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.

Two weeks ago, the Comer-McDaniel campaign saw nothing but fair skies as the candidates flew to four Kentucky cities in one day, rolling out the final planks of their “Plan For All Kentuckians.”

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, was still riding on the good news that his campaign had out-fundraised his opponents in the race for governor last quarter—more than $1 million dollars, three times what the three other Republicans raised combined.

At a stop at a charter flight company in Paducah, Comer addressed a small, packed room of supporters, and took a moment to recognize the attacks that had begun to cloud his campaign.

“I’m getting hit by a Republican because they said we’re a Frankfort insider,” Comer said after the press conference.

“We’re not running TV commercials blasting everybody in Frankfort right now, which is what the wealthiest of my four opponents is doing.”

Abbey Oldham

Matt Bevin has done laps around Kentucky in a messy black suburban, searching for his big political break.

The search started last year with an unsuccessful  bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. It started anew this year with a campaign to be the party’s gubernatorial nominee.

“This is the campaign-mobile in all its splendor,” Bevin said during an interview in his SUV crammed with the candidate’s belongings.

“I’ve got suits for later tonight and stuff I’ve got signs and all kinds of things. This is where it’s at. This thing’s got 186,000-plus miles on it and a lot of lovin’—this is the family truckster.”

After all those miles, Bevin is hoping that big break finally come as the presumed Republican front-runners—former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—duke it out in a nasty political fight.

Alix Mattingly, WFPL

Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer tag-teamed attacks against former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner on Wednesday during a debate of Republican gubernatorial candidates.

The debate hosted, by the radio program Kentucky Sports Radio, came less than two weeks before the May 19 primary and days after The Courier-Journal published an accusation of domestic abuse against Comer.

The candidates accused Heiner of surrounding himself with operatives who levy attacks against his opponents while Heiner himself avoids personal responsibility.

“Hal Heiner has surrounded himself with the surliest and sorriest group of people who have smeared and assassinated other people in this race, and he can sit here and tell people that he has said nothing but positive things,” Bevin said during the debate.

The debate proved to be the most heated exchange between the candidates so far. This was in part because moderator Matt Jones—known best for his adamant support of Kentucky Wildcats athletics—pressed candidates on issues surrounding allegations that Comer abused his college girlfriend.

Twitter

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer on Tuesday flatly denied published allegations that he abused a woman he dated in the early 1990s.

The Courier-Journal article, published Monday evening, included excerpts from a four-page letter written by a woman who alleged that Comer mentally and physically abused her while they were in a relationship at Western Kentucky University. The woman also alleged that Comer took her to a Louisville abortion clinic in 1991.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Comer, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, called the accusations “bizarre and untrue” and said he was considering filing a lawsuit against people “shopping the story,” and the newspaper.

“That the Courier-Journal is publishing this garbage is a reflection on them, not me. They should be ashamed of this Rolling Stone-style journalism,” Comer said.

Comer also questioned the timing of the story, which was published just after a debate of lieutenant governor candidates on KET and the night before a press conference in which Comer touted the success of Kentucky’s hemp industry.

A record number of Kentuckians are registered to vote just ahead of the primary election on May 19, the secretary of state’s office announced Monday.

Despite this, voter turnout in this year’s primary is still expected to be low, with estimates ranging from 15 percent down to the single digits.

Kentucky has 3,175,905 voters registered, up from 3,147,157 in the November general election last year—the state’s previous record for voters registered.

“I am excited to see that more and more Kentuckians are registering to vote, and I hope these newly registered voters will exercise their right and responsibility to vote in the primary election,” said Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who presides over elections in the state.

A little over 2.9 million people are registered as Republicans or Democrats, meaning they can vote in this month’s primary—which will decide which candidates end up on the November ballot for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and other statewide offices.

The unemployment rates in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties declined from March 2014 to March 2015, but only a few actually saw an increase in employment over the past few years.

