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

Flickr/Creative Commons/Dean Shareski

Many schools across Kentucky canceled classes yet again Monday, but in some districts, snow days are no longer what they used to be. 

Barren County is one of 44 school systems using a program that allows students to continue their education at home. 

Director of Instruction Scott Harper says many assignments can be completed online.

"If teaches and students are available for that kind of learning using some platform like Google Classroom, then they design their lessons around that," explained Harper.  "At the same time, they also design lessons for students who may not have access at home."

The program can be used not just during inclement weather, but also in the event of sickness, such as a flu outbreak. 

Completing snow day assignments means students don’t have to make up the days at the end of the school year.

Kevin Willis

A winter storm warning goes into effect Thursday night for much of Kentucky as the state deals with a second round of snowfall this week.  However, this storm system is much stronger. 

Meteorologist Ron Steve with the National Weather Service in Louisville says more than a foot of snow is expected in some places.

"There's going to be a pretty good swath basically paralleling the Western Kentucky and Bluegrass Parkways from Hopkinsville, up through Elizabethtown towards Lexington that could get ten to 14 inches and even some locally higher amounts than that," Steve predicted. 

Bowling Green can expect between five and nine inches of snow.  Four to eight inches is predicted in Somerset.  Owensboro should get between four and six inches of snowfall, and Elizabethtown should prepare for between ten and 14 inches. 

Forecasters say there will be some sleet and freezing rain, as well as ice accumulations of up to a quarter inch. 

Travel is expected to become very dangerous.  In addition to the snowfall, wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour will reduce visibility.

Kentucky Department of Education

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt issued a report Thursday on the state’s educational successes and challenges. In The State of K-12 Public Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky report, he praised the 88% graduation rate and the 66% of students who are graduating college and career ready.

"Six years ago, we were in the 30s, so we've almost doubled.  In doing that, we're finding those kids are doing better in postsecondary," Pruitt told WKU Public Radio.  "Their GPAs are higher, their tendency to come back for a second year is higher."

Commissioner Pruitt said some changes will be made to state education standards based on public comments. Calculus and cursive writing will be added to math and English standards.

Pruitt added that closing the achievement gap remains one of Kentucky’s biggest challenges and he also noted that per-student spending trails the national average.

Update: All Western Kentucky University campuses are closed Wednesday, and are classes have been canceled.

Lindsey Wilson College and Campbellsville University are also closed Wednesday due to the winter weather.  

Original post:

The western half of Kentucky is under a Winter Storm Warning as the first measureable snow of the winter is on its way. 

Forecasters are predicting around five inches in Bowling Green, four inches in the Somerset and Owensboro regions, and two inches in Lexington and Louisville. 

The heaviest amounts will start Wednesday morning and continue into the afternoon.  Hydrologist Mike Callahan with the National Weather Service in Louisville says the snowfall could be tricky for commuters.

"They need to be extremely careful," Callahan told WKU Public Radio.  "A lot of people are misguided thinking that a little bit of snow isn't a problem and sometimes a little bit of snow can be more treacherous than after the snow falls for a while."

Callahan says this will mainly be a snow event, but forecasters are watching another storm system that will occur Thursday night and into Friday that could bring a mixture of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. 

Temperatures this week will be steady with evening lows in the 20s and daytime highs in the low to mid 30s.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Doug Kerr

The Mill Springs Battlefield in Pulaski County could join the National Park Service.

A study is underway on the historic Civil War site to determine if it meets the criteria for becoming a national park.  Project Manager Justin Henderson says the battlefield is attractive to the park service for several reasons.

"I think one of the reasons why Congress authorized the study of Mill Springs was because of the high level of integrity of the landscape," Henderson told WKU Public Radio.  "It's in a relatively rural part of Kentucky, so the landscape has not been heavily developed, so it really speaks to the historic events that happened there."

Henderson says the battle of Mill Springs is considered the Union’s first significant land victory during the Civil War.

Once the study is complete, the National Park Service will make a recommendation to Congress, which will decide on the designation. The NPS is taking public feedback on its website until February 15.

Kentucky’s new agriculture commissioner is making the fight against hunger a top priority. Ryan Quarles says one in six Kentuckians is food insecure.

"It is a surprising statistic, and hunger is often one of the ailments that people sometimes hide," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "It's an embarrassing part of their lives."

A new Kentucky commission focused on hunger will bring together farmers, food banks, churches, and non-profits to confront the issue. 

Kentucky already has a Farms to Food Banks program that allows the state’s residents to make a donation to food banks on their income taxes.  The same program also lets farmers market their produce that would otherwise not be bought by grocery stores due to slight imperfections.

WFPL

Kentucky’s Junior U.S. Senator has attracted some competition, among both Democrats and Republicans, as he tries to hold on to his seat.  

While seeking the Republican nomination for president, Rand Paul is also working to win a second term in the U.S. Senate.  According to the Secretary of State’s Office, five candidates have filed to challenge Paul. 

To win re-election, Paul will have to get through a Republican primary with candidates James Gould and Stephen Slaughter.  Gould is a financial analyst in Lexington and Slaughter is a Louisville engineer. 

On the Democratic side are candidates Jeff Kender, Tom Recktenwald, and Grant Short.  Kender is a manufacturing worker from Phelps, Kentucky.  Recktenwald is a retired union officer at the Naval Ordnance in Louisville.  Short is a pilot and small business owner from Owensboro. 

Candidates have until January 26th to file for office.

Kentucky’s new agriculture commissioner says he will pick up where his predecessor left off when it comes to industrial hemp.  Ryan Quarles was in Bowling Green Friday for the Kentucky Commodity Conference. 

Commissioner Quarles says Kentucky is re-learning a crop that has been lost through three generations.  But pilot projects have shown that hemp can grow well here.  More than 900 acres of the crop were grown in 2015.  Quarles says the state must continue to develop a market for the crop.

"Right now, Kentucky is the best positioned state in the entire country for industrial hemp and it's important that we continue to encourage processors to locate in Kenutcky," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "Right now we have over two dozen."

The crop can be used in a wide range of products from paper to pharmaceuticals. 

The state remains a partner with Kentucky universities to grow and research hemp.  Efforts continue in Washington to legalize full-scale hemp production.

Flickr/Creative Commons/UW Health

Kentucky has seen an uptick in the number of pertussis cases, or whooping cough.  State health officials reported 87 cases between August and December of last year with the most cases occurring in Jefferson County and the Northern Kentucky region. 

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria and transmitted through sneezing, coughing, or talking. 

Teresa Casey works in communicable diseases with the Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green.  She told WKU Public Radio that some groups are most at risk than others.

"We're very concerned about children under the age of one, pregnant women, people who have any kind of chronic breathing condition," Casey said.

Those conditions include cystic fibrosis, asthma, and severe heart disease. 

Whooping cough can be especially dangerous in infants, who should start receiving the the vaccine at two months of age.  Adults, especially parents and caregivers, should also be up to date on immunizations.

Lisa Autry

The man charged with killing a young Scottsville girl was back in court Wednesday for arraignment.  Timothy Madden entered a not guilty plea in Allen Circuit Court on charges of kidnapping, murder, rape, and sodomy in the death of seven-year-old Gabbi Doolin. 

The 38-year-old Madden is being held without bond.  Following the hearing, Madden’s attorney Travis Lock explained why he did not ask the judge to set bail for his client.

"In my estimation, it is very unlikey the court would set a reasonable bail that could potentially be met prior to the determination of whether or not the commonwealth is going to seek the death penalty," Lock told WKU Public Radio.

Allen County Commonwealth's Attorney Clint Willis has until March 31 to decide if he will seek capital punishment for Madden.

Doolin’s body was found behind Allen County-Scottsville High School last November.  Her cause of death was determined to be strangulation and drowning.    According to investigators, evidence recovered from the girl’s body matched Madden’s DNA. 

Madden is due back in court July 13 for a pre-trial conference.  Lock said that asking for a change of venue for the trial remains a possibility.

Kentucky State Government

A military veteran and a former educator from Barren County are making a run for the Kentucky General Assembly.

