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.

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Kentucky’s state auditor has released a report detailing problems with last year’s rollout of Benefind, the new online portal for state benefits like health care, food stamps and cash assistance.

Both the administrations of Gov. Matt Bevin, who took office nearly three months before the rollout, and that of former Gov. Steve Beshear, which spearheaded the development of the new system, had identified problems with Benefind before its introduction.

But Michael Goins, communications director for Republican Auditor Mike Harmon, placed the blame for Benefind’s problems squarely on Beshear.

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Gov. Matt Bevin has thrown his support behind a far-reaching criminal justice bill intended to keep those charged with crimes from reoffending after they’re released from prison.

“A job is one of the best ways for a person to not fall back into recidivism, a chance for them to be able to rebuild their lives” Bevin said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The bill is the product of a 23-member panel appointed by Bevin over the summer to recommend a “smarter, compassionate, evidence-based approach to criminal justice in Kentucky.”

Supporters said the legislation’s most significant component would allow those with felony records to seek professional licenses where they used to be automatically banned.

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A bill that would give hate crime protections to police officers and emergency responders has passed the Kentucky House of Representatives.

The vote on the so-called “blue lives matter” bill Monday evening sparked a lengthy debate and drew protesters to the House gallery. At one point activists shouted down the proceedings and marched out, escorted by state police.

Chanelle Helm, with Louisville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, called the legislation a racist act of white Republican representatives in the legislature.

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A sweeping criminal justice bill has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly. It aims to provide workforce training for state prisoners, fight drug addiction and increase penalties for some crimes.

The bill would also ease restrictions on state licensure boards and hiring authorities that bar people with criminal records from getting a license or a job.

But provisions in a draft version of the legislation that called for eliminating the money bail requirement and easing certain felony thresholds did not make the final cut.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville and the bill’s sponsor, said the measure will improve public safety.

Jacob Ryan

Gov. Matt Bevin delivered his second State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night. It marked the first time in state history a Republican governor of Kentucky addressed a joint session of a Republican-led legislature.

“It’s good to be here in Speaker Hoover’s House,” Bevin said at the beginning of his speech, referring to House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who now presides over the chamber after Republicans secured a majority of seats in the chamber for the first time since 1921.

Bevin touted recent legislation quickly passed last month by the Republican-dominated legislature, including a pair of anti-abortion bills, ‘right-to-work’ legislation and the repeal of higher wages for workers on state construction projects.

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U.S. Representative Thomas Massie, whose district includes Northern and Northeastern Kentucky, has introduced a one-sentence resolution to abolish the Department of Education.

“The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018,” is the extent of Massie’s bill.

The proposal came the same day as the confirmation of President Trump’s outsider pick for secretary of the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, a charter school and voucher advocate with little experience dealing with traditional public schools.

In an emailed statement about the bill, Massie said that “neither Congress nor the President should have constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn.”

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State lawmakers return to Frankfort Tuesday after a break in this year’s General Assembly. With nearly two months left, the legislature is likely to consider major changes to the public education and criminal justice systems, giving the governor more power to reorganize university boards and altering the way medical malpractice lawsuits progress through the courts.

The newly Republican-controlled legislature approved a flurry of conservative legislation last month, including two anti-abortion bills, so-called right-to-work union regulations and a repeal of the elevated minimum wage on public construction projects.

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Kentucky lawmakers will consider an extensive criminal justice reform bill next week designed to save the state money by keeping people out of jail.

The bill is the product of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, which was created last year and includes 23 state officials, lawmakers and policy advocates from around the state.

Although the legislation hasn’t been finalized, a late draft of the omnibus proposal had several major changes to the state’s criminal code, including a provision for “no money bail,” which would allow low-income Kentuckians charged with some crimes to be released from jail before trial even if they can’t afford to pay bail.

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Gov. Matt Bevin has signed an executive order that would remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications to work in the state executive branch.

The state would still conduct criminal background checks on applicants. Bevin encouraged private employers to do the same thing, saying the state would “lead by example.”

“Let Kentucky become an example to the nation for all the right reasons,” Bevin said. “I am challenging you as a private employer in Kentucky, join me in leading by example. Let us do what we can to restore opportunity, level the playing field and create new chances for people who have made mistakes, paid their dues and want to mainstream back into society.”

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When Kentucky lawmakers return to Frankfort next week, they’re expected to take up charter school legislation.

Republican leaders are confident that some form of charter school enabling legislation will pass this session. But now, the debate has shifted to whether to permit the schools across the state or just in Lexington and Louisville.

A Divided Majority?

Kentucky is one of only seven states in the nation without charter schools, and most people predict that will change this year. But earlier this week at a meeting of Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville area’s chamber of commerce, House Speaker Jeff Hoover tapped the brakes slightly on a statewide charter school bill.

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Kentucky is one of seven states in the U.S. that doesn’t allow charter schools. But the General Assembly is likely to soon approve a bill that would make the organizations a reality in the Bluegrass.

Lawmakers will return next week to consider the measure. So what exactly are charter schools, and are they effective?

Supporters have pushed to open Kentucky up to charter schools for years, but opponents, most notably the state teacher’s union, successfully lobbied to keep the policy from passing enabling legislation into law.

During a legislative hearing last year, Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner gave an impassioned speech in favor of charters, calling out the Kentucky Educators Association for opposing them.

Ryland Barton

Kentuckians awaiting to reunite with loved ones fleeing war torn countries are among those affected by the immigration bans enacted by President Donald Trump over the weekend.

The state’s refugee community is nervous about the future.

Lodrige Mutabazi is a 32-year-old Congolese refugee and works at the Amazon shipping center in Lexington. He moved here a little over a year ago.

“I like this city of ours,” he says. “It’s a small city, but it’s 100 percent clean. And even the community where I stay, they say hi to me, I can talk to them anytime in case of advice or anything else. Actually it’s a good community to me.”

Jacob Ryan, WFPL

Gov. Matt Bevin took to social media Wednesday to levy attacks on a political opponent and the state’s largest newspaper, falsely claiming that Attorney General Andy Beshear had dropped his defense of a controversial new ultrasound abortion law and that the Courier-Journal falsely reported on the issue.

In a court filing last week, Beshear asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that his office had no role in implementing the law. The attorney general’s office is also representing another defendant in the case — Michael Rodman, executive director of the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure — and has moved that the legal challenge be dismissed against him as well.

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Kentuckians were among the hundreds of thousands of people who traveled to Washington D.C. this weekend. Some attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and others were there for the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, protesting Trump’s attitudes toward women and minorities.

As the first weekend of the new administration is in the books, I checked in with a couple Kentuckians who traveled to the events for very different reasons.

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Women from across Kentucky are heading to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Women’s March On Washington, scheduled for Saturday, the day after Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Lauren North, a co-organizer of a group of about 1,000 Kentuckians headed to the march, said she’s attending to present the concerns of women, minorities and the LGBTQ community to the new administration, which she says doesn’t have their best interests in mind.

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