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.

The Kentucky House has passed a bill that would allow the state to engage in public-private-partnerships, or P3s on major projects.

The bill passed 84-13 without an amendment that would have prohibited using a P3 to finance a toll bridge connecting Covington and Cincinnati.

A similarly amended bill was vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear last year.

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Leslie Combs, said P3s are necessary because the state is running out of money.

A Kentucky Senate committee has begun debating a House-passed bill addressing Kentucky’s heroin abuse problem.

One point of contention between the House and Senate proposal is a provision that would allow local health districts to set up needle exchange program.

Senator Wil Schroder said that would make it harder for law enforcement to identify drug paraphernalia.

But Van Ingram, the Executive Director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, argued that needle exchanges are an important first point of contact between addicts and those who can help them.

“It starts to get a public health connection with someone who has checked out of the public health system," said Ingram.  "And say: ‘Here’s your clean needles, I noticed you’ve got an abscess on your arm, I can help you with that.  If you’re concerned about Hepatitis C, we can get you tested.'"

The House and Senate are also at odds over how to prosecute heroin traffickers.

Kentucky LRC

With support from an unlikely partnership of industry and environmental advocates, a Kentucky House committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—for natural gas.

The fracking process extracts natural gas by drilling deep into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale formations up sometimes over two miles underground.

The House proposal would impose several regulations on the fracking industry, including water quality testing near injection sites, disclosure of the chemicals that are injected underground and a requirement that companies protect or reclaim land around injection sites.

“It’s not only good for the oil and gas industry but it’s good for environmental protection purposes as well,” said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook who sponsored the bill.

Tom FitzGerald, director of environmental group the Kentucky Resources Council, said there are “arguments to be made” that fracking has more negative than positive impacts, But he nonetheless supported the bill, saying it would regulate fracking’s inevitable growth in the state.

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MillerCoors has joined the so-called “beer battle” between Anheuser-Busch and craft brewers in the Kentucky General Assembly.

Craft brewers and local beer distributors support a bill that would forbid out-of-state brewers from owning beer distributors in the state. Breweries that make fewer than 25,000 barrels of beer per year are not allowed to own their own distributors under Kentucky law.

In a letter sent earlier this month to Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the bill, MillerCoors Vice President Timothy Scully threw his support behind the proposal. Scully wrote that the bill would create a level playing field for brewers doing business in Kentucky.

“This fair and equitable proposal ensures that all brewers can continue to enjoy open and fair competition when selling beer through an independent distribution system,” Scully wrote.

All eyes are on Kentucky’s state senators to see if they’ll move on the House’s proposed statewide smoking ban.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has said he doesn’t see support for the bill in the upper chamber.

“If there is, and individuals want to vote on it and can get committee votes and want to get it to the floor it will move in the normal and ordinary course,” Stivers said.

Supporters had initially hoped the bill would be assigned to the Health and Welfare committee, chaired by bill sponsor Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville. However the legislation was assigned to the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, signaling there might be a tough road ahead for the smoking ban.

Kentucky LRC

A Kentucky Senate bill that would require students to use bathrooms designated for their biological sexes failed to pass out of committee on Thursday. Transgender advocates oppose the bill because it would require students to either use the facilities of the sex they were born with, or use a single-person bathroom.

Henry Brousseau, a junior at Louisville Collegiate School, testified before the committee on Thursday. Brousseau, who is transgender, said problems arose with his use of a single-person bathroom.

“It didn’t go well because, for one, it was outing myself every time I had to walk in there because nobody else went in there,” Brousseau said. “People see that I’m not living like everybody else when I have to go to a separate restroom.”

Eventually, the private school allowed him to use the bathroom of his choice.

Jefferson County Public Schools allows schools to set their own restroom policies. Last year, the site-based decision making council at Louisville’s Atherton High School voted to allow students to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify with.

State House Democrats are pushing to make changes to the troubled Legislative Research Commission, as recommended in the draft of an audit of the state agency released last month. The report said staffers took issue with the LRC’s pay structure and hiring practices, which were described as opaque and unfair.

Rep. James Kay, a Democrat from Versailles and a former LRC staffer, filed a bill that would create a personnel policy for the LRC. During a recent committee hearing, Kay said the LRC has no such policy.

“The NCSL draft audit only confirmed what I hear at my House, in these halls, and I know from my own time working here,” Kay said.

The bill would establish a classification and compensation system for staffers and would require job openings to be posted online for 30 days.

