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WKU Public Radio

Tennessee’s Attorney General is warning that the state could lose federal funding if a controversial bathroom bill clears in the General Assembly. 

The bill would require Tennessee students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.  Supporters say the legislation is necessary to protect the privacy of students.  Opponents argue the bill is discriminatory. 

State Attorney General Herbert Slattery issued an opinion Monday saying the bill would violate Title IX, which means the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funding. 

The Tennessean reports that Governor Bill Haslam and the state Education Department have raised similar concerns, but the Governor has not said if he would veto the legislation should it reach his desk.  The bill has so far cleared a House committee.

J. Tyler Franklin

As Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration and a private consulting firm work to fix Benefind, the troubled one-stop portal for health and social services in Kentucky, the blame game over who’s responsible for its problematic rollout continues.

At a hearing of the state Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee on Monday, a top Bevin administration official blamed the federal government and previous Gov. Steve Beshear for the problems plaguing the system. The online portal, which launched Feb. 29, has been marred with long wait times, lost services and erroneous notices of canceled benefits.

Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told lawmakers that federal officials tested Benefind before it was released and gave the green light to launch.

“If there’s a problem, someone should take it up with the federal government. They said ‘you need to move forward,’” she testified to the committee.

Kentucky Lawmakers Extend Deadline, Reviving Budget Talks

Apr 11, 2016
J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers have agreed to extend the deadline for approving a two-year operating budget of more than $65 billion for state and federal services.

Budget talks broke down late Sunday night. The legislature was scheduled to convene for the final time this year on Tuesday. The schedule would not give lawmakers enough time to vote on an operating budget.

Monday, House and Senate leaders agreed to move the legislature's final day to Friday. That is the last day they could meet according to state law.

Budget negotiations are scheduled to formally resume at 1 p.m. Tuesday. If lawmakers do not pass a budget by Friday, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin would have to call them back for an expensive special session in order to avoid a partial shutdown of government services.

Ryland Barton, WKU Public Radio

Kentucky’s Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear announced on Monday he had filed suit against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin over the governor’s recent order imposing an immediate 4.5 percent funding cut to state colleges and universities.

The cut amounts to some $41 million in spending reductions from what the General Assembly had agreed to in a previous budget.

Beshear called Bevin’s March 31 order “unconstitutional and illegal.”

The Bevin administration has said state law supports his order to make the cuts unilaterally.

WFPL News

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is encouraging state lawmakers to pass a budget before the legislature adjourns for the year.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the Republican governor still hopes lawmakers can pass a budget without an expensive special session.

House and Senate lawmakers ended budget negotiations late Sunday night after declaring an impasse. The legislature is scheduled to meet Tuesday for the final time this year. Lawmakers could move their final day to as late as Friday to give them more time to reach a deal. But Senate Republican leaders said they would not support that move.

If lawmakers fail to pass a budget, Bevin would have to call legislators back for an expensive special session. Otherwise, portions of state government would shut down on July 1.

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.

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