Ryland Barton

State Capitol Bureau Reporter

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. 

Always looking to put a face to big issues, Ryland's reporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. 

Ryland has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Ryland Barton

Teachers from around Kentucky descended on Frankfort Friday morning to protest a surprise pension bill that was rushed through the state legislature the day before.

At least 500 people — most of them teachers — crowded the state Capitol building after about two dozen school districts closed for the day.

Sonya Curren, a high school teacher from Scott County, said she was worried about schools being able attract people who want to spend their career teaching.

Ryland Barton

After weeks of saying that a proposal to fix retirement benefits for state workers was likely dead, on Thursday Republican leaders of the Kentucky legislature quickly passed a bill overhauling the state’s pension systems. The legislation, which does little to address the state’s pension debt, was attached to an unrelated bill dealing with governance of sewage districts.

The legislation, which awaits Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature, would mostly affect future teachers and other state workers, but also tinkers with the benefits of current teachers and public employees hired over the last four years.

LRC Public Information

As this year’s legislative session winds down, Kentucky lawmakers still have to make hard decisions on how the state will spend and make money over the next two years.

Republicans are solely in charge of writing the $22 billion two-year budget for the first time in state history, but leaders of the state House and Senate still disagree on the thorniest spending issues.

Many of the disagreements center on whether the state should try to generate new revenue in order to put more money into public education.

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A bill that would broaden the definition of criminal gangs, give longer prison sentences to those labeled as gang members and increase penalties for gang recruiting is close to becoming law in Kentucky.

Supporters say the measure would discourage gang activity in the state, while opponents argue it would wrongly label some defendants as gang members and disproportionately affect African-American communities.

Ryland Barton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants to revive hemp as a major agricultural product in the U.S. and plans to file a bill to remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

It’s currently illegal to grow hemp without a permit because it’s a member of the same species as cannabis. But, hemp has a negligible amount of the high-inducing compound THC.

McConnell told a room full of hemp promoters in Frankfort on Monday that he thinks the country is ready to legalize the plant.

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State legislative leaders said they’ve made progress after the first day in Kentucky history that Republicans were in control of budget negotiations. But major differences between the state House and Senate versions of the two-year spending plan remain.

The Senate opposes the House’s proposal to raise about $500 million in revenue by increasing the cigarette tax and creating a tax on opioid pain pills.

Meanwhile the House put about a $1 billion more in the teachers’ pension system than the Senate did.

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This week in Kentucky politics, lawmakers retreated behind closed doors to begin hammering out a compromise on the state budget for the next two years; a bill that would shield personal cell phones and computers from records requests drew fire from open government advocates; and a common type of abortion would be banned under a bill that is nearing final passage out of the legislature.

Listen in the player below to this week’s edition of Kentucky Politics Distilled.


J. Tyler Franklin

A bill that would prohibit a common abortion procedure after the 11th week of pregnancy is nearing final passage from the Republican-led state legislature.

House Bill 454 would ban dilation and evacuation abortions after the 11th week of pregnancy except in medical emergencies. The procedure involves dilating the cervix and removing the fetus using surgical tools and suction.

WFPL

Republican leaders of the state Senate have shelved a bill that would shield government officials’ personal computers and cell phones from open records requests, for now.

The amendment to House Bill 302 would change Kentucky’s open records laws to say that phone calls, text messages and emails sent or received on a privately-owned device would not be considered to be public records.

Official business transmitted through a personal email account would also be exempted.

Kentucky LRC

A bill that would overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system continues to roll forward in the state legislature despite opposition from law enforcement and labor groups.

House Bill 2 is a top priority of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and is also supported by the Kentucky Coal Association, who say that businesses have to pay too much for workers’ compensation insurance.

Tyler White is the president of the Kentucky Coal Association.

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Republicans in the state Senate have proposed keeping most of the budget cuts sought by Gov. Matt Bevin, while rejecting House Republicans’ plan to raise about $500 million through taxes on cigarettes and pain pills.

The Senate’s version of the budget restores cuts Bevin had proposed for public school transportation funds, but colleges and universities would still see spending reductions.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, chair of the Senate budget committee, said the higher education cuts would go to fund several individual programs across the state’s college and universities.

Kentucky LRC

Local officials and advocates say that rising pension contributions will cripple city, county and school district budgets if the General Assembly doesn’t pass a bill providing some relief this year.

Senate Bill 66 would place a 12 percent cap on how much those pension costs can increase over the next decade.

But Republican leaders of the legislature say they won’t pass a relief package without making changes to the state’s pension systems, which have an estimated $40 billion unfunded liability.

J. Tyler Franklin

A sweeping bill that would overhaul Kentucky’s foster care and adoption system is nearing final passage in the state legislature.

A key part of House Bill 1 would give the state more options to terminate the parental rights of negligent parents and try to reduce barriers for people who want to adopt.

The legislation would consider babies born with drug addictions to be “abused or neglected,” meaning the state could take steps to terminate parental rights unless the child’s parents take steps to get clean.

Rhonda Miller

This week in Kentucky politics, students marched on the state Capitol to call for lawmakers to come up with solutions to school shootings; during a radio interview, Gov. Matt Bevin lashed out at teachers for protesting a plan that would take some of their retirement benefits away; and the pension bill that teachers have been protesting, well, it’s on life support.

Listen to this week’s edition of Kentucky Politics Distilled in the player below.


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Instead of tackling a comprehensive plan to reshuffle judgeships around Kentucky to alleviate overworked judges, the state legislature is poised to pass a more limited approach.

The changes would reallocate two judgeships from areas that have light caseloads and move them to areas with heavy caseloads.

Chief Justice John Minton said he would prefer more ambitious changes, but the compromise would still help courts with the most critical needs.

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