline in the sales tax that is scheduled to take effect July 1. Some Republican senators argued the bill is a package for boosting the economy. But others said keeping the sales tax unchanged amounts to a tax increase.


Key Kansas Senator: Flaws Removed from Union Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee leader says the panel has removed the flaws in legislation barring public employee unions from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities. But the state's largest teachers union still strongly opposes the measure. Commerce Committee chairwoman Julia Lynn said Wednesday that the panel has narrowed the proposal so it wouldn't also prevent public employee unions from lobbying lawmakers. Critics argued the measure was broad enough when the House passed it in January to violate the free speech rights of union members. Supporters say they just want to protect union members from being pressured into helping finance political causes or candidates. The Senate could debate the bill Thursday. The Commerce Committee approved it this week.


Kansas Senate Approves Bill on Judicial Selection

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislation giving the Kansas governor and lawmakers more power in appointing Court of Appeals judges is on its way to Governor Sam Brownback. The Senate gave the measure final approval Wednesday on a vote of 28-12. The House passed it earlier this month, and Brownback is expected to sign it. The measure would give the governor the authority to appoint Court of Appeals judges, subject to Senate confirmation. It abolishes the existing attorney-led commission that screens applicants and nominates three finalists. The governor makes the appointment, with no role for lawmakers. Supporters contend the new process will be more open. Opponents see no need for change. Many lawmakers want to change a similar selection process for the Kansas Supreme Court, but that would require amending the state constitution.


Kansas House Advances Gun Measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has advanced a bill expanding the public places where people with permits could carry concealed weapons. Much of Wednesday's debate focused on whether legislators had the right to mandate that local governments take additional steps to make public buildings secure. The measure received first-round approval Wednesday, with a final vote is set for Thursday. The bill would allow school districts and state colleges to designate employees who could carry concealed firearms inside their buildings, even if such weapons were banned for others. The measure also would expand the number of public buildings where people with a state permit could bring concealed weapons.


Kansas Treasurer Mindful of State Balances

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes is reminding legislators to be mindful of maintaining healthy cash balances as they draft the state's budget for the coming fiscal year. The Wichita Republican said Wednesday that the state has been able to pay its obligations to schools and other bills on time. Critics of cuts to state income taxes have raised concerns that the revenue reductions hamper the state's ability to pay its bills on time and adequately fund programs. Estes says the state has been able to maintain healthy cash balances, in part due to the routine practice of borrowing from state idle funds. The state borrowed $400 million in idle funds in July 2012 to help manage cash flow in the current fiscal year, down from $600 million the previous year.

Kansas GOP Senators Have Closed Meeting on Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate Republicans have held a private meeting on tax issues ahead of debate on Governor Sam Brownback's plan to move the state toward phasing out individual income taxes. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson told reporters before closing Tuesday evening's meeting that GOP senators planned to discuss political strategy. He said they didn't want Democrats to learn of their possible tactics. Bruce also described the meeting as a "gripe session." The Associated Press lodged a protest. The Senate plans a debate Wednesday on a bill containing most of the Republican governor's plan. The measure follows up on massive income tax cuts enacted last year by further reducing rates over the next four years. To stabilize the budget, it cancels a sales tax decrease scheduled for July.

Kansas Realtors Backing Compromise on Tax Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Association of Realtors is backing a compromise proposal to phase out all tax deductions as the state Senate prepares to debate a bill to further reduce personal income tax rates. The group was lobbying for the compromise ahead of Wednesday afternoon's debate. It's an alternative to Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to eliminate the income tax deduction for interest on home mortgages. Brownback wants to eliminate the deduction to help stabilize the budget as the state further reduces individual income tax rates during the next four years. Those reductions would follow up on massive income tax cuts enacted last year. Realtors lobbyist Luke Bell said the association is opposing efforts to save the full mortgage interest deduction because it believes such an effort is no longer reasonable.

