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Regional Headlines for Thursday, January 24, 2013


UPDATE: Kansas House Panel Endorses Bill Restricting Union Political Fundraising

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has endorsed legislation to restrict political fundraising by public employee unions. The measure would prohibit groups representing teachers and government workers from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities. Thursday's 10-5 vote by the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee sent the bill to the full House for debate, possibly next week. The committee's action came a day after a Kansas Chamber of Commerce lobbyist caused a stir by telling lawmakers he wanted the bill to pass so the state, in his words, could "get rid of public sector unions." The lobbyist, Eric Stafford, said later he became frustrated while being questioned and said the real goal is to protect workers from being forced to finance causes they don't support.


Kansas Turnpike Official Meets with Legislators

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top official of the Kansas Turnpike Authority did not discuss the merits of a proposal from Gov. Sam Brownback to merge the agency with the Kansas Department of Transportation during a meeting with a House committee. Representative Marc Rhoades, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told the head of the Turnpike authority, Michael Johnson, that the proposed merger could be debated later. He said on Thursday that he wanted his budget committee to have background on the state's only toll road first. The authority operates and maintains the 236-mile toll road that stretches from Kansas City, Kansas to the Oklahoma border. Brownback has estimated the state could save $15 million in each of the next two years by combining the transportation department and the Turnpike Authority.

Proposed Gun Law Changes Discussed by Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some law enforcement groups are not happy with a proposal to drop antique guns from the definition of firearms, as part of a bill to change state of Kansas firearms regulations. Assistant attorney general C.W. Klebe discussed the proposed changes Wednesday before a Senate committee. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports new regulations would clarify that local governments can't bar concealed-carry license holders from bringing guns into their jurisdictions. One lawmaker questioned if the state couldn't require out-of-state visitors to follow Kansas laws. Another change would remove older guns such as matchlock, flintlock or muzzle loader rifles from the definition of firearms. Former Topeka police chief Ed Klumpp says law enforcement agencies are concerned about how changing the definition of firearms might affect such crimes as selling a firearm to a felon.


Kansas AG 'Inundated' with Gun Applications

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Attorney General's office has been inundated with applications for licenses to carry concealed handguns in the first three weeks of this year. Assistant attorney general C.W. Klebe told legislators Wednesday that the office has processed 2,000 applications so far this year. He says his office might be on pace to process up to 20,000 applications this year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Klebe wouldn't speculate on a reason for the increase. But state Senator Rob Olson of Olathe says he believes Kansans are afraid of gun control measures being proposed by President Barack Obama. The Obama administration has proposed renewing a ban on assault weapons, restricting the sale of magazines that hold 20 or 30 rounds or more of ammunition and tightening background checks on gun buyers.

State of Kansas Taking Applications for Energy Assistance

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Low-income Kansans who need help paying their energy bills will be able to apply for assistance from a state program until the end of March. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Department for Children and Families is taking applications for its Low Income Energy Assistance Program until March 29. The program helps pay winter heating bills, focusing on people who have disabilities, the elderly, or families with children. Last year, the program paid an average of $520 to more than 53,600 households. The amount of benefits depends on several factors, including income, the type of dwelling and type of heating fuel used. Applicants must show they have paid energy bills for two of the last three months.


Kansas Senate Panel Backs Judicial Selection Change

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative committee in Kansas has endorsed a proposal to have judges of the state's appellate courts appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The measure approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee would scrap the attorney-led commission that now screens applications to the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. The commission nominates three finalists for each vacancy and the governor makes the appointment, with no role for legislators. The Senate committee's voice vote sent the measure to the full Senate for debate. Backers say the current process is undemocratic, while opponents see no need for a change. The House Judiciary Committee endorsed a similar measure Wednesday. Both amend the Kansas Constitution, requiring approval of two-thirds majorities in both chambers and approval by voters.


Missouri Tax Cut Debate Focuses on Kansas

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — There was a lot of talk about Kansas as a Missouri Senate committee opened debate on proposals to cut the state's income tax. Supporters of the measures said Wednesday that Missouri must lower income taxes to compete against a Kansas income tax cut that took effect this month. They fear businesses and residents will move to Kansas if Missouri fails to cut taxes. But skeptics noted that Kansas now is projected to have a sizable budget hole because of the tax cuts. The Missouri Senate panel heard testimony on three proposals. One would cut taxes only for businesses. Another would cut taxes for businesses and individuals. A third plan would offset part of the income tax cuts by raising the sales tax and cigarette tax.


Official: Missing Kansas Toddler Found Safe

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — Law enforcement officials say a 3-year-old boy who apparently let himself out of his apartment in a Kansas City suburb has been found safe. Lenexa police say the boy was found shortly before 8 am Thursday in an apartment next door to the apartment where his family lives. The boy's parents called police about 4:45 Thursday morning after finding the boy and his dog gone. Police, fire officials and neighbors helped with a frantic search because the boy was only in his pajamas in frigid weather. Lenexa police spokesman Dan Friesen says the boy had let himself out of the apartment in the past, using a step stool to reach the door handle.


