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Conway Makes Unusual Donation to Candidate for Treasurer

Mar 17, 2015
Kentucky Attorney General's Office

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway has made an unusual decision to donate $1,000 to a candidate for treasurer.

Conway campaign spokesman Daniel Kemp told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday that Conway also plans to donate an amount to the other four Democratic candidates for the office.

State records show Conway gave the maximum allowable contribution on Dec. 9 to Neville Blakemore. Kemp said Blakemore is "a personal friend" of Conway, the state's attorney general.

Conway will face retired engineer Geoff Young in the May 19 primary.

Kemp said the donation to Blakemore was "not an endorsement."

Democratic state Rep. Rick Nelson of Middlesboro is also seeking the treasurer's seat. He said he hasn't heard of a gubernatorial candidate donating to down-ticket races before, but he'd appreciate the help.

A voting rights advocate says a potential Republican Party presidential caucus in Kentucky next year would need to include specific rules to protect overseas voters’ rights.

This month, state GOP leaders gave preliminary approval to conducting a presidential caucus in 2016 instead of the usual primary. The change was requested by Sen. Rand Paul—a likely 2016 presidential candidate—to get around a state law banning candidates from appearing twice on a ballot.

Grace Ramsey, a voting expert of the Maryland-based election reform advocacy group Fair Vote, said a presidential caucus itself isn’t a problem. But because caucuses consist of sequential rounds of in-person voting, the process of including absentee voters can be tricky.

“Obviously this is this in-person process and if you can’t be there it can cause problems for participation, and it is entirely possible to adjust and adapt and make sure that those voters can be included,” she explained.

One option Ramsey suggested: sending overseas voters ranked ballots. The voters would list candidates in order of preference; Ramsey said such a process would help ensure overseas voters’ opinions counted throughout the caucus’ process of elimination.

According to the Kentucky State Board of Elections’ records, 279 military and overseas voters returned absentee ballots for the 2012 Primary Election.

A committee of state GOP officials will decide the rules and procedures for the caucus and present it to a larger committee of the Kentucky GOP in August, when the party will hold a final vote on the matter.

Kentucky LRC

A refurbishing project for the House and Senate chambers at the Kentucky Capitol is set to start soon.

Plans call for refinishing the desks of all 138 legislators, new carpet, plaster repair work, new paint and updated electrical equipment.

Work on the $800,000 project is set to begin after the current legislative session ends on March 24 and should be complete in November.

David Buchta, who is the state curator and director of the state historic properties division in the Finance and Administration Cabinet, says the chambers haven't been restored in more than a half-century.

The division maintains historic properties owned by the cabinet including the Capitol.

Buchta says refinishing the desks, which have been in place since 1909, accounts for more than half the project's cost.

LRC Public Information

A state lawmaker from eastern Kentucky has joined a crowded field for State Treasurer.

Representative Rick Nelson of Bell County is seeking the office being vacated by term-limited Todd Hollenbach.

Nelson believes one of the greatest responsibilities of the State Treasurer is sitting on the board of the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, which is woefully under-funded.

"There's been so many folks that's retired, it's more than even good investments can handle," Nelson told WKU Public Radio.  "It's an issue I think that's going to get worse even if the economy improves."

Representative Nelson recently supported a House measure to borrow $3.3 billion dollars to shore up the pension system, but the Senate held off and asked for more time to study the issue.

Nelson will face off against fellow Democrats Jim Glenn, Neville Blakemore, Richard Henderson, and Daniel Grossberg.

In the Republican field, the candidates for State Treasurer are Allison Ball, Kenny Imes, and Jon Larson.

WKU PBS

Voting rights advocates say a plan that would allow Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul to skirt a state law prohibiting candidates from appearing twice on a ballot could cause problems for absentee voters.

The state GOP has given preliminary approval to a plan to switch from a primary to a caucus in 2016.

consist of sequential rounds of in-person voting that eliminate candidates until there is a winner.

Grace Ramsey with the Maryland-based group Fair Votes says this method of voting could leave out those who can’t be there in person, if there aren’t proper procedures in place.

“We definitely recommend that for military and overseas voters that if there is going to be a caucus process, which it sounds like there is going to be, to send them ranked ballots and allow them to send those back in so that we have an idea of what they would do were they able to be there in person.”

A final vote on the proposed rules for the caucus will go before Kentucky GOP officials in late summer.

Kevin Willis

The Kentucky General Assembly adjourned late Wednesday night for a week and a half while Gov. Steve Beshear considers vetoes—and no bill addressing the state’s rising heroin problems had been passed.

Lawmakers will have two days to pass a final bill: March 23 and 24.

Both chambers have selected members for a conference committee, which will now try to hammer out the final details of a compromise.

Senate President Robert Stivers remains confident that a heroin bill will be finalized over the course of the break.

“I think the discussions when we come back everything would be resolved by that time, because when we get back on the 23rd and 24th I think the die will be cast and hopefully everything will be prepared,” Stivers said.

