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House panel approves bill to give most ex-felons the right to vote

State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Nearly 180,000 ex-felons in Kentucky who have fully served their sentences would regain their right to vote under a proposed constitutional amendment that a state House committee approved Tuesday.

House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, would not apply to ex-felons who committed intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sex offense with a minor.

The legislation has sailed through the Democratic-controlled House in past sessions but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Some Republicans say the measure would benefit Democratic candidates, but House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, told the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on Tuesday that he doesn’t buy that argument.

The legislation is needed because it “is a matter of fairness,” he said. “We are a forgiving society.”
Hoover has voted for the proposal in other legislative sessions, but Tuesday marked the first time he has testified for it in committee.

James Comer to Kentucky GOP leaders: ‘I cannot be controlled’

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James ComerBy Sam Youngman — syoungman@herald-leader.com

SOMERSET — In the days leading up to his remarks Tuesday at the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer began referring to them as “the Fort Sumter speech.”

To most of the 100 or so farmers and merchants gathered, Comer’s words appeared far removed from the first battle in the Civil War, but there was a great deal more going on for some, especially in one departure that seemed at odds with the rest of Comer’s routine luncheon speech.

“The days of party bosses hand-picking elected officials in smoke-filled rooms must end,” said Comer, who is mentioned often as a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate. “No more scenarios where party bosses send some guy from, say, Louisville, who has never been to Somerset before and order you to support him because [they] can control him.”

Most of the crowd, subdued by Butterball turkey breast, didn’t know what to make of it when Comer veered and declared, “I cannot be controlled.”

But to a handful, the message was clear: Comer was warning what he views as establishment Republicans — be it U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell or state Sen. Chris Girdler — not to meddle in the 2015 governor’s race.

Three legislative leaders call for meeting to deal with ‘leadership vacuum’ at LRC

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Three legislative leaders called Friday for a meeting of all legislative leaders on Wednesday to deal with “a leadership vacuum” caused by the resignation of Legislative Research Commission director Robert Sherman.

Sherman abruptly resigned as director of the LRC, the administrative agency for Kentucky’s legislative branch of government, on Sept. 20. His departure came a day after he said an LRC investigation of two staffers’ sexual harassment complaints against former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, showed that the LRC thoroughly investigated the complaints and implemented protective measures for the women.

In a letter to all legislative leaders Friday, Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover identified two items concerning legislative leadership that they said require the immediate attention of all leaders.

The three leaders said there are four people currently with the title of “deputy director” of the LRC, none of whom have authority to take over for Sherman. They said that Sherman designated Robert Jenkins as the administrator in charge, but that the designation was temporary until all leaders could meet.

Stumbo dismisses House GOP redistricting plan as ‘dog and pony show’

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – House Speaker Greg Stumbo dismissed House Republicans’ redistricting plan as “a dog and pony show” Friday and claimed House GOP leader Jeff Hoover has declined to participate in the process.

“We’ve been asking Jeff Hoover to take part in the redistricting process for two years now, and he has obviously chosen not to do that,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in an email. “I’m not going to be a member of his dog and pony show, and I have yet to hear anyone say his plan is a fair one except him.”

Hoover and fellow House Republicans unveiled a plan Thursday to redraw all 100 House districts to comply with population changes noted in the last U.S. Census.

House Republican leader unveils GOP redistricting plan for House

House Republican leader Jeff Hoover unveils House GOP plan for redistricting.

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — House Republicans unveiled a legislative redistricting plan Thursday that would pit eight incumbent state representatives against each other in four districts — one with two Republicans, one with two Democrats, and two districts with incumbents from each party.

The GOP plan, introduced 11 days before a special legislative session on redistricting begins in the state Capitol, splits 24 counties into multiple House districts. It splits only two precincts in the state.

“We believe our redistricting plan is a fair plan for Kentucky and our constituents, who have grown tired of the backroom politics and the thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on blatantly partisan and unconstitutional plans offered in the past two years,” House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said during a news conference in the Capitol with other GOP House members and several county clerks.

House Democratic leaders were expected to comment on the GOP plan after reviewing it. Democrats outnumber Republicans 55-45 in the 100-member House.

