An attempt at mediation between state lawmakers and a Louisville mental health nonprofit over its bankruptcy has yielded little progress. Earlier this month, member of Seven Counties Services and a handful of state lawmakers met to discuss what, if any, deal could be reached over the nonprofit’s bankruptcy filing.
Under state law, Seven Counties is required to pay a larger share into its employees’ pensions than other types of pensions. The rising costs of those contributions, it claims, forced it into bankruptcy, and a federal judge ruled that it would not have to pay for its unfunded pension liabilities, estimated at about $90 million.
Greenville State Rep. Brent Yonts is part of an ad-hoc group of lawmakers trying to reach a deal Seven Counties.
“They at that moment in time did not come to the table with anything to offer,” said Yonts. “And I explained my viewpoint that in order to resolve this issue in the context of the bankruptcy, there had to be something that was negotiable other than saying ‘we can’t do anything.’”
Lawmakers are eager to reach a deal, however, because if the appeal rules in Seven Counties’ favor just like the lower court’s decision, it could set a precedent for similar quasi-governmental agencies, potentially leaving the state holding a $2.4 billion debt in unpaid liabilities should those agencies also jump the sinking ship.
Plans have been scrapped for a proposed natural gas power plant in western Kentucky.
Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric announced plans last year to construct a $700 million facility in Muhlenberg County.
The utilities announced this week the project was canceled because nine municipalities have chosen to terminate their contracts with the utility companies.
State Representative Brent Yonts of Greenville is disappointed by the loss of construction jobs.
"It would have brought people into the county to live, to work, and maybe even settle here at some point in time," said Yonts. "It will have a substantial negative impact on the county because we will not be getting the benefit of that work."
A new natural gas plant would have made up for the loss of an old coal-fired power plant in Muhlenberg County that’s slated to close next spring.
KU and LG&E still plan to build a solar-generating plant, but Yonts believes it would have less economic impact.
The first weekend in August in western Kentucky means only one thing: Fancy Farm. The small town suddenly transforms into the epicenter of the Kentucky political universe.
And to keep a tradition going for 134 years, it takes some pretty committed volunteers.
“Each family in the church has a responsibility and this family has taken care of the hamburgers and hot dogs for decades,” said Will Hayden, who was working the grill Saturday morning.
Hayden and Brad Page of Fancy Farm spoke to us as they were cooling down after a long morning and afternoon tending to a hot grill. Page says they normally start grilling between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning. Fancy Farm has been a part of their lives as long as they can remember.
“Oh, I’m 45, so 42 [Fancy Farms] that I know of,” said Hayden.
Page also says he started volunteering as a child.
“It’s been handed down generation to generation. I’ve got my kids, and his kids,” said Page pointing to Hayden. “Hopefully they’ll get in there and get at it.”
The starvation death of a prisoner at the Kentucky State Penitentiary is now raising questions from at least one state legislator. Greenville State Rep. Brent Yonts says he will hold hearings later this year on the circumstances surrounding the death of 57-year-old James Kenneth Embry in January.
“According to the paper reports, this guy missed 35 of 36 meals – refused to eat or turned them down,” Yonts told WKU Public Radio. “Well, that’s a dead giveaway that there’s a problem there. And particularly when he also had lost – I think the paper said about 30 pounds – or at least lost a good deal of weight.”
The Associated Press broke the story earlier this week about the hunger-strike death. The report says Embry had been dealing with mental health issues for much of last year. The AP reports the prison’s lead doctor has since been fired; a contract nurse was banned from the facility and two medical professionals were placed on leave.
“It’s a concern to me as a legislator serving on the committees that have jurisdiction over corrections. It’s a concern to me as a citizen that we are not taking better care of inmates when we are required by law in the constitution to do so, ” said Yonts.
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.
Greenville Representative Brent Yonts has sent a letter to the President of the Tennessee Valley Authority voicing his dissatisfaction with the transparency of the company’s decisions.
Yonts attended a November meeting of TVA board members to give testimony on the then-proposed closure of two units at the Paradise Steam plant in Muhlenberg County.
Yonts says as the meeting proceeded, it quickly became apparent board members only read from prepared motions and neglected to listen to or debate public comments before voting to close the plant.
“I just want to articulate to them that, as a representative in the Kentucky General Assembly, that I’m not happy with the way they treat such an important issue in Kentucky sort of in an isolated vacuum where they’re not sensitive to what the public thinks or the impact on the public which in this case will cause 2,700 jobs unless they’re absorbed into the regional economy," the Greenville Democrat said.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has also questioned the transparency of the TVA board meeting and sent his own letter last month.
Yonts says he’s requested data the board members reviewed as well as minutes from past meetings under the Freedom of Information Act and will decide if further action needs to be taken.
A Kentucky state representative who has co-sponsored legislation to limit the use of surveillance drones says the bill provides an exemption for the use of drones by businesses, like the ones that Amazon plans to use for the delivery of products.
Brent Yonts says his support of the bipartisan bill hinges upon an exception for business drones.
“There are a lot of business uses for drones," said the Muhlenberg County Democrat. "For example, at certain heights that are low to the ground, they’re used in agriculture purposes to look for bugs in crops, for drought areas that might need to be irrigated and any number of things that are cheap and quick and efficient.”
Yonts says his bill's intent is to make sure drones are not invading Kentuckians’ privacy. The drones Amazon plans to begin using in four to five years are capable of delivering five pound packages to a location within 10 miles of one of its distribution centers.
Kentucky has a number of these centers that are closer to urban areas like Lexington and Louisville.
The chairman of the State Government Committee in the Kentucky House says he's not sure when Governor Beshear will call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session.
Muhlenberg County Democrat Brent Yonts says the governor informed him at the conclusion of this year's regular session that he wanted lawmakers to figure out a solution to legislative redistricting before January.
"I'm hoping it will not be in July or August when most of us are traveling a lot," Yonts told WKU Public Radio. "If it's going to happen, I hope it's early September or possibly in June. But he hasn't communicated to me exactly when it's going to happen."
Governor Beshear recently said he is considering a special session sometime in the fall. Kentucky's legislative boundaries have to be redrawn to reflect the most recent U.S. Census data.
Earlier this year the House passed new maps that were rejected by the Senate. Now the state is facing two lawsuits alleging lawmakers have been negligent in not getting new boundaries drawn.
Democratic state Representative Brent Yonts of Greenville could be in line to become the next chairman of the House State Government Committee, a key post with the legislature working to find a way to restore solvency to the pension program for government retirees in Kentucky.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he intends to nominate Yonts for the position and that he considers Yonts a front runner.
Lawmakers have been trying to find a way to erase a $33 billion unfunded liability in the pension system. A legislative task force that spent months studying the issue recommended pumping in more money without saying where that money would come from.