Board of Ed to Remind Legislature of Standards Authority

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education will send a letter to Governor Sam Brownback and state lawmakers reminding them of the board's authority to set state education standards. The board voted Tuesday to send the letter because a House committee is considering a bill that would force the state board to scrap its current guidelines in math and English, called Common Core standards. Some lawmakers have said the Common Core standards are federal intrusion into state education decisions. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker told the state board that it has the authority to set standards in Kansas. She says some lawmakers have incorrect information about the why Kansas accepted the standards.


Prescription Drugs Stolen from KU's Watkins Health Center

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas officials say someone stole about $1,600 worth of painkillers from the Watkins Health Center. University spokeswoman Jill Jess says the theft occurred sometime between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, when a pharmacy employee arrived for work. Jess told 6News Lawrence that there were no obvious signs of a break-in. University police are investigating whether more than one person was involved in the theft.


Hallmark Predicting More Jobs at Lawrence Plant

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Hallmark is estimating it will have about 700 jobs at its Lawrence production center when it closes its Topeka plant by the end of the year. The Kansas City-based greeting card company estimated in October that it would have 500 jobs in Lawrence and 500 in Leavenworth when the consolidation is complete. Hallmark officials now are estimating the Leavenworth plant will have about 300 employees. Company spokeswoman Linda Odell says the numbers aren't final but those are the current job estimates. The Lawrence Journal-World reports when the transition is complete, the Lawrence plant will produce all domestic Hallmark greeting cards and envelopes. Lawrence's ribbon and sticker production lines will move to the Leavenworth plant. Odell says nearly 300 employees have taken advantage of voluntary buyouts offered by Hallmark.

GM Breaks Ground on Additions to KCK Plant

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — General Motors has begun building a new paint shop at its Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas. The automaker says in a release that construction began Tuesday on the 450,000-square-foot paint shop, which is part of a $600 million investment in the plant. Construction is expected to take about two years. GM says the upgrade at Fairfax is designed to reduce the energy needed to build the cars and to reduce water consumption and chemical waste at the 572-acre site. The Fairfax plant builds the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu.


Sheriff: Sedgwick County Deputy Out of Hospital

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County sheriff says a deputy who was shot in the eye following a chase is out of the hospital. KAKE-TV reports Sheriff Jeff Easter said the 33-year-old deputy was released Wednesday from Wesley Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. The deputy was shot Monday night after a chase that began when he tried to stop a car for traffic violations. Authorities say the car sped off, and the deputy later found it abandoned near Potwin in Butler County. He was shot while searching for the suspects. A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper joined the search and shot a male suspect, who remains hospitalized in serious condition. A woman who was also in the car is in custody. Both suspects are from Gardner.


Report: Gas Vapors Caused KC Restaurant Explosion 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal and local officials say a fatal explosion and fire at a Kansas City restaurant last month were sparked by natural gas vapors in the restaurant. The Kansas City Fire Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday the cause of the February 19 blast at JJ's Restaurant was the "accidental ignition of natural gas vapors that accumulated" inside the restaurant. The explosion and fire injured 16 people and killed a 46-year-old woman who worked at the restaurant near the Country Club Plaza. The Missouri Public Service Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting a separate investigation into the cause of the natural gas line break near JJ's.


IRS: Tax Glitch Affects About 660K Returns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A tax-preparation glitch affecting about 660,000 tax returns will delay refunds by as long as six weeks, with customers of the nation's largest tax preparer among those affected. The Internal Revenue Service says the problem involved a form used to claim educational credits and occurred between February 14 and February 22. A statement from the IRS says a "limited number of software company products" were involved. The IRS doesn't name any companies. But Kansas City-based H&R Block has been informing customers about problems. H&R Block spokesman Gene King says the company isn't saying how many of its customers were affected. The IRS says the number of returns affected is about 10 percent of the total returns claiming the credit. The agency vowed to "aggressively" address the situation.


