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Group seeks end of controversial campaign finance measure

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court shook up the world of campaign finance by ruling that corporations and unions may spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

Since then, a very small part of the American public –0.01 percent — has donated 40 percent of all the contributions.

That needs to be stopped, said a small group in front of the Capitol Wednesday that offered the statistic to reporters.

They were in support for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to do away with the 2010 high court ruling called “Citizens United.”

A tiny portion of this country is funding elections and, in effect, controlling their outcome, said Richard Beliles, a Louisville attorney who is chair of Common Cause of Kentucky.

The group is part of the national Common Cause organization that advocates open, honest and accessible state and local government.

Common Cause held rallies across the country Tuesday similar to the one at the Kentucky Capitol and urged members of Congress to join the efforts in curbing campaign spending.

Joining Beliles in Frankfort were Louisville retired attorney George Schuhmann with Public Citizen, a non-profit, consumer rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.; Amy Waters of Louisville with, a global climate movement; and Jan Christensen of Louisville with and the environmental group, Sierra Club.

Alvarado is pursuing defamation lawsuit against Palmer in state Senate race

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester is pursuing his defamation lawsuit against R.J. Palmer, the Democratic incumbent he ousted in last November’s election.

Alvarado’s attorney, Christopher Hunt, of Lexington, said Tuesday that even though Alvarado won the election, Alvarado wants to defend his reputation not only for himself and his family but to make sure others will not be discouraged from running for office who face similar tactics.

During the election campaign last October, Alvarado, a medical doctor, sued Palmer and Palmer’s campaign consultant, Dale Emmons, for defamation involving a campaign ad.

Alvardo also sought a restraining order to stop the television ad. However, a Scott circuit judge a few days before the election refused to grant the order.

Alvarado contends that the ad uses spliced courtroom footage to cast him as a drug dealer.

The ad implies that he unlawfully prescribed $3,000 worth of oxycodone to a criminal defendant, Alvarado said. Video from the court hearing is clear that the defendant had a valid prescription for OxyContin, Alvarado said.

Palmer, who had been the Senate minority leader, said Alvarado’s claims had no merit.

Baptist leader blasts Stumbo’s medical marijuana bill

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — The leader of the state’s largest religious organization voiced opposition Tuesday to a proposal in the state legislature that would make it legal for people to use marijuana in Kentucky for medical purposes.

“The very idea of thwarting the authority of the Food and Drug Administration and allowing Kentuckians to smoke marijuana under the guise that it is somehow medically beneficial is absurd,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention.

“Just because other states have taken this step doesn’t mean we should legalize another intoxicant, especially one that has been proven to be the first step toward abusing the hard drugs that are claiming so many lives through overdoes,” Chitwood said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, filed a bill in this year’s legislative session that would allow trained doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients for 21 “debilitating medical conditions,” ranging from “severe” nausea to post traumatic stress disorder. The state would have a strict oversight system in place to make sure prescriptions were not abused, Stumbo said.

“I understand this is a learning process, but I hope people will listen to the debate before making up their minds,” Stumbo said Tuesday in an email. “This is not recreational marijuana; it is medical marijuana, and they should hear the stories from people who say it has benefitted them and their families. My bill is one of the strictest among the states, too; it does not allow smoking, nor does it let individuals grow their own.”

Senate panel approves bill to curb governor’s use of administrative regulations

FRANKFORT – State legislators would have more authority over the governor’s administrative regulations under a bill a Senate panel approved Thursday on a partisan vote.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, is the same as a measure that the Senate approved last year but the House let die.

It would amend the state Constitution to specify that an administrative regulation disapproved by lawmakers would be void and unenforceable and could not be reissued in the same or similar language for at least a year.

Some legislators complain that they have no power over administrative regulations when the General Assembly is not in session. They can only address them now when in session.

Such regulations allow the executive branch to deal with emergencies and to implement policies when the legislature is not in session.

