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Your local and regional news for Northeastern Kansas and the surrounding communities, brought to you by the KPR news staff.

Remembering Knute Rockne 81 Years after Fatal KS Plane Crash

BAZAAR, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has been gearing up for the 81st anniversary of the Kansas plane crash that killed Notre Dame football legend Knute Rockne and seven other people. The Wichita Eagle reports that the events next weekend will include the unveiling of the 1932 Rockne Family Studebaker at the Chase County Historical Museum. They also will include live music and tours of the Chase County Courthouse and the Rockne crash site. Rockne's death, at age 43, came at the height of his career. He had led the Fighting Irish to consecutive undefeated seasons his final two seasons and his death made front-page news across the country. The crash site is located near the small town of Bazaar and is marked with a marble-and-limestone monument.

Regional Headlines for Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Kansas Senate Passes Proposed $14.2B Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate has given final approval to a proposed $14.2 billion state budget that's slightly more generous than one proposed by Governor Sam Brownback. Senators voted 39-1 Wednesday to send the measure to the House after it was amended to include language from a House committee restricting abortion training at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The bill cuts overall spending by almost 4 percent, or $572 million, during the fiscal year that begins July 1. But it includes funds for social service programs that Brownback didn't include in his spending recommendations. It includes an additional $16 million for children's programs and nearly $9 million to boost the pay of state workers whose salaries are below the pay for people with similar private sector jobs.

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KS Senate Rejects Cuts in Sales & Income Taxes...Then Reconsiders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate has reconsidered its rejection of a bill cutting income and sales taxes and passed the measure. The Senate approved the bill on a 29-11 vote Wednesday, only two hours after rejecting it on a 20-20 vote. Nine Republicans, including Senate President Steve Morris, of Hugoton, switched their votes. The bill is dramatically different than Brownback's plan to overhaul the state's individual income tax code. Senators embraced Brownback's proposals to cut the state's top individual income tax rates and eliminate income taxes for 191,000 businesses. But they rejected his proposals to eliminate income tax credits and deductions and voted to cut the sales tax from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in July 2013. The Senate also approved, 38-2, a separate property tax relief measure.

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Kansas Senate Passes Tax Cuts after Governor Steps In

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's decision to reverse course and pass a bill cutting taxes came after Governor Sam Brownback and his staff talked to some senators. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Wednesday that Brownback and his staff spoke with an unspecified number of senators between two votes only two hours apart. The bill reduces income and sales taxes, and it's dramatically different from Brownback's plan to overhaul the individual income tax code. But Brownback declared that it's a step toward creating more jobs. The Republican-controlled Senate initially rejected the bill on a 20-20 vote, which left supporters one vote shy of the majority they needed. It was seen as a snub of Brownback. But nine GOP senators switched their votes two hours later, when the vote was 29-11.

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Kansas Senate Approves Bill to Make Stalking a Felony

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a measure that adds protections for victims of stalking and domestic violence.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas Senate has now  approved a version of the measure that the House passed earlier. The bill now heads to conference committee.  The bill would make violations of protection from stalking and protection from abuse orders a level 6 felony. Such crimes are now misdemeanors. The measure also would allow judges to extend the length of time that protection orders are valid, up to life. Orders are now valid for up to one year, and victims have to reapply every year.  KBI deputy director Kyle Smith, who helped write the bill, said a new law would be a welcome change for victims and advocates.  

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Kansas House Rejects Congressional Redistricting Map 

Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal is no longer pushing for a congressional redistricting plan that would split the Kansas City area between two districts. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, took that stance Wednesday even though the House rejected an alternate plan that would have kept Kansas City in a single district. The vote was 76-48 against that measure. But O'Neal said the fact that an alternative to his plan emerged from House debate shows that many lawmakers don't want to divide the Kansas City area. He said the alternate plan probably failed over other issues. It dramatically redrew U.S. House district lines in south central and southeast Kansas. O'Neal says the House Redistricting Committee will work on a new plan next week.  

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Kansas Democrats Keep Abortion Foe Off Caucus Ballot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Democratic Party has determined that anti-abortion activist Randall Terry is not a bona fide Democrat and won't be awarded any delegates from the party's April 14 Kansas caucuses. Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. His supporters were setting up Kansas campaign headquarters Wednesday in Wichita. But Kansas Democratic Party attorney Joe Sandler says the party's delegate selection rules only recognize candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to the party's goals and objectives. He says Terry also missed two state deadlines and submitted his application only days ago. The state party issued a statement saying Terry's name won't be on the caucus ballot. Terry says he meets legal and party requirements to be a candidate.

