John Null

John Null, a native of Benton, KY, is a senior at Murray State University and newswriting intern at WKMS. He is majoring in journalism and minoring in film studies. John's goal is to become a magazine columnist, film critic or screenwriter. Neither a borrower nor a lender-be, John enjoys deductive reasoning, not owning animals and regaling friends with his Tracy Ross impression.

U.S. Congress

Kentucky's 1st District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield has announced he is not running for re-election in 2016.

The announcement comes during Whitfield's 11th term representing the 35 counties of Kentucky's 1st Congressional district.

Whitfield's district director Michael Pape tells WKMS News in Murray he will be seeking the Republican nomination to fill the seat. 

Pape, 47, has been with the administration "since day 1" when Whitfield took office in 1994.  

Pape says a recent ethic investigation regarding the Congressman did not factor into his decision to not run again. 

Whitfield's office released the following statement regarding his decision not to run again:

Flickr/Creative Commons/John Karwoski

A western Kentucky coal miner was killed early Wednesday morning at the Sebree Mine in Webster County.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet says 29-year-old Rickey Thorpe of Dawson Springs was repairing a continuous miner head when it fell, crushing him. The Alliance Coal mine has been closed while Kentucky Division of Mine Safety investigates.

This is the second mine-related fatality in the Commonwealth this year. The other occurred in May at a Pike County surface mine.

Ky Commission on Human Rights

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights’ governing board wants to see a change to a section of the state constitution that allows slavery as criminal punishment.

Section 25 of the Kentucky Constitution's Bill of Rights reads, “Slavery and involuntary servitude in this State are forbidden, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The text was ratified in August 1891.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday urging Kentuckians to get rid of the provision and issued a statement saying its removal would be another step toward expunging “all vestiges of the cruel and immoral institution of slavery" following this summer's racially-motivated church killings in Charleston, S.C.

Commission executive director John J. Johnson says he was recently surprised to learn of the provision’s presence in the state constitution.

“Someone called it to my attention a few months ago and I almost thought surely slavery is not still referenced in the Kentucky constitution and we looked it up and, sure enough, it was,” Johnson said.

“Why not remove it? There’s no need for it to be suggested that slavery is even legal as a punishment for a crime," Johnson said.

In a state where President Barack Obama’s policies are deeply unpopular among the electorate, Democrats have leapt for the center and some believe they might have overshot it.

A Pre-Fancy Farm Bluegrass Poll shows a tight race for Kentucky Governor with Democrat Jack Conway leading Republican Matt Bevin by just 3 points. Democrats also lead in four out of the five down-ticket races. But all of them are close.

As part of its efforts to get Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill, the U-S Department of Transportation has released an “infrastructure snapshot” that paints a grim portrait of Kentucky’s roads and bridges.

According to the fact sheet, more than 31% of Kentucky’s 14,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient or obsolete. The snapshot also highlights a report that says driving on roads in need of repair costs Kentucky drivers $543 million a year in vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe says Kentucky is not unique in its problem of having more infrastructure needs than money to pay for them.

“The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is daily in the position of having to manage its money and be keenly aware of its priorities - and priorities can change," adds Wolfe.

The federal Highway Trust Fund expires at the end of this month. The U-S Department of Transportation is championing its GROW America Act – a six-year, $478 billion spending plan.

The Army has announced the details of its plan to cut 40,000 troops over the next two years and it calls for Fort Campbell’s personnel to be reduced by 363 soldiers.

That number is far less than some potential scenarios. One called for as many as 16,000 soldiers to be cut from the base on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble says he’d rather the base not lose any of its 26,000 soldiers, but says he’s happy with the decision.

“We’re thankful that it was not any worse," adds Tribble.  "Honestly, I think it shows the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, the people making these decisions understand what a great thing we have at Fort Campbell.”

A larger reduction could have been a major blow to the community in the wake of the Pentagon’s decision last year to deactivate the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade – a move that lowered the base’s active population by 24,000 soldiers.

A decision on possible troop reductions at Fort Campbell has been pushed to the end of this month.

Katie Lopez at the Christian County Chamber of Commerce confirms that the chamber expected the decision to come down this week, but received word from the Army that it would be postponed until at least the middle of July.

One possibility mulled by the Department of Defense calls for 16,000 personnel cuts - about half of Fort Campbell’s current payroll. The expected cuts are a result of military budget constraints.

David Boyd, Sockeye Fire Information (Via Alaska Public Media)

Kentucky Division of Forestry firefighters are heading to Alaska to battle a number of wildfires.

The 16 full-time and 5 part-time firefighters will be joined by personnel from several federal agencies - including Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area - forming two 20-person crews.

Division of Forestry public information officer Jennifer Turner says the assignment is for 14 days. She says it was Kentucky’s turn on a rotation of southern states that answer calls for aid from the U.S. Forest Service.

“Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky are up for the rotation to be called in if they need help and they called in yesterday and we’re sending help,” Turner said.

Kentucky’s firefighters are often called to aid other states this time of year. Turner says the commonwealth’s peak fire seasons are February 15-April 30 and October 1-December 15.

“So because of that, our firefighters are down in the summer time and that gives them the opportunity to be able to help out west when it’s their high fire season," Turner said.

Ft. Campbell

Local leaders around Fort Campbell are waiting for a decision by the end of this month regarding possible troop reductions at the base on the Kentucky/Tennessee border.

The Army is looking at cutting around 40,000 troops in total due to military budget constraints. One scenario called for as many 16,000 personnel cuts at Fort Campbell.

Katie Lopez is the director of military and governmental affairs at the Christian County Chamber of Commerce. She says she isn’t sure if recent efforts to fight the potential reduction through lobbying and community outreach will be successful.

“We do know that after our listening session in January, we did get a lot of great feedback from the Department of the Army,” Lopez said. “They were very impressed with our turnout and with our responses. So, I’m confident in saying that we made a really great impression on them.”

Lopez says she isn’t expecting the possible reductions to be on the high end of projections. She says an increase is even on the table when the decision comes down from the Department of Defense.

Lance Dennee/WKMS

The results are in from a biennial survey that asks Kentucky teachers about the state of teaching and learning in the commonwealth.

A record 89.3 percent of certified educators responded to the voluntary Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Survey, administered by the New Teacher Center.

Overall, the survey shows teachers are more positive than two years ago, with 87.9 percent of teachers calling their school a good place to work and learn. That’s compared to 85.2 percent in 2013.

Some of the topics included in the survey are time, school leadership, teacher leadership, facilities and resources, professional development, community engagement and student conduct.

“Time” was the least positive category in the survey, though it, too, showed improvement over 2013’s survey. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they feel there's enough instructional time to meet the needs of all students. That's up from 68.6 percent in 2013.