The bill would allow the General Assembly to set up a review panel to rule on administrative regulations between sessions of the legislature.

Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, told the committee the bill was not needed and that it would delegate power to a special agency created by the legislature.

Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, said the bill would lead to year-round legislative action.

The panel’s vote was 8-3, with Republicans in the majority. The legislation now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Constitutional amendments require approval by the House and the Senate and by voters in statewide polls.

–Jack Brammer

KY Senate Dems pick new leadership team

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Senate Democrats are going with an entire new leadership team for the next two years.

Members of the minority party in the Senate selected in a unanimous vote Monday Ray Jones of Pikeville to be the Democratic floor leader.

Also named to the leadership team were Gerald Neal of Louisville as caucus chair and former Gov. and now state Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort as caucus whip.

Jones, who has been in the Senate since 2001, replaces R.J. Palmer of Winchester, who lost a re-election bid last month to Republican Ralph Alvarado of Winchester.

Neal, a senator since 1989, replaces Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg, and Carroll, a senator since 2005, replaces Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville, who did not seek re-election.

Republicans have controlled the Senate since 2000. They now outnumber Democrats in the Senate, 26-12.

That may change after a special election will be held to replace Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, who won an election last month for Rowan county judge-executive.

Senate Republicans chose their leaders last week. House and Senate Democrats will pick their leaders when the 2015 General Assembly begins Jan. 6.

An organizational session will run through Jan. 9.

Legislators then will return to Frankfort Feb. 3 to continue the 30-day, 2015 law-making session.

Big dip in KY’s gasoline tax means less money for road projects

Transportation Secretary Mike HancockBy Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Kentucky motorists will pay less taxes for gas starting New Year’s Day, but the change will mean fewer road improvements, state officials warned Wednesday.

Kentucky’s tax on sales of gasoline, diesel and ethanol motor fuels will drop by 4.3 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, resulting in a loss to the Kentucky Road Fund of about $129 million on an annualized basis, according to the state Transportation Cabinet.

Kentucky’s gas tax fluctuates with the average wholesale price of gas, which has dropped in recent months.

“The gas tax accounts for more than half of the revenue in the Kentucky Road Fund,” state Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said in a news release. “A loss of revenue is always concerning, but a revenue impact of this magnitude is crippling. It means less money for building, improving, maintaining and repairing our roads, streets and bridges.”

A loss of $129 million would amount to about 6 percent of Kentucky’s highway funding, which was forecast to collect $2.25 billion in the current fiscal year from all revenue sources, including state and federal motor-fuels taxes and a state usage tax on motor vehicles.

Luallen pledges to support Beshear as KY’s new lieutenant governor

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Crit Luallen, in her first public speech as Kentucky’s 56th lieutenant governor, told several hundred people in the Capitol Rotunda Friday that she is ready to help Gov. Steve Beshear with his “continuing efforts to build a Kentucky poised for a prosperous future.”

Luallen, who has served with six other Kentucky governors in high positions and was elected twice as state auditor, said the day was not one for laying out a new agenda but “to celebrate all that is right and good about our state’s past and its hope for the future.”

Luallen particiapted in a publc-swearing in ceremony that attracted various state officials like Attorney General Jack Conway, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Senate President Robert Stivers and other well-wishers.

Beshear named Luallen to be the state’s No. 2 public official to replace Jerry Abramson, who departed to take a job with the White House to help local officials throughout the country.

In his remarks at Friday’s public ceremony, Beshear said Luallen will help his administration in improving access to health care and creating jobs.

Luallen called on several family members and friends to participate in the ceremony.

Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart, who went to school with Luallen, served as moderator.

Catarine Hancock, Luallen’s great niece and a sophomore at Lexington’s Lafayette High School, sang the National Anthem.

The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County, gave the invocation and Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, introduced Luallen.

