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.

Rich Girard/Creative Commons

In the wake of President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a special prosecutor is not needed to investigate Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.

Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky — ramped up calls for an independent investigation into Russia’s meddling after Comey’s abrupt removal.

On the Senate Floor, McConnell dismissed the requests.

“Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done,” McConnell said.

Thinkstock

Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner Rodney Ballard has resigned after a little more than a year on the job.

A statement from Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokesman Mike Wynn said Ballard resigned to “pursue a private sector venture.”

“We thank him for his service and will immediately begin our search for a permanent replacement,” Wynn said.

Deputy Commissioner Jim Erwin will oversee operations while the agency searches for a replacement, Wynn said.

J. Tyler Franklin

After days of intermittent rain, the sky cleared up for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby and Always Dreaming won by nearly three lengths on a sloppy track.

It was a second derby win for the horse’s trainer and jockey, but their first together.
Winning Jockey John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby in 2011, riding Animal Kingdom.

After the race, Velazquez said he will always look for his next derby win.

“Obviously you come back to the derby looking for another one,” Velazquez said. “You’re always hungry for it.”

Thinkstock

Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office has appealed a judge’s ruling that wiped decades-old convictions from a Kentuckian’s criminal record, arguing they aren’t eligible under the state’s new felony expungement law.

The case hinges on whether crimes committed over a series of days are considered to be part of the same “incident” and are thus all eligible for expungement.

The new law allows people to have certain class D felonies cleared if — after completing their sentences — they stay out of trouble for five years and pay a $500 fee.

NPR

Earlier this week President Donald Trump released a blueprint for changes he’d like to make to the country’s tax code. Though specifics are still unclear, under one portion of the new plan, corporations–including Kentucky’s most profitable companies—would get a tax break.

Trump’s proposal would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, reducing tax revenue into federal coffers by an estimated $2 trillion over 10 years, according to the Tax Foundation, a D.C.-based think tank.

Tyler Houlton, director of federal affairs at libertarian-leaning Americans for Prosperity, said the move would spur economic growth.

Vanderbilt University

A Kentuckian nominated by President Donald Trump to a federal appeals court will be questioned during a confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the confirmation of Judge Amul Thapar to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers appeals from federal cases originating in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan.

Thapar serves in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Kentucky and previously as a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District; both appointments were made by President George W. Bush.

Trump included Thapar on a shortlist of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees released during the presidential campaign. He was one of four candidates interviewed for the position.

There are 20 vacancies in the federal appeals courts and 100 more in federal district courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has had a vacancy since 2013, when Judge Boyce Martin retired.

J. Tyler Franklin

Attorney General Andy Beshear still hasn’t returned contributions made to his 2015 campaign by a former top aide who admitted to taking bribes and is now serving time in federal prison.

Beshear announced last year that he would donate the funds to political watchdog group Common Cause once a routine audit of his campaign account is complete.

The Kentucky Registry for Election Finance confirmed Monday that the audit is still not complete.

Tim Longmeyer was Beshear’s deputy attorney general and last year admitted taking more than $212,000 from a consulting firm in exchange for awarding state contracts to the firm.

Wikimedia Commons

Construction of a statewide broadband internet network in Kentucky has begun, but the project has been delayed and doesn’t have an estimated launch date.

When the initiative was announced in 2015 — during the last year of Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration — officials promised portions in eastern Kentucky would be completed by April 2016.

Phillip Brown is the new executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority, the agency that oversees the project. On Tuesday, he said it still wasn’t clear when the project would launch.

J. Tyler Franklin

Jim Carroll started working for Kentucky’s state parks system in 1978 making $780 a month.

“So I knew the pay wasn’t good but I knew that it was a place where you could advance over time,” Carroll said. “It was stable, and retirement was part of that.”

Carroll later worked in the tourism cabinet and retired in 2009. Since then, he’s organized a group of concerned state pensioners called Kentucky Government Retirees.

Carroll draws a monthly pension from the retirement system for most of Kentucky’s state workers, Kentucky Retirement Systems. Depending how you measure it, KRS has one of the lowest funding levels in the nation.

YouTube

Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville has announced he will run for re-election in 2018. Yarmuth is the lone Democrat among Kentucky’s U.S. representatives and senators and has held his seat since 2007.

In a statement, Yarmuth said that he was invigorated by those speaking out against President Donald Trump.

“The current Administration has shown dangerous incompetence in pursuit of a reckless ideology, and the Congressional majority has, by and large, been complicit,” Yarmuth said. “Impassioned individuals of all stripes, here in Louisville and in communities nationwide, have been a true inspiration, speaking out at a volume we haven’t heard in generations.”

J. Tyler Franklin

On the last day of the legislative session, Gov. Matt Bevin walked up to the state Senate and thanked lawmakers for their work — which was for the most part, in lock-step with his agenda.

“This has been a transformative session,” Bevin said. “Kentucky is better for it. We’ve put seeds in the ground that are going to germinate over time. And as we get older and our kids and grandkids grow up, we’ll be able to look back on the 2017 session and be amazed at the things you’ve set in motion.”

Lawmakers transformed the legal landscape of Kentucky during this year’s General Assembly.

Wikimedia Commons

A new poll shows growing support for a statewide ban on smoking in most public places, despite Kentucky having the highest rate of smokers in the nation.

The latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll shows 71 percent of Kentuckians support a comprehensive statewide-smoke free law compared to 66 percent over the last two years.

Ben Chandler, president and CEO of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, says such a law would help reduce second-hand smoke and discourage young people from becoming smokers.

“When people don’t see smoking as much, they’re not likely to do it and where we have to stop the smoking is with young people,” Chandler says. “Those are the people who are the most influenced by these things.”

Ryland Barton, WKU Public Radio

The FBI is conducting an antitrust investigation into contractors working on road and construction projects with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

First reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader, the cabinet recently issued a notice for all contractors who work with the state to preserve contract data as a result of the investigation.

Cabinet employees are also required to preserve all data relating to state contracts dating back to 2010 — which means the scope of the investigation will include contracts made under Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration, as well as former Gov. Steve Beshear’s, who left office in 2015.

Ashley Lopez

The last abortion provider in Kentucky will be allowed to stay open while it sues the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services for threatening to revoke its license. 

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers temporarily halted the shutdown of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, ordering the state to allow the clinic to continue operating.  Stivers wrote that the plaintiffs have a “strong likelihood of success” in their suit against the state.

EMW was scheduled to be shut down Monday after the state agency claimed the clinic’s agreements with a local hospital and ambulance service were deficient.  The plaintiffs argue that the clinic’s agreements are in order and that they should have been given a hearing about the revocation of its license.

They also say that the state’s actions were in retaliation to EMW’s challenge to Kentucky's new ultrasound abortion requirement, which is also pending in federal court.

LRC Public Information

The 2017 Kentucky legislative session concluded Thursday night and a bevy of bills now awaits Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature or veto. One surprise; a bill that would have limited the attorney general’s powers did not pass.

Despite a flurry of activity on a bill limiting the attorney general’s powers this week, House Speaker Jeff Hoover said his chamber just didn’t have time to take it up,“We made the decision that to get into a lengthy debate on that because of the situation between the governor and the attorney general, that we just didn’t have time to do it if we were going to do these other bills. And that’s the decision that we made,” he said.

The legislation would have given the governor sole authority to file amicus curiae—or “friend of the court”—briefs where the state weighs in on lawsuits that it’s not involved in.

Republicans have criticized Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear for filing briefs they don’t agree with. They also don’t like that Beshear has repeatedly challenged Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in court.

Pages