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Wounded Topeka Soldier Dies of Injuries

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A soldier who was left mostly paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan has died of his wounds, less than five weeks after he arrived home in Topeka. Penwell-Gabel Funeral Home in Topeka confirms the death Wednesday of 27-year-old Sergeant Jamie Jarboe. Jarboe was stationed at Fort Riley in 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan in February 2011. He was on foot patrol there last April when a sniper's bullet penetrated his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. The married father of two had more than 100 surgeries and was due for more after his February 17 return to a hero's welcome in Topeka. Jarboe was a native of Frankfort, Indiana. He was assigned to 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division.

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Vigil Held in Topeka for Slain Child

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of people gathered in Topeka to honor an 8-year-old girl who was killed last week.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the vigil was held last (TUE) night near the site where Ahliyah Nachell Irvin was found slain March 13. The child's mother Angela Ortega cried as family members wrapped a large tree in Dornwood Park with pink, white, yellow and baby blue ribbons.  A Topeka man, Billy Frank Davis Jr., has been charged with capital murder, among other crimes that include kidnapping and rape of a child, in connection with the death.  Police said the girl was abducted from an apartment complex where she'd been living. Davis is being held in the Shawnee County Jail on $10 million bail.  

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Defense Rests in Oklahoma Woman's Kansas Murder Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The defense has rested its case in the Topeka trial of an Oklahoma woman accused of killing her ex-husband and his fiancee in 2002. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a former neighbor was among the last witnesses to testify Wednesday in the trial of 51-year-old Dana L. Chandler, of Duncan, Oklahoma. The neighbor, Ken Crockett, told jurors that one of the victims, 53-year-old Karen Harkness, sometimes left open her garage and front doors while taking walks. Chandler is charged with two counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the slayings of Harkness and 47-year-old Mike Sisco. They were found dead in Harkness's home. Prosecutors allege Chandler shot the two after Sisco told her he planned to marry Harkness. Chandler was arrested in Oklahoma last July. Closing arguments are scheduled Thursday.

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Kansas Man Gets Life Sentence for Sex Abuse of Child

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — An eastern Kansas man who pleaded no contest to sexually abusing a child will serve at least 25 years of a life sentence before he qualifies for parole.  The Ottawa Herald reports that 33-year-old Duane Francis Brannan received the maximum term allowed by state law at his sentencing Monday in Franklin County District Court. Four other counts were dropped in exchange for the Ottawa man's plea last month to a single count.  Brannan's victim — an 8-year-old girl — calmly answered questions from a prosecutor before the judge pronounced the sentence. The girl, who was known to Brannan, also read a statement and told Brannan he had made her "very sad."  The girl was joined in court by family members and about 15 members of the group Bikers Against Child Abuse.

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Rain Soaks SE Kansas and SW Missouri, Raising Flood Concerns

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Flood watches continue for southeast Kansas and western Missouri after a few days of heavy rain that has forced closures of several rural roadways.  The National Weather Service says that the large, slow-moving storm over north Texas was expected to continue pushing eastward, producing more rain in parts of Kansas and Missouri.  Up to 4 inches of rain has been recorded in the Missouri Ozarks and southeast Kansas. The rain is expected to taper off tomorrow (THUR).  The Missouri Department of Transportation reported several roadway sections closed across southwest and south-central Missouri because of high water. In Cherokee County, Kansas, Sheriff David Groves told The Joplin Globe that low-lying county roads had flooded there, as they do during rains each spring.  No major damage or injuries have been reported.

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Woman Gets Prison for Kidnapping and Robbing Senior Citizen

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A woman who abducted an 81-year-old woman outside a northeast Kansas grocery store and forced her to withdraw money from banks is going to prison.  The Kansas City Star reports that a Johnson County judge has sentenced 24-year-old Sarah Nicole Zaragoza to 11 years. It's the same sentence given earlier to her female co-defendant in the August 2010 crime.  The victim - Edna Wells - was in the courtroom to see the second of her kidnappers sentenced.  The women grabbed Wells at knifepoint outside a Shawnee supermarket and forced her to drive around Johnson County withdrawing money from ATMs. The episode ended when Wells decided to drive to a bank where they had to go inside to get money. She mouthed the word "help" to a teller and her kidnappers took off.

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Lawyer for Soldier Suspected in Massacre Plans Trip to Afghanistan

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians is questioning the quality of the evidence against his client and says he plans to travel to Afghanistan to gather his own.  Seattle attorney John Henry Browne says he met with Sgt. Robert Bales for 11 hours over two days at Fort Leavenworth, where his client is being held. He added that there was still a lot he didn't know about the March 11 shootings.  "I don't know about the evidence in this case. I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confessions," Browne said outside his hotel near the post.  Browne said there were legal, social and political issues linked to the case and how it will be prosecuted.  The 38-year-old Bales has not been charged yet. Browne expects that his client will be charged this week, possibly as early as tomorrow (THUR).

