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Senate President seeks legal opinion on ‘right-to-work’ option for counties

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Senate President Robert Stivers asked for an attorney general’s opinion Monday on whether Kentucky counties can adopt so-called ‘right-to-work’ provisions that let employees work in unionized businesses without joining the union or paying dues.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said in a news release that he is seeking the opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway because Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell recently opined that the Louisville Metro Government has the authority to require a higher minimum wage than the minimum wage established by federal or state law.

“Using Mr. O’Connell’s analysis, a county should also be able to establish itself as a right-to-work county,” said Stivers.

The Senate leader noted that he sought the request as legislators prepare for the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January. Republicans in the state Senate have pushed the issue for years, but House Democrats oppose the measure.

Many Republicans say such a state law is needed to spur economic development while many Democrats argue it would lower wages by weakening unions.

A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentuckians favor changing state laws to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues. Twenty-eight percent of those polled were opposed.

Stivers said the issue “will be of continuing interest to localities that are looking for innovative ways to attract new businesses.”

He noted that 24 states have enacted “right-to-work” laws that are not pre-empted by federal law.

Stivers was not immediately available to take questions about his request. O’Connell, a Democrat, was not immediately available for comment.

Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin, said the attorney general’s office will review Stivers’ request.

Democratic state Sen. Parrett eyeing possible run for state farm commissioner

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – Dennis Parrett, a Democratic state senator from Elizabethtown, is “definitely considering” running for state agriculture commissioner in 2015.

He said Wednesday that he will decide within the next few weeks whether to enter the race that already has attracted a Democratic candidate.

“I have an interest in seeing agriculture move forward in this state,” Parrett, a farm supplier who has represented the 10th Senate district of Hardin and part of Jefferson County since 2011, said in a telephone interview.

Parrett, who will turn 55 on Oct. 30, had no opposition in this year’s primary and general elections for his legislative seat. He
is a farmer and the co-owner of Cecilia Farm Service in Hardin County. He is a former agriculture extension agent in Hardin and Nelson counties and holds a bachelor’s of science degree in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky.

Jean-Marie Lawson Spann, a Democrat who is the host of a weekly radio show about farm news in Kentucky, announced her plans in June to run for state agriculture commissioner next year.

She is vice president of marketing for Lawson Marketing Inc. and a former vice president of marketing for Hartland Equipment in Bowling Green.

Asked about running against Lawson Spann, Parrett said, “I would not be running against her. I would be running for the office.”

Lawson Spann said in an email that she is focused on running her campaign.

“I have a plan to recruit and grow markets for our farmers’ products, to grow jobs and to improve Kentucky’s economy,” she said. “I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment about someone who is not officially committed to running for the office.”

The current state agriculture commissioner, Republican James Comer, has decided to run next year for governor. He is to officially announce his candidacy and running mate Sept. 9 in his hometown of Tompkinsville.

Lawmaker takes issue with Stumbo’s comments on Ark park

State Rep. Brian LinderBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — State Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, expressed disappointment Thursday over House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s comments this week that the state should not provide tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County.

Linder, who represents Grant, Gallatin and Owen counties in the House’s 61st District, said in a news release that Stumbo’s comments “appear to tell those who want to bring economic opportunity to the commonwealth that Kentucky is closed for business, which only serves to further drive other businesses out of our state.”

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said earlier this week that Grant County needs more economic development but that the use of tax incentives for the park is unconstitutional because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s mandate for separation of church and state.

He predicted that the incentives will be challenged in court and the state would lose.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Authority has given its preliminary approval for as much as $18.25 million in tax incentives for the $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park. It is to consider final approval after a feasibility study is conducted.

The park is to open in two years and will feature a wooden ark 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 55 feet high. It is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum in Boone County. The museum follows a literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief, contrary to science, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Linder said the proposed Ark Encounter theme park is a tourism-based economic development project that qualifies to receive tax incentives from the state. He said millions of dollars have already been allotted for highway improvements in the area of the proposed theme park’s location

“While Kentucky continues to lose jobs to places like Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas, Speaker Stumbo chooses to attack an economic development project in my community by encouraging lawsuits on tax incentives,” Linder said.

Linder said Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and others are supporting the project “because they understand the huge economic benefits it can bring to the Commonwealth, yet Speaker Stumbo would rather stir up issues instead of considering the opportunities this project will provide to Kentucky families.”

Linder called Stumbo’s comments about the park and religion disingenuous.

“While the Speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ behind it,” he said.

Stumbo criticizes use of state tax incentives for Noah’s Ark theme park

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-PrestonsburgBy Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday that it’s not appropriate for the state to provide tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County.

He said he expects that the practice will be challenged in court and that the state will lose because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s mandate for separation of church and state.

Stumbo’s comments came during a wide-ranging news conference in his Capitol office, during which he also contended that Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, was “hand-picked” for the job by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and that he has decided not to make an expanded gambling bill the highest-priority measure in the 2015 General Assembly, because Churchill Downs has contributed heavily to House Republican candidates.

