Political news

Bevin's Proposed Cuts Include Funding for Watchdog Agency

Feb 14, 2016
Ryland Barton, WKU Public Radio

As part of his proposed budget cuts, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin exempted what he considered to be key government services. Those not protected include agencies charged with holding him and his administration accountable.

Katie Gabhart, the executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said the proposed 4.5 percent budget cut this year and the 9 percent cut over the next two years will devastate the agency. She said it would force her to lay off the agency's sole investigator and auditor, two employees who already work part time.

"We will be an investigative and auditing agency with no investigator and auditor," Gabhart told House lawmakers this week. "Public servants are going to violate the ethics code ... and if they know we have an ethics commission with so few resources that we can't enforce the code, then what is the point of having one?"

The cuts also include the Registry of Election Finance, the agency that makes sure politicians follow the rules when they raise and spend money for their campaigns. Executive Director John Steffen said the agency could not sustain a 9 percent cut and would not be able to hire an auditor. In response, House lawmakers suggested changing state law so fewer candidates would have to file disclosure reports.

Justice Antonin Scalia loved a good fight.

So it's only fitting that news of his death at age 79 ignited an immediate and partisan battle over who might take his place on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Creative Commons

Men would need to clear new hurdles to get prescriptions for erectile dysfunction under a bill filed Thursday in the state House.

State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Louisville Democrat, said the bill seeks to balance the recent legislative scrutiny of women’s reproductive health with a dose of attention to men.

“The current legislature does not mind inserting itself into personal, private decisions of the 2 million women of the commonwealth that may need reproductive health services,” Marzian said.

“So if we’re going to start inserting ourselves into reproductive issues and health issues, then I think we should also insert them into men’s reproductive health issues.”

The bill would require men to have two meetings with a doctor before receiving a prescription for products like Viagra.

Men would also be required to make a sworn statement — hand on Bible — that the prescription would only be used during sexual relations with their current spouse.

Spouses would have to provide a signed and dated letter providing consent.

When asked how her colleagues received the bill, Marzian said “all of them claimed they don’t know anything about erectile dysfunction.”

Governors across the country are issuing their state budget plans and outlining policy proposals. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson checks in with reporters in Kentucky, Wyoming and Connecticut, where the governors recently gave their State of the State addresses, to discuss some of the top issues in those states.

LRC Public Information

The state Senate has approved a bill requiring women who seek an abortion in Kentucky to view or hear a description of a sonogram image of their own fetus.

The legislation is one in a handful of anti-abortion measures being pushed through the General Assembly this year.

State Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor, clashed Thursday morning with opponents of the bill, who say it would violate women’s right to have an abortion.

“If you think this isn’t about making sure that mother has all the information that she needs and that this is no more than a political stunt, well, we’re just going to have to disagree,” Westerfield said

The bill would require a doctor to provide a “simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting,” including the location of the fetus in the uterus and a medical description of the body.

The committee approved the bill 11-1. State Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, was the lone no vote.


The owners of websites that charge people to remove jail or prison mugshots could be penalized under a bill heading to the state House floor.

The Judiciary Committee approved the legislation 17-0 on Wednesday.

Websites such as mugshots.com, which publish photos obtained through open records laws from corrections facilities across the U.S., assess fees to people seeking to have their photos removed.

State Rep. Gerald Watkins, a Democrat from Paducah, said the practice amounts to extortion.

“It’s just an extortion ring, and we need some penalties to try and discourage companies from doing this and wrecking people’s careers and lives,” Watkins said.

Mugshots.com did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

LRC Public Information

A state House committee has passed a bill that would extend protections to victims of “revenge porn” in Kentucky.

The legislation would prohibit distributing pornographic images or video without the consent of the person or people depicted.

Jeff Metzmeier, an assistant Jefferson County attorney, said the issue isn’t covered by current law.

“One of the problems that I saw early on is there’s no statute to cover that act, that act of maliciously distributing those materials,” Metzmeier said.

The bill would charge a Class A misdemeanor to those who distribute pornographic images with the intent to “harm, harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the person depicted.”

Those who distribute the images or video for profit would be charged with a Class D felony.

State Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Louisville Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor, said the bill doesn’t just apply to “revenge porn.”

Kentucky Might Offer Two Marriage Licenses

Feb 10, 2016

A Kentucky senate committee has approved a bill to establish two separate marriage license forms, one for gay couples and another for straight couples, although people can choose either form.  

One form would note ‘first party’ and ‘second party’ and the other would note ‘bride’ and ‘groom’.

Chris Hartman with the Fairness Coalition would prefer one document for all couples.

“We would prefer to see one marriage license so there’s not even the appearance of disparate treatment," said Hartman.  "But, at the end of the day, all couples are still going be able to get valid, legal marriage licenses in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. That’s what’s important to us.”

The measure comes five months after Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed for refusing to issue licenses to same-sex partners. 

Also under the bill, the names of county clerks would be removed from the licenses.

The measure now heads to the full Senate for a vote. 

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky legislators will again consider legislation that would allow local governments to temporarily levy a 1 percent sales tax to fund projects.

