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.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers passed a two-year state budget and a surprise overhaul of the state’s tax code this week.

It was the first time Republicans were solely in charge of writing the budget and thousands of teachers showed up to protest changes to the pension benefits that passed out of the legislature last week.

Plus, a sexual harassment complaint was dismissed against three Republican lawmakers, but will proceed for former House Speaker Jeff Hoover.


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Businesses that have invested in Kentucky’s delayed statewide broadband network are concerned that the budget passed by legislators earlier this week doesn’t provide enough certainty that the state will hold up its end of the public-private partnership.

Under the budget, which is currently being considered by Gov. Matt Bevin, KentuckyWired would be funded as a “necessary government expense,” meaning Bevin would have the choice to fund the project using money from the state’s rainy day fund or in the event of a budget surplus.

LRC Public Information

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission voted to dismiss ethics charges brought against three Republican state representatives, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the men broke ethics rules by secretly signing a sexual harassment settlement with a former staffer.

But the commission did not dismiss a complaint filed against former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who also signed the settlement.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature has passed a new two-year state budget that cuts much of state government in order to put more money into the state’s ailing pension systems.

But lawmakers also approved about $680 million in new revenue by expanding the sales tax to 17 services ranging from auto repair to country club memberships and raising the tax on cigarettes.

Ryland Barton

Thousands of teachers have packed into the State Capitol building in Frankfort to protest the Republican-led legislature’s passage of a bill overhauling the state’s pension systems last week and other policies.

The pension changes would no longer give conventional pensions to future teachers, instead providing them with cash-balance retirement plans that depend on the stock market but are guaranteed to not lose money.

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Update: The Kentucky Senate has approved a $480 million tax increase by voting to expand the state sales tax to a variety of services.

The Senate voted 20-18 to send the bill to the House of Representatives, which also plans to vote on the measure Monday.

Senate Democrats objected because they said they were shut out of the process and did not have time to read the bill. Republicans said the bill had to pass Monday to preserve their right to overturn any vetoes from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

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.

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