The Democrat from Prestonsburg predicted that Democrats will pick up at least three to five seats in the state House in November to keep control of the chamber. Democrats now have a 54-46 advantage in the House.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, called Stumbo’s news conference “a dog and pony show.”

Jack Conway raises $750,000 in seven weeks for gubernatorial campaign

Attorney General Jack Conway, who is seeking re-election, touted his record at the Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. Photo by Pablo AlcalaBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Attorney General Jack Conway continued his effort to lock up the Democratic nomination in next year’s governor’s race with an overwhelming show of force, announcing Tuesday that his campaign has raised more than $750,000 since entering the race in early May.

Conway and his running mate, state Rep. Sannie Overly, reported having more than $700,000 in cash on hand.

While a number of other Democrats are considering a run for governor after this year’s elections are over, Conway has moved quickly to consolidate Democratic support, announcing his large fundraising haul after rolling out a series of major endorsements.

“Sannie and I are honored by the bipartisan support we’ve received from friends across Kentucky who believe in our vision of creating better jobs, building infrastructure and investing in early childhood and higher education,” Conway said in a statement. “We have a proven record of experience and following through on the commitments we’ve made to the people of this state. We are uniting Democrats and hard-working Kentuckians who believe that together we can build a better commonwealth to live, work and raise our families.”

When Conway first entered the race, a number of Democrats worried that his early entry might distract from the attention and resources Alison Lundergan Grimes will need to defeat U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this November.

In Tuesday’s news release, the campaign said it had held two fundraising events, “keeping the commitment to avoid fundraising conflicts with Alison Lundergan Grimes and the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus.”

No ‘Comment’ this weekend; ‘KY Tonight’ will discuss state budget

“Comment on Kentucky,” a public-affairs show of the Kentucky Educational Television network, will be preempted this weekend because of the Fourth of July.

On the Monday, July 7, edition of “Kentucky Tonight” at 8 p.m. on KET and at KET.org/live, host Bill Goodman and guests will discuss the state budget and tax reform.

Scheduled guests are state Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee; state Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee; Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy; and Bryan Sunderland, senior vice president of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at KET.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions on Twitter @BillKET or on KET’s Facebook page, facebook.com/KET. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 1-800-494-7605.

“Kentucky Tonight” programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET and KET KY. Archived programs, information about podcasts, and broadcast schedules are available at KET.org/kytonight.

“Kentucky Tonight” is a weekly KET production, produced by Deidre Clark. Bill Goodman is host and managing editor.

–Jack Brammer

Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking reappointment to Fish and Wildlife Commission

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT —A judge granted Senate President Robert Stivers’ request Friday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state Senate’s failure to vote on a reappointment to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd said in a four-page order that the court lacks the constitutional authority to direct the Senate on how to consider such nominations and nothing in the lawsuit filed by Campbellsville doctor Jim Angel supports any allegations that the Senate failed to follow its own rules.

Neither Angel nor his attorney, C. Thomas Hectus of Louisville, was immediately available to comment on Shepherd’s order.

Beshear calls for more investments in education

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear told a group of educators and students Tuesday that this year’s legislative session made strides in education “but we have a long way to go.”

At a reception in the Capitol put on by several education organizations called Kentucky Education Action Team to thank Beshear and the 2014 General Assembly, Beshear said he is thankful that lawmakers “overcame a tough budget and made significant investments in our schools and children.”

Former Rep. Arnold appeals ethics decision against him

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – Former state Rep. John Arnold asked Franklin Circuit Court Monday to dismiss the Legislative Ethics Commission’s decision that found him guilty of three ethics charges in a sexual harassment case.

Arnold, D-Sturgis, asked the court to set aside the commission’s fine and reprimand against him.

He claimed the commission did not have any jurisdiction over him as a former legislator and had no say over any sexual harassment regulations.

The commission had no immediate comment on Arnold’s lawsuit.

Candidate for state House seat claims fraud in GOP primary election

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT –Richard Treitz, a candidate in last month’s Republican primary election in the state House’s 24th District that covers Marion, LaRue and Green counties, is legally contesting the results of the election.

Treitz, in a lawsuit filed May 30 in Green Circuit Court, claims that election officials allowed a third candidate’s name – Amber Roger Dones –to appear on the ballot even after she had withdrawn from the race on Feb. 28.

The election results showed Treitz of Greensburg losing to J. Alex LaRue of Hodgenville by a vote of 1,400 to 1,166.

In his lawsuit, Treitz claimed that the county clerks in the district “failed and refused to inform the voters” during the election that Dones had withdrawn from the race and was not a valid candidate.

He said Dones got about 343 votes, which would have gone to him.

“The intentional and pervasive failure to inform the voters of the defective ballots amounts to perpetrating a fraud on the voters and unjustly and unlawfully influencing the outcome of the election,” the suit said.

Treitz is asking the court to set aside the election. He also wants the court to declare him the winner or allow all the voters who voted for Dones to vote again in a special election in the district.

Election officials have not yet replied to Treitz’ lawsuit.

Democratic incumbent Terry Mills of Lebanon will face the Republican nominee for the House seat in the Nov. 4 general election. Mills had no opponent in the May Democratic primary election.