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Rose Hill Student Wins Stamp Design Contest

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ An 18-year-old student from Rose Hill has won this year's Kansas Junior Duck Stamp contest. The Wichita Eagle reports that Christin Gillman has entered the contest for eight years. This was her last year to enter the contest. For this year's entry Gillman was of the king eider, a large sea duck. She found out Tuesday that she'd won the contest's Best of Show award and is now eligible to represent Kansas in the nationals April 20 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. Her entry was among 873 entries submitted by Kansas students. The Junior Duck Stamp program was created 20 years ago to help raise awareness of and appreciation for the nation's wetlands and waterfowl. Kansas was among the first states to participate. 

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Dole: Santorum Must Soon Consider Dropping Out 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas says GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is "getting close to the point" where he'll have to decide whether to stay in the race for the nomination or drop out. In a telephone interview Wednesday, Dole told The Associated Press he was speaking from the experience of staying in the 1988 GOP nomination fight too long. Dole said: "As much as you don't want to do it, sometimes you have to face reality." Dole is a supporter of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. He says Romney's lead in GOP convention delegates and his handy victory Tuesday in the Illinois primary make overtaking him a longshot for Santorum. Dole said Santorum's "got a real problem" because Romney will pick up delegates in every race.

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This Month Marks 81st Anniversary of Knute Rockne's Death  

BAZAAR, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has been gearing up for the 81st anniversary of the plane crash that killed Notre Dame football legend Knute Rockne and seven other people.  The plane went down on March 31st, 1931 in a field near Bazaar, Kansas.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the events beginning March 30 will include unveiling the 1932 Rockne Family Studebaker at the Chase County Historical Museum. They also will include live music and tours of the Chase County Courthouse and the Rockne crash site.  Rockne's death, at age 43, came at the height of his career.  He had led the Fighting Irish to consecutive undefeated seasons his final two seasons and his death made front-page news across the country.  The crash site is located near the small town of Bazaar and is marked with a marble-and-limestone monument.  The monument is on private property.  However, a detailed photographic display on Rockne's life and times can be found inside a public rest stop on the Kansas Turnpike, near the town of Matfield Green.

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Judge Denies Gag Order in Military School Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has declined to impose a gag order in a lawsuit accusing a Kansas military school of allowing older students to discipline younger ones and fostering a culture of abuse.  Lawyers for St. John's Military School had sought to bar parties involved in the case from talking publicly after an attorney for the plaintiffs granted media interviews soon after filing the lawsuit this month. The plaintiffs, the parents of four former cadets, had called the request an attempt by the school to violate their free-speech rights.  St. John's attorney Derek Johannsen told U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum the motion was intended to keep the lawsuit from being tried in "a public forum."  But Lungstrum denied the motion.  Plaintiffs' attorney Dan Zmijewski, meanwhile, said he planned to file a motion to prevent St. John's students from purging their Facebook pages of anything that might be related to the plaintiffs' claims.  The school has denied the claims.

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Abortion Foe Runs as Democrat Against President Obama

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters of anti-abortion activist Randall Terry are opening a presidential campaign office in Kansas ahead of the state's April 14 Democratic caucus.  Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, is best known in Kansas for organizing the massive 1991 Summer of Mercy abortion protests in Wichita. He is now running as a Democratic candidate against President Barack Obama.  Terry's campaign has scheduled news conferences today (WED) in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas, to coincide with the opening of his campaign headquarters in Wichita. An assistant campaign director plans to speak on Terry's behalf.  Terry received 18 percent of the vote in Oklahoma's Democratic primary earlier this month and could claim at least one delegate under party rules.  

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Former Owner of KC Basketball Team Charged w/ Tax Evasion

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The former owner of the Kansas City Knights basketball team faces charges of evading federal taxes.  Prosecutors in Kansas City, Kansas allege James Clark, of Leawood, owes nearly $503,000 in unpaid payroll taxes and penalties from 2002 to 2004.  The Kansas City Star reports that the charges filed March 9 accuse Clark of withholding taxes from employees of the SWISH Holding Corporation, a health care consulting firm, and failing to forward them to the Internal Revenue Service. He's also accused of trying to secure bank credit in 2004 without notifying the bank that he'd sold SWISH's assets.  Kevin Dellett, who represents Clark, said the charges have nothing to do with the Knights, a former American Basketball Association team. He said he's reviewing records to determine the facts behind the fraud allegations.

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Man Pleads to Guilty in Wichita Bank Robbery

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 29-year-old Wichita man has pleaded guilty to taking part in a Wichita bank robbery last year.  Sergio Little pleaded guilty in Wichita yesterday (TUE) to one count of abetting a bank robbery. The robbery took place at the Sunflower Bank on August 11, 2011. He is scheduled for sentencing June 7.  The Wichita Eagle reports that three other defendants have been convicted in the case and are awaiting sentencing.

