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Resolution reached in mediation of legislative sexual harassment claims

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – A resolution has been reached in the mediation of claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct against state lawmakers.

Leslie Vose, attorney for the Legislative Research Commission, and Thomas Clay, attorney for three women who made the claims, confirmed the resolution Tuesday morning but declined to provide any details of it.

Vose, of Lexington, said, “I can say the mediation was successful to all parties involved,” but said legislative leaders now will have to sign off on it.

Neither House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, nor Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, had any immediate comment.

John Cox, a spokesman for Stivers, said details of the resolution will not be immediately released. He did not elaborate.

Clay, of Louisville, said the parties Monday night “reached a mutually satisfactory resolution.”

The closed mediation started Monday in the Lexington law office of Steve Barker.

Clay also said “all parties involved” should be pleased and that the resolution will take care of all lawsuits in the cases.

The mediation addressed two cases, both brought in October of 2013.

One involved sexual harassment claims by legislative staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper against former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. Arnold has denied any wrongdoing.

The two women also sued the Legislative Research Commission, and earlier this year added Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, as a defendant after Bell fired Costner from her job in the House majority whip’s office soon after he was elected whip.

The second case involved allegations by legislative staffer Nicole Cusic that she was moved to an inferior job after she complained that Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, had sexually harassed female legislative staffers.

Coursey has denied the charge and sued Cusic for defamation. Cusic also listed the LRC and former LRC director Bobby Sherman as defendants in her case.

Beshear creates special panel to study teachers’ retirement funding; Hoover criticizes it

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order Tuesday to create a 23-member group to address the state’s financially strapped Teachers’ Retirement System.

Beshear named David Karem, a former Democratic state senator from Louisville and a former chairman of the state Board of Education, to chair the panel and to submit a report to him by or on Dec. 1.

Beshear leaves office in early December and could turn over any recommendations to the 2016 General Assembly.

The creation of the special panel drew applause from the top two legislative leaders – House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester – but criticism from House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.

Hoover said he was “extremely disappointed.”
“Gov. Beshear had a real opportunity to create an independent, non-partisan panel to give a thorough review of KTRS in an effort to make substantive recommendations to solidify the system,” said Hoover in an email.

“Instead the governor chose to fill this task force with self-serving special interest groups that have been part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

KY House Democratic leaders talk road projects with Rogers, Paul and Boehner

Four Kentucky Democratic House leaders met Wednesday in Washington with U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, to discuss road projects in the state. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, attended the meeting with Rogers.

The discussions involved Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s efforts to extend the Mountain Parkway in Eastern Kentucky from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W.Va., and widening the Hal Rogers Parkway in south-central Kentucky, bringing it up to interstate standards and extending it southeast to Tennessee.

The combined projects would become part of the Interstate 66 project that Eastern Kentucky leaders and Rogers have long championed.

“These meetings went exactly as we had hoped and show that the support is growing in our nation’s capitol,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in a release.

“They realize, as we do, that projects like these can open up the region in a way no other can. Eastern Kentucky needs a major interstate route to the east and south, and these plans are the best way to do that.”

Kentucky House members with Stumbo were House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, House Speaker Pro Tem Jody Richards of Bowling Green and House Majority Whip Johnny Bell of Glasgow.

They arranged the meetings while in Washington for the National Conference of State Legislature’s Symposium for Legislative Leaders.

Stumbo has asked the state Transportation Cabinet to look at how the project from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W.Va., could be accomplished.

He supports using up to $1 billion of federal abandoned mine land funds.

“Rather than sitting idle, these funds can be used to improve the coal region’s infrastructure and economic future,” he said.

The Kentucky House leaders support expanding the project’s scope to include the Hal Rogers Parkway and tying it together under the I-66 umbrella.

“I want to thank Rep. Rogers, Sen. Paul and House Speaker Boehner for meeting with us and offering their suggestions,” Stumbo said. “These billion-dollar projects can’t be built overnight, but the sooner we can lay the groundwork and planning, the sooner we can begin turning this dream into reality.”

–Jack Brammer

Stumbo open to tolls and naming Mountain Parkway extension to West Virgina after McConnell

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday he has not ruled out the use of tolls to build a 140-mile extension of the Mountain Parkway from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W. Va..

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, also offered to sponsor a bill to name the completed road after U.S.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville if he provided funding for it.

The project is estimated to cost between $8 billion and $10 billion.

If there is support for the project in Washington, Stumbo said, he would ask Kentucky’s 2016 General Assembly that starts in January for “some money” for it.

Stumbo made public his recommendation for the project on Tuesday, contending it is needed to “unlock the potentials of our region’s vibrant work force.”

McConnell’s office said he is an ardent supporter of Kentucky’s vital roads but that it’s up to the governor and lawmakers in Frankfort to prioritize Kentucky’s share of federal Highway Trust Fund dollars.