New Charge in 2009 Death of Horton Woman

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The wife of a man convicted in the 2009 death of a Kansas woman is facing charges for allegedly helping her husband avoid arrest. Nemaha County prosecutors on Tuesday charged 58-year-old Rebecca Hollister of Topeka with aiding a felon. Hollister's husband, Roger Hollister, is serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of 58-year-old Patricia Kimmi of rural Horton. She disappeared in November 2009 and her remains weren't found until May 2010. Prosecutors allege Rebecca Hollister helped her husband avoid arrest between the day Kimmi went missing and the day Roger Hollister was convicted. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports she is being held in the Nemaha County Jail on $100,000 bond. It was not immediately clear if Rebecca Hollister had an attorney.

Committee Rejects Funds for KBI Lab at Washburn

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee refused to restore $3.5 million in state money for a Kansas Bureau of Investigation crime laboratory at Washburn University. Committee members acknowledged Tuesday that the state needs a high-tech forensics lab to recruit scientists and ease a backlog of DNA evidence waiting for testing. But some committee members said they were concerned about the estimated $55 million cost of the lab. And they questioned a plan to lease the lab from Washburn, suggesting the state could get a better deal in the private sector. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Washburn President Jerry Farley said Monday Washburn would bid the construction phase and issue bonds to pay for it. The bonds would be rolled into the cost of a lease with KBI.

Possible Human Remains Found Near Winfield

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Investigators will continue processing a site in southern Kansas where possible human skeletal remains were found. The Cowley County Sheriff's office says tree trimmers found the remains Monday along a private access road northwest of Winfield. The sheriff says in a news release that no evidence of foul play was found but the case will be considered one of "unknown circumstances" while the investigation proceeds. A forensic anthropologist and DNA testing by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation will determine the identity of the remains.


New Bill Would Block Eisenhower Memorial Funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Utah congressman has introduced legislation to scrap the design for a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, citing objections from Ike's family and the project's cost. Republican Representative Rob Bishop introduced the bill Wednesday. He's proposing a new design competition and seeks to eliminate $100 million in future funding for the current design by architect Frank Gehry. Eisenhower's family has called Gehry's design "too extravagant." Gehry proposed a memorial park with statues of the president and World War II hero, framed by large metal tapestries depicting Ike's boyhood home in Kansas. Bishop says lawmakers need to reevaluate the project. He says there's not enough consensus for Gehry's design. The legislation would provide a 3-year extension of the authorization to use that site for the memorial. Eisenhower Memorial Commission chairman Rocco Siciliano says in a statement that he's "saddened" by the bill and calls it an insult to Eisenhower's legacy.


USAF Defends Contract Award to Beechcraft Rival

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Air Force is defending its decision to award a contract for a light air support plane to Sierra Nevada Corporation in the wake of a formal protest by Wichita-based Beechcraft. Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in a statement this week the Air Force restarted the competition for the contract last May with a new evaluation team as well as internal and external advisers. He says the Air Force is confident that its decision is well supported and that the proposals were fairly evaluated. The contract for 20 planes for use in Afghanistan is worth more than $427 million. It could much as $1 billion, depending on future orders. Gulick says the Government Accountability Office has up to 100 days to make a decision on Beechcraft's protest.

Body Found in Apartment Damaged in December Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are investigating the discovery of a body in an apartment damaged by fire more than two months ago. KSNW-TV reports construction and maintenance workers found the body Tuesday afternoon. The Sedgwick County coroner and homicide investigators were called to the scene. Police say the body appeared to be that of a middle-aged male. The apartment was the scene of a fire in December. Investigators said maintenance crews had been cleaning out the unit for some time.

Missouri AG, Prosecutors Announce Anti-Smurfing Effort

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's attorney general and other officials are launching a campaign against a strategy used by methamphetamine makers to evade limits on buying a key ingredient. The practice is called "smurfing," and involves people buying cold and allergy medicines containing the pseudoephedrine and selling them to meth makers. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker scheduled a news conference Wednesday at a Kansas City supermarket to outline the anti-smurfing initiative. The campaign calls partly for Missouri pharmacies to display warnings at cash registers letting would-be smurfers know their actions have serious consequences. The Missouri Retailers Association, Missouri Pharmacy Association and Consumer Healthcare Products Association are sponsoring the campaign.