Only 28 Kentucky counties have more people employed in March 2015 than in March 2007, according to a recent analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Job growth has been concentrated in parts of Kentucky with industries that have enjoyed recoveries in the wake of the recession—namely, healthcare, education and the auto industry, said Jason Bailey, the executive director of KCEP.

“We have a very uneven recovery, a recovery where wealthy parts of the state, places that have more infrastructure, more connections to industries that are growing and recovering are seeing job growth,” Bailey said.

Scott County, near Lexington, saw the largest growth with a 16 percent increase in the number of people employed.

Kentucky LRC

Groups trying to influence lawmakers at the Kentucky General Assembly spent 11% more this year than they did two years ago—which was the last time the legislature met for a 30 day session.

This year, companies spent nearly $7 million in lobbying and advertising, up from $6.2 million in 2013.
According to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, much of that increase came from a new requirement that lobbyists report spending on advertising.

The top spender for the entire session was Anheuser-Busch, which spent $380,000 on lobbying against a bill that sought to prevent out-of-state brewers from owning distributors in-state. That law ultimately passed.
Their opponents in the beer battle, a craft-beer lobby group called Kentuckians for Entrepreneurs and Growth, was also a top spender, dropping over $130,000 on lobbying and advertising.

Of the 138 members of the Kentucky General Assembly, 107 have signed a brief in support of Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage, which is part of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court today.

The amici curiae, or “friends of the court,” brief is signed by 76 of 100 members of the Democrat-led House and 31 out of 38 members of the Republican-led Senate.

The legislators argue that states have the right to define marriage as being between one man and one woman and that heterosexual married couples are optimal for raising children.

“Raising of children by same-sex couples, who by definition cannot be the two sole biological parents of a child and cannot provide children with a parental authority figure of each gender, presents an alternative structure for child rearing that has not yet proved itself beyond reasonable scientific dispute,” the lawmakers argue in the brief.

The brief is signed by 37 out of 65 Democrats in the legislature—a reminder that Kentucky Democrats often skew socially conservative, even in the Statehouse.

University of Kentucky political science professor Donald Gross said the brief could help Democrats who fear the political perception of being “anti-family values.”

“If you’re a pro-choice, pro-gay rights Democrat, that can be a very significant issue in the general election,” Gross said.

As more Kentucky cities look into putting body cameras on police officers, many questions still remain about how to run the programs.

Corbin is the latest city to start a pilot program for police body cameras. At least 11 other cities have already implemented some sort of program. And police departments are still trying to figure out a few things: when the officer should turn the camera on, how to store footage, and who has access to it.

That last part is of particular concern to those who end up in the videos, says Kate Miller with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, “The idea of that sort of footage being collected and stored particularly if it’s stored indefinitely is concerning to the ACLU and of course you know a video doesn’t tell the full story necessarily,” Miller said.

Lexington has had a pilot program in place since before the beginning of this year and Mayor Jim Gray has proposed $600,000 in next year’s budget for body cameras.

Louisville is expected to start a pilot program this summer.

Kentucky’s Republican elected officials in Washington are asking Republican candidates for governor to unite behind whoever’s elected in the primary next month.

The GOP nominee will likely face off against Attorney General Jack Conway, who doesn’t have serious competition in the Democratic primary.

In a letter signed by Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul as well as four Republican members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation, the candidates were asked to show up to an event in Lexington a week and a half after the May 19th primary.

Louisville businessmen Hal Heiner and Matt Bevin as well as Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott are all seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

The candidates are working to set themselves apart from one another ahead of the primary election, which historically has low voter turnout.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says if he’s elected governor he’d essentially offer Kentucky students a $20,000 degree to University of Kentucky and University of Louisville if they can graduate in four years and then stay in the state.

Comer, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, on Thursday unveiled the education plank of his campaign.

Under his plan, students would be able to have the full amount of their tuition reimbursed through credits on their Kentucky tax returns if they stay in-state to work.

It currently costs over $44,000 to go to UK for four years and over $41,000 at U of L.

He said he’ll also push for an outcomes-based funding model that rewards Kentucky colleges for producing employable students.

