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House passes ban on texting while driving

State Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green

FRANKFORT — After an almost hour-long debate, the state House on Thursday passed a measure that would ban texting by drivers while a car is in motion.

House Bill 43 would also ban all uses of a cell phone for drivers under the age of 18 while in a moving car.

The measure was approved on an 80-16 vote, with three members not voting. It now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said 24 teens lost their lives on Kentucky roads because they or another driver were distracted by a communication device in 2009. Richards, the sponsor of the bill, said that banning the use of all communication devices for teens until they are 18 would help establish good driving habits.

The bill, he said, “is about saving lives and saving people from serious injury.”

State Auditor to probe Pikeville utility’s finances

Auditor of Public Accounts Crit Luallen

By John Cheves –

State Auditor Crit Luallen says she will examine the finances of the Mountain Water District in Pikeville, which has been tied to several controversies, including a federal corruption prosecution.

In letters sent Monday, