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. 

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Agriculture
7:54 pm
Wed May 14, 2014

Kentucky Hemp Fight Lands in Federal Court

Kentucky is suing for the release of hemp seeds imported from Italy.

The Kentucky Agriculture Department is taking three federal agencies to court.  Commissioner James Comer filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Louisville Wednesday seeking the release of 250 pounds of hemp seeds.

Defendants in the suit include the U.S. Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The seeds have been held up in Louisville for more than a week.  The DEA claims the state needs a special permit, which might months to receive.  Agriculture experts say the seeds need to be in the ground by June 1 for a normal growing season.

"Commissioner Comer is tired of playing around with this, and we've expended a great deal of time and energy on these projects and we're going to move forward with them," says Comer's Chief of Staff Holly VonLuerhte.

VonLuerht says a permit is unnecessary. She points to the federal farm bill, which allows Kentucky to plant the seeds for research.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to force Customs officials to release the Italian hemp seeds for planting in Kentucky this spring.

Agriculture
4:58 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Kentucky's Hemp Saga Appears Headed for Court

Kentucky is on the verge of legally growing hemp for the first time in decades.

Updated at 4:55 p.m: 

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture will not have to go to court to win the release of 250 pounds of hemp seeds.  The seeds, imported from Italy, are being held by U.S. Customs officials in Louisville. Staff at the Agriculture Department spent much of Tuesday wrangling over the phone with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.  The DEA was holding the hemp seeds, despite language in the Farm Bill allowing Kentucky to import the seeds for research projects.  By the end of the day, the DEA agreed to release the seeds by the end of the week. 

Original post:

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is giving a federal agency until the end of the day on Tuesday  release 250 pounds of hemps seeds or else be taken to court. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration is holding the seeds, which have been imported for research projects with some Kentucky universities.  The seeds, shipped from Italy, are being held at a UPS warehouse in Louisville. 

The DEA argues the seeds can’t be released without a special permit, regardless of language in the Farm Bill. 

"If you will look at the Farm Bill, it starts off saying 'Not withstanding any other federal law.'  In spite of these other federal laws, Congress intended that we still be allowed to do this," says Holly VonLuerhte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.  "Under DEA's interpretation,  we have the authority to conduct pilot programs but we don't have the authority to get the seeds, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever."

Obtaining a DEA permit could take several months, making it impossible to plant the seeds this year. 

"We've been told by agricultural experts if we don't have this industrial hemp seed in the ground by June 1, then the likelihood is that it won't come up," adds VonLuerhte.

The state is prepared to go to federal court in Louisville Wednesday and ask a judge to force U.S. Customs officials to release the seeds.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has received one shipment of seeds that came from within the U.S.  Those seeds are supposed to be planted for a research project in Rockcastle County on Friday.

Politics
12:28 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Senator Paul Threatens to Block Fed Nominees

U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Credit WKU Public Radio

U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is threatening to delay the approval of three Federal Reserve nominees unless the Senate considers his transparency bill. 

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Paul threatens to block votes on President Barack Obama’s picks for the Federal Reserve Board. 

Paul, considered a 2016 GOP presidential contender, said he wants a vote on his bill giving Congress more power to audit and review Fed actions. 

"My bill calls to eliminate all restrictions placed on Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits of the Federal Reserve," Paul writes.  "The Fed's credit facilities, securities purchases, and quantitative easing activities would also be subject to Congressional oversight."

Similar legislation proposed by the senator’s father, former Congressman Ron Paul, cleared the House with bipartisan support in 2012, but has been stalled in the Senate for more than three years.  Due to changes in Senate rules, Paul’s bid to block the nominees is unlikely to be successful.

Fed officials have said that exposing monetary policy decisions would endanger the central bank's independence from political pressure.

Education
5:00 am
Mon May 12, 2014

WKU's Gatton Academy Looks for New Leader

Florence Schneider Hall at WKU is home to the Gatton Academy for Math and Science.
Credit WKU NPR

The number one public high school in the U.S. will soon have a new leader. 

