This week, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is expected to issue the date for a special session on redistricting. He met last week with legislative leaders to plan for the session, amid growing pressure to finish the task.
The state supreme court ruled the General Assembly’s first attempt at redrawing political boundaries unconstitutional. Two lawsuits have been filed seeking to speed up the process, and one calls for redistricting to be done by federal judges, but Governor Beshear says that’s not the way to go.
“You know, the courts are sort of divorced from the political setting and the legislature needs to take care of its own business and take care of its own districts and so, they’re gonna step up and do that," Beshear says.
The goal is for lawmakers to have a tentative agreement before they return to Frankfort to avoid a lengthy special session, which would cost taxpayers about $60,000 a day. It takes at least five days for a bill to work through Kentucky's legislative process, which means taxpayers would foot at least a $300,000 bill.
Federal subsidies to tobacco farmers in Kentucky and elsewhere will continue next year, even though a majority of U.S. Senators believe they should not. The Senate voted Thursday 52-44 to cut off the payments, but the measure required 60 votes for passage.
California Senator. Diane Feinstein led the effort to end taxpayer subsidies, suggesting that tobacco farmers, particularly in Kentucky, have done quite well over the past decade.
"A 2012 University of Illinois study found that productivity on Kentucky tobacco farms increased by 44% in the last ten years," asserted Feinstein. "At the same time, tobacco farmers are seeing some of their best pay days since the 2004 buyout began."
Feinstein argued the payments need to stop because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the nation. Other critics claim the payments are too generous.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the measure’s defeat a big victory for tobacco growers. The commonwealth is the nation’s top burley tobacco producer.
As WKU prepares for budget cuts ahead of the next fiscal year, another Kentucky university is making plans ahead of its next budget.
The Eastern Kentucky University board of regents has approved a spending plan that includes a three-percent in-state undergraduate tuition increase and no raises for employees. The three-percent tuition hike is the maximum allowed by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
WKU President Gary Ransdell had asked the CPE for a five-percent undergraduate tuition increase, saying it was needed to help the school move forward without budget cuts.
Dr. Ransdell says WKU will now have to look at cuts that will include personnel reductions. WKU vice-presidents have given Ransdell preliminary plans for cuts in their departments.
The issue will be taken up by the school’s board of regents at their meeting in late June.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky are working on a new kind of project to combat the spread of bedbugs without the use of potentially harmful chemicals.
Entomology professor Mike Potter says the team will attempt to replicate a highly successful remedy used centuries ago in Eastern Europe that involves using kidney bean leaves.
“They found that they could sprinkle bean leaves on the floors of their dwellings and capture bedbugs. The mechanism by which that occurs is through these little plant hairs called trichomes which is a natural defense that plants have to deter attacks by certain types of plant feeding insects," Potter explains.
Scientists at the University of Kentucky and the University of California, Irvine are now developing materials that mimic the trichomes on the bean leaves.
The group’s research findings have been published online in the Journal of the Royal Science interface.
Despite a short legislative session that’s expected to focus on pension reforms, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says lawmakers may consider some key education measures, too.
“I think you’re going to see a number of possible bills coming out following up from the Newtown incident.”
Holliday says lawmakers may also be interested in increasing funding for Kentucky’s Center for School Safety, which saw dramatic cuts to its budget in 2009.
He also expects the General Assembly to take up legislation that would allow the education department to move forward with reforming its teacher evaluation system. The new system would likely measure teacher performance based partly on student test scores, which has been controversial among some in education.
As of the end of November, Kentucky had added 35,000 new jobs in 2012. Companies operating in Kentucky are cautiously hiring more workers as the state comes out of the recession.
Kentucky’s unemployment rate this year dropped below nine percent for the first time in three years. Office of Employment and Training economist Manoj Shanker says many industries, including the manufacturing sector, are hiring employees on temporary contracts.
“They’re not sure how real and how strong the recovery is," explains Shanker. "In the case of Toyota, for example, they sell to our domestic market, but they also sell to South Korea and Canada. So they have to look to see what the market is like out there. Are they going to be hit by what’s happening in east Asia and Europe?”
A state lawmaker would like to see Kentucky's regional universities "fast track" their degree programs to save students money and get them into the labor force more quickly. Republican Senator Jared Carpenter of Berea says students are piling up debt and taking some courses that really aren't necessary.
If the Army’s 101st Airborne Division Commander knows what impact the upcoming “fiscal cliff” will have on the unit, he’s not saying. Major General James McConville leads the 24,000 soldiers in the 101st based at Fort Campbell. McConville says he doesn’t want to find out what the automatic defense cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act will mean for his soldiers.