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Fallen Fort Riley Soldier Posthumously Honored by Home State

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A soldier from Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee has been awarded the first Tennessee Fallen Heroes medal, honoring service members killed in the line of duty. In a Wednesday ceremony at the Capitol, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder honored Sergeant 1st Class Dennis Murray, who was killed in November by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan. Murray was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley. His mother, Wanda Maxey, accepted the award on behalf of the family. Survivors include his wife, Shelee Murray, and two children. The medal was established last year by the Tennessee Legislature. Tennessee State Representative John Ragan, who sponsored the measure, said he wants the families of service members who are killed to know that Tennesseans are grateful for their sacrifice.

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Missouri Ethics Commission Fines Former Leaders of KC Political Club

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The Missouri Ethics Commission has fined three former leaders of a Kansas City political club. The commission fined Velda Cook, former secretary of Freedom Inc., about $3,000 for allegedly taking club money. Freedom's former president, Craig Bland, was fined about $3,000 for signing checks he wasn't authorized to sign. Former treasurer Carl Evans was fined $556 for failing to keep accurate records. The Kansas City Star reports documents released Monday show the probe focused on 14 payments in 2008 and 2009 totaling about $7,000 from Freedom's political fund, "some of which respondent Cook converted into personal use." The three former leaders couldn't be reached for comment. Cook, however, signed documents acknowledging probable cause. Freedom Inc. was founded 50 years ago to give black voters a bigger voice in politics.

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KC Officials Apply for Grant to Build Streetcar Line

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City has applied for a $25 million federal grant to help pay for a proposed $101 million streetcar line connecting Crown Center and the River Market.  City officials say they sent 56 letters of support from legislators, local governments, businesses and other groups with the application.  Kansas City Mayor Sly James says the streetcar would fill a transportation gap and promote further economic development downtown. The 4-mile line along Main Street would include 12 stations, spaced every two blocks, operating at 10-minute intervals.  Officials say the streetcar would benefit the downtown area's 65,000 workers, roughly 15,000 residents and more than 15 million annual visitors.  Besides the grant money, the city says it will use $76 million in approved state and local funds for the project.  

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Kansas Native Named University of Mississippi Athletic Director

Ross Bjork has been named the University of Mississippi's new athletic director. The 39-year-old Bjork has been the athletic director at Western Kentucky University since March 2010 and has also worked in the athletic departments at UCLA, Miami and Missouri. Ole Miss announced Bjork's hiring on Wednesday afternoon and will have an official press conference on Thursday. The Dodge City, Kansas native will take over for Pete Boone, who has announced his retirement effective later this year after more than 13 years as Mississippi's AD. One of Bjork's challenges will be helping rebuild Mississippi's football program. The Rebels finished 2-10 last season, 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference. Fourth-year football coach Houston Nutt was fired after the season and Hugh Freeze replaced him in December.

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New Airport Nears Completion in Northwest Kansas 

STOCKTON, Kan. (AP) _ A new, regional airport with a 5,000-foot runway is set to open next month in northwestern Kansas. The Hays Daily News reports that paving on the runway of Rooks County Regional Airport has been completed, and the opening is scheduled for April 5. Not all amenities will be available at that time. Rooks County officials say a parking lot and taxiway will be added, and construction of a hangar is also planned. Once more work is done, officials plan to stage a grand opening...possibly in the summer. 

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Kansas Senate to Debate Proposed $14 Billion Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is preparing to debate a proposed $14.2 billion state budget that's slightly more generous than one proposed by Governor Sam Brownback.  The budget bill on the Senate's calendar today (WED) still cuts overall spending by almost 4 percent, or $572 million, during the fiscal year that begins July 1.  But it includes funds for social service programs that Brownback didn't include in his spending recommendations. It includes an additional $16 million for children's programs and nearly $9 million to boost the pay of state workers whose salaries are below the pay for people with similar jobs in the private sector.  The spending blueprint would leave about $460 million in cash reserves at the end of June 2013.  The House approved a tighter proposed budget last week.

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KS Senate Unsure Bill Cutting Taxes Will Pass

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Members of the Kansas Senate aren't sure a bill cutting taxes can pass their chamber.  The measure is up for a final vote today (WED).  It cuts the state's top individual income tax rates and eliminates income taxes for 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other small businesses. It also cuts the sales tax from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in July 2013.  The Senate's plan could come with a massive price tag — as high as $800 million a year.  It's a departure from a plan outlined by Governor Sam Brownback to overhaul the individual income tax code. He also wanted to cut top tax rates and help businesses but proposed eliminating numerous tax credits and deductions, which the Senate rejected.  Brownback didn't want to cut the sales tax.

