Lisa Autry

Reporter/Producer

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum.  She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years.  Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville.  She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky.  Many of her stories have been heard on NPR. 

Ways to Connect

johnwaynesmith.org

The embattled former director of a school for at-risk youth remains in the race for the Kentucky House of Representatives. 

John Wayne Smith of Warren County was convicted in federal court last month.  Smith is a Democrat from Smiths Grove who is challenging Brownsville Republican incumbent Michael Meredith.

Smith was found guilty of failing to report allegations that two teenage girls had been sexually abused by another staff member at the Bluegrass Challenge Academy where he served as the director.  The Fort Knox-based academy is a quasi-military school for students at-risk of not finishing high school. 

Smith will be sentenced May 19 and faces up to a year in prison and fines.  In an email to WKU Public Radio Wednesday, Smith said at this time, he remains in the contest.  House Republican leaders have called on him to exit the race before his sentencing.

LRC Public Information

The Kentucky House is expected to vote on its version of the state budget as early as Tuesday. 

In the six years Representative Michael Meredith has been in Frankfort, a budget has been passed by a Democratic governor and House.  The Brownsville Republican says this budget process is interesting to watch.

"This year will be really different because you have a Republican governor sending a budget to the House.  the House is going to have a totally different budget, I think, and send that to the Republican Senate that will do something totally different than the what the Democratic House did," Meredith told WKU Public Radio.  "I think the reconciliation through the conference committee process is going to be really interesting to see how that all works."

The House budget restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Matt Bevin.  He wants to reallocate $650 million in government spending to address the state's pension obligations.

Lisa Autry

An Allen County could be sentenced to death if convicted in the death of a young girl last fall. 

Timothy Madden is charged with kidnapping, murder, rape, and sodomy in the death of seven-year-old Gabbi Doolin. 

Allen County Commonwealth’s Attorney Clint Willis says he consulted with the girl’s family before reaching his decision to seek the death penalty. 

Madden’s defense attorney Travis Lock says he wasn’t caught off guard by the prosecutor’s decision.

"This was not a decision that was unanticipated by the defense.  We have known since day one the commonwealth would likely seek capital punishment," Lock told WKU Public Radio.  "What penalty the commonwealth elects to seek has little if any bearing on how the underlying case is defended.  What penalty the commonwealth elects to seek does not change the facts of the underlying allegations or the underlying charges in this indictment."

Doolin’s body was found in a creek behind Allen County-Scottsville High School after being reported missing during a youth football game last November.  Madden was arrested a week later.  Investigators say evidence recovered from the girl’s body matched Madden’s DNA.  The 38-year-old Madden maintains his innocence.

Kentucky State Police are investigating how two inmates from the Warren County Jail walked away from a work detail this week. 

Twenty-five-year-old Bates Cole was captured the same day, while 23-year-old Anthony Embry was taken into custody after a two-day search. 

Warren County Jailer Jackie Strode told WKU Public Radio that all inmates who work outside are considered low-risk offenders.

"Nobody can be on it that has assaultive-type charges. Nobody can be on it that has sexual-type charges. It has to be lower felonies such as child support, forgery, maybe DUI-4th, that kind of thing."

The inmates eligible for work release are serving a five-year sentence or less.  Cole was in jail for violating parole. Embry was also serving time for a parole violation, as well as charges of Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Giving an Officer False Name or Address.

Asked how Embry was considered low-risk, Jailer Strode said the Kentucky Department of Corrections determines what classification level inmates are assigned.

Kentucky Secretary of State's Office

Kentucky’s Secretary of State says lawmakers have a way to increase voter participation statewide. 

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes spoke in Frankfort Monday in support of early voting legislation. 

Under a bill proposed by Secretary Grimes, Kentucky voters could cast early in-person ballots without an excuse.  Currently, voters must have a qualifying reason to vote early.  Grimes points to the success of no-excuse early voting in other states. 

"Tennessee has early voting without a qualifying excuse, and in their presidential primary they held just six days ago, they saw a record number of Tennesseans coming out to participate early in the election," Grimes told WKU Public Radio. 

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett testified alongside Grimes to a House committee.  Hargett said his state also saw more people voting early during the 2012 presidential election than on election day.

The head of the Kentucky Republican Party is calling Saturday’s presidential caucus a “real success," but turnout was only slightly higher at the caucus compared to the last GOP presidential primary. 

