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

The Associated Press

Boeing wins $35B Air Force tanker contract

SEATTLE (AP) _ Washington state and Kansas are celebrating a decision to award Boeing Co. a $35 billion contract to build nearly 200 airborne refueling tankers, one of the biggest defense contracts ever that will add tens of thousands of jobs to the struggling economy and bolster regional air industries for a generation.

But Thursday's announcement that the Air Force chose Chicago-based Boeing over a bid by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. drew deeply disappointing reactions in Europe, where the aircraft manufacturer promised to discuss the decision with the U.S. military.

It also came as a severe setback to the Gulf Coast and to Alabama, where EADS had planned to assemble its aircraft at a former military base in Mobile.

The contract to replace the half-century-old KC-135 tanker fleet is a major boost for the Puget Sound region and Wichita, Kan., where the planes will be built and modified.

But it came as a surprise to many after defense analysts, politicians, factory workers and even company executives had expected EADS to win the decade-long battle with Boeing, which had been marked by delays, missteps and bitter accusations.

So expecting the worst, there were no big rallies were planned in Washington state and union halls quiet on a day when snow buried much of the state.

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Boeing picked for contract; Wash. workers rejoice

SEATTLE (AP) _ The U.S. Air Force on Thursday chose Boeing Co. to build its new fleet of aerial refueling tankers, news met with delight, rejoicing _ and some outright astonishment _ by Washington state aircraft workers and politicians.

The $35 billion contract is a major boost not just to the company but to the ailing economies in the Puget Sound area and in Wichita, Kan., where the planes will be built and modified.

Boeing will base the tankers on its 767 widebody jetliner, which is assembled at its massive Everett, Wash., plant. The contract initially calls for 179 of the planes, extending work for the 767 line for years.

At Everett, Boeing workers who had gathered around TVs and computer screens in the factory shook hands and high-fived when the news came across, said worker Steve Morrison.

"You could hear little blocks of cheers throughout the factory," he said.

Outside the plant, car horns blared during shift change.

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Kan. Senate approves rural growth program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Senators have approved a key piece of Gov. Sam Brownback's plan for helping revive rural Kansas counties experiencing declining population.

The bill advancing Thursday would grant a five-year individual income tax abatement to people who move from other states to any of 50 Kansas counties facing declining population. The vote was 34-5, sending the proposal to the House, which is considering a similar version.

The program would be a pilot project for five years. It applies to counties that have had an 8 percent decline in population over the past decade, or has fewer than 12,000 residents.

Brownback's proposal was for 40 counties that had 10 percent declines in population. It was part of his campaign platform to help revitalize rural areas with withering populations and commerce.

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Kan. Senate leader promises debate on abortion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate's top leader promised Thursday that his chamber will debate abortion this year after the House easily approved a Nebraska-style fetal pain bill to block late-term procedures and add other restrictions on ending pregnancies.

Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said legislation won't be bottled up in committee, as some abortion opponents have feared. Asked whether he intends to have a debate on the issue, Morris said, "Yes."

"We want to do it in a timely manner," he said.

Many senators presume that at least some changes in state abortion laws will pass, given approval of restrictions in the past.

But members of both parties didn't know how the House bills will fare in their chamber because they haven't reviewed the measures. The fetal pain proposal is a new concept for many of them.

"I don't know much about that," acknowledged Sen. Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican and abortion rights supporter.

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Kan. House advances Kobach's election fraud bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's legislation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls won first-round approval Thursday in the state House.

House member's 78-36 vote advanced the bill to final action. The margin suggests the measure has more than enough support to pass on that final vote, set for Friday, and will go to the Senate.

The bill also would require people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide proof that they're citizens. It increases the penalties for election crimes and gives the secretary of state's office the power to file and prosecute election fraud cases in state courts, along with county prosecutors and the attorney general's office.

The measure's enactment would make Kansas the 10th state with a photo ID law, but Kobach has said the requirement _ combined with other provisions in the bill _ would give his state the strongest election fraud laws in the nation.

"Once this bill becomes law, Kansas will stand head and shoulders above the other 49 states in protecting the integrity of our elections," Kobach said in a statement after the vote.

Opponents, mostly Democrats, argued that Kobach's proposals would seriously hamper efforts to register voters door-to-door or at sites such as libraries and grocery stores. They also contend thousands of Kansans either won't be able to vote or will have their votes not counted because of the requirements.

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Wichita gang member admits helping with homicides

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A former Crips gang member avoided a possible death penalty by admitting that he was involved in three homicides in Wichita.

Thirty-one-year-old Jason Tisdale pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. He was charged in the Feb. 3, 1998 killings of Tisha Jones and Keith James, and the Aug. 5, 2004, killing of Umanah Smith.

Prosecutors say Jones was killed to stop her from testifying in a robbery case against another Crips member. She and James were killed in their apartment.

Smith was killed because he his gang, the Bloods, was feuding with the Crips.

Tisdale was among 28 men charged in 2007 in the first federal racketeering case ever filed in Kansas.

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Succession of setbacks dogging No. 3 Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Point guard Tyshawn Taylor will remain suspended Saturday when No. 3 Kansas travels to Oklahoma, raising to 32 the number of games Jayhawk players have missed because of injury, tragedy, misbehavior or NCAA edicts.

Coach Bill Self confirmed Thursday that Taylor would miss a second straight game for violating unspecified team rules. In his place again will be sophomore Elijah Johnson, who is clearly being given an opportunity to win the job because Self is losing patience with the inconsistent Taylor.

Taylor's not the only one who's had his troubles.

Six players, for various reasons, have missed time. Given the fact the program is also dealing with the loss of two NBA lottery picks and point guard Sherron Collins _ the winningest player in school history _ Self figures a 26-2 record is nothing to be ashamed of.

"I do think this year has surpassed record-wise what I thought it could be, without question," Self said. "I didn't think going into the season this team could be 26-2. I did not anticipate losing two lottery picks and losing your best player and best leader and somehow or another we'd look up and we're still 26-2."

Nobody's had a tougher year than 6-9 forward Thomas Robinson. The promising sophomore missed two games when his mother unexpectedly died, leaving Thomas and his 7-year-old sister without a mother or father at home. Robinson also was out three games with meniscus surgery.

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Alabama loses bid for new AF refueling tanker

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Alabama has lost its bid to become home of a plant that will build aircraft refueling tankers for the Air Force.

The Pentagon is awarding a $35 billion contract for the work to the Boeing Co. rather than the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which planned to assemble the tankers in Mobile.

Gov. Robert Bentley and other leaders gathered in Mobile for the announcement describe the decision as a sad day for Alabama.

A crowd, gathered to watch the Pentagon announce its decision, fell silent at news of the decision.

The contract initially went to EADS and Northrop, but Boeing protested and the work was rebid. Alabama officials pushed for the work to come to Mobile since the contract would have meant thousands of jobs.

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Man pleads guilty in hit-and-run that killed 2

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ A Leavenworth man pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in a hit-and-run that killed a Leavenworth couple.

Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson says 39-year-old Millard Wilkens pleaded guilty on Wednesday. He could be sentenced to up to nearly 11 years in prison.

Wilkens admitted that he was speeding when he hit 62-year-old Lewis McMillian and 58-year-old Teresa McMillian on Nov. 20 as they walked to their home in Leavenworth. Teresa McMillen died that day, Lewis McMillen died Dec. 11.

The car hit a utility pole and Wilkins fled on foot, but was arrested shortly afterward.

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Official pleads guilty in Kan. sport ticket scam

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The last conspirator in a more than $2 million ticket scalping scandal at the University of Kansas admitted Thursday he was aware there was a "lucrative market" for tickets to the school's sporting events.

Associate athletic director of development Ben Kirtland pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy without any deal with prosecutors. The charge related to wire fraud, evading taxes and transporting stolen goods.

Kirtland, 54, of Lenexa, was in charge of fundraising for the nonprofit group that promotes Jayhawk athletics. He was the last of seven defendants to plead guilty for their roles in the scheme.

After Thursday's hearing, defense attorney Robin Fowler gave reporters a written statement in which Kirtland apologized to those he "let down" by his conduct.

"Ben has today publicly admitted his guilt and deeply regrets his unlawful acts, as well as the embarrassment his acts have brought to his family, and to the University of Kansas," the statement read.

Kirtland admitted in his written plea petition that between 2005 and 2009, he sold tickets to the school's athletic events and shared the proceeds of those sales with an unnamed co-defendant in the case. Kirtland said he did not know the exact value of the tickets he sold, but estimated they were worth more than $120,000.

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Kan. House approves union PAC paycheck bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Union members shouting in opposition to a bill that would halt voluntary deductions from their paychecks to pay for unions' political activities were removed from the Kansas House gallery Thursday just before it passed.

A group of 50 to 60 union members gathered outside the House chamber before the vote on the bill. When Capitol Police officer told Kansas AFL-CIO lobbyist Bruce Tunnell to keep the noise down, Tunnel responded that the bill would limit union members' right to free speech and, "We are not going to give it up."

"We will not shut up," he said. "We're not going to keep it down."

The crowd began shouting, "No! No! No!" as the bill's supporters entered the House. Then group moved to the House gallery, shouting loudly for lawmakers to vote no as clerks opened the voting. House rules prohibit such demonstrations, and police officers and doorkeepers ushered the rowdy group out.

The House approved the bill 75-46, sending it to the Senate to consider.

"I don't think I've ever seen a more dismal display of disrespect for this House in my 27 years in the Legislature," House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who supports the bill, said as he presided over the vote.

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Kan. authorities say missing woman found safe

SOLOMON, Kan. (AP) _ Dickinson County authorities say a woman who has been missing from her central Kansas home since January has been found safe.

Dickinson County issued a news release saying 35-year-old Mary Ellen Carlin, who had not been seen since Jan. 18, was found and was found Thursday morning. The sheriff's office did not include any other information about where Carlin had been.

KSAL reports that the sheriff's office says a tip from a citizen led investigators to Carlin.

Carlin, also known as Mary Ellen Hummel, disappeared seen Jan. 18, when she told acquaintances at her home in Solomon that she was going for a walk.

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Fort Hays enrollment could hit 11,500 this spring

HAYS, Kan. (AP) _ Fort Hays State University's spring enrollment is nearing a record 10,000 students.

And the school says the enrollment numbers could go even higher, hitting 11,500 when Chinese students attending some partner universities return to class.

The school says enrollment grew by 1.4 percent for on-campus students and by 6.9 percent for its Virtual College.

The biggest growth came from its Chinese partnerships. By the 20th day of the spring semester, that enrollment already had jumped by 20.1 percent to 1,709 students.

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Kansas county denies permit for strip club

MERIDEN, Kan. (AP) _ Officials in a northeast Kansas county say a controversial strip club will not be allowed to open in their area.

The Jefferson County Commission voted Wednesday night to deny a permit for the strip club on the outskirts of Meriden.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the proposed site of the restaurant, bar and strip club also is less than 1,000 feet from Jefferson West High School.

Hundreds of people had turned out at earlier meetings to object to the proposal from Lawrence developer Zach Snyder.

Commissioner Roy Dunnaway says the proposed site along a busy highway was the main reason for denying the permit. He says the area along Kansas 4 has a high accident and fatality rate, in part because it has several ramps that drivers find confusing.

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Southwestern College to drop clinical nursing

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) _ Southwestern College will end its clinical nursing program on the Winfield campus at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

College president Dick Merriman says current nursing students will be able to earn their degrees, and the college will continue to offer a nursing degree completion option for licensed nurses wanting to earn a bachelor's degree.

Merriman says the college's trustees made the decision because of competition from public universities. He says the competition increased in 2006 after the state decided to increase funding and the number of spots in nursing education programs at the state's public colleges and universities.

The Winfield Daily Courier reported Wednesday that Merriman stressed that Southwestern's nursing program is not in jeopardy.

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