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Kansas News Today, July 26

Published on -7/26/2011, 3:09 PM

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Kansas touts state sovereignty in defunding clinic

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The state of Kansas defended a budget provision which defunded a Planned Parenthood chapter as a matter of state sovereignty, arguing in a court document that a proposed injunction would unconstitutionally replace the state's discretion with the court's judgment.

But Planned Parenthood has contended the Kansas statute unconstitutionally imposes additional conditions of eligibility for a federal program that are not required by federal law.

Which argument prevails will help determine whether U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten next week grants the preliminary injunction sought by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Planned Parenthood, which has received federal funding for the past 25 years, expects the new provision to strip it of about $330,000 in annual funding for its Wichita and Hays health centers that provide services to about 4,720 patients in Wichita and 960 individuals in Hays.

It contends the new law likely will force it to close one or more health centers in Kansas. If the statute is allowed to stand, thousands of patients would face higher costs, less access to services and longer wait or travel times for appointments, the group said.

The state argued in court that other entities could provide the same services Planned Parenthood offers in Sedgwick and Ellis counties.

------ Woman charged in 2002 Topeka double homicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Nine years after a Topeka man and his fiancie were shot to death in their sleep, the man's ex-wife was arrested in Oklahoma on two first-degree murder charges.

Dana Chandler, 51, was arrested Monday morning outside a fast-food restaurant in Duncan, Okla., by a task force of Topeka police officers, Kansas Bureau of Investigation special agents and Oklahoma law enforcement officers.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Chandler was charged in a Shawnee County warrant with shooting her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, and his fiancie Karen Harkness, on July 7, 2002, in the couple's Topeka home.

Investigators said Sisco was shot seven times, while Harkness had five gunshot wounds.

The killings gained national attention in October 2009 when they were featured on the CBS program "48 Hours Mystery."

Harkness was a convention sales representative with the Topeka Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sisco was a district manager for National Standard Welding Products.

------ Kan. gov. appointees now control Arts Commission

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A remaining member of the Kansas Arts Commission now controlled by Gov. Sam Brownback's appointees predicted Monday that it will be impossible for the administration to achieve its goal of retaining federal dollars after making the state the first in the nation to eliminate funding for arts programs.

The Arts Commission had been a strong critic of Brownback's push to lessen the state's role in funding arts programs and have them rely more heavily on private funds. Arts advocates contend the state will lose up to $1.2 million from the federal government and a regional arts alliance because Brownback vetoed the state commission's entire budget in late May.

But Brownback's action didn't repeal the law that created the commission and allowed the governor to appoint its 12 members. Last week, he filled six vacancies on the commission, having appointed a new chairwoman in June.

Brownback sees his veto as a cost-saving that preserves money in tight budget times for "core" government functions, such as aid to public schools, social services and public safety. But his administration isn't conceding that the move will lead the National Endowment for the Arts to cut Kansas off and redistribute federal dollars to other states.

"If Kansas tax dollars are going to be collected and re-dispersed through the NEA, then Kansas should receive its fair share," said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Sontag-Jones.

But commission member Henry Schwaller IV, of Hays, whose three-year term doesn't expire until 2013, noted that NEA guidelines require states to put up matching funds to receive federal dollars. He said he believes that if the state can't draft a new plan within the next month to support the arts, Kansas will be disqualified -- and he doubts the commission can come through.

------ I-70 near Topeka reopened after hazmat incident

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A 50-year-old Arkansas man was arrested Monday after a hazardous materials investigation involving the FBI that prompted authorities to close a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 70 for several hours.

All lanes of the highway had reopened by 10:30 p.m. CDT, nearly eight hours after the stretch was closed.

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said the bureau's hazardous materials vehicle was sent to the scene at the request of Kansas officials, but preliminary tests found no explosive threats or suspicious materials.

Police in Junction City, about 60 miles west of Topeka, said the incident began when someone called 911 at midmorning Monday saying hazardous materials had been placed in a room at a Ramada Inn and the FBI should be called. The motel was evacuated while fire and hazardous material crews investigated.

Police issued a description of a suspect and vehicle, and the Highway Patrol stopped a pickup truck on I-70 west of Topeka. While the suspect was returned to Junction City for questioning by police and the FBI, the interstate was closed in both directions to keep other vehicles away as authorities prepared to inspect the truck.

Aerial views from TV news helicopters late Monday afternoon showed a robot approaching the truck, its bed packed with containers of various sizes.

------ Juror questioning opens for Kan. homicides trial

LYNDON, Kan. (AP) -- Attorneys have begun interviewing hundreds of potential jurors for a quadruple homicide trial in east-central Kansas.

James Kraig Kahler (KAY'-luhr), of Columbia, Mo., is scheduled for trial Aug. 8 on four counts of capital murder in Osage County District Court. He has pleaded not guilty.

He's accused in the November 2009 shootings of his ex-wife, Karen Kahler; their two teenage daughters, Emily and Lauren Kahler; and his ex-wife's grandmother, Dorothy Wight. The killings happened at Wight's home in Burlingame.

WIBW-TV reports nearly 300 potential jurors were questioned Monday at Lyndon High School because the county courthouse was too small.

Kahler, of Meriden, is a former city utilities official in Columbia, Mo.

------ Cost of high-voltage lines for wind irks utilities

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Executives at several utilities in nine Midwestern states are upset that they are being asked to pay millions of dollars in upgrades to high-voltage lines in western Kansas that eventually will power the wind industry, according to some members of a state organization.

The Southwest Power Pool, an association of utilities in nine states, has been roiled by disagreement as the costs of the projects climb, The Wichita Eagle reported Monday.

The projects are considered critical to the development of the wind industry in western Kansas. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-2012, and the lines are scheduled to be in service by the end of 2014.

The tension erupted at an October meeting of the power pool, when members were told that the projected cost of the Kansas project, called the "V plan" or the "Y plan" had risen from $356 million to $456 million. The twin 345-kilovolt power lines will extend from the Wichita area to Medicine Lodge to Spearville in western Kansas.

A similar project in western Oklahoma and a new line in Nebraska and Missouri also had nearly $200 million in cost increases.

Jeff Davis, a commissioner on the Missouri Public Service Commission, said the current process, which allows individual utilities to design the projects but spread the cost across all the utilities in the pool, offers no incentive to control costs.

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