Women to Give Depositions in Kansas Sperm Donor Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A separated lesbian couple has been ordered to testify on behalf of a Topeka sperm donor being sued by the state for child support. Shawnee County District Court records show the court clerk's office issued subpoenas Wednesday for Angela Bauer and Jennifer L. Schreiner.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the women have been ordered to appear February 15 to give depositions to an attorney for William Marotta. Marotta says he signed a contract waiving his parental rights and responsibilities when he answered a sperm donor ad from the two women on Craigslist. But because no doctor was involved in the artificial insemination, the state sought to hold him financially responsible when the women split up and sought public assistance. An April evidentiary hearing is planned.

Judge Dismisses Kansas Abortion Insurance Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has granted a request by the ACLU to dismiss its challenge to a Kansas law restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions. Wednesday's one-sentence court formally ends the case, with each side bearing its own costs and attorney's fees. Under the order, the American Civil Liberties Union could not raise the claims again. The ACLU sought last week to end the case. The organization cited a judge's earlier ruling that it failed to prove that the Legislature's chief goal in passing the 2011 law was to impede access to abortions. The law prohibits private insurance companies from offering coverage for abortions in their general plans except for when a woman's life is in danger. Kansas residents or employers who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies.

Emporia Man Accused of Stalking More Than 20 Women

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A 60-year-old Emporia man has been arrested following a long investigation into obscene letters sent to more than 20 women. Radio station KVOE reports the man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of 47 counts of stalking and 47 counts of promoting obscenity. No charges had been filed as of Wednesday. Authorities say the stalking investigation involved more than 20 women in Emporia and surrounding Lyon County. Some of the women began receiving the letters in late 2011. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation worked with Emporia police and Lyon County deputies on the case. Investigators used video surveillance and handwriting samples to support a search warrant that led to the arrest. Authorities are notifying victims of the arrest.


Judge Awards Kansas CIty Health Care Foundation $162 Million in Hospital Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Jackson County (Missouri) judge has awarded the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City a $162 million judgment against the owner of the largest hospital system in the metropolitan area. The Kansas City Star reportsthat the foundation sued Hospital Corporation of America in 2009, alleging HCA hadn't spent promised funds on capital improvements at the 12 former Health Midwest hospitals HCA bought in 2003 for $1.13 billion. The suit also alleged HCA hadn't properly accounted for charity and capital improvements also required under the deal. In the contract, HCA agreed to make $450 million in capital improvements to the hospitals, located in Missouri and Kansas, and donate $300 million to charity care in the metro area. HCA insisted it met or surpassed all of its spending obligations.


Topeka Man Sentenced for ND Bank Robbery

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Kansas man who held up a bank in North Dakota's oil patch and then called police three days later from his home to tell them he had made a mistake has been sentenced to federal prison. Fifty-three-year-old Kent Clemens of Topeka was sentenced in federal court in Bismarck on Wednesday to serve three years and one month in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay $500 in restitution. U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon says Clemens entered a Gate City Bank in Williston last July 18 and demanded money from a teller before fleeing on foot. He returned to Topeka and called police three days later. He pleaded guilty to bank robbery last October.

Couple Admits Illegal Gun Sales at Beauty Shop

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas couple admits they violated federal firearms regulations while selling weapons out of a combined beauty shop and gun store. U.S. prosecutors announced Thursday that 51-year-old Jeffrey Eberhart and his wife, 42-year-old Tracey Eberhart, of Augusta pleaded guilty to federal firearms violations. They operated Tracey's Dream Weavers Salon and Sporting Goods, which they advertised as "Where Beauty and Bullets Collide." Jeffrey Eberhart admitted he bought and sold hundreds of firearms at the store and at gun shows although he didn't have a federal firearms license because he was a convicted felon. Tracey Eberhart was a licensed federal firearms dealer but admitted she didn't keep records or make required federal reports on at least 33 firearms transactions. They will be sentenced April 15.


Police: Mice Identified as Culprits in Kansas Evidence Tampering Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The three bags of marijuana at the police storage facility in Wichita had been torn open. Some was missing. At first blush, it seemed a clear case of evidence tampering. Wichita police duly investigated and on Thursday they told reporters they've even identified some suspects. Well, sort of. Police Lieutenant Doug Nolte says mice chewed into the bags of marijuana from some 2009 cases, nested in it and ate some. Nolte says, "We've got some mice that are stoners." But he also says it's not that uncommon because marijuana has a strong odor that attracts animals. Police took photographs, resealed the bags and reweighed the evidence. An exterminator has been contacted. Meanwhile, the suspicious rodents remain at large. No charges have been filed.


