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l0708 BC-KS-KansasToday 05-05 1054

AP Top Kansas News at 5:45 a.m. CDT

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kan. gov, utility CEO announce deal on coal plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A western Kansas utility would be allowed to build a coal-fired power plant under a deal announced Monday that would end a 19-month dispute between the governor's office and the company.

The agreement between Gov. Mark Parkinson and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. CEO Earl Watkins Jr. requires the Legislature to approve proposals backed by Parkinson to promote renewable energy.

Hays-based Sunflower initially proposed to build two coal-fired plants near the southwest Kansas town of Holcomb, in Finney County.

But the plan stalled in October 2007 when Rod Bremby, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, denied an air-quality permit for the plants, citing potential emissions of carbon dioxide.

Legislators passed four bills clearing the way to construction, but then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- now the U.S. secretary of health and human services -- vetoed all four.

The new agreement signed by Parkinson and Watkins allows for construction of just one coal-fired plant at the southwest Kansas site. It also includes "green" provisions, such as requiring that all utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and creating incentives for consumers to use wind- and solar-powered generators.

------ Kan. Senate puts off budget debate; deal hinted

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Senate canceled a planned debate on spending cuts and revenue-raising measures Monday to give members more time to draft a compromise to balance Kansas' next budget.

But even as work on a compromise went forward, the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee whittled away at tax proposals backed by new Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat.

Chairman Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican, said the panel won't even vote on a proposal to postpone previously approved tax breaks aimed mainly at businesses. Partisan disagreements over those breaks have threatened to delay work on a budget-balancing plan.

Parkinson and the Republican-controlled Legislature must close a projected $328 million deficit in the $13 billion budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The Senate had planned to debate a bill that included $127 million in cuts and $122 million in revenue-boosting measures. The bill would have left the state with a $69 million deficit.

But the leadership called off the debate minutes before it was to start. Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, said it seemed wiser to let various groups broker a compromise first.

------ Kansas officials: State has another swine flu case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The state has another case of swine flu and it could indicate the virus is taking root, Kansas health officials said Monday.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said state tests show that a child in Wyandotte County has the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still must verify that case before it can be considered confirmed.

The Wyandotte County case could bring the state's total up to six, including one probable case in Johnson County that is awaiting further testing.

The Wyandotte County case is notable because the child had not been to Mexico or in contact with anyone who has been to that country or is known to have the virus. The child was hospitalized but has since been released, the state health department said.

"This suggests the virus may be getting a foothold in that area," state health director Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips said.

He said the effects of the flu on Kansas patients have varied. "Not all cases of this flu are as mild as we had hoped," he added.

------ Kansas sets up program to redistribute unused meds

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A new effort in Kansas to redirect some types of unused medications to safety net clinics is off to a slow start, but supporters are confident it will eventually benefit patients and the state.

Under a program approved by the Legislature in 2008, adult care homes, mail service pharmacies and medical care facilities can donate unused prescription drugs to clinics and health centers that serve the uninsured and poor.

When the law took effect in January, the state joined at least 37 states with similar laws or programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The organization and success of those programs vary widely. A program started in Missouri in 2004 never got off the ground.

The Kansas program got its first donation in April, when Prescription Solutions of Overland Park, a mail-order pharmacy, gave about $250,000 of unused medicines that will eventually go to 36 clinics in 30 cities.

So far, the focus has been on notifying qualified donors and clinics and organizing the logistics, said Robert Stiles, director of primary care for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The state also is trying to arrange clearinghouses where drugs could be stored.

"We are hearing a lot of interest," Stiles said. "It's still early. But it's such a great idea, to use medicines that are usually thrown away. I think it will be popular."

------ Many Kansas City, Kan., bars opt out of smoke ban

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) -- It's hard to tell there is a smoking ban in Kansas City, Kan., because many businesses have paid for an exemption.

The owners of 69 businesses, bars and restaurants have paid a $250 to continue to allow smoking in their establishments.

The smoking ban began in February, but provides for the exemption fee through 2011.

Exempted bars include some of the city's most popular spots, including Sammy's Tavern, Johnny's Sports Bar and some restaurants at the Legends shopping area near the Kansas Speedway.

The business license department of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said 50 of the 316 restaurant and bars in the city have bought exemptions. Caterers, snack bars and fast-food restaurants are included in that number.

Some businesses that don't serve food or alcohol also bought exemptions. They include Cross-Lines Retirement Center and Strasser True Value Hardware.