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Any doubt that Senate Republicans would hold the line behind their leader's decision to block President Obama's Supreme Court nominee has been erased.

"I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everybody in my conference, is that the nomination should be made by the president the people elect in the election that's underway right now," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.

Lisa Autry

The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court says the state is facing a potential “constitutional crisis” if courts undergo budget cuts proposed by Governor Matt Bevin.

Chief Justice John Minton says that the Judicial Branch will be unable to perform necessary functions under the cuts and would have to shut down for three weeks during this fiscal year.

“We just simply couldn’t make payroll between now and June 30th if we have to give back $9.5 million," Minton explained.

Justice Minton is requesting that the judicial branch be totally exempted from the cuts. Bevin’s budget cuts nearly all state spending by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent over the next two years.

Minton says the state’s drug court system could be shut down as a result of the cuts. The program allows those convicted of drug crimes to participate in substance abuse programs instead of serving time.

WFPL News

Gov. Matt Bevin’s top budget aide on Monday said spending cuts are necessary to start improving the status of the state’s ailing pension systems.

Under the governor’s proposed budget, most state agencies will be cut by 4.5 percent for the rest of the current fiscal year and 9 percent over the next two fiscal years.

State Budget Director John Chilton told state legislators that the cuts are better than increasing taxes, borrowing money or ignoring the growing financial liability in the state pension systems.

“Are these severe? Yeah,” he said of the proposed cuts. “But the amount of liability that needs to be paid at some point is huge.”

Combined, the pension systems for state employees and teachers are short about $30 billion in the money the state needs to send out checks to current and future retirees.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer's ex-fiancee has alleged in a lawsuit that he threatened to use his political power against her.

The Georgetown News-Graphic reported that the allegations are part of lawsuits Thayer, a Scott County Republican, and his former fiancee, Tonya Branham, have filed against each other.

After an argument in which police were called to the home Dec. 14, Branham claims that Thayer said he would prevent a police report from being created. Georgetown police told the News-Graphic no report was generated because there was no allegation of physical violence and no crime was committed.

Branham also says Thayer threatened to get the Administrative Office of the Courts to no longer allow her to serve as a Families in Transition counselor and to try to keep her from volunteering with the Court Appointed Special Advocates.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Department of Corrections.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has named Rodney Ballard, Fayette County’s jailer, as its new commissioner.

Ballard will begin his state job on March 14, replacing LaDonna Thompson, who has served as commissioner since 2008, according to three sources who requested anonymity because an official staff announcement was pending.

Ballard on Friday morning referred questions to the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which includes the Department of Corrections. A cabinet spokeswoman declined to immediately confirm Ballard’s appointment. The agency issued a statement Friday afternoon.

Ballard, a former state police officer, has run the Division of Community Corrections in Lexington since March 2012. In that capacity, he oversaw a 1,266-bed jail, the state’s second-largest. Before that, Ballard was the state Department of Corrections’ deputy commissioner for Community Services & Local Facilities.

ThorPorre, via Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would increase restrictions on hydrocodone derivatives and ban three other substances in the commonwealth has cleared the Kentucky Senate.

The bill - Senate Bill 136 - was introduced by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville. It would make hydrocodone a Schedule II controlled substance in Kentucky, instead of Schedule III. Westerfield says his bill also increases penalties for the possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs.

“We don’t know where they’re all coming from, we don’t know what’s in them always and what impact and effect they have on the mind and the body and what kind of impairment they can create," Westerfield said. "We’re continuing to see that problem and I think an enhanced penalty is something we should do.”

The bill would ban two synthetic opioids, known as W-18 and W-15 which Westerfield says are not in wide circulation yet in the commonwealth. It also prohibits the Asian plant kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) which Westerfield says has a low potency but can be addictive.

Thinkstock

There will be more court-appointed attorneys available to represent poor people in court under Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget.

In his proposal, Bevin set aside funds to add 44 lawyers to the Department of Public Advocacy’s ranks of 333 public defenders.

Ed Monahan, the state’s chief public defender, said the move would help the agency reduce caseloads for its overworked advocates.

“We’re very fortunate that this governor has recognized that if we had additional capacity, that it would not only deal with the unethical levels of cases we have, but it will be one of the best business investments that can be made when you look at this criminal justice system,” Monahan said during a presentation to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice and the Judiciary on Thursday.

Monahan said the move is a step in the right direction, but the agency will still be subject to other reductions if Bevin’s proposal to cut most state agencies by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent for the next two years is approved by the General Assembly.

Kentucky public defenders represent clients who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. They handled about 153,000 cases in 2015, up from 137,000 in 2006.

LRC Public Information

Democratic State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville has proposed a bill that would require men to have two in-person visits with a doctor before receiving a prescription for erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra.

Men would also be required to swear that they will only use the pills to have sex with their spouse, who must also provide written consent.

Marzian acknowledges that the bill is a tongue-in-cheek response to anti-abortion legislation put forward by conservative lawmakers, but she’s drawn national attention for the move.

