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.

Kentucky LRC

This is the last full week of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session—and just one major piece of legislation has passed both the House and Senate.

Some in Frankfort have high hopes that a few bills will become law in the session’s waning days, including a bill meant to address Kentucky’s growing heroin problem and a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to fund local projects with a temporary sales tax.

At the end of day 21 of a likely 28 day session, here’s where some of the big bills stood:


The House and Senate have each passed their own bills that seek to combat Kentucky’s growing heroin problem. Both proposals set aside money for addiction treatment, increase penalties for traffickers and make an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone more available.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky is one step closer to providing victims of dating violence with the same protections that married victims have.

A Senate committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow people to file an interpersonal protective order against an abusive dating partner. The bill has passed the House and now heads to the full Senate.

Kentucky is the only state that doesn’t offer civil protection to victims of dating violence. Currently only couples who are married, share a child or cohabitate can file protective orders against their partners.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat, said the bill can solve problems quickly without entering the criminal justice system.

“More than half of those who enter this system, the violence stops with a civil protected order,” Tilley said. “In other words, criminal sanctions aren’t necessary. Sometimes the victim doesn’t want to go through the criminal justice process.”

Major telephone companies could scale back land line service to residents in Kentucky's 15 largest markets in the state under a bill that passed the state Senate on Monday. At least two dozen other states have already deregulated their landline telephone services, the beginning of the end for the more than 100 year old technology that's being pushed out by cell phones and high-speed internet access.

The Senate vote Monday was 30-3. The so-called AT&T deregulation bill had previously won House approval. Gov. Steve Beshear has said he would sign it into law.

Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky House unanimously passed two bills to combat sex trafficking and child pornography in the state.

One bill would prevent those charged with having sex with a child prostitute from claiming they thought the child was over 18. Democratic Representative Sannie Overly says the bill goes along with legislation working its way through the U.S. Congress that amends federal trafficking statutes in the same way.

“It is essentially ‘buyer beware’ and you don’t get to claim later that you didn’t know how old the victim was," Overly said.

The other bill would increase funding for a task force which investigates crimes against children on the internet.

If either bill succeeds, this would be the third year that Kentucky has passed a human trafficking law.

Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spent the most cash lobbying in the General Assembly in the month of January.

According to the Legislative Ethics Commission groups spent nearly $1.8 million that month.

The Kentucky Chamber dropped more than $30,000 trying to influence legislators on matters like public-private-partnerships, the local-option sales tax and charter schools.

Another notable big-spender in January was the tobacco company Altria, which also spent the most on lobbying the legislature last year at $323,000.

The Kentucky Hospital Association helped cap the top three spots. That group has been lobbying for the implementation of medical review panels and the smoking ban.

A record-high 677 businesses and organizations are currently registered to lobby the Kentucky General Assembly.

Kentucky’s Judicial Nominating Commission has nominated three candidates to replace former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott.

Will T. Scott resigned in January to enter the Republican race for governor. He has represented the 7th Supreme Court District, which covers much Eastern Kentucky since 2004.

The candidates are all Eastern Kentucky attorneys: David Allen Barber from Prestonsburg, Roger Donald Riggs from Mount Sterling and Janet Stumbo from Van Lear.

Barber is an advisor for House Speaker Greg Stumbo and a former Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge. Riggs was a judge in the Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims, which deals with worker’s compensation claims in the state. Janet Stumbo has been a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge for the last seven years. She held the 7th District seat from 1993 to 2004, until she was defeated by Will T. Scott.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has 60 days to appoint one of the nominees to the seat.

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.

Flickr/Creative Commons

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.

Flickr/Creative Commons

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.