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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 4, 2013


Kansas Senate Panel Debate on Taxes Seen as 'Fluid'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce says he expects the chamber's Republican-dominated tax committee to endorse most of GOP Governor Sam Brownback's tax plan. But Assessment and Taxation Committee Chairman Les Donovan said Monday the situation remains "fluid." The committee plans to begin debating Brownback's proposals Tuesday. Brownback wants to follow up on last year's aggressive income tax cuts by reducing individual tax rates further, but he also wants to stabilize the budget. He's proposing to eliminate two popular income tax deductions for homeowners and cancel a decline in the state sales tax that's scheduled to take effect in July. Bruce is a Hutchinson Republican who serves on the tax committee and predicts it will gravitate to the governor's ideas. Donovan, a Wichita Republican, isn't as sure.


Attorney: Kansas Education Funding Measure Could Spur New Suit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney involved in an education funding lawsuit says a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution won't end the litigation and could face its own legal challenge. Attorney John Robb of Newton calls the proposal a "power play" by conservative Republican legislators. The measure would declare that the Legislature has the exclusive power to determine spending on schools. Robb said even if the measure is approved by lawmakers and voters, the students and school districts he represents still have legal issues to pursue. Robb also said the proposed statement explaining the measure for voters is misleading. He wouldn't rule out a legal challenge. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King dismissed the criticism. The Independence Republican helped draft the measure and doesn't think it's vulnerable to a legal challenge.

Kansas to Hold Educational Meetings on KanCare Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Medicaid recipients can learn about changes in the health care coverage program at one of 16 meetings being held around the state this month. Kansas turned most of the administration of Medicaid over to three private health insurance companies in January. Governor Sam Brownback has said the overhauled program, known as KanCare, will deliver better-coordinated services with less cost. The meetings with state officials are scheduled February 18 in Dodge City, Manhattan, Winfield and Topeka; February 19 in Garden City, Salina, Parsons and Kansas City, Kansas; February 20 in Colby, Great Bend, Fort Scott and Olathe; and February 21 in Hays, Wichita, Emporia and Atchison.


Kansas Supreme Court Orders Refund of Chopper Down Payment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld a Shawnee County District Court decision that invalidated a Topeka city contract to finance buying a police helicopter. The purchase of the helicopter wasn't finalized, but the city authorized a $74,000 down payment that became a major issue in the court challenge. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Supreme Court said in its ruling Friday that the Shawnee County judge ruled correctly in 2009 when he invalidated the contract because it violated the state's cash basis law. That law bans municipalities from creating indebtedness that exceeds funds on hand. The high court also upheld the refund of the $74,000 deposit, which was 10 percent of the purchase price. The helicopter dealer, Schreib-Air, contended it should be allowed to retain the down payment.


Program to Entice People to Rural Kansas Working

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A program begun in 2011 to persuade people to live in rural Kansas is having some success. The Rural Opportunity Zones program pays part of student loans and gives income tax breaks to people who move to a county with a declining population. The Hutchinson News reports since the program started, 628 people have applied to have up to $15,000 of their student loans repaid. Of those, 322 have been approved and 151 applications are pending. Governor Sam Brownback says he's pleased the program is working as planned. The program's success is presenting the biggest challenge. Some county officials say they can't earmark enough money to meet requirements that the counties match half of the $3,000 a year for each student loan applicant, up to $15,000.

New Kansas Court of Appeals Judge to Be Sworn In

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas Court of Appeals judge will be sworn in this week. The ceremony for Judge Tony Powell is scheduled for 2 pm Friday at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka. Powell is giving up a position as a Sedgwick County district judge. Republican Governor Sam Brownback appointed Powell last month to fill a vacancy on the Court of Appeals created by the October death of then-Chief Judge Richard Greene. Powell has served as a district judge in Sedgwick County since 2003. Before that, the Wichita resident served eight years in the Kansas House and was a leader among fellow anti-abortion Republicans. He has handled a variety of cases as a trial judge. He's also been active in the district judges' association and involved in judicial study committees.


Kansas Abortion Rights Groups Lobby in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 25 students from across Kansas will be lobbying state lawmakers to oppose stricter regulation of abortions. The students met with national organizers Monday at a building near the Statehouse before fanning out to meet with legislators at the state Capitol. Activists from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union attended the meeting. The activists and students oppose a bill in the Kansas Legislature banning the use of state funds for some abortions. They contend it would limit access to reproductive health services. Last month, at least 1,000 abortion opponents gathered at the Statehouse to mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion.


100 Gallons of Fuel Spilled in Overland Park

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Fire officials in a Kansas City suburb are monitoring a large fuel spill at a convenience store. The accident occurred at a Quik Trip store about 4:15 am Monday when a fuel tanker driver was filling the station's underground tanks. Fire officials say about 100 gallons of fuel spilled into the parking lot and into a nearby storm drain. The cause of the spill has not been announced. No injuries were reported. Firefighters and environmental workers checked the storm drains to ensure there was no danger of explosion. The area was reported to be safe about 6:45 am. The Kansas Department of Emergency Management and Johnson County Environmental also were called to the scene.

Kansas Supreme Court: Strippers Eligible for Unemployment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that exotic dancers are eligible for unemployment insurance. The court's ruling Friday affirmed a Shawnee County District Court decision in a case that stemmed from a 2005 unemployment claim filed by a Club Orleans dancer. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Topeka club's owner, Milano's Incorporated, had argued that dancers are independent contractors. The argument was the dancers make their income off tips as opposed to being paid by the club. Court papers showed Milano's stopped paying its dancers a nominal weekly wage shortly after buying Club Orleans in 2002. But the court found the club exercised control over the dancers that constituted an employer-employee relationship. Those controls included rules regarding contact between dancers and customers and fines for violations of those rules.

Shawnee Police Investigate Reported Abduction Attempt

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Police in northeast Kansas are investigating after a boy reported that a man jumped out of a sport utility vehicle and attempted to grab him. Shawnee police say the reported abduction attempt happened Friday. The boy said that as he was walking home, a man told him to get into the SUV. The boy said he was able to run home and call his mother. The boy says the man was driving a faded red SUV, possibly a Cadillac Escalade or GMC Denali, with tinted windows. Police searched the area but were unable to locate a suspect.


Deer Causes $10K in Damage at Emporia Jewelry Store

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The damage is estimated at $10,000 after a deer wandered into an Emporia jewelry store and panicked before dying of fright.  KVOE-AM reports that the deer was one of several that were spotted in the city on Saturday. On Commercial Street, the doe activated an automatic door entry at Stanley Jewelry and calmly walked inside. Employees said the deer wandered toward the back of the store and become agitated at the sight of itself in a mirror. The deer destroyed an expensive china display, along with glassware and the mirror. The animal quickly collapsed and died of stress. The rest of the deer left town within an hour.


Topeka Executive Sentenced for Medicaid Theft Scheme

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Topeka executive has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for scheming to steal more than $2 million in Medicaid funds. The U.S. Attorney's office for Kansas says in a release Monday that 44-year-old Jason Sellers of Lyndon also was ordered to pay $2.08 million in restitution. He pleaded guilty in October to one count of wire fraud for diverting Medicaid funds to his own use when he was chief financial officer of Kansas Health Solutions. Prosecutors said Sellers fraudulently billed Kansas Health Solutions for information technology services performed by a fake business. Some of the stolen money was used to build and furnish a $375,000, 3,755-square-foot home on 11 acres in Lyndon.


Kansas Man Connected to Porn Websites Sentenced to Prison for Tax Evasion

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 39-year-old Wichita man has been sentenced to two years in prison for evading taxes on income linked to pornographic websites. The U.S. Attorney's office says Dallen Harris must also pay $827,000 in restitution under the sentence he received Monday in U.S. District Court. Harris pleaded guilty earlier to one count of tax evasion, admitting he earned more than $1 million in 2010 but reported income of just $164,000. Prosecutors dropped three other counts of tax evasion in return for the plea. In a related civil case, the government describes Harris as a webmaster who owned the domain names of various pornography sites. Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of houses, vehicles and bank accounts in that case.