Our Capitol reporter Ryland Barton sat down with Marzian for this interview.

LRC Public Information

A statewide anti-discrimination law will likely not be voted on in the Kentucky state legislature this year.

The House Judiciary Committee had a public hearing on the bill Wednesday. It would mandate people could not lose their job or their housing based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The committee did not vote on the bill because Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville said it did not have the votes to pass. Marzian said her bill was likely two or three years away from getting a vote on the floor of the state House of Representatives.

Marzian criticized Republicans and some conservative Democrats as "homophobes" for opposing the bill. Republican state Rep. Stan Lee and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo called her criticisms unfair.

Thinkstock

A bill proposed in the state House of Representatives would reduce penalties for some crimes with the goal of saving the state money, according to the legislation’s sponsor.

Rep. Brent Yonts, a Democrat from Greenville, has filed a bill that would create a new crime category called “gross misdemeanor,” which would include flagrant non-support (not paying child support), second degree forgery and second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Yonts said on Tuesday that the bill would help reduce the incarcerated rate in Kentucky, which has risen over the last decade despite a drop in criminal court cases.

“If we don’t do anything to solve that problem, nothing is going to change,” Yonts said. “More taxpayer money will be required to make the budget take care of the prisoners in our prison system and also the prisoners in our county jail.”

The three crimes included in the bill are all Class D felonies, which have an average sentence of just over three years, according to the Department of Corrections. Under Yonts’ bill, those convicted of gross misdemeanors would receive a maximum sentence of 24 months.

WKU

Efforts to expand Kentucky’s Civil Rights Act are getting a boost from a Western Kentucky University legal scholar.

History Professor and Constitutional law expert Patricia Minter is testifying Wednesday in Frankfort in support of a bill that would offer greater legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

The measure would expand the reach of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act to cover LGBT individuals.

Minter says Kentucky’s LGBT community shouldn’t face discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

“It won’t be long before Americans all over the country will look back at using sexual orientation or gender identity as discriminatory categories, and wonder what people were thinking,” Minter said.  

The Kentucky House Judiciary committee will hear testimony regarding the bill Wednesday at noon eastern.

Minter acknowledges the bill faces an uphill climb in this year’s legislature. Opponents of protecting LGBT individuals under the state’s Civil Rights Act say such a move would infringe upon the religious beliefs of employers and landlords.

The Senate version of the bill is called the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Act. The measure is backed by nearly 200 employers who have formed the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Coalition. The group argues that protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination would make the Bluegrass Stare more attractive to businesses who favor progressive values, as well as workers who want to live in places seen as welcoming to the LGBT community.

J. Tyler Franklin

Three Democratic Louisville Metro Council Democrats are sponsoring a measure effectively banning development of anaerobic digestion facilities — or methane gas plants — for at least six months.

Backing the ordinance are council members David James of District 6, Barbara Shanklin of District 2 and Mary Woolridge of District 3. It’s set to be discussed in the council’s land development committee at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Their aversion to development of such facilities stems from a months-long fight that erupted last year in response to plans for developing a methane gas plant in a densely populated residential area of the California neighborhood.

Opponents lashed out against the proposal was unfair, saying western Louisville already has a high concentration of chemical and gas plants. During multiple community meetings on the proposal, neighbors expressed concerns about issues ranging from odors to traffic from heavy vehicles.

Flickr/Creative Commons

A bill filed in the Kentucky Senate would offer legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

The measure is called  the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Act, and would add the LGBT community to those covered under the state’s Civil Rights Act.

The Courier-Journal reports the bill’s six Senate sponsors are all from either Louisville or Lexington, and include five Democrats and one Republican.

Similar legislation has been filed in the Kentucky House.

Read What's In Senate Bill 176, the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Act

The effort has the support of nearly 200 Kentucky employers who have formed the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Coalition. It includes large companies, such as Brown-Forman, as well as small, locally owned businesses.

A “Fairness Rally” in support of the legislation is being held at the state capitol rotunda in Frankfort Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate bill's chief sponsor is Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville.

Health Care, Economy Focus Of Paul’s Town Hall Events

Feb 15, 2016
Ashley Lopez, WFPL

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul says he will help Gov. Matt Bevin get a waiver from the federal government this summer to begin charging Medicaid recipients for their health insurance.

That will be part of Paul’s message this week as he visits 18 Kentucky cities in four days, his first major trip in the Commonwealth since ending his presidential campaign.

The town hall-style events begin in Scottsville on Tuesday and end in Radcliff on Saturday. Paul has had similar trips in recent months, but this time he won’t be dogged by questions about his other campaign.

Paul is favored to again win the Republican nomination, where he could face Democrat Jim Gray in the fall. The Lexington mayor is the most well-known of the seven Democrats vying for the nomination.

Paul may also discuss the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the increasingly charged political debate about how to replace him on the court.

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.

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