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Ethics Commission Says It Can’t Stop Bevin’s Inquiry

May 3, 2016
J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission says it cannot stop Republican Gov. Matt Bevin from investigating whether his Democratic predecessor violated state ethics laws.

Bevin says he will hire a private law firm to investigate whether former Gov. Steve Beshear coerced state employees to donate to political campaigns.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, Steve Beshear’s son, asked the ethics commission to tell Bevin he does not have the authority to conduct such an investigation. Commission Executive Director Kathryn Gabhart wrote back on Monday saying the commission does not have the authority to stop Bevin.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the commission was right to reject Andy Beshear’s request. She said Bevin welcomes the commission to conduct its own investigation.

Andy Beshear said any investigation by Bevin would not be credible.

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With the first three months of lobbyist reports in for this year’s legislative session, it looks like total spending will easily surpass the previous record.

According to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, business, organizations and legislative agents spent $7.5 million lobbying lawmakers in the first quarter of this year.

The spending pattern is on track to exceed the previous record of $8.8 million set in 2012, once totals from April are accounted for.

The top spender was the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which spent $120,426 pushing issues like the local option sales tax, public-private partnerships, tort reform and felony expungement. The organization also spent $9,202 on radio advertising in favor of a pension transparency bill that did not pass.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Among Gov. Matt Bevin’s line-item vetoes in the state budget earlier this week was $400,000 that would have gone to the Arc of Kentucky, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The money was set aside to help fund the nonprofit’s leadership program, which trains people with disabilities and supporters in civic engagement.

Patty Dempsey, Arc of Kentucky’s executive director, said the $200,000 per year was in the budget to return the program to its original funding level.

“Without the funding, we are faced with that possibility of losing it,” Dempsey said.

Bevin vetoed all or part of 14 bills this legislative session, including several line-item vetoes to the $21 billion two-year state budget.

Arc of Kentucky’s Advocates in Action program trains up to 24 participants each year and pays for travel expenses to two events in Frankfort.

Screenshot from website

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is bringing 91 field workers from around the state, to Frankfort, to help deal with the backlog of applications in Benefind, the new umbrella portal for Kentucky’s welfare programs.

Since the February rollout of Benefind, people trying to get benefits have had to deal with long wait times at local Department for Community Based Services offices and over the phone. The system also erroneously sent out notices to some people that their benefits had been canceled.

Brandon Carlson, the project manager for the initiative, said the group had already processed over 9,000 cases this week.

“By focusing our efforts here on those cases, we were able to free up our workers at all the local DCBS offices to address the lobby traffic and the high volume of calls and the new applications,” he said.

The cabinet estimates it now has a backlog of 16,000 cases, down from 30,000 at the beginning of the week.

Mark Humphrey/AP

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows mental health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objections or personal beliefs.

Critics of the law say it could result in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As Nashville Public Radio reported earlier this month:

"A group representing gay and lesbian Tennesseans [asked Haslam] to veto the legislation. ...

"The Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBT advocacy group, says the measure will make it harder for gays and lesbians to find counseling — particularly in rural parts of the state where religiously conservative therapists are common."

Haslam, however, said in a statement that he decided to sign the bill because it addressed two of his concerns. He said:

WFPL News

Gov. Matt Bevin has issued seven more vetoes, delaying a free community college scholarship program, cutting out parts of the state budget and killing a new driver’s license bill.

Bevin has now vetoed all or part of 14 bills in the wake of his first legislative session as governor.

“Today’s action will create economic opportunity and provide benefits to generations for years to come,” Bevin said in a statement.

In line-item vetoes of the state budget, Bevin eliminated funding for the first year of the “Work Ready” free community college tuition program. He also eliminated a bill that contained operating language for the program and other education initiatives, saying they were “hastily written.”

“Developing and implementing a properly functioning Work Ready Scholarship program will take a great deal of time and effort,” Bevin said.

Ryland Barton, WKU Public Radio

Former Gov. Steve Beshear has accused Gov. Matt Bevin of coercing state employees into helping pay off his campaign debt.

The allegations come a week after Bevin claimed that members of Beshear’s administration coerced state employees into making campaign contributions to Democrats.

Beshear said Bevin “started this food fight.”

“… By calling us liars, by criticizing my wife, and now by ginning up a political investigation to try and sully our reputation,” he said.

The feud extends back to when Bevin criticized Beshear’s appointment of then-First Lady Jane Beshear to the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.

Since then, the two governors have lobbed accusations at one another. Bevin has blamed Beshear for leaving the state in a “financial crisis,” creating the glitches in the new health benefit portal Benefind and shaking down state employees for campaign contributions.

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County officials have asked Gov. Matt Bevin to veto language in the state budget bill that would allow three private prisons to reopen in Kentucky.

The budget language would allow the state to recommission private prison contracts in Floyd, Marion and Lee counties if those counties’ jails become overpopulated.

The state already pays county jails to incarcerate some inmates who would otherwise go to state penitentiaries.

Renee Craddock, executive director of the Kentucky Jailers Association, said the private prison policy would shift that money away from counties.

“They are pulling revenue from counties at a time when counties don’t have a lot of revenue to spare,” she said.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Wednesday is the last day for Gov. Matt Bevin to veto all or part of bills that passed on the final day of the legislative session, including the state budget.