Despite support from across the political spectrum, it’s unclear whether the local option sales tax will become Kentucky law this year.

The local option sales tax bill brought together the House’s Democratic and Republican leaders, who are otherwise locked in a fierce political battle for control of the legislative body. It was proposed Tuesday by Democratic House Speaker Greg Sumbo and Republican House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover.

Supporters say the legislation would allow local governments to decide upon and fund important projects in their communities, such as the planned Louisville Waterfront Park expansion.

Kentucky LRC

A bill that would allow private companies to finance, construct and operate public projects is advancing in the state House, this time without a major hangup for some legislators.

The public-private partnership bill failed in the last three legislative sessions, when lawmakers raised concerns that the financing model would be used to repair and implement tolls on the Brent-Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky.

Under the bill, the Brent-Spence Bridge and any other project connecting Kentucky and Ohio are precluded from using the “P3” model.

Rep. Leslie Combs, a Democrat from Pikeville who sponsored the bill for the last three legislative sessions, refused to even mention the bridge’s name Tuesday when she presented the bill to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

“It does not include anything to do with a project in Northern Kentucky, therefore I do not wish to hear its name, I do not wish to have a discussion about it because it has nothing to do with that project in Northern Kentucky,” Combs said.

Federal officials say Kentucky could have to return more than $57 million in unused grant money because of Republican Governor Matt Bevin's decision to dismantle Kynect.

The federal government gave Kentucky a $289 million federal grant to plan and establish kynect, a health exchange where Kentuckians can purchase private insurance plans with the help of a federal subsidy. State officials have spent all of it except for $57.5 million.

A letter from Acting Administrator Andrew Slavitt of the federal Department of Health and Human Services to Bevin last month says state officials cannot use that money to move the state to the federal exchange. The money would have to be returned.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said state officials would return any unused money.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Robert Nelson

Kentuckians with concealed carry permits could bring firearms into schools, college halls and government offices where they may currently be banned under a bill proposed recently in the state House.

Under the proposal, any Kentuckian with a valid concealed deadly weapons license or a temporary permit could bring a concealed gun onto public elementary and secondary school property. Licensees and permit-holders could also bring concealed weapons to public universities and colleges, state and locally controlled government buildings, and to meetings of the state’s legislative body.

Courtrooms and detention facilities would be exempt under the bill.

The legislation was proposed last month by Republican state House members Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park, Kenny Imes of Murray, Richard Heath of Mayfield and Tim Moore of Elizabethtown.

Moore said the bill is an anti-terrorism measure.

“I just want to eliminate soft targets,” he said.

Flickr/Creative Commons/401kcalculator.org

A diverse group of education, economic, and health organizations is banding together to push for tax reform in Kentucky. 

The Kentucky Together Coalition was formed days after Governor Matt Bevin proposed steep budget cuts to many state agencies.  Coalition Spokesman Kenny Colston said the commonwealth currently loses more in tax breaks and loopholes than it receives in revenue.

"Many of these tax breaks were set up years or decades ago without any sunset provisions, and it's really a drain on the state budget," Colston told WKU Public Radio.  "It's not necessarily raising taxes on people.  We think these special interest tax breaks should be one of the first things looked at."

Governor Bevin’s administration has said it would consider tax reform after the current legislative session. 

A commission established by former Governor Steve Beshear presented a plan in 2012 to modernize Kentucky’s tax system and generate nearly $700 million a year.  However, state lawmakers didn’t act on the plan.

With proposed budget cuts to offset a major pension shortfall, the coalition argues tax reform is needed to protect the state’s vital public services.

Kentucky LRC

The state House is poised to take up a bill to defund Planned Parenthood this week, amid a rightward swing in Kentucky politics in which long-awaited legislation limiting abortion rights has already been signed into law.

The bill to divert funds from Planned Parenthood clinics in the state has already passed the Senate. A pro-life contingent in the Democratic-controlled House has already helped get the legislation a first reading; the bill needs three readings before a vote by the full House.

The state Senate on Tuesday approved the legislation, which would block Planned Parenthood from getting about $331,000 in federal Title X funding. The vote is largely symbolic; Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky announced last month that it would stop accepting Title X funds when it began providing abortion services in Louisville.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, a Republican from Jamestown, said he’ll continue to push the Democratic leadership to take up the bill.

LRC Public Information

The top Kentucky House Republican says GOP-backed legislation to ban labor unions from requiring employees to join them is unlikely to get a House vote this year.

House GOP Leader Jeff Hoover said Friday that right-to-work legislation isn't among the top priorities for House Republicans. Senate Republicans have identified it as one of their main priorities.

Hoover's announcement comes two days after a U.S. District Judge in Kentucky ruled that local right-to-work ordinances passed by 12 counties in the commonwealth are illegal.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo says right-to-work legislation doesn't have "a snowball's chance" of passing the Democratic-controlled House.

But House Republicans have been using procedural motions to try to force House votes on some bills. Hoover is downplaying the chances of such maneuvering for the right-to-work bill.

Hoover says he plans to keep pushing for an eventual House vote on legislation to put Planned Parenthood clinics last in line for family planning funds.