Eighteen percent of registered Republicans voted in the presidential caucus, compared to 16 percent in the 2012 primary.   While there were fears the caucus could go un-noticed, Kentucky GOP Executive Director Mike Biagi said he’s proud of the turnout. 

"A hundred counties saw an increase in the number of voters who participated in the caucus compared to the 2012 presidential primary," Biagi told WKU Public Radio.  "In fact, 42 counties increased their participation over 100 percent since 2012."

Biagi says the higher turnout reflects the growth in the state GOP. 

More than 229,000 of the state’s 1.2 million registered Republicans took part in the caucus that made Donald Trump Kentucky’s GOP presidential nominee. 

While many counties reported long lines at their caucus sites, Biagi said the biggest challenge was the number of Democrats and Independents who showed up to vote and were turned away.

Whether or not Kentucky holds another caucus in the 2020 race will be up to party leaders.

As presidential nominating contests play out around the country, Kentucky Republicans will have their say Saturday.   More than 1.2 million Kentuckians are eligible to vote for the state’s GOP presidential nominee. 

In neighboring Tennessee this week, voters from both parties set an all-combined turnout record.  Turnout projections have been lower in Kentucky where GOP voters will caucus for the first time in more than three decades. 

Ben Mohon will be volunteering at the caucus site in Warren County.  He says he thinks success of the caucus will be measured by more than turnout.

"If people get more involved with the local political scene, or politics in general, and if people come out saying 'I cast my vote for the candidate that's going to do right by me, I think that's a success," Mohon told WKU Public Radio.

Just over 16 percent of Republican voters cast ballots in Kentucky’s 2012 presidential primary. Turnout this year will help determine whether the state holds caucuses in the future.

Statewide voting will take place between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. local time Saturday. Caucus locations and more information is available at the state Republican Party’s website.

More than 1.2 million registered Republicans in Kentucky have the chance to take part in the state’s Republican presidential caucus on Saturday.  At stake are Kentucky’s 46 delegates to the national convention. 

Some are predicting only a fraction will turn out to cast their ballots.

"I’m telling you, across the state I’ve talked to any number of Republicans who don’t even know there is a caucus," said Scott Hofstra of Elizabethtown.

Hofstra chairs the Central Kentucky Tea Party and is the volunteer chairman for the Ted Cruz campaign in Kentucky.  He says the voters who are going to the caucus are excited, but a little apprehensive.

"Even if they’re aware of it, they’ve not been very well-informed about what the caucus is all about and how it’s going to work," Hofstra added.  "The state just has not done a good job of getting the word out.”

The Kentucky Republican Party set up a website and telephone hotline for voters to get more information ahead of Saturday.  State GOP Chairman Mike Biagi says he feels good about the public’s awareness of the caucus.

Flickr/Creative Commons

A survey shows Donald Trump with a big lead among Kentucky Republicans ahead of the March 5 presidential caucus.

The poll was conducted by the Western Kentucky University Social Science Research Center, and shows Trump with 35 percent support.  Marco Rubio was second with 22 percent, followed by Ted Cruz at 15 percent .  John Kasich and Ben Carson are further behind. 

WKU Political Science Professor Joel Turner says Trump maintains a double-digit lead, despite having a lower favorability rating among Kentuckians.

"I think what that signifies to a lot of people is that it's not so much about Trump, like who he is, but what he represents.  He has tapped into that anger and frustration that people have toward government," Turner told WKU Public Radio.  "Our surveyed showed that some 90 percent either feel angry or frustrated at government as opposed to five percent who are relatively happy.  Trump symbolizes that for a lot of people."

Creative Commons

The Bowling Green City Commission will vote Tuesday on the hiring of ten police officers.  This will be the first round of hiring since the federal government launched an investigation into the hiring practices of the city police department.

Among the new hires are four African-Americans and one Hispanic.  The city has been working to recruit and hire more minorities since a Department of Justice investigation last summer found the city should have more black officers based on its population. 

While some changes have been made to recruit more minority candidates, Human Resources Director Mike Grubbs says the city is still hiring the overall best candidates.

"The police department looks at character for hiring.   They can train someone to be a police officer," Grubbs told WKU Public Radio.  "Candidates have to meet certain minimum requirements, which all of our candidates did, but they have to have good character and good background, and the department has not wavered on that."

The president of Western Kentucky University warned of layoffs and program eliminations in testimony before state lawmakers Thursday in Frankfort. 

Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed budget would cut higher education funding by 4.5 percent for the remainder of this year, and nine percent for the next two years.  Dr. Gary Ransdell says that’s hard for him to explain to campus faculty and staff.

"It's one thing for the past eight years when we were getting our budgets cut.  We were in a recession and the state had declining revenues," Ransdell told WKU Public Radio.  "State revenues are up significantly this year and the consensus forecast for the next biennium is a significant increase in state revenues, and we're still cutting higher education."

The state’s public colleges and universities have lost more than $173 million since 2008.  President Ransdell says it’s frustrating that nationally, most states are re-investing in higher education while Kentucky is “re-trenching further.”

Governor Bevin says the cuts to state agencies are needed to help fully fund Kentucky’s public pension systems.

Lisa Autry

This is the second of a two-part series on proposed changes to Kentucky Medicaid and how Governor Matt Bevin wants to model the program after a similar one in Indiana.  You can see Part 1 here.

When the federal Affordable Care Act was rolled out, Indiana was faced with the same dilemma as other states: give health coverage to more of the uninsured by expanding Medicaid, while taking on hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. 

Indiana Governor Mike Pence persuaded the federal government to approve an alternative for his state. Just over a year ago, the state implemented the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.  Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to launch a similar program as he looks to revamp his state's Medicaid system. 

In the year since Indiana implemented the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP, more than 370,000 Hoosiers have enrolled in the program.  Among them is Mary Buchanan, who is self-employed.  A shoulder injury no longer allows her to work full-time.  By working less, the 63-year-old from Rockport couldn’t afford the private insurance she used to carry.  She picked up the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP, about a year ago.

"One less thing for me to worry about 24\7, said Buchanon, who met WKU Public Radio at the Spencer County Library.  "What if something happens to me?  Am I going to have to file bankruptcy?  One trip to the hospital can wipe you out.”

Under HIP 2.0, Buchanan pays just under $14 a month in premiums and has no co-pays or deductibles for her medical care.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Brandy Shaul

This is the first in a two-part series on Medicaid, Kentucky's expansion of the government-subsidized program, and proposed changes to Medicaid.

As Governor Matt Bevin prepares to re-design Kentucky’s Medicaid program, a new national survey shows the commonwealth with the second-largest gains in insurance coverage. 

More than half-a-million Kentuckians obtained coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.  Some 80 percent of the newly insured went onto the Medicaid rolls. 

But many Medicaid enrollees are worried about what lies ahead under the state’s new Republican governor.  Teresa Bowley was at a recent health insurance sign-up event in Bowling Green to ask a question about changing providers.  Six months ago, she qualified for coverage through Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion. 

Now when she gets sick, she goes to the doctor. But that hasn’t always been the case. 

”You just don’t. You just try to think this will go away on its own.  You have to miss work," Bowley explained.

Kentucky Republicans have until Friday to request an absentee ballot for the March 5 presidential caucus. 

Ballot applications must be requested by February 19 and can be found on the state GOP website.  Absentee ballots must be returned to the Kentucky Republican Party headquarters by March 4.  Since this is the first caucus in Kentucky in more than three decades, Warren County Caucus Chairman David Graham says turnout is a concern.

"I think statewide we had only around 30 percent in our gubernatorial election, and sad to say, we'd be tickled to have 30 percent turnout at the caucus, but that's why we're getting out the word the best we can to make sure everyone's aware of it," Graham told WKU Public Radio.

Eleven GOP presidential candidates qualified for the Kentucky caucus, though several have already dropped out of the race, including Senator Rand Paul.  Their names will still appear on the pre-printed ballots.

The last time that Kentucky held a presidential caucus was in 1984 when both the Republican and Democratic parties participated.  This year, Kentucky Democrats will pick their presidential nominee in the regular May primary.

KCTCS

Kentucky’s improving economy is driving steep declines in community college enrollment, but the head of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System says those schools are not losing their relevance.  In an interview with WKU Public Radio, Dr. Jay Box said community colleges remain key in building a stronger workforce which translates into a stronger middle class.

Box:  We are the primary provider of workforce education and training in all states and we realize the jobs that our graduates get are those middle class jobs, the jobs that are so important in our economy.

Autry:  You were recently appointed to a national community college board called Reclaiming America’s Middle Class.  One of its missions is to promote community colleges and the role they play in serving students, whether right out of high school or adult learners who perhaps are coming from jobs into the classroom.  Talk about some of the priorities of this national board.

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