Franklin Circuit Court Judger Philip Shepherd, administered the public oath of office as Luallen’s husband, Lynn Luallen, held the Bible upon which she put her hand. A private swearing-in ceremony was held Thursday at the home of former Chief Justice John Palmore and Carol Palmore.

Centre College President John Roush provided the closing remarks and Colmon Elridge, executive assistant in the governor’s office, sang “My Old Kentucky Home.”

The Governor’s School for the Arts Alumni offered the musical prelude for the ceremony that lasted about an hour.

A public reception was held in the Governor’s Mansion after the ceremony. Music there was provided by the Centre College Kentucky Ensemble.

Larry Clark will not seek re-election as No. 2 leader in state House

State Rep. Larry Clark, D-LouisvilleBy Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — In a surprise announcement Wednesday, House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark said he will not seek re-election to the chamber’s No. 2 post, which he has held since 1993.

Clark, D-Louisville, also said he “most likely” will retire from the state legislature when his upcoming term expires at the end of 2016.

He was re-elected last week for another two-year term from Jefferson County’s 46th District, defeating Republican David Rainey by capturing 65 percent of the vote.

“I have until January 2016 to finalize my decision,” Clark, 69, said about staying on in the legislature.
Legislators will elect their leaders at the beginning of the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January.

Clark, who has been in the House since 1984, distributed to reporters after Wednesday’s Legislative Research Commission meeting copies of a letter he had sent earlier in the day to House Speaker Greg Stumbo about his political plans.

He said in the letter that it is “now time to settle on an exit strategy for my transition from public service, particularly for the fine folks of the 46th District, as well as for our House caucus.”

He said when he first was elected speaker pro tem, there was little or no training available to prepare him for representing the members and working with the executive branch.

“With that in mid, I think that choosing a new speaker pro tem at this time, when we have an experienced leadership team and a sitting Democratic governor in Steve Beshear, will give that new member of leadership an opportunity over the next year to learn the job’s demands and best serve the interests of our caucus.”

Stumbo said he does not know who might replace Clark.

Mentioned as possible candidates for the job are House Licensing and Occupations Chairman Dennis Keene of Wilder, Denver Butler of Louisville, former House Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2015 with gubernatorial hopeful Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general.

Stumbo said he was “saddened” by Clark’s decision not to seek leadership. He called Clark “a friend.”
“We hope to keep him involved in a very high level as we move forward these next couple of years,” Stumbo said.

Asked if the job should go to a representative from Louisville, Stumbo said there has been an effort in recent years to spread out leadership across the state.

“It’s highly likely that at some point, if not at this time, Jefferson County will have a person in leadership,” he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Clark and he “did not agree on everything, but I say this with a great deal of respect, he was always an honorable person.

“You never had to figure out where Larry Clark was. He would tell you.”

Judge recuses herself from hearing defamation lawsuit in state Senate race

By Jack Brammer WINCHESTER — State Senate candidate Ralph Alvarado’s defamation lawsuit against his Democratic opponent, state Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, has to wait another day for a hearing. A hearing was scheduled Wednesday afternoon before Clark Circuit Judge Jean Logue to hear Alvarado’s request that Palmer’s campaign stop a TV ad […]

GOP state House candidate in Jefferson County withdraws from race

FRANKFORT — In their efforts to take over the state House this year, Republicans have lost a candidate.

Mark Wilson of Louisville has withdrawn from the race against Democratic incumbent Jeffery Donahue of Fairdale in the 37th House District in south-central Jefferson County.

Wilson could not be reached for comment but Jefferson County GOP Chairman Nathan Haney said Thursday that Wilson expected to come off military active duty at the end of this year but recently learned that he would not.

“The military had other orders for him that would prohibit him from being in the legislature,” Haney said.

Donahue joined the House last year.

Reublicans hope to gain control of the state House for the first time since 1921 at the Nov. 4 polls. Democrats now control the chamber with 54 members, compared to 46 for Republicans.

–Jack Brammer