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Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons

On the last day of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session, Attorney General Jack Conway called on legislators to pass a bill to deal with the state’s growing heroin problem.

“I hope here on the final day of the legislative session that the legislature gets its act together,” Conway said during a news conference.

So far, lawmakers have been squabbling over differing versions of the bill. A heroin bill died in the final minutes of last year’s session.

Conway, a Democrat who is also running for governor, said the bill should include tougher penalties for major heroin traffickers and more funding for treatment. He also called for a bill that would make an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone more available. His stance is the same as House Democrats.

“Four simple provisions that are relatively non-controversial that need to be passed, that need to be passed by midnight tonight because people are dying, because law enforcement officials are having trouble dealing with the problem and prosecutors need help in trying to rid our streets of this scourge,” Conway said.

A committee headed by Conway and First Lady Jane Beshear has distributed 2,000 naloxone kits to the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Northern Kentucky.

The total cost for the kits is over $100,000. The kits were funded as part of a $32 million settlement between the state and two pharmaceutical companies. The settlement money has also gone to fund nonprofit treatment programs across the state and provide users with “scholarships” to treatment programs.

The newest member of the Kentucky Supreme Court has been sworn in as a justice.

David A. Barber was joined by his wife, children and grandchildren at the ceremony Monday in the Supreme Court Courtroom at the state Capitol. Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., other Supreme Court justices and House Speaker Greg Stumbo were among those speaking at the event.

Governor Steve Beshear appointed Barber to serve as the justice from the 7th Supreme Court District in eastern Kentucky. Barber was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Will T. Scott, who is running for governor.

Barber was a Court of Appeals judge from 2000 to 2007 and has been an attorney in private practice and public service for more than 33 years.

Kentucky LRC

With two working days to go, Kentucky lawmakers still haven’t nailed down legislation to address the state’s growing heroin problem and it’s ailing teachers pension system.

On Friday, legislators from both chambers met for hours, trying to craft compromises on the bills.

A solution is starting to take shape to help shore up the teachers pension system, but the House and Senate remain divided on sentencing guidelines in the heroin bill.

Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to pass laws.

Heroin

Representatives and senators were still at odds Friday afternoon over needle exchanges, sentencing guidelines for heroin traffickers, and whether to include a “good Samaritan” clause that would provide immunity to those who report heroin overdoses.

Senate President Robert Stivers repeatedly suggested that the committee stop arguing and produce a bill that only includes points that lawmakers agree on: making overdose-reversing drug naloxone more available and increasing funding for treatment programs.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky lawmakers say they’ve come a long way in coming up with a legislative solution to the state’s heroin epidemic, but no consensus has emerged on the biggest sticking point—how to punish heroin traffickers.

The House wants to keep the state’s current law that gives low-level heroin traffickers lighter prison sentences. The Senate wants strict sentencing across the board.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Taylor Mill Republican and candidate for lieutenant governor, said strict sentencing guidelines would still allow prosecutors to use discretion and provide reduced charges for “peddlers.”

“We believe that we need to trust our prosecutors locally to make these decisions and we trust our prosecutors,” he said.

On Thursday, a conference committee made up of six representatives and six senators attempted to hammer out final details of the bill. To get heroin legislation passed in this session, both the state House and Senate would have to vote on a final version of the bill on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat and author of the House version of the bill, said lawmakers need to “legislate to the bad” prosecutors—to prevent low-level traffickers and addicts from entering the prison system.

Tilley said current law already has tough penalties for traffickers, and he pointed out that low-level drug dealers would receive a Class C felony if they received a second trafficking offense.

Senators also took issue with a House proposal to add $10 million dollars for drug treatment to the bill.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, said House lawmakers need to identify the source for the additional funding.

“I think we all have to take a realistic look: where are those monies coming from,” Stivers asked.

The provision for additional money had been proposed by Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor.

Kentucky LRC

Once-dead legislation that would allow Kentucky restaurants to claim a tax break for charitable food donations has been resurrected in the final days of this year’s legislative session.

The bill would provide restaurants with a tax refund worth 20 percent of the fair market value of food donated to charities.

It’s unclear how much the state would miss in revenue lost from the tax break. Jason Bailey, director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said that’s a problem.

“The bill has not been heard in committee so there’s been no public discussion on how much it costs and whether it’s worth the lost revenue,” Bailey said. “Any amount if we’re not having an open discussion about it is problematic.

The bill failed to land a committee hearing in the Democratic-led House earlier this year. Now the language has been tacked on to a different bill that is already poised to pass the state legislature.

The Courier-Journal reported that Louisville-based Yum! Brands had pushed for the bill earlier in the session and was responsible for its late revival.

Amber Cronen, intake coordinator with the Hope Center in Lexington, said restaurant donations are readily accepted at her organization.

Sen. Rand Paul's advisers are preparing to launch a White House bid on April 7.

A senior Paul adviser said Tuesday the Kentucky Republican is set to make his presidential ambitions official in Louisville, Kentucky. He then is expected to visit early nominating states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

The adviser demanded anonymity to speak ahead of Paul's public announcement. The adviser adds that Paul could still pull the plug on a campaign, although that is not expected to happen.

Paul's team has booked an event at Louisville's Galt House hotel. His supporters have also received invitations to that site.

Details of the kick-off event were first reported by The Lexington Herald-Leader.

Jonathan Meador, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says he want to “run up the score” in western Kentucky, where he leads a four-person Republican field for governor.

“As Commissioner of Agriculture, I’ve worked very closely with a lot of entrepreneurs and family farmers in Western Kentucky so they know me, they know I can provide the badly needed leadership we need in this state," said Comer. 

Last week’s Bluegrass Poll found Comer was trailing former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner by eight points statewide.  Comer has a double digit lead over his party opponents in western Kentucky. 

He says he’s the best-equipped candidate to take on presumptive Democratic nominee Jack Conway in the November general election, noting that he outpolled the state attorney general in the 2011 elections for their respective offices.

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.

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