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KS House Set to Take Vote on Congress Remap Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A congressional redistricting plan faces a final vote in the Kansas House after members dropped Speaker Mike O'Neal's proposal to split the Kansas City area between two districts.
The bill on today's (WED) agenda would keep the Kansas City area in a single district but split the tight-knit, area of southeast Kansas in half between two districts.  House members advanced it rather than a plan O'Neal was pushing. The Hutchinson Republican wanted to pull part of the Kansas City area into the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas, tying urban neighborhoods to rural communities more than 400 miles away.  Lawmakers must redraw political boundaries to account for changes in population over the past decade.  Also today (WED), the Senate plans to debate a bill redrawing members' districts.

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Plan Would Use Casino Revenue to Help Fund KS Pension System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gamblers at state-owned casinos in Kansas would help prop up the pension system for teachers and government workers with each hand of blackjack and spin of the roulette wheel.  That's the idea behind a bill approved yesterday (TUE) by the Kansas House.  The measure, approved 92-33, is aimed at boosting the long-term financial health of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. It would dedicate future revenues from three state-owned casinos to help close a projected $8.3 billion funding gap in the system.  The gap is between the pension system's anticipated revenues -- and the benefits that have been promised to current and future retirees through 2033.  The House's bill also would require public employees hired after 2013 to choose between two new retirement plans, neither of which are traditional plans that guarantee benefits based on a worker's salary and years of services. One of the options is a 401(k)-style plan, in which benefits would depend upon investment earnings. The second option would guarantee a 5 percent interest rate on retirement savings set aside by the worker and state.  The measure now goes to the Senate, which is working on its own legislation.

KS Attorney General Says States on Solid Ground in ACA Challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Fischer)

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

For three days next week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt will witness history being made. He will be in the gallery of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments for and against the Affordable Care Act. Kansas and 25 other states are challenging the constitutionality of the health reform law on two fronts: the requirement that virtually everyone purchase health insurance... and the law’s expansion of Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled. In a survey recently conducted by the American Bar Association, 85 percent of legal experts predicted that the high court would uphold the law. But in an interview with Jim McLean of the KHI News Service, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he believes Kansas and the other states challenging the law have a solid case.

That's Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, speaking with Jim McLean, of the KHI News Service. You can hear this interview again, online... at kpr.ku.edu. And for more information on the health reform law and the court case, log on to KHI.org.

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(newscast version)

KS A-G Schmidt Says Health Law Mandate Exceeds Federal Authority

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the states challenging the federal health reform law will make a strong case next week when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case. Jim McLean of the KHI News Service talked to Schmidt about the case and filed this report.

You can hear more of Jim McLean’s interview with Attorney General Schmidt, coming up in about 30 minutes here on KPR’s Morning Edition.


KS Ranked Among Top 10 for Transparent Govt

 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas ranks among the top 10 states in a study of government transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms. The state is one of 19 to receive an average grade of "C" in the State Integrity Investigation, conducted by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity. The study found that states are doing a poor job delivering accountability and transparency to their residents.  No state received an A from the months-long probe that looked at 330 ``Corruption Risk Indicators'' across 14 categories of government. Kansas scored a 75 in the study, ninth best in the nation, while Missouri also received a C grade with 72 points. New Jersey had the highest grade with a B-plus, while eight states received an F.

Officials Concerned About Lake Shawnee Water Quality

 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Shawnee County Commission has voted to support an initiative aimed at improving the water quality at Lake Shawnee. The commissioners heard testimony from area health and environment officials who said Lake Shawnee has a water quality problem that could lead to limitations being placed on its use for recreation. County parks director Terry Bertels said tests show the lake consistently exceeds EPA standards for nutrients and pollutants. The commission then voted to express support for an initiative being undertaken to improve the lake's water quality. Bertels said the initiative is being financed by a $20,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He said partners in the water quality initiative will develop a management plan targeted at improving the lake's water quality.


Regional Headlines for Tuesday, March 20, 2012

 


Kansas House Passes Bill for Fixing Pension System Shortfall

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas House has approved a bill to use revenues from state-owned casinos to help close a long-term funding shortfall facing the state pension system for teachers and government workers. The measure, approved Tuesday on a 92-33 vote, also would require public employees hired after 2013 to choose between two new pension plans. Neither would be a traditional plan guaranteeing benefits up front based on a worker's salary and years of experience, and one would be a 401(k)-style plan. The measure goes to the Senate, which is working on its own bill. The state pension system projects an $8.3 billion gap between anticipated revenues and retirement benefits promised through 2033. Supporters hope that over the next two decades, several billion dollars in casino revenues could go to the pension system.

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UPDATED: Kansas Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Tax Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to a bill cutting taxes after rejecting proposals from Governor Sam Brownback for overhauling the individual income tax code. Senators advanced the bill on a voice vote Tuesday. A final vote, set for Wednesday, will determine whether the measure passes. The bill cuts both sales and income taxes. It's dramatically different from a plan outlined by the Republican governor. Brownback wanted to cut income tax rates but eliminate many deductions. The Senate voted 21-19 to keep a long list of deductions the governor had targeted. Brownback also wanted to keep the sales tax at 6.3 percent to offset income tax cuts. The bill would drop the tax to 5.7 percent in July 2013. But the Senate did endorse Brownback's plan to cut income taxes for many businesses.