Bevin’s spokeswoman Jessica Ditto declined to comment on possible vetoes, saying “everything will be filed accordingly” on Wednesday.

Bevin has already vetoed seven bills, including portions of the Judicial Branch operating budget.

Lawmakers will not have an opportunity to override any potential vetoes since they pushed the legislative session up to its constitutionally-required deadline of April 15.

Lawmakers arrived at a budget compromise that cuts most state spending by 9 percent over the next two years and puts $1.2 billion into the state’s pension systems.

Kentucky governors are allowed to line-item veto parts of bills, meaning Bevin could eliminate parts of the budget while leaving the rest of the document intact.

Bevin Traveling to Germany, France, Belgium This Week

Apr 26, 2016

Governor Matt Bevin is traveling to Germany, France and Belgium this week as part of his first overseas trip as governor.

Bevin is scheduled to arrive in Hannover, Germany, on Tuesday to attend the Hannover Messe Fair, a trade show of industrial technology. A news release from the governor's office says Bevin will meet with prospective businesses and companies that already have Kentucky facilities.

He will spend the rest of the week meeting with executives in Germany, France and Belgium. Bevin says the trip is an "incredible opportunity" to sell the benefits of Kentucky to manufacturers.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the governor's trip will not prevent him from issuing vetoes of the state's two-year operating budget. State lawmakers approved the budget on April 15. Bevin has until Wednesday to issue vetoes, if any.

KRS

The chairman of the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees is presiding at a meeting in defiance of Gov. Matt Bevin’s order removing him from the board.

Thomas K. Elliott took his seat at the head of the board table at Thursday’s regularly-scheduled board meeting, a day after Bevin issued the executive order to oust him. The board was scheduled to elect its leaders, but delayed that vote until the next meeting.

KRS Executive Director William Thielen said Bevin does not have the authority to remove Elliott. Board members voted to request an attorney general’s opinion on whether Bevin exceeded his authority by removing Elliott.

In removing Elliott Wednesday, Bevin said KRS needs a “fresh start” and said the board was opposed to transparency under Elliott’s leadership. Elliott was reappointed to the board by former Democratic Governor Steve Beshear last year and his term does not expire until 2019.

Kentucky Retirement Systems is among the worst funded systems in the country. It has an unfunded liability of more than $19 billion.

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In the wake of former Kentucky official Tim Longmeyer’s admission of accepting bribes while running a state agency, one central question remains unanswered:

Who paid the bribes?

His guilty plea in federal court Tuesday in Lexington, before U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell, was perfunctory and did not shed light on other possible targets of the federal investigation. Afterward, U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey didn’t rule out charges against others, but he would not say if Longmeyer is cooperating with authorities.

Still, the nine-page guilty plea offers a deeper glimpse into the bribery scheme and offers some new details.

The plea notes that the bribes — about $212,500 — were paid by a “private consultant” not named in court papers but referred to as “S.M.” The initials happen to match those of Sam McIntosh, whose MC Squared Consulting offices in Lexington were raided by the FBI on the same day that Longmeyer was charged. McIntosh has not been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with Longmeyer. MC Squared has not reopened since the raid.

Ex-Kentucky Personnel Secretary Pleads Guilty to Kickbacks

Apr 19, 2016
WFPL News

A former official whose case was an embarrassment for Kentucky's former Democratic governor and the current attorney general has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.

Tim Longmeyer pleaded guilty Tuesday to using his influence as head of the state's Personnel Cabinet under former Gov. Steve Beshear to steer contracts to a public relations firm in 2014 and 2015. The 48-year-old Longmeyer appeared before U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell and acknowledged receiving more than $200,000 in kickbacks from the public relations firm.

He faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing, which is scheduled Aug. 18.

Beshear's son, current Attorney General Andy Beshear, hired Longmeyer as his top deputy earlier this year. Longmeyer abruptly resigned the post two days before his indictment was announced in March.

Jacob Ryan, WFPL

Gov. Matt Bevin has launched an investigation into potential corruption under former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

In a press conference Tuesday, Bevin alleged state employees were coerced into contributing to Democratic political campaigns, including those of Attorney General Andy Beshear and Bevin’s opponent in the governor’s race, former Attorney General Jack Conway.

Bevin said employees have come forward and said they were “essentially coerced” into making contributions and “they complied of fear of loss of their jobs or other retribution.”

“We have learned from many rank-and-file employees of closed-door demands by high level Beshear administration officials that they make contributions to Democratic candidates in the last election,” Bevin said.

Former Gov. Beshear’s secretary of the Personnel Cabinet, Tim Longmeyer, is currently under investigation for a kickback scheme that allegedly directed state contracts to a consulting firm in exchange for campaign donations and cash.

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A bill that would have enacted transparency measures for Kentucky’s ailing pension systems failed to pass this legislative session, despite a last-minute push.

Some lawmakers say the systems need more scrutiny from the legislature. They’ve criticized hefty fees paid to investment managers and devotion to so-called “alternative investments,” which they’ve said are too risky.

Chris Tobe, a former Kentucky Retirement Systems trustee who has been critical of the system, said investment managers should compete to manage Kentucky’s pension assets in public view.

“We need to have open contracts and some kind of documentation and bidding process. Secret backroom deals is not good government,” he said.

The bill would have revealed how much and to whom the pension systems pay to invest pension funds. Kentucky law exempts the investments from open records laws.

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