Beshear signs bill authorizing state bonds for UK medical research center

photo (39)By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law Monday a bill that will provide the University of Kentucky with $132.5 million in state bonds for a six-story medical research center.

“This projects represents the potential to improve the lives of so many, both within Kentucky where our health outcomes are so poor, and beyond,” Beshear said at a Capitol news conference with several legislators and Lisa Cassis, UK’s vice president of research.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto was not able to attend because of a stomach virus.

House Bill 298, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, authorizes spending $5.6 million on debt payments for the bonds this year and $11 million in subsequent years.

UK will provide another $132.5 million for the project through research contracts and private donations.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the project is personal to him since he has had many relatives and friends treated at UK for cancer.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the ramifications of the center are “wide-ranging.”

Stumbo also apologized to Capilouto, saying he initially thought Capilouto was “not up for the job” to be UK president but that Capilouto has proved him wrong.

The center, which would house researchers from several disciplines, is to be built on UK’s campus near South Limestone and Virginia Avenue.

UK plans to begin construction by the end of the year.

The health challenges those researchers will address include cancer, heart and pulmonary disease, stroke and other preventable illnesses.

State House not to meet again until Monday, Senate will reconvene Thursday

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT —The Kentucky House has called off meeting for the rest of this week and not reconvene until 4 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, the state Senate will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday this week and be back at it next week.

If either chamber meets, that constitutes a legislative day. The House has 100 members and the Senate 38, with one vacancy.

So far, legislators have met 13 days this year. The 2015 General Assembly session is to run for 30 working days, with completion scheduled for March 24. The Kentucky Constitution requires 30-day sessions in odd-numbered years to run no longer than March 30.

Lawmakers have not actually met since last Friday. They were off Monday for Presidents’ Day and have been off Tuesday and Wednesday due to the inclement weather.

House Democratic leaders said in a release Wednesday that the combination of record cold temperatures and this week’s heavy snowfall is the reason for their decision for the chamber not to meet until Monday.

“Several members have expressed concern about leaving their families in these conditions, and major highways like I-65 have seen closures because of accidents,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said.

“Therefore, we think it is more prudent to be safe than sorry.”

Stumbo said it would be up to the individual committee chairmen to decide whether to meet prior to the legislative session on Monday, but “the other leaders and I do not recommend any meetings before we gavel in.”

He added that, at this time, they do not expect this decision to alter the session calendar. “We have more than enough time to complete the work before us,” he said.

Senate Republican leaders met Wednesday afternoon in Frankfort and decided to reconvene this week.

“The majority of our caucus members were here on Wednesday prepared to do the people’s work and the rest are on their way,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in an email. “We understand the hardships associated with current weather conditions, but there are plenty of businesses staying open throughout the Commonwealth and the Senate feels inclined to stay open for business as well.”

By convening on Thursday the Senate will not lengthen the 2015 legislative session, but the House will have two less days to consider legislation, said the Senate GOP release.

Baptist leader blasts Stumbo’s medical marijuana bill

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

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.”

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.

Legislative leaders make joint appointment to ethics panel after two-year wait

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers filled a position Monday on the Legislative Ethics Commission that has been vacant for two years.

The two legislative leaders jointly appointed Henry Stephens, a professor at Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law, to fill out the nine-member commission that came under fire recently for not having a majority of members present to hear sexual harassment complaints against a former legislator.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Monday that the apppointment took such a long time because it was “an ongoing process, but we are pleased to have found such a well qualified person to serve.”

Stivers’ spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said he has “been vetting a number of individuals” who would be acceptable to both Stumbo and him.

The other commission appointments are split evenly between them.

Stumbo, whose Twitter account jabbed at McConnell, says he was hacked

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg
By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – House Speaker Greg Stumbo says his Twitter account, which featured some disparaging comments Thursday night about U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, was hacked.

Stumbo tweeted Thursday night after the political tweets appeared on @SpeakerStumbo that the controversial tweets were not his.

“Someone just called me about all the tweets – I’ve been hacked,” he wrote. “I’ll have to change my password. Goodnight, everyone.”

Stumbo spokesman, Brian Wilkerson, said Friday that the office would have no comment on the Speaker’s private account.

Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, and McConnell, a Republican who is seeking re-election this year, are longtime political adversaries.

From 8:31 p.m. to 8:46 p.m. Thursday, these political tweets appeared on Stumbo’s account:

*To Rich Mitch you sent our young men to war which was useless how about making your military file public? The dead deserve it.

*Check Mitches net worth over these years and @compare it to the average Kentuckian he gained you lost and this why he wants to be reelected?

*Mitch McConnell went to Congress with an average net worth CHECK IT OUT NOW he made millions you went broke

*My God the Republicans who causes the Hoover and Bush/McConnell recessions think people believe them HELLO