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Kansas House Gives Preliminary Approval to Redistricting Bill 

The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a congressional redistricting bill keeping the Kansas City area in a single district, rather than splitting it between two. House members advanced the measure on a voice vote Tuesday after substituting their favored plan for one drafted by House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. The House expects to take final action Wednesday. The measure would cut southeast Kansas in half, placing Pittsburg in the 4th District with Wichita, about 150 miles away. The O'Neal plan would have split the Kansas City area between two districts. It would have put much of Wyandotte County, with its urban Kansas City neighborhoods, into the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas, along with rural communities more than 400 miles away. 

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Abortion Rights Activists Hit KS Governor's Facebook Page

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has been getting some pointed feedback on his Facebook page about his stance on an extensive anti-abortion bill. Two Kansas abortion rights activists posted queries about their menstrual cycles on Brownback's page last week as a sarcastic way of protesting the Legislature's continued involvement in abortion. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Nicki Scheid, a member of the National Organization for Women's Wichita branch, and Lawrence activist Jennifer Weishaar say they're concerned about a provision in the bill that limits legal action a woman can take against a doctor who identifies fetal abnormalities during her pregnancy but doesn't tell her. Their comments sparked other postings from around the country with occasionally graphic anatomy questions. Brownback's spokeswoman has declined comment on the Facebook postings.

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KS Man Expected to Plead Guilty to Threatening President Obama

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas man accused of threatening President Barack Obama is expected to plead guilty in the case. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten on Tuesday scheduled a change-of-plea hearing March 29 for Michael Scott Ramsey. The Hutchinson man was indicted last July on charges of threatening to harm or kill the president in 2009 and again in 2011. Ramsey had been scheduled for an April 3 trial. Last month, the judge found him competent to stand trial following a psychological examination at a federal medical center.

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Study: Kansas Government Ranks Among Top 10 in Transparency

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas ranks among the top 10 states in a study of government transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms. The state is one of 19 to receive an average grade of "C" in the State Integrity Investigation, conducted by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity. The study found that states are doing a poor job delivering accountability and transparency to their residents.  No state received an A from the months-long probe that looked at 330 "Corruption Risk Indicators" across 14 categories of government. Kansas scored a 75 in the study, ninth best in the nation, while Missouri also received a C grade with 72 points. New Jersey had the highest grade with a B-plus, while eight states received an F.

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Lawyer: Afghanistan Killings Suspect Remembers Little

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians said the soldier has a sketchy memory of the night of the massacre. Lawyer John Henry Browne said 38-year-old Robert Bales remembers some details from before and after the killings, but very little during the time the military believes he went on a rampage through two Afghan villages. Browne spoke with The Associated Press from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Bales is being held. Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, though charges could come this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war. 

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KU Band, Spirit Squad Members Rescue Trapped Man

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ University of Kansas students gave a man in Arkansas something to cheer about when they lifted a car off of him in a parking lot in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that members of the school's spirit squad and band were at a hotel, preparing to get on a bus Sunday for a women's NCAA Tournament game, when they saw a commotion in the parking lot. Four cheer squad members and five band members ran toward a Cadillac when they realized someone was pinned beneath it. The nine male students lifted the car, and the trapped man crawled out. Other than being disoriented and covered in grease, he appeared relatively unharmed. The group then got on their bus in plenty of time to watch the Jayhawks beat Nebraska 57-49.

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Heavy Rain Leads to SE Kansas Flash Flooding 

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ Heavy rain across southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri has sparked flash flooding in some low areas, but no damage or injuries have been reported. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for Bourbon and Crawford counties in Kansas after up to 3 inches of rain hit the area. More rain is forecast today (TUE). The weather service said flooding was reported in low-lying areas, including along the Marmaton River in Fort Scott. The weather service said the Marmaton was below flood stage early Tuesday but could exceed flood stage later in the day. The river was expected to drop again Thursday when the rain subsides. Fort Scott police said a couple of bridges in Bourbon County were closed because of high water.

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UPDATED: Judge Denies Gag Order in Military School Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to issue a gag order in a lawsuit accusing a Kansas military school of allowing older students to abuse younger ones in the name of discipline. Lawyers for St. John's Military School in Salina sought to bar the parties from talking publicly about the case. But U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum said Tuesday a trial is still more than a year away, so that pretrial publicity likely wouldn't taint the prospective jury pool. The lawsuit by parents of four former cadets contends the school allows and encourages abuse of younger students by older ones. St. John's has settled nine similar lawsuits since 2006. The school's lawyer says the motion for a gag order was an attempt to keep the case from being tried in the media.