Former teacher, coach, and principal Steve Riley has filed to run for the seat that represents Barren and a portion of Warren County.  Riley spent 31 years in education.  In a news release, he said he wants to continue serving the community in a new capacity. 

The 23rd District seat is currently held by Democrat Johnny Bell who serves as House Majority Whip. 

Also campaigning for the seat is Freddie Joe Wilkerson, a real estate agent and veteran of the Kentucky National Guard.  Wilkerson’s son died from injuries he received in Afghanistan, and he told the Bowling Green Daily News that the four-year bureaucracy of getting his son’s Purple Heart after his death in 2009 led to his decision to seek office. 

Both Wilkerson and Riley are running for the state House seat as Republicans.  According to the Kentucky Secretary of State's office, Representative Bell so far has not filed for re-election.  The filing deadline is January 26.

Flickr/Creative Commons/James Case

President Obama’s executive order on gun control is drawing both praise and criticism from Kentucky’s congressional members. 

Democratic U.S. Representative John Yarmuth supports expanding background checks to gun shows and websites.

"We know background checks will stop some people who should not have guns from getting those guns," Yarmuth told WKU Public Radio.  "More than two million have been stopped in the last decade or so."

Still, Yarmuth said there are too many loopholes in existing gun laws.  He’d like to see added protections such as a ban on assault rifles and longer waiting periods for gun buyers. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doubts the president’s action will have much impact on gun violence.

"I think existing gun control laws that we have in this country, which this administration has by and large done a very poor job of enforcing, would be the best way forward," added McConnell.

During a stop in his home state this week , McConnell said he expects legal challenges to the President’s executive orders. The Louisville Republican says more Americans are wanting to defend themselves rather than having more restrictions on guns.  Congressman Yarmuth counters that the president’s executive orders will have no impact on law-abiding citizens.

Fort Knox

The aging Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox is being replaced with a new medical clinic.  It’s one of several wins for the Hardin County post contained  in the latest defense bill passed by Congress.

During a visit to Fort Knox Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell announced $80 million in federal funding for the project.  The current hospital was built nearly 60 years ago, making it one of the oldest in the Army.  Area residents had been advocating for a new facility for several years, including retired army officer Bob Roush.

"We've grown exponentially in size and number of retirees in the community, and Fort Knox continues to have a good population of active duty soldiers," Roush told WKU Public Radio.

Fort Knox is home to more than 40,000 service members, their families, and army civilians who rely on the hospital for their medical care. 

Other improvements are coming to Fort Knox.  The recently approved National Defense Authorization Act also contains $23 million for school renovations on the post.

Washington’s top Republican is warning against pulling all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky spoke at Fort Knox Tuesday.

Senator McConnell urged President Obama not to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan like he did in Iraq.  After visiting the country twice last year, McConnell said it was the wrong decision for American soldiers to leave Iraq entirely.  He added history shows that keeping a residual force in a country following combat leads to more stability.

"Look at Germany today.  Look at Japan today.  Look at Korea today," remarked McConnell.  "I hope the president won't make the mistake in Afghanistan that he made in Iraq, which was leaving entirely, and we've seen the results of that."

Senator McConnell said coming home will reverse the gains made in Afghanistan over the past 14 years.  He suggested that 10,000 to 15,000 American troops need to stay there to provide more training to the local military and to confront the ongoing threat of what he called “radical Islamic terrorism.” 

Last fall, President Obama announced plans to keep 9,8000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of this year, before dropping the number to 5,500 in late 2016.

Lisa Autry

Tennessee will soon maintain an online registry of convicted animal abusers. 

The effort will start January 1 and will be similar to a sex offender registry where people can check to see if they live near someone who has harmed animals. 

Spokeswoman Amber Mullins with  the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley says the registry also gives shelters more information in the adoption process.

"This registry will be an extra step in making sure the animals we have are going to the best homes possible," Mullins told WKU Public Radio.

Mullins says the registry may help communities on a larger scale since there is often a link between animal abuse and human violence.

Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill this year that created the animal abuse registry, the first of its kind in the country.  First-time offenders will remain on the list for two years, while the names of multiple offenders will stay on the registry for five years.

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