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Flickr/Creative Commons/Thomas Hawk

A bill intended to curb dogfighting in Kentucky is scheduled to be heard by a state House committee on Wednesday.

The legislation differs from a bill the Senate approved two weeks ago that critics say would make it more difficult to prosecute those who use dogs for fighting.

Rep. Wilson Stone, a Democrat from Scottsville and sponsor of the House bill, said his legislation is designed to tighten anti-dogfighting rules. The bill would make it a class D felony to knowingly own, possess, breed, train or sell a dog “for the purpose of that dog being used to fight another dog for pleasure or profit.”

“Any language that would make it difficult or would make it prohibitive to prosecute is counterproductive to what we’re trying to do,” Stone said.

Dogfighting is already a class D felony in Kentucky, but prosecutors say catching dogfighters in the act is sometimes difficult.

WFPL

Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin went viral with a video he made Monday in the Kentucky Capitol building, chastising the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for not working to pass a budget.

Democratic House and state party leaders have called Bevin’s video misleading.  Bevin was filmed in the empty House chambers saying House Speaker Greg Stumbo has ignored his call to “get serious” about passing a budget.

“It is 11 o’clock on a Monday. There is nobody in here," Bevin pointed out.  "This House – we have less than 19 days left now for this House to be in session together with the Senate and there’s nothing being done.”

House Democrats responded with their own social media posts depicting a busy transportation budget meeting in the Capitol annex.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chair and State Representative Sannie Overly released a statement saying Bevin either, quote “doesn’t know how the process works or he was trying to distort the truth and mislead people."

Kentucky Secretary of State's Office

Kentucky’s Secretary of State says lawmakers have a way to increase voter participation statewide. 

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes spoke in Frankfort Monday in support of early voting legislation. 

Under a bill proposed by Secretary Grimes, Kentucky voters could cast early in-person ballots without an excuse.  Currently, voters must have a qualifying reason to vote early.  Grimes points to the success of no-excuse early voting in other states. 

"Tennessee has early voting without a qualifying excuse, and in their presidential primary they held just six days ago, they saw a record number of Tennesseans coming out to participate early in the election," Grimes told WKU Public Radio. 

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett testified alongside Grimes to a House committee.  Hargett said his state also saw more people voting early during the 2012 presidential election than on election day.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Before landing a $3.1 million no-bid state contract on Gov. Steve Beshear’s last day in office, the software company that counts a former Beshear cabinet secretary’s husband as a “partner” had already received $8.1 million worth of state business outside of the competitive bidding process.

SAS Institute, a Cary, N.C., technology company, was hired in 2012 to develop a fraud-detection system for Kynect, the state-owned health insurance exchange. It didn’t have to bid for a state contract of its own. Instead, according to Kentucky Finance & Administration Cabinet records, it piggybacked into the job through a “modification” of the main contract with Deloitte Consulting.

As the arrangement was taking shape, one man — Frank Lassiter of Midway, Ky. — had connections on both sides. For SAS, he had just begun serving as one of more than 1,000 technology “partners” listed on its website. For the Beshear administration, Lassiter was executive director of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Office of Administrative and Technology Services until 2011. His wife, Mary Lassiter, was state budget director before being named secretary of Beshear’s Executive Cabinet in 2009. Both contributed money to Beshear’s re-election campaign in 2011.

Jessica Ditto, spokeswoman for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, said the governor’s office is weighing the possibility that political — and marital — connections paved the way for SAS.

LRC Public Information

New Kentucky abortion clinics would have to meet more strict medical standards before they could open under a bill that has cleared a state Senate committee.

The bill would require abortion clinics to get a certificate of need from state regulators and meet standards of an ambulatory surgery center. The bill would apply to abortion clinics licensed after July 1. The state legislature exempted abortion clinics from the requirements in 1998.

Derek Selznick with the ACLU of Kentucky said the bill is designed to shutter the state's few freestanding abortion clinics. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration supports the bill, saying the state needs power to regulate the clinics to keep the procedures safe.

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a similar law in Texas.

Republican Governor Matt Bevin's administration says it will cost $236,000 to dismantle kynect, Kentucky's popular health insurance exchange.

Former Democratic Governor Steve Beshear set up the exchange with an executive order based on the federal Affordable Care Act. Before leaving office, Beshear said it would cost $23 million to dismantle the system.

Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson said Kentucky will move to a supported state exchange model. That means Kentucky will move to the federal system, but share in the costs with the federal government. The federal government will pay for most of the cost, with the state paying for some administrative functions.

Nearly 100,000 people have purchased private health plans through kynect with the help of a federal subsidy.

Creative Commons

Kentucky law enforcement would have to follow new guidelines while conducting suspect lineups under a bill proposed in the General Assembly.

The legislation would tweak police procedure to try and prevent a witness’ memory of a suspect or incident from being “contaminated” by suggestion.

Jennifer Thompson, a rape survivor who misidentified her perpetrator in 1984, said it’s easy to misremember events.

“We don’t record things the way we think we record them. Our brains are so malleable, they’re so prone to suggestion. It isn’t hard to plant false information into a person’s memory,” Thompson said.

“We do it all the time, either innocently or intentionally.”

The bill would require police departments to follow four new guidelines:

LRC Public Information

Kentucky’s new health secretary says her state agency will meet proposed budget reductions through a variety of cost-cutting measures, such as not filling vacant positions and cutting back on travel.

Under Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed spending cuts, the cabinet’s budget will be reduced by $64 million over the next two years and $31 million this year.

Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, who heads up the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said Wednesday that implementing the cuts allows her a “clean look” at the cabinet’s programs and services.

“It does give us an opportunity to evaluate areas that certainly haven’t been delivering a satisfactory return on investment,” Glisson said.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Referees would be able to pull a student athlete out of a game if they suspected the player had a concussion and wasn’t being given a medical evaluation, under a bill under consideration by Kentucky lawmakers.

The legislation passed the House Education committee Tuesday, though several lawmakers expressed concerns it would put too much responsibility on sports officials.

Chad Collins, general counsel for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said that the measure might discourage people from becoming referees.

“Our concerns are putting an official in a position where they might be doing more getting closer to practicing medicine or diagnosing and we want to avoid that,” Collins said.

If a player is suspected to have a concussion, state law already requires teams to bench the player until a licensed health care provider conducts a medical evaluation.

Ryland Barton, Kentucky Public Radio

The wording of legislation intended to curb dogfighting in Kentucky may have the opposite effect, making the prosecution of dogfighters more difficult, critics say.

The bill would ban owning, training and breeding dogs for the “primary purpose” of dogfighting, making it a class D felony. The state Senate unanimously approved the legislation last week.

But prosecutors would have difficulty proving that a dog spent its time “primarily” dogfighting, said Rob Sanders, the Kenton County commonwealth’s attorney.

“I think it’s basically impossible that the dog could do more fighting than anything else,” Sanders said. “A criminal defendant could claim that the primary purpose — which is whatever the dog does the most of — which could be lying around the kennel for all we know.”

The bill would exempt owners with dogs engaged in hunting, field trials, or dog training authorized by a hunting license or the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also exempted would be activities sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club “or other accredited national organizations.”

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.

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