Salina Homicide from 2008 Still Baffles Police

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina police are continuing to look for a suspect in the 2008 killing of a 56-year-old woman in her home. Police Lieutenant Scott Siemsen says a $11,000 reward remains in effect for information in the death of Beverly Logan on January 21, 2008. Siemsen says an investigator stays in contact with Logan's family. Police found Logan's body at her home after a co-worker reported she hadn't shown up for work at a nursing home. The Salina Journal reports that Logan was brutally attacked, although police have not said how she was killed. They said the assailant might have sought medical attention for cuts to the hand or body.

Kansas Man Sentenced in Toddler's Death Appeals

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man convicted of abusing an 18-month-old girl and placing her inside a trash bag while she was still alive is appealing his first-degree murder conviction. Jonell Lloyd was convicted in 2008 in the death of Chavira Brown, who was beaten, tied up in plastic bags and left in the attic of his Wichita home. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison without possibility of parole for first-degree murder and another 10 years for child abuse. He was caring for the girl while her mother had surgery. Testimony at his trial indicated Lloyd had beaten the girl after she woke up with wet pants. KAKE-TV reported Wednesday Lloyd is claiming in his appeal that prosecutors did not prove his daughter's murder was premeditated.

Report Criticizes Missouri, Kansas Business Battle

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new report cites the tax incentive battle between Kansas and Missouri as a prime example of how states are squandering taxpayer dollars in the name of job creation. The report by the Washington, D.C.-based group Good Jobs First recommends that states stop providing subsidies for companies that move existing jobs to new locations across state lines. It cites the battle between Kansas and Missouri over businesses in the Kansas City area as the most intense "jobs border war" in the nation. The two states have offered hundreds of millions of dollars of tax incentives for businesses to locate in the Kansas City area. But sometimes those businesses have moved just a few miles across the border. The report says other battles are centered in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Memphis, Tennessee.


Missouri Education Board Head Faces 2nd Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The new head of the Missouri State Board of Education is facing a second lawsuit accusing him of using his position as pastor of a Kansas City church to engage in sexual misconduct. The latest lawsuit, filed late Wednesday, alleges the Reverend Stan Archie made lewd comments about his sexual prowess after he began counseling a 15-year-old congregant, who is now 23. The lawsuit says Archie encouraged the girl to act promiscuously and report her experiences to him. A lawsuit filed last year claimed that Archie engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with his former assistant. Archie didn't immediately return phone messages left Thursday at his home and Christian Fellowship Baptist Church. His attorney, Michael McCausland, said he just received the lawsuit Thursday morning and hadn't yet discussed it with Archie.


Catholic High School Closing in Independence, Missouri

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A 160-year tradition of Catholic education in Independence and eastern Jackson County (Missouri) will end in May. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese told parents Wednesday that it plans to close St. Mary's High School in May because of declining enrollment. The Independence Examiner reports that Bishop Robert Finn said in a letter to parents that enrollment at St. Mary's for the next year would not allow the school to continue without taking on significant new debt and eliminating several programs. Finn says 27 seniors will graduate this year but only seven students were committed to register as freshmen and several current families have said they intend to send their children to a different school next year. The school had 102 students this year.


City of Pittsburg to Give $5M to PSU Event Center

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The city of Pittsburg has agreed to contribute $5 million toward an indoor event center and track to be built at Pittsburg State University. The Pittsburg City Commission voted on Tuesday to donate $1.5 million up front and $175,000 per year for 20 years from the city's revolving loan fund. The $17 million center will include a 300-meter track and an 80-yard practice field. The city will have a lease agreement to share use of the center. The Joplin Globe reports that university officials asked the city to invest $7.6 million in the center. The city approved the smaller amount to keep its revolving loan fund stable. A team including city, university and the Convention & Visitors Bureau representatives will maintain a schedule of use for large events.


Former KU Star Chalmers to Have Jersey Retired 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Former University of Kansas basketball star Mario Chalmers, whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer helped the Jayhawks win the 2008 national title, will have his jersey retired next month. Chalmers was the MVP of the Final Four when the Jayhawks beat Memphis for the national championship. But it was his 3-pointer from the top of the key to force overtime that became the defining moment of KU's march through the tournament. The shot is replayed during the video montage showed before every Kansas home game, and always generates the biggest roar from the crowd in Allen Fieldhouse. Chalmers, now with the Miami Heat, joins 27 other men and three women to have their names hoisted to the rafters. Among them are Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning and Paul Pierce.


Kansas House Panel to Debate Union Fundraising Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is preparing to debate a bill to prevent public employee unions from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities.  The Wichita Eagle reportsthat the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee was taking up the bill Thursday, a day after a contentious hearing with business advocates and labor union representatives. Republican legislators and business groups supporting the measure contend it will protect workers from having to contribute to political activities they don't support. They say workers who support unions' activities can still write checks themselves. But labor officials say joining their organizations and paycheck deductions are voluntary and see the real goal as crippling their fundraising. Democrats and GOP moderates blocked such a measure in 2011.

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