2014 General Assembly

Health
4:19 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Kentucky Senate Committee OKs Bill Allowing Research on Cannabis Oil

Rita Wooten holds up her smartphone and plays a video: her three-year-old son, Eli, clad in a diaper, writhes on a couch, his limbs twitching, his lips a pale shade of blue.

Eli has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, or LGS, a rare neurological disorder that causes chronic seizures.Wooton says her son has suffered thousands of them, causing extensive brain damage.

Wooton testified before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee Wednesday in support of a measure filed by Sen. Julie Denton that would permit state universities to research and ultimately prescribe the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound derived from the cannabis plant that is believed to successfully treat certain neurological disorders.

“Our neurologist told us two weeks ago..she said ‘Rita, try this CBD oil and see if it’ll help’. I said we can’t because it’s not legal in our state. I said we’re looking at going to Colorado. We shouldn’t have to leave our homes and our families and our jobs to seek treatment for him.”

The bill passed the committee by a 9-1 vote.

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Health
7:53 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Stumbo: Many Lawmakers Still Uncertain About Statewide Smoking Ban

Several Kentucky cities and towns have enacted local smoking bans. Supporters are hoping the Kentucky legislature will pass a statewide ban.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says that mustering legislative support for a bill that would ban smoking in private businesses and public areas is “an uphill battle.”

Stumbo says that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, has only a handful of Republican  votes and about 30 Democratic votes.

He says despite his support, some lawmakers are apprehensive about the ban.

“The people in Prestonsburg already have it, for example. If I vote for it, the people out in the county, who might object to it, didn’t get that same local option treatment that the city people, that the folks in the city did. And we’re running into a lot of that.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear confirmed that he is working to persuade lawmakers individually to drum up support for the bill, which has languished in the House for nearly three weeks without a vote.

Over 30 localities across the state currently prohibit smoking in public areas and in some private businesses.

Regional
11:59 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Calls in Schools Zones, Work Zones Would Be Illegal Under Bill Passed by Committee

The Kentucky House Transportation committee has approved a bill that would outlaw handheld cell phone calls in work zones while workers are present and school zones when lights are flashing. The bill, sponsored by Lebanon Democrat Rep. Terry Mills, would not apply to those making calls with a hands-free device under an amendment added Tuesday.

Also, House Bill 33 increases fines for those texting while driving. The penalty for a first offense would increase from $25 to $50, with each subsequent offense carrying a $100 fine, up from $50. The bill now advances to the full Kentucky House.

Regional
5:15 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Arnold Ethics Trial Delayed, Pending Medical Diagnosis

Former State Rep. John Arnold
Credit Jonathan Meador

A state ethics trial involving former Rep. John Arnold has been delayed again.

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission ordered that the sexual harassment trial against Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, be postponed.

Arnold’s lawyer, Bowling Green attorney Steve Downey, says that he is still awaiting diagnoses from several doctors on whether Arnold, who may have suffered a series of minor strokes, is mentally competent to stand trial.

“His mental and cognitive status is very pertinent to the charges against him. Despite his doctors’ best efforts, a definitive diagnosis has not been reached,” said Downey.  “Without this proof, this matter is not ready for a hearing, and John’s health is so poor that it is doubtful he will participate in that hearing.”

Arnold was accused of sexual assault and harassment last August by female employees of the state Legislative Research Commission.

He has denied the charges.

Thomas Clay, the Louisville attorney representing Arnold’s accusers, calls the continuance a delay tactic, and says  the women are cynical about the state’s ability to investigate the matter.

The ethics commission is expected to announce a new hearing date in the next few days.

Regional
2:11 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Stumbo Says He Won't Appear at Arnold Ethics Hearing, Despite Subpoena

Credit Kentucky LRC

House Speaker Greg Stumbo is invoking the state constitution as his reason for not appearing at next week’s legislative ethics hearing looking into sexual harassment allegations against former State Representative John Arnold.

Stumbo received a subpoena from Arnold’s lawyer, but says the constitution exempts him from appearing while the General Assembly is in session. Stumbo also tells the Lexington Herald-Leader that he has no knowledge of the complaints against Arnold, other than what he’s read in the news media. 

Arnold, who resigned last September, continues to deny allegations that he sexually harassed female LRC staffers.

Expanded Gambling
1:20 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Stumbo: Expect Bill Creating Instant Racing Taxes During 2014 Session

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo (left) during the 2014 General Assembly
Credit Kentucky LRC

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says lawmakers are drafting legislation that would tax Instant Racing games.

