Political news

Senate Republican Dan Coats of Indiana announced Tuesday — probably surprising no one — that he would not seek another term in 2016. Although he has been a stalwart Republican through a turbulent generation in Washington, Coats seems less at home in the hyper-partisan world of Congress today.

While Coats, 71, said his decision was strictly personal and age-related, he did refer to the "terribly dysfunctional Senate" in an interview with the Howey Politics Indiana newsletter.

Taxpayers will spend money to keep heroin dealers in prison longer and to give addicts a steady supply of clean needles under a bill that has passed the state legislature designed to curb Kentucky's alarming increase of overdose deaths.

The bill passed late Tuesday and is the result of more three years of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who had deep philosophical differences about how to treat addicts and the criminal penalties that should be imposed on them and their dealers.

Lawmakers agreed to let local governments set up needle-exchange programs where addicts can swap dirty needles for clean ones in an effort to prevent disease and death. And it toughens penalties for some heroin dealers, requiring them to serve at least 50 percent of their sentence.

Gov. Steve Beshear is expected to sign the bill.

Gas Tax Stabilization Gets 11th Hour Passage

Mar 25, 2015

The Kentucky legislature has acted to stem the drop in gas tax revenues that are used to repair and build roads across the Commonwealth. Passage of a measure to stabilize the state's road fund was a priority of Governor Beshear's.

Officially, it came very early Wednesday morning when House members put their stamp of approval on the gas tax agreement. Owensboro Representative Tommy Thompson voted yes. "We need our roads for convenience, we need them to be safe, but we need them for commerce," said Thompson.

The gas tax measure sets a $0.26 floor for the levy and limits any drop to no more than ten percent. The legislation also provides for an annual adjustment of the fuel tax, instead of quarterly. Elizabethtown Representative Tim Moore believes the road fund issue deserved more time to digest before voting. "But I would ask every member here in explaining my no, did you read this? Did you have time to read this?” Asked Moore.

Erlanger Representative Adam Koenig says the gas tax funding method is 'outdated' and 'outmoded.' "It's my opinion that we need to fund our roads not based upon how much gas you buy, but how many miles you drive,” said Koenig. “But, that's just one of many ideas that are out there."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo supports the move. "Particularly with the weather that we've had to forego this last winter and the terrible status of the roads, every county judge that I know of and magistrate across the state says we need more money to fix these roads," said Stumbo.
The gas tax measure won final passage before the House by a 67 to 29 vote.

Dating Violence Legislation Approved

Mar 25, 2015

After years of debate in Frankfort, the state legislature has approved a measure to add civil protections for dating couples. The legislation has passed in the Democratic House numerous times, but fallen short in the Republican led Senate.

Louisville Representative Joni Jenkins, who worked at the Center for Women and Families for a decade, called the passage a 'long time coming.' "I know that this is gonna be a great tool for especially college campuses, whereas none of those protections would have applied to folks,” said Jenkins. “Now college campuses have this new tool to use to keep people who need to be, kept apart."

Jenkins says providing an avenue for protective orders can help in changing behavior. "And that first encounter in a civil, not a criminal proceeding, can change behavior,” added Jenkins. “It's much easier to change a young man or woman's behavior at 18 or 20 than it is at 40."

The dating violence bill now goes to Governor Beshear for his signature.

Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons

On the last day of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session, Attorney General Jack Conway called on legislators to pass a bill to deal with the state’s growing heroin problem.

“I hope here on the final day of the legislative session that the legislature gets its act together,” Conway said during a news conference.

So far, lawmakers have been squabbling over differing versions of the bill. A heroin bill died in the final minutes of last year’s session.

Conway, a Democrat who is also running for governor, said the bill should include tougher penalties for major heroin traffickers and more funding for treatment. He also called for a bill that would make an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone more available. His stance is the same as House Democrats.

“Four simple provisions that are relatively non-controversial that need to be passed, that need to be passed by midnight tonight because people are dying, because law enforcement officials are having trouble dealing with the problem and prosecutors need help in trying to rid our streets of this scourge,” Conway said.

A committee headed by Conway and First Lady Jane Beshear has distributed 2,000 naloxone kits to the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Northern Kentucky.

The total cost for the kits is over $100,000. The kits were funded as part of a $32 million settlement between the state and two pharmaceutical companies. The settlement money has also gone to fund nonprofit treatment programs across the state and provide users with “scholarships” to treatment programs.

