Political news

Alix Mattingly

A bill that would require life insurance companies to regularly check death records to find out if beneficiaries have died passed the state House on Friday.

A similar bill passed in 2012, but the new version would apply retroactively. It’s an issue that was at the center of a lawsuit between life insurance companies and the state Department of Insurance.

Rep. Chris Harris, a Democrat from Forest Park, says that the bill would help poor Kentuckians.

“Most of the policies that go unclaimed are small policies, burial policies that are sold in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods in areas of our state,” Harris said.

“Many of the times beneficiaries don’t even know that a policy exists.”

Life insurance companies affiliated with Kemper Insurance in St. Louis sued the state, saying that they should only have to search death records for beneficiaries who buy policies in the future.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Local ordinances that protect Kentuckians from sexual orientation-based discrimination by businesses would be rendered irrelevant by bill that passed a Senate committee Thursday.

The bill could have implications for an ongoing lawsuit against a Lexington apparel company that refused on religious grounds to print T-shirts requested by organizers of the city’s gay pride parade.

Stan Cave, an attorney for the conservative Family Foundation, said business owners shouldn’t be forced to grant services if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

“A person who’s exercising their right of conscience shouldn’t have to face bankruptcy because of the punitive measures that are being brought to bear through contempt and jail time and things of that nature,” Cave said.

The bill would protect businesses from being sued or having to pay punitive damages for violating local anti-discrimination, or fairness, ordinances based on sexual orientation. Those laws protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination by businesses and in accommodations.

Lisa Autry

This is the second of a two-part series on proposed changes to Kentucky Medicaid and how Governor Matt Bevin wants to model the program after a similar one in Indiana.  You can see Part 1 here.

When the federal Affordable Care Act was rolled out, Indiana was faced with the same dilemma as other states: give health coverage to more of the uninsured by expanding Medicaid, while taking on hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. 

Indiana Governor Mike Pence persuaded the federal government to approve an alternative for his state. Just over a year ago, the state implemented the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.  Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to launch a similar program as he looks to revamp his state's Medicaid system. 

In the year since Indiana implemented the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP, more than 370,000 Hoosiers have enrolled in the program.  Among them is Mary Buchanan, who is self-employed.  A shoulder injury no longer allows her to work full-time.  By working less, the 63-year-old from Rockport couldn’t afford the private insurance she used to carry.  She picked up the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP, about a year ago.

"One less thing for me to worry about 24\7, said Buchanon, who met WKU Public Radio at the Spencer County Library.  "What if something happens to me?  Am I going to have to file bankruptcy?  One trip to the hospital can wipe you out.”

Under HIP 2.0, Buchanan pays just under $14 a month in premiums and has no co-pays or deductibles for her medical care.

Kentucky's Medicaid Program Faces $611 Million Shortfall

Feb 24, 2016

Kentucky's Medicaid program is facing a $125 million deficit this year and a $611 million deficit over the next two years as it struggles to keep up with a flood of new enrollees and the end of 100 percent federal funding for its expanded eligibility requirements.

Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson told House budget writers on Wednesday she worries about the sustainability of the program that provides health insurance for more than a quarter of Kentucky's population.

Democrats were frustrated Glisson could not tell them how she planned to make up the deficit. Glisson promised to have more details next week. House lawmakers will likely vote on the budget next week.

Glisson said she would not cut benefits, programs or employees.

Kentucky Public Radio

Leaders from the state’s coal-producing regions want counties to receive a greater share of coal severance tax revenue.

Funds from the severance tax are split evenly between the state and counties. They have declined in recent years as a result of Kentucky’s flagging coal industry. Webster County Judge-Executive Jim Townsend said his county’s severance tax revenue has declined from $6 million per year in 2011 to $300,000 last year.

“If something isn’t done, our county’s going to go out of business, it’s just that simple,” Townsend said.

Counties often use their shares of the funds for local projects such as parks, senior centers, rescue squads, and industrial parks.

Miners are extracting less coal from the mountains of Kentucky and companies are selling it for cheap, leading to massive declines in severance tax revenue going to county coffers.

Statewide, coal severance revenue dropped from $20.5 million per month in January 2011 to $8.9 million last month.

Any doubt that Senate Republicans would hold the line behind their leader's decision to block President Obama's Supreme Court nominee has been erased.

"I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everybody in my conference, is that the nomination should be made by the president the people elect in the election that's underway right now," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.

Lisa Autry

The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court says the state is facing a potential “constitutional crisis” if courts undergo budget cuts proposed by Governor Matt Bevin.

Chief Justice John Minton says that the Judicial Branch will be unable to perform necessary functions under the cuts and would have to shut down for three weeks during this fiscal year.

“We just simply couldn’t make payroll between now and June 30th if we have to give back $9.5 million," Minton explained.

Justice Minton is requesting that the judicial branch be totally exempted from the cuts. Bevin’s budget cuts nearly all state spending by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent over the next two years.

Minton says the state’s drug court system could be shut down as a result of the cuts. The program allows those convicted of drug crimes to participate in substance abuse programs instead of serving time.


Gov. Matt Bevin’s top budget aide on Monday said spending cuts are necessary to start improving the status of the state’s ailing pension systems.

Under the governor’s proposed budget, most state agencies will be cut by 4.5 percent for the rest of the current fiscal year and 9 percent over the next two fiscal years.