Wheat Futures Fall on Optimistic Plains Rain Forecast 

Wheat futures are edging lower on forecasts that rain will fall in Kansas and Nebraska in the coming days, helping the outlook for this year's crop. The price for the wheat for March delivery fell 2 cents to $7.63 a bushel. The price of the grain has now fallen for three days. In other trading, corn also fell while soybeans rose. Corn for March delivery dropped 1.75 cents a bushel to $7.3425 a bushel. Soybeans rose 14.50 cents to $14.8875 a bushel. Metals were mixed. Gold, platinum and palladium rose while silver and copper fell. In energy trading, oil fell below $97 a barrel Monday on signs that the U.S. and Iran may restart nuclear negotiations. Heating oil and wholesale gasoline also fell, while natural gas advanced.

Concussion-Detecting iPhone App Tested in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An entrepreneur with ties to Wichita State University has developed an iPhone application to assist with concussion detection and treatment. The Wichita Eagle reports that the app, called the "Sway Balance," has won Food and Drug Administration approval. It was developed by Wichita State alumnus Chase Curtiss of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He tested the app at his alma mater and among hundreds of athletes at Wichita East and Andover Central high schools. It also was tested in Oklahoma and California. Trainers ask an athlete who may have suffered a concussion to hold the iPhone or iPad on his or her own chest. Then the athletes are put through a series of tests, such as lifting their dominant foot. The app compares those results to results from the beginning of the season.

Police: KCK Fire That Killed 2 Was Arson

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Kansas City, Kansas say a 39-year-old man is suspected of starting a fire at an apartment that killed a woman and a young girl she was babysitting. KMBC-TV reports that police say the man said he set the fire early Saturday at the Legend Oaks Apartment after getting into a fight with a tenant. The fire killed 34-year-old Brandi Johnson and 2-year-old Amiyah McClenton. Residents say other tenants escaped after some residents ran through the hallways pounding on doors to alert people to the fire. The American Red Cross helped 26 people who were displaced by the fire.


Man Pleads No Contest in Topeka Woman's Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man facing a second trial in the shooting death of a Topeka woman and the wounding of her partner has pleaded no contest to some of the charges. Twenty-seven-year-old Anceo Stovall entered the plea Monday as his second trial was set to begin in the July 2011 shooting death of 40-year-old Natalie Gibson and the wounding of 43-year-old Lori Allison. The women were shot during a robbery when they returned to their Topeka home.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Stovall pleaded no contest to second-degree murder, criminal threat, conspiracy to commit robbery and attempted aggravated battery. Several other charges were dismissed. The jury in his first trial could not reach verdicts on the nine of 11 charges against Stovall. He was one of nine people arrested in the case.


Police in SE Kansas Town Seek Random Robber

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Police in a southeast Kansas community are looking for a woman who's been stealing from residents after gaining entrance to homes with a sob story.  The El Dorado Times reports that the woman is responsible for numerous thefts in the Butler County town. Authorities say the woman often goes to the homes of senior citizens and says she needs to use a telephone or bathroom. Once inside, she steals prescription medicines, cash and jewelry. The suspect is white, and 30 to 35 years old. Descriptions of her hair color and style vary, but lately it's been blond and spiked.

Wichita Passenger Rail Backers Eye Oklahoma Plan

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — As Wichita attempts to lure passenger rail to the city, a group in Tulsa, Oklahoma is doing the same. But Tulsa officials say the efforts aren't in competition. Currently, the Heartland Flyer travels from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City. Some want to see that train continue northward, taking it to Wichita, Newton and possibly on to Kansas City, Missouri. The concern for Wichita rail boosters is that an Amtrak route that included Tulsa would skirt Wichita. But The Wichita Eagle reports that the Tulsa group exploring train service is backing a privately operated passenger train. Former Tulsa Councilman Rick Westcott says there's no reason why the Heartland Flyer line couldn't be extended to Wichita, while a separate private train makes trips from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.

