2014 General Assembly

Clark: Don't Give up Expanded Gambling Prospects Yet

Feb 27, 2014

A state lawmaker from Louisville says the issue of expanded gaming isn’t dead yet.

Rep. Larry Clark says that he met with representatives from five Kentucky racetracks and the head of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to allay concerns of the thoroughbred industry over a bill he has filed that would expand gaming in the commonwealth.

“We discussed a lot of issue that were on the table, and we resolved a lot of ‘em," the Jefferson County Democrat said. "They’re gonna be back with us Friday on some issues that we think are critical to passing a constitutional amendment and passing gaming but it was very productive today, one of the better meetings we’ve had in quite a few years.”

A similar bill filed in the Senate has been met with reluctance by Republican leadership in that chamber.

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.

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.

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.

Arnold Ethics Trial Delayed, Pending Medical Diagnosis

Feb 24, 2014
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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