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Former UN Ambassador to Speak in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The former ambassador to the United Nations is scheduled to speak in Lawrence next month. John Bolton is scheduled to speak about threats to American security on April 4 at the Lied Center in Lawrence. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he researches U.S. foreign and national security policy. He previously served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. He also served previously in the U.S. State Department as undersecretary for arms control and international security.

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Officials Concerned about Lake Shawnee Water Quality

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Shawnee County Commission has voted to support an initiative aimed at improving the water quality at Lake Shawnee. The commissioners heard testimony from area health and environment officials who said Lake Shawnee has a water quality problem that could lead to limitations being placed on its use for recreation. County parks director Terry Bertels said tests show the lake consistently exceeds EPA standards for nutrients and pollutants. The commission then voted to express support for an initiative being undertaken to improve the lake's water quality. Bertels said the initiative is being financed by a $20,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He said partners in the water quality initiative will develop a management plan targeted at improving the lake's water quality.

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Overland Park to Impose Arboretum Entry Fees

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) _ The Overland Park City Council has voted to impose an admission fee at the city's Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in order to recoup some operating costs. The Kansas City Star reports that the council voted 7-5 Monday to charge adults $5 and children $3. Children age 2 and under will be free. The fees take effect next year. The arboretum will remain free to all visitors on Wednesdays and on two weekends per year. It will also be free for members of the private Friends of the Arboretum group. Revenue from the fees is expected to cover about one quarter of what it costs the city to operate the arboretum.

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K-State Women Eliminated from Tournament by No.1 Seed UConn

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ The eighth-seeded Kansas State University Wildcats were eliminated from the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament by the University of Connecticut last (MON) night, by a score of 72 to 26.  K-State (20-14) had been trying to reach the tournament's third round for the first time since 2002. But the Wildcats were no match for the Huskies, being held to an NCAA tournament record low for points. Brittany Chambers scored 11 points to lead the Wildcats, who went 11 minutes in the first half without a point. UConn's Bria Hartley scored 13 of her 16 points in the first half. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 15 points and Kiah Stokes scored a career-high 13. It's the 19th straight season that UConn has made it to the round of 16. 

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5 Disciplined in NCAA Tournament Racial Taunting Incident Targeting K-State Player

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The University of Southern Mississippi has disciplined five members of its pep band who heckled Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez during last week's NCAA Tournament game. The university issued an apology last Thursday to Rodriguez, who said he did hear the chants of "Where's your green card?" during the Wildcats' 70-64 second-round victory in the NCAA tournament. He said USM's athletic director and "personnel from their school" came to the team hotel to apologize. On Tuesday, USM president Martha Saunders announced in a news release five students have had their pep band scholarships revoked, have been removed from the band and will be required to complete a two-hour cultural sensitivity training course this week. The students have not been identified.

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Kansas Man Gets Federal Prison for Bath Salts Possession in Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to nearly eight years in federal prison for possessing bath salts in Nebraska before they were specifically outlawed by state and federal law. Steve Sullivan of Lawrence was arrested after a traffic stop in Otoe County in 2010. The Lincoln Journal Star says prosecutors argued bath salts violated a federal law that prohibited possessing substances with intent to deliver that were similar to the chemical structure of an illegal, controlled substance and had a similar effect as the drug they mimicked. Sullivan was convicted in December. During sentencing last week, Sullivan's defense attorney told the judge that Sullivan thought he was complying with the law. The judge says while it was an "unusual case," he sentenced Sullivan to prison.

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Chiefs General Manager Says Team Made Overtures to Manning 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs were in contact with Peyton Manning from the start, but general manager Scott Pioli said the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback had formulated a list of likely destinations early on. Manning wound up agreeing to a $96 million, five-year deal with Denver. Pioli said during a conference call with Tuesday that Manning was "up front about what he was doing, some of the visits he wanted to take, and we initially weren't a part of that." Matt Cassel is expected to return as the Chiefs' starting quarterback next season. Kansas City recently signed former Denver backup Brady Quinn to provide depth. Pioli refused to get into details about his conversations with Manning and his agent, but he did say that Cassel was aware that discussions had taken place.

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Ex-NFL Player: Shooting Suspect Was Good Teammate

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A former NFL player who played high school football with an Army sergeant suspected of slaughtering 16 Afghan villagers says the killings have caused him great concern for his former teammate. In a statement Tuesday, Marc Edwards calls Robert Bales "one of my oldest and best friends." Edwards and Bales played on the same high school football team in the early 1990s in a Cincinnati suburb. Edwards went on to play professionally for several teams, including the 2001 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Now living in Jacksonville, Edwards says Bales "personified sportsmanship and the highest degree of unselfish team values." Bales and Edwards briefly collaborated in business in 2000 to 2001. A spokeswoman for Edwards says the business failed but it didn't affect their friendship. Bales is being held at Fort Leavenworth.