Kevin Willis

Several Kentucky legislators on Friday spoke against a provision in the House’s heroin bill that would allow local health districts to start needle exchanges—but the chamber unanimously passed the bill.

“Maybe giving free needles for people to use illicit drugs sends an equally bad impression to our youth,” said Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Republican from Florence, proposed removing the needle exchange provision so it could be vetted by committee.

But the sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said needle exchanges are often the first point of contact between addicts and those who can help them recover.

The needle exchange provision was ultimately included in the bill.

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The Kentucky House on Friday passed a bill that would enact a statewide smoking ban in indoor public places.

The bill was amended on the floor to exempt cigar bars, veteran group posts, and cities that have already enacted smoking bans.

The ban would allow citizens to file complaints against individuals or businesses who violate the ban. Fines for individual violators would be $25 and $50 for businesses.

Several Republicans accused the bill of infringing on individual liberty. Lexington Rep. Stan Lee, the chair of the House Republican caucus, said that his members viewed the issue differently than the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat.

Kentucky LRC

A bill that would give victims of dating violence increased protections passed the House on Thursday evening.

The bill, which has the support of the Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear, passed the House unanimously.

But Rep. Donna Mayfield, a Republican from Winchester, expressed concern about the bill, saying that the present system already protects victims.

“I just fear that this opens the floodgates to some situations that may dilute the purity of this situation, the way that we have it in the courts right now,” Mayfield said.

“I’m afraid that those people who desperately need our protection are going to be put in the same pool as a middle school couple, perhaps, that has had a spat.”

Kentucky LRC

A Kentucky House committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would give felons the right to vote. The House has passed a similar bill every year since 2007, but the bills have died or been significantly changed in the Senate.

Janet Tucker, of the advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said  that keeping felons from voting disproportionately affects minority communities.

“Those communities really aren’t getting their full vote in our democracy still, so it’s an important issue for our democracy as well as individuals and their rights as citizens,” Tucker said.

Felons convicted of murder and sex offenses are excluded in the House bill.

A bill that would allow Kentucky’s local governments to increase the sales tax one percent to fund projects is heading to the full House.

The local option sales tax legislation won committee approval today Tuesday.

Under the proposed legislation, local voters would need to approve the temporary tax increase for each project.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer—an enthusiastic supporter of the local option—said the tax could fund the completion of the Louisville Loop, to build parks, and to increase wireless connectivity.

“People know we have many needs, but it’s up to the citizens to decide if those needs would be funded on a temporary basis.”

Critics argue the sales tax would disproportionately hurt poor Kentuckians.

If the measure passes the both chambers of the General Assembly and is approved by Governor Beshear, it would still have to be approved by Kentucky voters in the November election.

The Kentucky House of Representatives now has its own version of a bill that seeks to combat the state’s heroin epidemic.

There are a few key distinctions between the House proposal revealed Monday and the bill that passed the Kentucky Senate earlier this year, including a provision that would allow local health districts to set up needle exchange programs. Needle exchanges have been a major hang-up for Senate Republicans in the past.

Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said a needle exchange program can be the first point of contact between addicts and people who can help.

“We are at wit’s end in the state, and for the country for that matter, to find things that will actually work, that will actually reduce drug-use that actually will get addicts into treatment, will break the cycle of addiction,” Tilley said.

The so-called “AT&T deregulation” bill is back at the Kentucky General Assembly after failing to make it out of the House last year. It was approved by the Senate.

Among other things, the bill would strip major telephone service providers like AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell of a requirement to offer basic telephone service in markets of more than 15,000 people. The basic plans include local calls, 911 and operator service.

The companies would still be required to offer services in markets of 15,000 people or fewer.

This year the bill has 22 co-sponsors and one of the bill’s biggest opponents is no longer in leadership. Former House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville, had opposed the legislation in past sessions, saying it would hurt rural and poor consumers.

The Herald-Leader reported that AT&T spent $108,846 lobbying for the bill last year.

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A battle over beer is brewing in Frankfort.

Kentucky microbreweries say out-of-state breweries like Anheuser-Busch shouldn’t be able to own beer distributors in the state—something in-state microbreweries aren’t allowed to do.

A House bill filed by Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would close what some call a loophole in Kentucky law, which permits out-of-state breweries to own their own distributorships.

Daniel Harrison, owner of Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, said the bill would make large companies play by the same rules as companies like his.

“If Kentucky breweries can’t own distributorships, or microbreweries, why do we let out-of-state guys?” Harrison said.

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