The newest member of the Kentucky Supreme Court has been sworn in as a justice.

David A. Barber was joined by his wife, children and grandchildren at the ceremony Monday in the Supreme Court Courtroom at the state Capitol. Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., other Supreme Court justices and House Speaker Greg Stumbo were among those speaking at the event.

Governor Steve Beshear appointed Barber to serve as the justice from the 7th Supreme Court District in eastern Kentucky. Barber was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Will T. Scott, who is running for governor.

Barber was a Court of Appeals judge from 2000 to 2007 and has been an attorney in private practice and public service for more than 33 years.

Kentucky LRC

With two working days to go, Kentucky lawmakers still haven’t nailed down legislation to address the state’s growing heroin problem and it’s ailing teachers pension system.

On Friday, legislators from both chambers met for hours, trying to craft compromises on the bills.

A solution is starting to take shape to help shore up the teachers pension system, but the House and Senate remain divided on sentencing guidelines in the heroin bill.

Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to pass laws.


Representatives and senators were still at odds Friday afternoon over needle exchanges, sentencing guidelines for heroin traffickers, and whether to include a “good Samaritan” clause that would provide immunity to those who report heroin overdoses.

Senate President Robert Stivers repeatedly suggested that the committee stop arguing and produce a bill that only includes points that lawmakers agree on: making overdose-reversing drug naloxone more available and increasing funding for treatment programs.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky lawmakers say they’ve come a long way in coming up with a legislative solution to the state’s heroin epidemic, but no consensus has emerged on the biggest sticking point—how to punish heroin traffickers.

The House wants to keep the state’s current law that gives low-level heroin traffickers lighter prison sentences. The Senate wants strict sentencing across the board.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Taylor Mill Republican and candidate for lieutenant governor, said strict sentencing guidelines would still allow prosecutors to use discretion and provide reduced charges for “peddlers.”

“We believe that we need to trust our prosecutors locally to make these decisions and we trust our prosecutors,” he said.

On Thursday, a conference committee made up of six representatives and six senators attempted to hammer out final details of the bill. To get heroin legislation passed in this session, both the state House and Senate would have to vote on a final version of the bill on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat and author of the House version of the bill, said lawmakers need to “legislate to the bad” prosecutors—to prevent low-level traffickers and addicts from entering the prison system.

Tilley said current law already has tough penalties for traffickers, and he pointed out that low-level drug dealers would receive a Class C felony if they received a second trafficking offense.

Senators also took issue with a House proposal to add $10 million dollars for drug treatment to the bill.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, said House lawmakers need to identify the source for the additional funding.

“I think we all have to take a realistic look: where are those monies coming from,” Stivers asked.

The provision for additional money had been proposed by Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor.

Kentucky LRC

Once-dead legislation that would allow Kentucky restaurants to claim a tax break for charitable food donations has been resurrected in the final days of this year’s legislative session.

The bill would provide restaurants with a tax refund worth 20 percent of the fair market value of food donated to charities.

It’s unclear how much the state would miss in revenue lost from the tax break. Jason Bailey, director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said that’s a problem.

“The bill has not been heard in committee so there’s been no public discussion on how much it costs and whether it’s worth the lost revenue,” Bailey said. “Any amount if we’re not having an open discussion about it is problematic.

The bill failed to land a committee hearing in the Democratic-led House earlier this year. Now the language has been tacked on to a different bill that is already poised to pass the state legislature.

The Courier-Journal reported that Louisville-based Yum! Brands had pushed for the bill earlier in the session and was responsible for its late revival.

Amber Cronen, intake coordinator with the Hope Center in Lexington, said restaurant donations are readily accepted at her organization.

Sen. Rand Paul's advisers are preparing to launch a White House bid on April 7.

A senior Paul adviser said Tuesday the Kentucky Republican is set to make his presidential ambitions official in Louisville, Kentucky. He then is expected to visit early nominating states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

The adviser demanded anonymity to speak ahead of Paul's public announcement. The adviser adds that Paul could still pull the plug on a campaign, although that is not expected to happen.

Paul's team has booked an event at Louisville's Galt House hotel. His supporters have also received invitations to that site.

Details of the kick-off event were first reported by The Lexington Herald-Leader.