He also wants to give employers who hire graduates of the Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges a $2,000 tax credit per student.

To fund that initiative, he’d cut KCTCS administrative staffing budget by 10 percent to save $13 million a year, he said.

At a governor’s debate in Versailles on Wednesday, Comer said that putting more money in the K-12 education system isn’t going to ensure Kentuckians have a better education because of government inefficiency.

“The education dollars in Kentucky especially with respect to K-12 isn’t making it to the front lines, it’s getting eaten up by bureaucracy and administrative costs,” Comer said.

Last year the General Assembly passed a budget that increased K-12 funding by $189 million over two years.

Last year, critics argued that Kentucky students could not meet college and career readiness standards because of a lack of funding.

Kentucky LRC

A Franklin Circuit Court judge on Wednesday granted a motion filed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and The Courier-Journal to intervene in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Legislative Research Commission.

The media organizations want access to depositions of former Legislative Research Commission director Bobby Sherman and state Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat.

Judge Thomas Wingate is still considering Overly and Sherman’s requests to have their depositions sealed.

On Wednesday, Wingate signed an order denying requests by Overly and Sherman to have their depositions sealed, but the court soon after update that order and rescinded that decision. “It was brought to Court’s attention that there had been a mistake,” Wingate’s office said in an email.

Wingate will decide later whether to seal part or all of Sherman and Overly’s depositions.

Overly, who is running for lieutenant governor on a slate with Attorney General Jack Conway, is scheduled to be deposed by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Thomas Clay. Clay said that he deposed Sherman for five hours last Wednesday.

Kentucky has hundreds or possibly thousands of untested rape kits sitting in local law enforcement offices, according to State Auditor Adam Edelen.

Edelen on Wednesday announced he is auditing police and prosecutorial agencies to find out precisely how many kits haven’t been tested. His office also aims to find the cause for the backlog.

The backlog means DNA samples aren’t getting added to a national DNA database, potentially delaying or denying justice in some instances.

“We’re going to come up with a stone-cold count of the number of unprocessed rape kits in Kentucky and we’re going to reach out to other policy makers to make sure that what we have here is a system that works for victims and punishes the perpetrator,” Edelen said in a press conference on Wednesday.

A rape kit includes samples from hair, clothing, and cheek and vaginal swabs.

Kentucky only has about 40 estates that would benefit this year from repealing the federal estate tax, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

U.S. House Republicans are pushing to repeal the tax, which taxes assets left by the deceased at a rate of 40 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing the tax would reduce revenues by about $269 billion over the next decade.

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy director Jason Bailey said repealing the tax would hurt Kentuckians because of the state’s dependence on federal assistance.

“Kentucky’s economy, our communities, our quality of life really depend on federal resources coming back to us, and when those federal resources are cut because of tax cuts, particularly misguided tax cuts that benefit the super-rich as the estate tax does, that harms the state,” Bailey said.

Estates that are less than $5.43 million for a single person and $10.9 million for married couples are exempted from the tax.

An Eastern Kentucky nurse is suing the state for not allowing her to take addiction medicine like Suboxone or Vivitrol while she’s out of jail on bond.

The terms set by Floyd County District Court, where Stephanie Watson’s court case is still pending, prevent her from using medically-assisted drug treatment.

Most courts in Kentucky don’t allow those who are on probation, in jail or out on bond to use drugs that treat addiction because some, like Suboxone, are addictive.

Stephanie Watson was arrested for breaking into a Prestonsburg biohazard waste container to retrieve remnants from disposed drug vials.

Watson’s lawyer, Ned Pillersdorf, has filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky. He says that judges who refuse to allow addicts to use Suboxone and Methadone are part of a system that violates the Americans With Disabilities act.

“They don’t need to have judges or drug courts looking over their shoulder and saying we will approve or won’t approve that particular prescription,” Pillsersdorf said. “Our position is that opiate addicts should have the right to receive lawful prescriptions from doctors who are able to prescribe without interference from the court system.”

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