Political news

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.


Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has ordered immediate 4.5 percent cuts in state funding to all public colleges and universities.

The order comes as state lawmakers are locked in a stalemate over a two-year state spending plan. House and Senate leaders broke off negotiations on Thursday because Senate Republicans insisted on budget cuts for higher education while Democrats refused.

Bevin first proposed his mid-year budget cuts in January as part of a plan to cut state spending by $650 million and use the savings to begin to pay down the state’s public pension debt.

The House and the Senate did not include Bevin’s 4.5 percent mid-year cuts in their budget proposals. But Bevin, citing a state law that allows him to reduce allotments for executive branch agencies, cut their budgets anyway.

UPDATE: Budget Talks Have Broken Down In Frankfort

Mar 31, 2016
J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Legislative leaders in Frankfort say budget negotiations have broken down, putting a two-year spending plan in jeopardy.

Members of the House and Senate budget conference committee said Thursday they were unable to reach a deal. They have met privately for several days trying to reach a compromise in time for the legislature to approve the deal on Friday.

House Democrats insist they will not allow budget cuts for education. Senate Republicans say the cuts are needed to help pay down the state’s more than $30 billion pension debt.

J. Tyler Franklin

Thousands of Kentuckians have erroneously received letters notifying them that they would no longer receive state benefits like Medicaid or food stamps.

Meanwhile, access to the new state system that handles those programs has been restricted and service spotty in many instances, leading to long wait times, frustration and a loss of benefits for countless Kentuckians.

At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Matt Bevin and members of his administration acknowledged myriad problems with Benefind, which operates as the umbrella portal for Kentuckians to apply for nearly all entitlement services.

The administration also acknowledged it knew of problems with the system before its Feb. 29 launch. Many of those problems are detailed in a “defect guide” sent to state employees days before the system’s rollout and obtained by WFPL News.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

State lawmakers have once again called off budget negotiations, hoping to hammer out a compromise on Thursday.

Lawmakers met in small groups privately on Wednesday afternoon, but they provided no indication that they were any closer to an agreement by the end of the day.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, offered no details of which parts of the budget lawmakers still couldn’t agree on.

“We have some tentative frameworks established, and I think everyone will keep working hard towards a final product,” he said.

The last time lawmakers publicly discussed budget specifics, they clashed over how to start fixing the state’s ailing pension systems and whether to cut K-12 and higher education funding.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Lawmakers are still trying to produce a compromise budget to delineate $22 billion in state spending over the next two years.

Leaders from the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate have spent much of the last week trying to come up with a final version of the budget.

Partisan squabbling and disagreements over how to fix the state’s ailing pension systems and whether to cut higher education spending have complicated negotiations at the closure of the legislative session.

During a break in the closed-door budget conference committee meeting Wednesday morning, Senate President Robert Stivers was upbeat about the discussion.

“It’s been actually, probably one of the most productive one-hours I’ve seen,” he said.

Creative Commons

Kentuckians who have committed certain felony offenses would be able to clear their records under a bill that passed the state Senate Tuesday. The bill’s passage marked a milestone for the Senate, which has largely ignored the issue for more than a decade.

The new policy would apply to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, shepherded the bill through the Senate.

“You have the biggest-ticket items, the things that are the biggest impediments to the people being able to get back out there and find work, provide for their families, contribute to this commonwealth,” he said.

The list includes failure to pay child support, possession of a controlled substance and theft, among others.

Kentucky LRC

Members of the Kentucky House and Senate will not meet in session Wednesday, but budget negotiations will continue. After talks came to a standstill this week, leaders from both chambers decided to work on the spending plan Wednesday and likely Thursday, and then call members back into session on Friday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo was asked if this strategy would work. “If it doesn’t work, it won’t be because we didn’t try,” Stumbo said. “This is pretty normal in the closing days of a lot of sessions, there is a little bit of confusion. We are working very desperately to get a budget, very hard to get a budget.”

Both chambers remain divided on two key points: the Democratic House wants to restore proposed funding cuts to higher education. The Republican Senate wants to use money attained through reductions to address the state’s pension crisis.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is cautiously optimistic.

“Everything is in flux, but we’re not at a stalemate anymore,” said Thayer. “Conversations are cordial and I still feel like there’s a good chance we can come up with a compromise.”

Thayer said for a compromise plan to work, each side has to give a little. Neither chamber is scheduled to meet in session again until Friday.

J. Tyler Franklin

Lawmakers are back at the table after budget negotiations stalled Monday night amid deep differences over how to start fixing the state pension systems and how much money to cut from K-12 and higher education.

Tuesday morning, Gov. Bevin, along with Republican leaders of the House and Senate, held a formal press conference calling out Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo for delaying the budget process.

“There will be tremendous pain inflicted upon the people of Kentucky if the Speaker does not sit down and come up with a budget. It is up to him,” Bevin said.

Bevin accused Stumbo of “not taking this process seriously.”

House leaders later proposed the beginnings of a compromise plan. It includes some of Bevin’s proposals for the pension system, along with reduced cuts to education.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is raising the possibility of ending the current General Assembly session without a state budget.

Conferees from both chambers and both political parties met in public session Monday. Afterwards, Stumbo said the two parties are philosophically ‘light years’ apart.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is not ready to say that agreement is unattainable.

"There's a long time between now and midnight on April 12, so I'm not going to make a prediction like that, but for now, we are definitely at a standstill," Thayer remarked.

If they cannot agree on a compromise budget, Stumbo says the governor could only spend money for public protection, education, and federally mandated items.

The governor would also have to call lawmakers into a special session before the end of June to try to adopt a state budget.

Cheryl Beckley, WKU PBS

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell makes no secrets about his desire to block President Barack Obama’s agenda at almost every turn.

The latest flashpoint is the President’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

McConnell says the Senate won’t hold hearings for Garland. It’s a position McConnell took almost immediately after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The senior Senator from Kentucky believes Mr. Obama should let the next President fill the high court vacancy.

That position has been blasted by Democrats, who say McConnell is ignoring the president’s constitutional obligation to put forth a nominee, and the Senate’s obligation to provide advice and consent.

McConnell sat down with WKU Public Radio Monday to discuss the Supreme Court and the presidential contest.