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Elijah Johnson Emerges at the Right Time as KU Star 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ On a team of stars such as Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, it's Elijah Johnson who has emerged as the unsung savior for number 2 seed Kansas. Johnson struggled with his shot for much of the season, but he's found it at the most opportune time. He hit a key 3-pointer and came up with several sparkling defensive plays Sunday night, allowing the Jayhawks to squeak past Purdue in the NCAA tournament. Johnson finished with 18 points. The same player who was shut out by Florida International this season has given the Jayhawks a reliable scoring threat to complement their other stars. Coach Bill Self expects that to be critical on Friday night, when Kansas plays number 11 seed North Carolina State in the Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis.

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Eisenhower Memorial Designer Open to Changes

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Famed architect Frank Gehry says he is open to design changes in a planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington to try to answer objections from Ike's family. A letter from Gehry was introduced as testimony in a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday. Susan Eisenhower, the 34th president's granddaughter, told the panel her family wants the memorial to be redesigned. A hearing in Congress could pressure memorial planners to make changes. But the panel does not have a direct role in approving the design. Final approval of Gehry's concept from a commission that approves architecture in the nation's capital has been delayed amid ongoing objections from the family. The family wants the project to focus more on Ike's accomplishments and less on his rural Kansas roots.

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KU Women's Basketball Team Preparing to Meet Delaware in NCAA Tourney 2nd Round

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The 11th-seeded University of Kansas Jayhawks are preparing to take on the third seed, Delaware, in a second-round NCAA women's basketball tournament game tonight (TUE).  The Jayhawks (20-12) advanced with a 57-49 win over Nebraska. Now, they'll face a team that's the home for a budding basketball celebrity: Elena Delle Donne. The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne scored 39 points in the Blue Hens' NCAA tournament opener, leading Delaware to a 73-42 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. She was trending on Twitter by the time the game was finished, and she was tweeted by Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant on Monday morning. The Jayhawks have already had to face another star player this season in Baylor center Brittney Griner. They lost both of their matchups against the Lady Bears, and will have another difficult chore against Delle Donne, who is the nation's leading scorer. 

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Royals Pitcher Soria to Have Sore Elbow Checked

Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria will have his sore right elbow checked by Dr. Lewis Yokum in Los Angeles on Tuesday.  Soria left Sunday's game after retiring only one of five batters he faced and said after the outing that his elbow felt "really bad." Royals spokesman Mike Swanson said Monday the team believes Soria has some damage in his area of his ulnar collateral ligament. Soria had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2003. He has been one of the best relievers in the American League since his rookie season of 2007, but his performance fell off last year. His ERA jumped to 4.03 and he had 28 saves, but lost the closer's job at times.

 

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Kansas House Passes $14B Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas House has approved a $14.1 billion state budget that cuts overall spending by about $600 million, or 4 percent.  House members voted 87-36 on the bill containing the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The measure now moves to the Senate, which is working out details of its version of the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The House legislation also contains a provision to prohibit state employees from being involved in abortions. The House added $29 million to help K-12 public schools grapple with high student enrollment. The bill also retains a ban by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to deny food stamp benefits to some U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

 

Soldier Accused of Afghan Massacre Meets with Legal Team

Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth (photo courtesy of U.S. Army)Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, has been meeting with his legal team today (MON).  As KPR’s J. Schafer reports, Sgt. Bales is being held in a special pre-trial facility at Fort Leavenworth.

 Near the main gate to Fort Leavenworth. (Photo by J. Schafer)

 

University of Kansas Law Professor to Assist Health Reform Law Challenge

 

Stephen McAllister (photo credit: University of Kansas School of Law)

University of Kansas law professor Stephen McAllister is headed to Washington this week to help the lawyer for a group of states prepare for a challenge of the federal health reform law. That case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next week. Kansas is one of 26 states objecting to the law’s requirement that virtually all Americans purchase health insurance. The case also opposes the law's expansion of the Medicaid program. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt – a Republican – says the health reform law is an “unprecedented federal power grab.”

Schmidt dispatched McAllister to help the lawyers who will argue the states’ case because he is considered an expert in constitutional law. McAllister also clerked for two Supreme Court justices before coming to KU.

 

Kansas to Receive Huge Grant to Aid Faltering Schools

 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is receiving a $4.4 million federal grant to continue efforts to turn around its persistently lowest-achieving schools. The Kansas State Department of Education says the money will benefit seven schools in the Wichita, Kansas City, Kansas, Topeka, Cherokee and Liberal school districts. The schools have received funding previously from the U.S. Department of Education program, which requires districts to choose an aggressive turnaround model. One option is replacing the principal and improving the school through comprehensive reforms.

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