WKU is close to hiring a director of the Gatton Academy for Math and Science to replace Dr. Tim Gott, who is retiring. 

Newsweek magazine has rated Gatton the number one public high school in the U.S. for two years in a row. 

"We've had a wonderful first seven years and now we're ready to continue what we've been doing and ratchet up opportunities for young people," says Dr. Julia Roberts, executive director of the Center for Gifted Studies at Gatton. 

Roberts says the new director will arrive at an exciting time as the academy grows from 120 to 200 students.  Construction will start next year on an expansion of Schneider Hall, which houses the residential program for Kentucky high school juniors and seniors.

Of Kentucky’s 120 counties, at least one student from 113 of those counties has attended Gatton since it opened. 

The search for a new director is down to three finalists: Christopher Kolar from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, IL, Dr. Lynette Breedlove from the Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston, TX, and Corey Alderdice of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science, and the Arts in Hot Springs, AR.

An hiring announcement is expected in the next two weeks.

Regional
2:10 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

Kentucky Government Leader Applauds Supreme Court Ruling that Prayers at Public Meetings are Legal

In central Kentucky, the head of Boyle County government say this week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling could have some impact on how prayers are said at the start of fiscal court meetings. 

An area resident last year threatened to sue the county if officials didn’t stop the practice.  Following the controversy, county magistrates switched to a moment of silence, but now the fiscal court offers non-sectarian prayers. 

“I hesitate to call it a generic prayer, but it’s a prayer that doesn’t necessarily invoke the Christian religion," says Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney.  "We do not say ‘These things we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.’  We do invoke a higher power.”

McKinney says mentioning God is allowed, but it’s up to the individual doing the invocation.  He does think the Supreme Court decision gives prayer-givers more latitude.

“I think probably what we’ll do is allow everyone to do as their conscience dictates.  We do represent people who are not of the Christian faith, so it seems to me that we have some duty to not offend them, and at the same time we have to recognize that the Christian faith is part of our society," McKinney adds.   "I don’t think we will take a formal stand, but each person will be allowed to pray in their own way.”

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday rejected an argument that prayers at public meetings violate the constitutional separation of church and state. 

The ruling said town officials in Greece, New York didn’t violate the law by choosing prayer-givers who have been overwhelmingly Christian.

Politics
5:00 am
Sun May 4, 2014

Former FBI Analyst Challenging Incumbent in Kentucky Senate Primary

Max Wise
Credit Campbellsville University

More than one hundred legislative races will be on the ballot this year in Kentucky, and for some, contenders must first get through a primary. 

Among those is the 16th state Senate District, featuring incumbent Sara Beth Gregory of Monticello and political newcomer Max Wise of Campbellsville. 

Gregory is an attorney who spent one term in the House before winning a special election to the Senate in 2012.  She tells WKU Public Radio that being in both the majority and minority was beneficial.

"I definitely think it gives you more experience and a better perspective having served in both chambers and having relationships with people in both chambers is a helpful thing," says Gregory.

Looking back on the past session, Gregory says her greatest accomplishment was getting a bill passed that sets up an adult protection registry where prospective employers can see if job applicants have a history of abuse. 

If re-elected, she wants to work toward increasing the state’s investment in education.

"That's something I want to continue to see us doing going forward.  Investing in education will move our state forward by making it a better place to live, but also from a job creation standpoint, because it's critical to have an educated workforce," Gregory remarks.

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Education
4:45 pm
Wed April 30, 2014

Hearing Set for Bowling Green-Warren County Student Transfer Dispute

The Warren County school district and the Bowling Green school system will go before a hearing officer Thursday in hopes of resolving an ongoing dispute. The two sides are at odds over a non-resident student agreement. 

Non-resident students are county students allowed to attend city schools where state funding travels with the students.  The county wants to limit the number of transfers to just siblings of current students. The city wants the 750 non-resident students, as currently permitted, plus more if county student enrollment grows. 

The year-long dispute has included multiple proposals from each side, though no agreement.  Bowling Green Superintendent Joe Tinius says not having a contract is making it hard to plan for next school year.