His comments Friday come one day after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the state Racing Commission has the authority to regulate the games.

But the court ruled that the pari-mutuel tax cannot be applied to the games.

Stumbo says the lack of legislative action on the issue could allow racetracks that offer the slot-like games to keep all the profits.

The Supreme Court returned the case to a lower court for more arguments on whether Instant Racing qualifies as a horse race or is illegal gambling.

Instant Racing games allow people to bet on the outcome of an old horse race without knowing which contest they are betting on.

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Politics
9:21 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Bill Legalizing Concealed Weapons in Bars Heading to Kentucky House

Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union, presents a concealed carry bill in the Kentucky Senate.
Credit Kentucky LRC

Legislation that would allow those with permits to carry concealed weapons into bars and restaurants is on its way to the Kentucky House. The Senate passed the measure Thursday by a 30-4 vote.  

Northern Kentucky Senator John Schickel believes Senate Bill 60 is all about the right to defend oneself. Speaking on the Senate floor, Schickel said crime rates and gun-related accidents have fallen since concealed carry laws were established. 

Schickel says there is a place for gun possession in a bar.

“Now some have said that’s crazy, how could you, how could you Mr. President, how could you mix guns and alcohol, that’s very irresponsible," said Schickel. "Well, Mr. President, actually the opposite is true, the opposite is true. This law strictly forbids anyone to consume alcohol while they have a concealed carry weapon.”

Schickel says bar owners can still opt to not allow concealed weapons in their establishments. 

One of the four "no" votes came from Lexington Senator Reggie Thomas, who argued policing the law will be very difficult. He says gun owners could feel “entitled” and “one thing could lead to another,” ending in violence.

Politics
4:59 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Sen. Paul Backs Measure Restoring Voting Rights for Some Felons in Kentucky

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Updated: 5:26 p.m.

The bill cleared the full Senate late Wednesday by a 34-4 vote. It now goes back to the House for reconciliation.  The House bill did not include a five-year waiting period, while the Senate version did.

Original Post

U.S. Senator Rand Paul has thrown his support behind a state bill that would restore the voting rights of some felons.

Paul spoke before the Kentucky Senate State and Local Government Committee Wednesday. He reminded the panel of the Republican Party’s history of support for civil rights. And he noted the higher incarceration rates of African-Americans in Kentucky, where a fifth of black adults cannot vote due to a felony record.

“There was a time in our society where there were intentional incarcerations based on race," the Bowling Green Republican said. "I don’t think it’s intentional, but there … has become a racial outcome on who’s incarcerated in our country, and I think that’s something that has to be addressed here. Because not only is the incarceration, I think, unfair, then they get out and the voting rights are impaired.”

A bill restoring voting rights for certain felons then cleared the committee by a unanimous vote. But it was amended to include mandatory five-year waiting period and an exemption for those with multiple offenses.

Energy
3:13 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Rep. Yonts Meets With TVA Officials, Will Continue Inquiry Into Board Transparency

State Rep. Brent Yonts (R-Greenville)
Credit Kentucky LRC

A Kentucky state legislator says he’s continuing his inquiry into Tennessee Valley Authority board meeting procedures a month after requesting documents from the company.

State Representative Brent Yonts (D-Greenville) attended a TVA board meeting in November where members voted to shutter some generating units at the Paradise Steam Plant in Muhlenberg County. 

Yonts said he was flabbergasted to see the processes on which the TVA Board conducts its meetings. 

Yonts said the vote to close the units came with no debate or meaningful discussion other than a vote based upon a motion prepared by someone other than the board members.  

In January, Yonts sent a letter to the TVA criticizing the board’s lack of transparency and requested several documents from the company under the Freedom of Information Act including previous board meeting minutes and the data the board based its decisions on.

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Regional
10:27 am
Wed February 19, 2014

House Bill Aims to Restrict Sales of E-Cigarettes to Minors

State Rep. Joni Jenkins is sponsoring the bill that would ban e-cigarette sales to minors
Credit Rep. Joni Jenkins

The House Licensing and Occupations Committee advanced legislation Wednesday that would make it illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.  Under House Bill 309, the devices would fall under the same rules as tobacco products.  The bill is sponsored by Shively Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins and now moves on to the full House for consideration.  

When asked whether e-cigs would be taxed like tobacco products, Jenkins said she would defer to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

E-cigarettes produce vaporized nicotine. NPR reported earlier this week on the popularity of the products for teens.   Potential long term health effects from e-cigarettes are still unknown.

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