The starting point of discussion will be a bill sponosored Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat, who has worked with House and Senate leader to come up with a compromise piece of legislation.

“It represents some advancement in the progress that we’ve had in meeting with our Senate counterparts over the last several weeks,” Tilley said during a House Floor speech on Wednesday.

The bill looks a lot like a version the House passed last month: it would punish heroin traffickers with increasing penalties depending on how much of the drug they have, and it would allow local health districts to set up needle exchanges.

Kentucky LRC

The chair of the state Senate Transportation Committee is still confident that something will be done to adjust Kentucky’s gas tax before the legislative session ends.

But the committee chair, Sen. Ernie Harris, said it’s still unclear what a final bill would look like or where it would come from.

“We’ve been talking about it in leadership and in our caucus. We don’t have a resolution yet, we’re not sure the exact direction that we’re going, but I’m confident that we will address it at some time,” said Harris, a Prospect Republican.

Senate Republicans are discussing not allowing the fuel tax to swing by 5 or 10 percent over the course of a year, Harris said. Currently, the gas tax is based on the average wholesale price of gasoline.

The state’s road fund, which funds maintenance and construction on state highway and bridge projects, has been dwindling because low gas prices have led to fewer tax receipts.

Harris had written a bill that would have set a “floor” to the gas tax—meaning the tax rate would stop adjusting once gas prices fell below a certain amount. That legislation was once a likely contender, but Harris said the legislature will not take it up. He said a final bill will depend on leadership of both chambers working together to decide what bill to advance.

Lawmakers have until 11:59 Wednesday evening to pass bills before the governor’s week-and-a-half long veto session—currently there is no fuel tax bill that has passed both the House and Senate. Lawmakers also have an optional two days to pass bills after the veto session.

If nothing is done to adjust the gas tax, local governments stand to lose up to 40 percent of revenue for routine maintenance of roads, Harris said.

“And that’s not just new asphalt—that is potholes, and after the snows that we’ve had you see the potholes cropping up on fairly new-laid asphalt,” Harris said.

Hal Heiner campaign

Hal Heiner leads other Republican candidates for this year’s gubernatorial election, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The former Louisville Metro Council member leads with 28 percent of the vote in a poll conducted by SurveyUSA for The Courier-Journal, WHAS, the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT. The poll surveyed 1,917 registered voters.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Matt Bevin tied for second with 20 percent of the vote. Bevin unsuccessfully ran last year as a tea party candidate in the Republican Senate primary. He was defeated by now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Heiner not only lead in the polls. According to financial disclosures, Heiner’s campaign is also millions of dollars ahead of the other GOP candidates.

According to his latest disclosure, Heiner has almost $3.5 million in his campaign coffers. So far, Heiner has donated more than $4 million of his own money to his campaign.

Greg Blair, Heiner’s new campaign spokesman,, said money and airtime is not what’s driving these numbers, though.

“I don’t think anyone has worked harder than Hal Heiner to get out and talk to people and listen to people and hear what they are concerned about,” Blair said.

Kentucky LRC

The $3.3 billion bonding bill to bail out the state’s ailing teachers retirement fund is dead.

Senate President Robert Stivers on Tuesday stripped the bonding provision from the bill, saying that more time needed to be spent studying and fixing the system before any money was added to the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System.

“There are systemic changes that need to be made in KTRS before we can make it actuarially sound and viable in perpetuity,” Stivers said during a floor speech on Tuesday.

Now if enacted, the bill would set up a committee of lawmakers and hire an independent think tank to study KTRS’ predicament and potential solutions.

The teacher’s pension system only has 53 percent of the money it needs to make future payouts to about 141,000 retired teachers. Earlier this year, KTRS officials said that if the the bonds isn’t issued, the state’s required contributions to the system will double by 2026.

“I just think we’re kicking the can down the road, we’re at historic low interest rates that are available to us,” said Sen. Dorsey, Ridley, a Henderson Democrat. “I think we’re missing an opportunity.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, was noticeably noncritical of Stivers’ decision to remove bonding from the bill. But he still emphasized the need to take advantage of low interest rates on bonding.

“That’s not a bad plan but we just can’t let it go too long where we lose this opportunity to bond to see if we’re going to use bonds,” Stumbo said.

Local Option Sales Tax

After garnering a two-thirds majority vote in the state House, it looks like the local option sales tax bill isn’t going to even get a committee hearing in the Senate.

Two Democratic senators and a possible Republican presidential candidate are joining forces to push a bill to remove federal prohibitions on medical marijuana in 23 states where it's already legal.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey say their unusual coalition is a sign of growing acceptance of medical marijuana.

The new bill aims to eliminate uncertainty surrounding marijuana use in states that allow it for medicinal purposes. The bill also would allow doctors at veterans' hospitals to prescribe pot for medical purposes and allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana dispensaries.

The senators said they hope to bring the bill to a floor vote this year, but acknowledge it is likely to face strong opposition.

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