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A bill to allow no-excuse early voting in Kentucky is dead for this year.  Legislation proposed by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes cleared the House, but never came up for a vote in the Senate. 

The legislation was aimed at boosting voter turnout in Kentucky.  Currently, voters must have a qualifying reason to vote early.  Grimes was the leading supporter of the bill.  She expressed frustration that the measure won’t be passed this year.

"I've traveled the state and people feel it's something that we should already have," Grimes stated.  "Much like online voter registration, it's something they expect."

The Kentucky County Clerk’s Association opposed the bill.  Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates said the group feels expanded early voting would be a burden for county clerks with small staffs.

LRC Public Information

After hours of negotiations on Sunday, state lawmakers once again failed to agree on a budget, halting their meeting abruptly at about 11:30 p.m.

The failure raises doubts about whether the House and Senate can agree on a budget by the end of this year’s General Assembly on Tuesday. Lawmakers will likely have to adjust the legislative calendar to approve a budget bill before the legislature is scheduled to disband for the year.

“It appears to be at a complete stalemate,” said Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones, a Democrat from Pikeville.

Lawmakers had planned to come to an agreement on Sunday to have a budget bill ready for votes in the House and Senate on Tuesday. While it appears the budget conference committee will not have an agreement in time, lawmakers had no plans to alter the official calendar.

LRC Public Information

House Democrats say they would agree to spend less on state colleges and universities if it means lawmakers could reach an agreement on a two-year plan to spend more than $65 billion in public money.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said House leaders offered a compromise on Wednesday that would reduce spending on higher education by 2 percent in the budget year that begins July 1. Spending levels would remain the same for the following budget year.

Senate Republicans have insisted on cuts to higher education in order to pay more money toward the state's public pension debt. House Democrats had refused to make any cuts to public education. Stumbo said the proposal retains his party's commitment to education while moving the budget process forward.

Senate Republicans have not responded to the proposal.

Ryland Barton, WKU Public Radio

A spokesman for Andy Beshear says the Democratic Attorney General will not file a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin before Monday.

Last week Bevin ordered midyear budget cuts of 4.5 percent at all colleges and universities. That means those institutions will have $41 million less to spend than the legislature intended.

Beshear says Bevin's action is illegal. He gave the governor seven days to rescind his order or face a lawsuit. Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian says that timeline ends at close of business Friday.

College funding is a key disagreement between House and Senate leaders in crafting a two-year state budget plan. Negotiations are continuing but Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo says the two sides are at an impasse.

Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne announced Friday that he will not seek re-election and will retire at the end of the year.

Owensboro Living reports Payne has served in local government for 38 years.

In Owensboro, he has been City Commissioner, City Manager and Director of Finance and Administration.

Prior to working in Owensboro, he was director of finance for the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Payne is a certified public accountant. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and served in Vietnam.

Lisa Autry

One-third of eligible Kentuckians are not registered to vote, but the state’s chief election officer hopes to change that with online voter registration. 

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says more than 15,000 Kentuckians have logged on to GoVoteKY.com to register or update their registration since launching three weeks ago. 

Speaking at Western Kentucky University Thursday, Grimes said online registration has several benefits.

"As other states have experienced, it will help us increase the accuracy of our voter registration rolls and offer the convenience that the voters have demanded, and allow us to reach those Kentuckians who aren't yet registered," Grimes explained.  "The accessibility is a great factor."

Eligible voters previously had to visit their county clerk’s office or mail a voter registration application.

LRC Public Information

Talks have resumed behind closed doors as lawmakers try to come to an agreement on a state budget in time for a vote on the last day of the legislative session, scheduled for April 12.

The House and Senate are entrenched over how much money to contribute and save for the state pension systems and whether to cut K-12 programs and higher education institutions.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said “chances are still good” that a budget will pass in time.

“The information is being exchanged, ideas are being discussed, and there have been some very good conversations today,” he said.

To get a compromise budget ready for votes in the House and Senate on Tuesday, lawmakers would have to come to an agreement by Sunday night, Stivers said.

Anything is possible, but it seems unlikely that a Senate bill to abolish state mine safety inspections will pass the General Assembly this year. Legislators are scheduled to return to Frankfort next week for one day before concluding this year’s regular session.

Senate Bill 297 would repeal parts of Kentucky law that require state mine inspectors to examine underground coal mines at least six times a year, and other coal mines at least once every six months. Instead of mine inspectors, the state would employ mine safety analysts who would focus on compliance assistance rather than enforcement. Under the provisions of a last-minute amendment by bill sponsor Sen. Chris Girdler, the analysts would be appointed by the governor.

The bill is supported by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet — which is currently responsible for mine inspections — and the Kentucky Coal Association, who say the state and federal government duplicate each other’s efforts. It’s opposed by mine safety advocates, who say state inspections play an essential role in keeping coal mines safe.