"More so than our planning, it's the impact on parents of not knowing if their child, those who have applied, will be able to attend Bowling Green schools," says Tinius.

Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton is confident the two sides can reach a deal.

"Even though under current law, there is no obligation on behalf of Warren County Public Schools to enter into an agreement, our board has been steadfast from the very beginning that they wish to do so," explains Clayton.

The hearing, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, is open to the public and takes place at the Warren County Justice Center starting at 8:30 a.m. 

The hearing officer is Lexington attorney Mike Wilson, who will make a recommendation to Kentucky’s education commissioner.

Politics
2:47 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Paul Files Bill to Cut Off U.S. Aid to Palestinians

U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky
Credit Abbey Oldham

U.S. Senator Rand Paul on Tuesday introduced the Stand with Israel Act of 2014. The Kentucky Republican’s legislation halts all U.S. aid to the Palestinian government until they agree to a ceasefire and recognize the right of Israel to exist. 

The move comes after Palestine's major political party, Fatah, signed a unity agreement last week with a rival faction, Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel both recognize as a terrorist group. 

In a statement on his website, Senator Paul says the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement brings both danger and opportunity to the peace process.

“Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with an entity that does not believe it should exist and that has used terrorist tactics to seek its end.  That being said, the new unity government has a chance to put itself on the record as clearly believing in the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, as Israel recognizes the right of a Palestinian state to exist,” remarks Paul.  “It should also declare an immediate and lasting ceasefire to enable negotiations.  If that is accomplished swiftly, the peace process can move forward with two willing partners.”

The bill would cut aid after five weeks unless the Palestinians renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. 

The Obama administration has said it is prepared to suspend U.S. aid to the Palestinians, which amounts to $400 million annually.

Regional
2:12 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Storms Across Much of Kentucky Not Expected to Be Severe

Credit NWS

The storms that have pounded much of Kentucky are part of a large system of severe weather that spawned tornadoes in Arkansas and elsewhere. 

However, the system passing through this afternoon and through tonight is expected to be much weaker. 

"There is a possibility that a watch could be issued for very far southern Kentucky later this afternoon," says Meteorologist Tom Reaugh with the National Weather Service in Louisville.

The WKU Public Radio listening area could experience winds around 40 mph, but Reaugh says the main issue will be heavy rainfall.

"Some of those storms can put down some pretty heavy rain pretty quickly and lead to local flash flooding issues, so that's something to watch out for," he adds.

Western Kentucky is under a flood watch this evening.  So far, no other watches or warnings are in effect.

Education
1:35 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Shelter Pets Help Warren County Students Improve Reading, Confidence

Graciella Ventura, originally of El Salvador (left) and Soe Meh, originally from Thailand, read to puppies at the Warren County Humane Society on Tuesday, April 16, 2014
Abbey Oldham

Cathy Roemer-Garrison is always looking out for innovative ways to teach.  She’s an English as a Second Language instructor at Moss Middle School in Warren County. 

"I came across on the Internet something about children reading to shelter animals, and that the research showed it was successful at improving reading fluency and building self-esteem, which is a perfect fit for my ELL kids," explained Roemer-Garrison.

She took the idea to Principal David Nole, who admits he was skeptical at first.

"I thought, 'How's that going to improve what we're doing?'  The more I listened the more I realized she was going about the heart of the reader, and that's just developing the love to read," Nole said.

And so it began.  An initiative called Paw Pals: Literacy with Love.  Every Wednesday, Roemer-Garrison visits the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society with a group of ELL students, or English Language Learners.  Most are from war-torn countries, but at the shelter, those memories are overcome with smiles and laughter.

On this visit, a shelter employee brings out eight-week-old long-haired Chihuahuas.

Seventh graders Graciella Ventura of El Salvador, and Soe Meh and Bway Baw both of Thailand, sit in a circle, each holding a puppy and a book.  Storytime is about to begin.  Ventura has a wide grin as one of the puppies licks her face.

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