2nd Trial Scheduled in Leavenworth Boy's Death

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A Leavenworth woman will be tried for the second time in the death of her 4-year-old son. Thirty-one-year-old Monica F. Rivera will be tried April 15 for involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of her son, Gabriel. The boy died while being cared for by Rivera's boyfriend, Jason L. Jones, in Leavenworth. Prosecutors allege Rivera endangered her son by leaving him in Jones's care. The Leavenworth Times reports that the Kansas Court of Appeal in December ordered in December that Rivera receive a second trial because errors were made in jury instruction during the first trial in 2010. Jones is serving a sentence of more than 38 years in prison for second-degree murder in the boy's death.

Wichita's Union Station Has New Owners

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita development company has bought that city's Union Station, with plans to restore the 99-year-old former train depot as a place for people to meet, eat, shop and work. Occidental Management closed the deal Friday with Cox Communications, which put the historic building on the market in 2008. Occidental Management's Gary Oborny says his company wants to retain the marble interior and many of its classic features while also putting in space for office tenants, shops and at least two restaurants. Union Station sits between Wichita's Old Town entertainment district and Intrust Bank Arena. Oborny says it's an ideal location for downtown residents to work, and visitors to eat and shop before going to events at the arena. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Lack of Funds Halts Century-Old Tradition at FHSU

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — The student newspaper at Fort Hays State University has published its final print edition. The Hays Daily News reports that the move came after the Student Government Association voted last spring to cut funding to $19,750 from $32,250. Student Government leaders mentioned readership as an issue. Editor-in-chief Molly Walter says there now are no funds to continue publishing the newspaper, called the University Leader. The last print issue was published Thursday. For the foreseeable future, the student journalists will produce news in an online-only format. In 2003, the Student Government Association pulled the plug on funding for the Reveille, the university's yearbook. Provost Larry Gould says the university doesn't want to eliminate the student newspaper. He says it's time to put together a plan for student media and advertising.

KSU Researcher Explores Online Spirituality

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas State University researcher's study of spirituality in the virtual world has led to a focus on Buddhists' online religious communities. Jessica Falcone is an assistant professor of sociology, anthropology and social work. She studies South Asian cultures and religions, particularly Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism. The university says Falcone is researching Buddhism and Buddhist holy objects in Second Life, an online virtual world. There, Buddhists can participate in religious events, such as group meditation sessions in virtual temples. The virtual temples replicate real-world temples and include a large Buddha statue. Falcone says for those who live in an area without a Buddhist community, the virtual community may be the only place where they can practice their religion with other people. For others, the online experience complements their real-life practices.

Meeting Scheduled on Lesser Prairie Chicken Protections

LAMAR, Colo. (AP) — A public meeting is scheduled Monday to discuss ways to protect the lesser prairie chicken. Representatives from state and federal agencies will be on hand to discuss a management plan developed by wildlife biologists from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The goal is to protect habitat to keep the birds from becoming a threatened species. Some ranchers, wind farms and others have worried that listing the bird as threatened could hurt their operations by leading to more regulations on the bird's habitat. The lesser prairie chicken has feathered feet and a stout build. Males display brilliant yellow-orange eye combs and reddish-purple air sacs during courtship displays.


2 Die in Accident in Eastern Part of Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police believe a man might have suffered some type of medical problem before the van he was driving crashed in Wichita, killing him and his wife. Police Lieutenant Joe Schroeder says 56-six-year-old Randall Storms was driving the van Sunday afternoon when it suddenly veered off the street into a drainage ditch and hit a retaining wall. Storms and his 59-year-old wife, Suzy, died at the scene, along with a service dog. The Wichita Eagle reports that witnesses said the vehicle was driving normally before it drifted to the left just before the crash. Schroeder says speed and a vehicle malfunction weren't factors in the crash. The vehicle was modified so Randall Storms, who used a wheelchair, could operate it with his hands.