Man Gets 33 Years in Prison for Sex Assault

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — A former cross-country truck driver was sentenced to 33 years in prison for a 2000 kidnapping and sexual assault of an Ottawa teenager. Fifty-three-year-old Ralph E. Corey was sentenced Tuesday in Franklin County on five charges. He kidnapped a 16-year-old girl from an Ottawa Walmart as she left work and sexually assaulted her. The victim, now 29, on Tuesday asked the judge to give Corey the maximum possible sentence. During sentencing, the judge cited Corey's extensive criminal history, which included more than 20 convictions and at least one other sexual offense. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the case was cold until 2011, when Corey's DNA profile matched evidence collected at the scene. At the time, Corey was in a federal prison in Arizona on counterfeiting charges.

Historic Writings Arrive at KC's Union Station

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City is hosting some important political philosophy documents, including a printing of the Declaration of Independence and a first edition of the Federalist papers. The papers arrived at Union Station this week to be part of a film that will tell the story of American democracy. The film, "We The People," will debut in September, and many of the documents will be displayed while the movie is shown. Aimee Larrabee, producer of the film, says it will cost just under $3 million. Most of the funding comes from Kansas City-area companies and foundations. The Kansas City Star reports the project is part of a broader educational effort in partnership with the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution and Kansas State University.


KC Area Teacher Admits Molesting Students

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A former suburban Kansas City elementary teacher accused of fondling students has pleaded guilty to child molestation charges. Thirty-four-year-old Matthew J. Nelson pleaded guilty Wednesday in Jackson County (Missouri) court to charges of child molestation, statutory sodomy and attempted child molestation. The charges involve 11 boys. The former teacher at Grain Valley's Prairie Branch Elementary School was charged last year after students told authorities he fondled them when they came to his desk asking for help with assignments and during quiet reading and movie times. Nelson taught second- and third graders in Grain Valley for a decade. His attorney, J.R. Hobbs, said Nelson "accepts full responsibility for his wrongful acts." The plea arrangement calls for Nelson to be sentenced to 15 years in prison. Formal sentencing is scheduled for April 25.

Kansas County Sets Vote on Law Enforcement Funding

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Voters in a northwest Kansas county will decide May 14 whether to approve a half-percent sales tax to repair and expand their jail, courthouse and law enforcement building. The Hays Daily News reports that Ellis County commissioners set the date for the special election Monday. Revenue from the tax would also fund a new EMS-rural firefighting building. For residents of Hays, the tax would not be new. A half-percent sales tax for construction of a sports complex expires at the end of this month. Officials say the Ellis County jail is designed for 30 prisoners but has an average daily population of 50 inmates. The jail houses some inmates from other counties. Current estimates show the projects funded by the tax would cost between $12 million and $13 million.

Water Returning to Drought-Starved Arkansas River

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Recent snow and rain are bringing much-needed water to the Arkansas River. The city of Wichita was able to raise the Lincoln Street dam 1 1/2 feet during the weekend. Wichita officials say the dam will slowly be lifted as the river gets more sustained flows. Scott Lindebak, Wichita's storm water division manager, says the river's flow rate increased to 146 cubic feet per second after Saturday's rain. A month ago, the rate was 45 cubic feet per second. The Wichita Eagle reports that regular flow is 200 cubic feet per second. Lindebeck says once the flow sustains its normal level for a week, the city will raise the dam completely. Raising the dam too quickly endangers wildlife downstream.

Missouri Debate Stalls Environmental Efforts on River

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal efforts to create thousands of acres of shallow-water Missouri River habitat to help an endangered fish species have been stalled for nearly six years in the waterway's namesake state. The issue recently came to a head when a Missouri agency refused to act on a permit request for a long-stalled project. That raises new questions about what will happen next in the effort to provide a refuge for young pallid sturgeon. The conflict centers on where to dump dirt that's excavated as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeks to recreate about 20,000 acres of shallow-water habitat. So far, only 3,500 acres have been created. Farm groups don't want the soil dumped into the river, saying they'll get the blame when it causes environmental problems. Proponents of creating the habitats say that's not the case.


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