Benefind Homepage-screenshot

Fewer people are able to help Kentuckians sign up for health insurance through the state exchange and Medicaid now that Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has rolled out Benefind, an umbrella portal for state benefits.

So-called Kynectors — state workers and volunteers tasked with helping Kentuckians navigate the health exchange — said new regulations require them to refer most applicants to the Department of Community Based Services, a state agency that manages Benefind, which has been plagued by confusion and long wait times.

The Bevin administration, which has acknowledged the problems with Benefind, said the crunch is caused by an automatic review of cases where information from Kynect and the former state benefits program, KAMES, didn’t match.

The shift to the new system has disrupted the flow of services to thousands of Kentuckians, according to the state workers tasked with helping them.

Flickr/Creative Commons/feryswheel

Having already made a .50-caliber sniper gun the official state rifle, Tennessee lawmakers voted Monday to make the Holy Bible the state's official book.

The state Senate gave final approval Monday on a 19-8 vote despite arguments the measure conflicts with a provision in the Tennessee Constitution that "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."

Republican Sen. Steve Southerland argued his bill is aimed at recognizing the Bible for its historical and cultural contributions to the state, rather than as government endorsement of religion.

Opponents argued the Bible would be trivialized by being placed alongside other state symbols like the official tree, rock or amphibian.

The measure heads to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who hasn't said whether he'll issue a veto.

A bill that is expected to be signed by Governor Matt Bevin will open some Kentucky courts to family and juvenile proceedings. 

The House and Senate approved legislation this session that would allow the public access to family court in cases involving child abuse, neglect, or dependency. 

Kentucky Youth Advocates Director Terry Brooks has been pushing for more transparency for several years.

"There have been many tragedies that have beset the commonwealth around child welfare where abuse and neglect happen, and fatalities result," Brooks told WKU Public Radio.  "There's always been, whether it's from the press, advocates, or the legal community, a certain doubt as to what really goes on or the inside scoop on the child welfare system."

The measure would allow a certain number of counties to open their courts to the public under a pilot project. 

Supporters believe it will hold judges, lawyers, and social workers more accountable.  However, public defenders don’t support access to cases in which juvenile are charged with crimes.  They argue it would negatively affect the rehabilitation of young offenders.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers are deadlocked on a state budget, with no resolution in sight.

If a compromise isn’t reached by April 15, Gov. Matt Bevin will likely have to have to call a special legislative session — which costs taxpayers about $70,000 per day.

And if lawmakers don’t come up with a state budget by June 30, the state will be sent into a partial government shutdown. That means parts of state government would temporarily close, leaving thousands of state workers without pay.

Federally mandated programs like Medicaid and public education would continue.

Lawmakers disagree over how much to cut from K-12 and higher education funding.

Republicans want to put the savings into current and future payments into the state pension systems. Democrats want to shield education from cuts.

Legislative leaders say they’ll negotiate this week, but no official meetings have been scheduled.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Kentucky lawmakers have given their final blessing to creating one marriage license form for gay and straight couples in an effort to defuse the state's ongoing controversy over gay marriage.

The proposal is a response to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs.

Davis said she could not issue the licenses because they had her name on them.

The Republican-led Senate gave the bill its final passage Friday, sending it to Gov. Matt Bevin.

Under the final bill, a marriage license applicant would have the option of checking "bride," ''groom" or "spouse" beside their name. The form would not have the clerk's name on it.

Rhonda Miller, WKU Public Radio

A day after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin issued an order cutting the state’s current contribution to higher education by 4.5 percent, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said that move is illegal.

In a news conference late Friday afternoon, Beshear — the state’s top law enforcement official — told Bevin to rescind his order, which made the cuts to state colleges and universities. He said if the governor did not do so within seven days, his office would file suit.

“That is the exact type of power our democracy, our constitution, our liberty explicitly forbids,” Beshear said.

In a letter reducing the appropriation to higher education, Bevin cited a state law he said gives him the authority to make the cuts. The law forbids “allotments in excess of the amount appropriated to that budget unit in a branch budget bill” but says nothing about reduced appropriations.

A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky cannot bar a corporation from contributing to political campaigns while no such restrictions apply to other organizations like labor unions.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove on Thursday ruled that Kentucky Registry of Election Finance officials cannot enforce a law that prevented a non-profit corporation from making contributions. The judge found that it violated the constitutional right to equal protection under the law, as unincorporated businesses or organizations are not subject to similar prohibitions.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank, filed the lawsuit on behalf of a corporation that advocates for right-to-work laws. The company argued that unions are allowed to make contributions to push their side of the political issue, but they were forbidden from responding in kind.

The state can appeal the decision.

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