Incumbents paired in the House Republican plan are Democrats Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook and Kevin Sinnette of Ashland in the 100th District, Republicans Marie Rader of McKee and Toby Herald of Beattyville in the 89th District, Republican C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown with Democrat Brent Yonts of Greenville in the 15th District, and Republican Bart Rowland of Tompkinsville with Democrat Wilson Stone of Scottsville in the 53rd District.

Governor finds additional $350,000 to entice schools into raising dropout age

Gov. Steve Beshear

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear has found an additional $350,000 to entice school districts into raising their dropout age from 16 to 18.

Tuesday was the first day school districts could vote to raise their dropout age starting in the 2015-16 school year under a law approved earlier this year.

Once 55 percent — or 96 of the state’s 174 school districts — vote to raise the dropout age, remaining school districts will have four years to implement the change.

The Department of Education has previously said it will use $570,000 from a federal dropout-prevention grant to award $10,000 grants to the first 57 school districts that raise their dropout age. With the additional $350,000 from Beshear, 92 school districts will receive the grants.

Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said the department still hopes to find an additional $40,000 to help reach the 96-district threshold.

Beshear wants to set date for special redistricting session within a week

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@heraldleader.com

By Jack Brammer — jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear hopes to determine within about a week when to call a special legislative session to redraw the boundaries of state House and Senate districts.

Beshear, after meeting for about an hour Monday behind closed doors in his Capitol office with Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, said that they are “working on a set of ground rules” for a special session and “are already looking at their calendars for a date” for it.

Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. The legislature determines how long one will last.

Beshear and the legislative leaders want a special session to run for only five days. That’s the minimum needed to make a law. The session will cost taxpayers about $65,000 a day.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed that seek legislative redistricting.

Beshear defends plan to reward school districts that raise dropout age

Gov. Steve Beshear

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear on Monday defended a plan to give $10,000 grants to more than 50 school districts if they increase their dropout age from 16 to 18 in coming months.

“I think it’s money well spent,” Beshear told reporters during a news conference Monday on an unrelated topic.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, sent Beshear a letter last week questioning why the state would spend $570,000 on the plan when there are so many other needs in Kentucky schools.

“I find it disturbing the Commissioner of the Department of Education is offering more than $500,000 in public education funds to advance this agenda while tens of thousands of children in Kentucky are desperately in need of textbooks,” Hoover said in his letter to the governor. “Ten years from now it will not matter that we have raised the minimum age for high school dropouts if we continue down this path of spending money which without a doubt no member of the legislature or the public was told was available.”

Beshear said Monday that money for the grants comes from a $570,000 fund that is earmarked to help keep kids in school longer.

“The money comes from dropout prevention monies that have been appropriated to the department, so it’s exactly what the money should be spent on,” Beshear said. “The money could not be used for textbooks anyway.”

Eastern Kentucky lawmakers get key House committee appointments

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Eastern Kentucky is well represented in key positions in the state House, thanks to committee assignments announced Thursday by House Democratic leadership.

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, is the new chairwoman of the influential House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, which helps develop the state’s road-building plan.

Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, will replace Combs as chairman of the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee, giving him an opportunity to work on coal issues.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, is the new chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection, a panel that holds the purse strings for several key areas in government.

Their appointments come from the five-member House Democratic leadership, two members of which are from Eastern Kentucky — Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg and Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook.

Stumbo and Hoover at odds about when to tackle legislative redistricting

By Jack Brammer — jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The top Democrat and Republican in the Kentucky House are at odds about when to tackle Round Two of legislative redistricting.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Monday that House Democratic leaders will recommend to the majority caucus that the 2013 General Assembly, which begins in January, take up the redrawing of state legislative districts to conform to population changes.

But House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said lawmakers should first focus on fixing the state’s public pension problem and tax reform in the 2013 session, which has only 30 working days compared to 60 days in even-numbered years.

Redistricting could occur later in 2013 in a brief special legislative session, Hoover said.

House Republicans and Democratic state Sen. Kathy Stein of Lexington successfully challenged new legislative maps that were approved earlier this year by the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate.