www.lrc.ky.gov

Lobbying companies gave six-figure contributions to underwrite the costs for Kentucky to host the Southern Legislative Conference annual convention.

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission says three groups that lobby the legislature gave at least $100,000 to sponsor the convention. Those groups were the Keeneland race track, the Kentucky Distillers Association and LG&E and KU Energy. About 1,500 state legislators and staff attended the conference from 15 southern states.

Although such contributions are legal and not unusual not everyone agrees with the practice. Chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, Richard Beliles, says the donations buy access to legislators.

J. Tyler Franklin

A judge has temporarily blocked Gov. Matt Bevin’s overhaul of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. 

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued the ruling Friday morning.

Bevin abolished the U of L board by executive order in June, sacking the 17-member governing body and replacing it with a 10-member board.

During a surprise press conference announcing the overhaul, Bevin also revealed that James Ramsey, the university’s president, would step down from his position once the new board was in place.

Ramsey officially resigned in an agreement with the newly constituted board late Wednesday evening.

Creative Commons

Ever wanted to find the cheapest price for a surgery but had no luck accessing information?

There’s a plan to change that in Kentucky, and it’s currently under consideration by the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, which must give the green light to build a health care cost comparison website for the state.

This week, Kentucky earned an F on the 2016 Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws, an annual report released by the independent health policy organizations Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and Catalyst for Payment Reform.

Kentucky’s main offense? Not having the database or a consumer website.

“Do you think it’s OK that a mom and her husband will have to pay an excess of $2,000 based on random selection of hospitals to deliver their baby?” said Francois de Brantes, executive director of the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

At this week’s Democratic National Convention, two presidents ran blocks for Hillary Clinton on an issue that has crippled her favorability in Appalachia: coal.

Both President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton brought up coal in their speeches endorsing Hillary’s presidential bid.

During his address on Tuesday evening, Bill Clinton recalled how Hillary had sent him to stump for her in West Virginia ahead of the state’s primary election to deliver a message directly to coal miners.

“If you really think you can get the economy back you had 50 years ago, have at it, vote for whoever you want to,” Bill Clinton said. “But if she wins, she is coming back for you to take you along on the ride to America’s future.”

Then on Wednesday night, President Obama said coal miners need to be brought into the discussion about climate change.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton accepted her party's nomination on Thursday, completing the field for an American political campaign without historical precedent.

Clinton, the first female presidential nominee for a major American party, has now officially become Republican Donald Trump's Democratic rival for the presidency of the United States.

"It is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in America's promise that I accept your nomination for president of the United States," Clinton said.

Clinton's nomination comes after a bruising primary campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that left the Democratic Party struggling to unite.

Land Bank of Evansville

Evansville is creating a nonprofit land bank under a new Indiana law that went into effect this month.

Kelley Coures is executive director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development. He says the land bank gives the city a way to demolish vacant buildings that are not valuable enough to be renovated and are not bringing in tax revenue.

“The land bank functions just like a regular bank, instead of money it takes in property. We’re hoping that developers will see that we have lots of available land, or we will have, after we clear out all of these vacant and blighted structures. And we can build things like new homes, affordable housing.”

He says the vacant properties are sometimes used by homeless people or drug dealers and that creates safety issues in neighborhoods.

“Ten percent of all fires in cities like Evansville occur in vacant and abandoned structures. Homeless people, vagrants come in, start fires to try and keep warm or people making drugs, people cooking methamphetamine get in these houses, since there’s no occupant, and make drugs there.”

Coures says Vanderburgh County loses $2 million a year in unpaid property taxes from the properties that have no current owner. The Evansville City Council gave final approval to the land bank this week.

WKU

As many as 200 Western Kentucky University employees will soon pay at least five times for health benefits.

Members of the building services, grounds, landscaping and recycling departments are being outsourced August 1 to Sodexo Management Services.

Those making minimum pay will get a dollar-an-hour raise, while a smaller group making more than that will get an hourly boost of between 54 and 95 cents.

WKU Human Resources director Tony Glisson said the move is in response to a $6 million budget cut from the state announced earlier this year.

“When that type of reduction occurs, the university has to look deep and wide for opportunities to reduce costs, become more efficient, to look for creative arrangements, new partnerships that may not have been in place previously,” he said.

Erica Peterson

A non-profit is recommending a Kentucky coal plant retire sooner than planned.

The Elmer Smith plant in Owensboro is old — it initially went into service in 1964. And over the past few years, it’s become a target for environmental groups, who point to the plant’s age and emissions, saying the upgrades it would take to comply with upcoming pollution regulations make it uneconomical to keep burning coal there.

At the request of the Sierra Club, the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis studied several documents from Owensboro Municipal Utilities, which owns and operates the Elmer Smith plant. IEEFA concluded that retiring the plant’s two units sooner rather than later would be the least-cost option for ratepayers, and urged the utility to consider replacing the capacity with renewable energy.

Among the problems IEEFA Director of Resource Planning David Schissel flagged in his analysis of Elmer Smith was that the area’s demand for electricity has remained relatively flat since 2004. So since then, the plant has been producing more power than it needs to supply its ratepayers. OMU sells the excess power on the wholesale market, but for only a fraction of its cost.

Creative Commons

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a new federal law can begin to turn the tide of drug fatalities in Kentucky and nationwide. 

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, sets up a federal grant program to help combat heroin and prescription drug abuse.  The law seeks to improve prevention and treatment resources, and provide more first responders with anti-overdose drugs. 

Flanked by law enforcement in Bowling Green on Wednesday, McConnell said CARA will give local agencies the funds to help addicts while prosecuting drug dealers.

"For the people who are using, it's obviously a sickness and they must be cured," remarked McConnell.  "These guys have a lot of sympathy for those people, but they have no sympathy, I assume, for the people making it possible for this addiction to be fed."

While not every area of Kentucky has a heroin problem, most of the state is experiencing prescription drug abuse, as well as crystal meth and synthetic drugs.  Statewide, more than 1,200 people died last year from drug overdoses.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The third night of the 2016 Democratic Convention scaled several major peaks: President Obama gave, perhaps, the best-written oration of his career. Vice President Joe Biden gave, perhaps, his last national convention address, and his prospective successor, Tim Kaine, gave his first.

But when it was all over, and Obama was joined on stage by the woman who wants to succeed him, you could feel the love welling up from the delegates and you could sense the doubt hanging over them — an invisible cloud casting a psychological shadow.

Yes, the crowd had been wowed by Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren and the "Comeback Kid" himself, Bill Clinton.

But would Hillary Clinton herself be able to seal the deal on the last night?

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