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No movement on pensions

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — With only seven days remaining in the legislative session, House and Senate leaders on Monday were no closer to reaching an agreement on on how to fix and fund the ailing pension system.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he had not talked with Senate leaders yet about the fate of two bills that deal with pensions. The two chambers took the unusual step of rejecting the other chamber’s pension bills last week.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said that there was still a possibility that the pension problem could be solved. Any bill can be taken up in a “free conference committee” a committee of members of both chambers that could discuss any bill or topic.

Stumbo said Monday that the House was still open to discussing the pension issue and said that the House did not want to have to return to Frankfort to deal with the issue in a special legislative session, which would cost taxpayers an additional $60,000 a day.

“Religious freedom bill” heads to Senate

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A bill that would strengthen people’s ability to ignore Kentucky regulations or laws that violate their religious beliefs is now headed to the Republican-controlled Senate.

On Friday House Bill 279 passed the Democratic-controlled House 82-7 with 11 members not voting on the bill.

House passes DNA pre-conviction bill

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A bill that would allow for collection of DNA samples at the time of arrest passed the House on Thursday, despite questions about the constitutionality of collecting DNA prior to a conviction.

House Bill 89 passed the House 68-27. A similar bill has passed a Senate committee but has not yet been voted on by the full Senate. House Bill 89 would allow police to collect DNA evidence at the time of a felony arrest. That information would then be placed in a database. Police and prosecutors could run that DNA evidence against biological evidence collected from unsolved crimes.

House passes coal county scholarship bill

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — The House voted unanimously Thursday to pass a bill that would give scholarships to students from 34 coal counties to attend universities in those counties.

House Bill 210 passed despite strong objections of some legislators who said the bill should not limit attendance to colleges in those coal-producing counties.

A similar measure passed the House last year but never passed the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Steve Beshear created a nine-county scholarship program by executive order last year.

House committee to take up Lexington police and fire pension bill, and state pension bill

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A House committee is expected to vote on a bill that would tweak the ailing Lexington police and fire pension fund and will also discuss an overhaul of the state pension system.

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said Wednesday that the House State Government Committee will not vote on Senate Bill 2, the Senate fix to the state pension plan that includes moving new hires into a 401 (K) hybrid plan.

“It’s discussion only,” Yonts said, who is chairman of the House State Government Committee.

Receipts up 3.8 percent for January

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — Receipts for January are up 3.8 percent compared to January 2012, state numbers released Monday show.

The state is on track to meet or beat the revenue estimate for this fiscal year. The revenue estimate is set by the Consensus Forecasting Group, an independent group of economists that sets the state’s revenue estimates. The group predicted overall revenue growth of 2.4 percent for this fiscal year, which began in July.

Stumbo files bill to target Medicaid MCOs

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed legislation Thursday that would allow the Department of Insurance to settle disputes between providers and the state’s Medicaid managed care companies.

Currently, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has to refer any complaints to the Department of Insurance. Under House Bill 5, complaints about Medicaid managed care would go to the cabinet and the Department of Insurance at the same time. The bill would streamline disputes between doctors, hospitals and the managed care companies, Stumbo said.

Senate committee chairmen named

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A freshman legislator has been tapped to head a key Senate committee and Appropriations and Revenue will continue to be run by an independent but will have a Republican vice chairman, Senate Republicans said Friday.

In a written release, Republican Senate Caucus Chairman Dan Seum announced that the Republican majority selected new chairs for legislative committees after meeting for two days this week.

Sen. David Givens of Greensburg will be vice-chairman of the powerful Appropriations and Revenue Committee with current chairman Sen. Robert Leeper, an Independent from Paducah. Both men ran unsuccessfully for leadership positions earlier this month. Leeper challenged Sen. Robert Stivers for the top job and lost. Givens was bested by Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown for the senate majority leadership position.

Two former state employees pay $10,000 fine each for ethics violations

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — Two former state employees have agreed to each pay a $10,000 fine for using their official positions in state government to boost their private businesses, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission released Monday.

Dennis Sharon, a former Department of Fish and Wildlife conservation officer, agreed to pay the $10,000 fine for a host of ethics violations surrounding his private paddlefish business. Sharon served as a conservation officer at the same time he was allegedly making as much as $40,000 over two years selling paddlefish roe — or caviar — commercially.

Geveden charged with ethics violations for pressuring state employees to give to Beshear

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A former high-ranking official in Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration was charged Monday for allegedly pressuring state employees to give money to Beshear’s re-election campaign in 2010.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged Charles Geveden Sr., a former deputy secretary with the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, with three ethics violations. According to the charges released by the commission, Geveden told state employees who worked under him at the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet that they should give to the Democratic governor’s re-election campaign an amount based on how much money that they made.