State Budget Director John Chilton told state legislators that the cuts are better than increasing taxes, borrowing money or ignoring the growing financial liability in the state pension systems.

“Are these severe? Yeah,” he said of the proposed cuts. “But the amount of liability that needs to be paid at some point is huge.”

Combined, the pension systems for state employees and teachers are short about $30 billion in the money the state needs to send out checks to current and future retirees.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer's ex-fiancee has alleged in a lawsuit that he threatened to use his political power against her.

The Georgetown News-Graphic reported that the allegations are part of lawsuits Thayer, a Scott County Republican, and his former fiancee, Tonya Branham, have filed against each other.

After an argument in which police were called to the home Dec. 14, Branham claims that Thayer said he would prevent a police report from being created. Georgetown police told the News-Graphic no report was generated because there was no allegation of physical violence and no crime was committed.

Branham also says Thayer threatened to get the Administrative Office of the Courts to no longer allow her to serve as a Families in Transition counselor and to try to keep her from volunteering with the Court Appointed Special Advocates.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Department of Corrections.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has named Rodney Ballard, Fayette County’s jailer, as its new commissioner.

Ballard will begin his state job on March 14, replacing LaDonna Thompson, who has served as commissioner since 2008, according to three sources who requested anonymity because an official staff announcement was pending.

Ballard on Friday morning referred questions to the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which includes the Department of Corrections. A cabinet spokeswoman declined to immediately confirm Ballard’s appointment. The agency issued a statement Friday afternoon.

Ballard, a former state police officer, has run the Division of Community Corrections in Lexington since March 2012. In that capacity, he oversaw a 1,266-bed jail, the state’s second-largest. Before that, Ballard was the state Department of Corrections’ deputy commissioner for Community Services & Local Facilities.

ThorPorre, via Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would increase restrictions on hydrocodone derivatives and ban three other substances in the commonwealth has cleared the Kentucky Senate.

The bill - Senate Bill 136 - was introduced by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville. It would make hydrocodone a Schedule II controlled substance in Kentucky, instead of Schedule III. Westerfield says his bill also increases penalties for the possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs.

“We don’t know where they’re all coming from, we don’t know what’s in them always and what impact and effect they have on the mind and the body and what kind of impairment they can create," Westerfield said. "We’re continuing to see that problem and I think an enhanced penalty is something we should do.”

The bill would ban two synthetic opioids, known as W-18 and W-15 which Westerfield says are not in wide circulation yet in the commonwealth. It also prohibits the Asian plant kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) which Westerfield says has a low potency but can be addictive.


There will be more court-appointed attorneys available to represent poor people in court under Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget.

In his proposal, Bevin set aside funds to add 44 lawyers to the Department of Public Advocacy’s ranks of 333 public defenders.

Ed Monahan, the state’s chief public defender, said the move would help the agency reduce caseloads for its overworked advocates.

“We’re very fortunate that this governor has recognized that if we had additional capacity, that it would not only deal with the unethical levels of cases we have, but it will be one of the best business investments that can be made when you look at this criminal justice system,” Monahan said during a presentation to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice and the Judiciary on Thursday.

Monahan said the move is a step in the right direction, but the agency will still be subject to other reductions if Bevin’s proposal to cut most state agencies by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent for the next two years is approved by the General Assembly.

Kentucky public defenders represent clients who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. They handled about 153,000 cases in 2015, up from 137,000 in 2006.

LRC Public Information

Democratic State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville has proposed a bill that would require men to have two in-person visits with a doctor before receiving a prescription for erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra.

Men would also be required to swear that they will only use the pills to have sex with their spouse, who must also provide written consent.

Marzian acknowledges that the bill is a tongue-in-cheek response to anti-abortion legislation put forward by conservative lawmakers, but she’s drawn national attention for the move.

Our Capitol reporter Ryland Barton sat down with Marzian for this interview.

LRC Public Information

A statewide anti-discrimination law will likely not be voted on in the Kentucky state legislature this year.

The House Judiciary Committee had a public hearing on the bill Wednesday. It would mandate people could not lose their job or their housing based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The committee did not vote on the bill because Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville said it did not have the votes to pass. Marzian said her bill was likely two or three years away from getting a vote on the floor of the state House of Representatives.

Marzian criticized Republicans and some conservative Democrats as "homophobes" for opposing the bill. Republican state Rep. Stan Lee and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo called her criticisms unfair.


A bill proposed in the state House of Representatives would reduce penalties for some crimes with the goal of saving the state money, according to the legislation’s sponsor.

Rep. Brent Yonts, a Democrat from Greenville, has filed a bill that would create a new crime category called “gross misdemeanor,” which would include flagrant non-support (not paying child support), second degree forgery and second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Yonts said on Tuesday that the bill would help reduce the incarcerated rate in Kentucky, which has risen over the last decade despite a drop in criminal court cases.

“If we don’t do anything to solve that problem, nothing is going to change,” Yonts said. “More taxpayer money will be required to make the budget take care of the prisoners in our prison system and also the prisoners in our county jail.”

The three crimes included in the bill are all Class D felonies, which have an average sentence of just over three years, according to the Department of Corrections. Under Yonts’ bill, those convicted of gross misdemeanors would receive a maximum sentence of 24 months.