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A religious freedom law, similar to the one that has recently drawn national attention in Indiana, has been on the books in Kentucky for two years and is currently being used as an argument to sue the state.

The proprietors of the Ark Encounter project in Northern Kentucky are suing state Tourism Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart and Gov. Steve Beshear for excluding the 500-foot-long Noah’s Ark replica from a tourism tax break.

In the lawsuit, the proprietors of the project, Answers in Genesis, say that the state discriminated against the ministry under the Kentucky Religious Freedom Act by pulling a promised $18 million in tax incentives.

The state withdrew funding, saying that public dollars couldn’t go to a project that hires employees based on religious background.

University of Kentucky law professor Scott Bauries said the religious freedom law allows the plaintiffs to argue that the state discriminated against them.

“Because the state of Kentucky seeks to hold them to a higher standard than what the ordinary anti-discrimination laws would hold them to—and because it doesn’t seek to do that with any non-religious employers—that it’s discriminating against them based on their religion,” Bauries said.

Under federal and state anti-discrimination laws, religious employers are allowed to hire “coreligionists” if doing so furthers the religious purpose of the organization.

Beshear Plays Both Sides of Gay Rights Debate

Mar 31, 2015

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said Kentucky's religious freedom law similar to one signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence last week should be clarified to include protections for the LGBT community.

But the governor of this conservative state is also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage, highlighting the peculiar politics facing some southern Democrats fighting to maintain power in a region awash with Republican votes.

Kentucky's law protects a person's right to act or refuse to act as long as it is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief. Beshear vetoed the law but the legislature overrode him.

Last week, Beshear through his attorneys told the U.S. Supreme Court that Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban does not discriminate because it prevents straight and gay people from marrying someone of the same sex.

Kentucky Argues Gay Marriage Ban Not Biased

Mar 31, 2015

Governor Steve Beshear's administration is arguing in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that Kentucky's ban on gay marriage isn't discriminatory because it bars both gay and straight people from same-sex unions.

The brief argues that because Kentucky's law bars everyone from same-sex marriage, it isn't discriminatory and should be upheld.

Attorney Dan Canon, who represents six gay couples challenging Kentucky's gay marriage ban, told The Courier-Journal that the argument in the brief filed last week is "especially absurd."

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the governor would have no comment. He has said previously he favors a decision by the Supreme Court.

Justices will hear arguments on April 28 on state marriage bans from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

Former Lawmaker Asks for Trial to be Postponed

Mar 30, 2015
LRC Public Information

A former Kentucky lawmaker facing a bribery charge has asked that his trial be postponed following a guilty plea by a co-defendant.

Former state mine inspector Kelly Shortridge pleaded guilty in federal court earlier this month to taking bribes from former lawmaker Keith Hall. The plea agreement said Shortridge, who worked for the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, took about $46,000 in bribes over two years from Hall, a coal mine owner who was also a state representative from Phelps.

The Appalachian News Express reports Hall's attorney, Brent Caldwell, filed a motion last week asking to reschedule the April 20 trial to a later date. Prosecutors have opposed the request.

Caldwell says he needs extra time to prepare after learning that prosecutors intend to call Shortridge to testify.

Comer to Announce Health Care Plan

Mar 30, 2015
Lisa Autry

Republican candidate for governor James Comer says he will reveal details of a health care plan on Monday that he says will move people off of Medicaid and into private insurance.

Kentucky was one of 28 states that decided to expand its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. Nearly 400,000 people signed up for the expanded service, meaning about 25 percent of the state's population is now on Medicaid.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear says the expansion benefits the state by injecting billions of federal dollars into the economy and giving people access to health care, many of whom have never had insurance before. But Republicans worry about how much the state will have to pay for the expansion beginning in 2017.

The issue has become a focal point in the Republican primary for governor.

Kentucky’s First District Congressman is facing a formal investigation by the House ethics commission.

Republican Ed Whitfield faces accusations that he improperly aided his wife’s lobbying efforts on behalfof her employer, the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

The Office of Congressional Ethics issued a report stating that the Congressman set up and attended as many as 100 meetings with his wife, ConnieHarriman-Whitfield, and other lawmakers and their staffers.

Just ahead of his expected presidential announcement, U.S. Senator Rand Paul has some convincing to do among voters in New Hampshire.  The Kentucky Republican finishes third in the latest poll from the Granite State.

The Suffolk University poll has former Florida Governor Jeb Bush out in front with 19 percent support.  Fourteen percent of respondents favored Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Senator Paul followed with seven percent support. 

A quarter of those surveyed were undecided among the possible Republican candidates for president.  Texas Senator Ted Cruz is so far the only announced GOP candidate and he received five percent support in the New Hampshire poll. 

Senator Paul is expected to announce his candidacy April 7 in Louisville and then fly to New Hampshire for a day of campaigning. 

New Hampshire holds the nation’s first presidential primary and Senator Paul has made multiple trips there since 2013.

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy

One of the most significant pieces of legislation to come out of this year’s General Assembly session aims to curtail Kentucky’s heroin epidemic.

The bill, which Governor Steve Beshear signed into law Wednesday, toughens penalties for traffickers and increases treatment options for addicts. 

Executive Director Van Ingram in the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy is glad a needle exchange program made it into the final bill.

"We have Hepatitis C rates that are skyrocketing in this state," Ingram told WKU Public Radio.  "The good news is that there's treatment for Hepatitis C now.  The bad news is it's $100,000 per patient and a majority of those patients are on Medicaid," he added.  "This is important.  If we can reduce Hepatitis C exposure, we save tons of money and lives, as well."

Some state lawmakers criticized the needle exchange component of the law, arguing it sent the wrong message and might encourage more drug use.

Local health departments would have the option of creating needles exchanges, allowing addicts to trade out dirty needles for clean ones.  Health departments would first need approval from city and county governments. 

Ingram says 2014 data isn’t available yet, but he expects about 30 percent of overdoses deaths in Kentucky were heroin-related.  That’s compared to three years ago when about five percent of overdose deaths were the result of heroin use.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Doc Searls

Public opinion will flip in favor of same-sex marriage—though it will take time to happen, an attorney who helped lead the legal fight against California’s anti-same-sex union law Proposition 8 said in Louisville this week.

This month, the Bluegrass Poll found opposition to same-sex marriage has grown in Kentucky from 50 percent to 57 percent since last summer.

Speaking at a forum with University of Louisville law students on Tuesday, attorney David Boies said other states have set an example of how acceptance of same-sex marriage will play out in the U.S.

“You have marriage equality now in Florida, in Virginia, in the Carolinas, and Utah,” Boies said. “I mean, these were states were people said ‘marriage equality will never work, people will be up in arms, the sky will be falling.’

“Well what happened? Well, nothing happened except everyone got to marry the person they love.”

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.

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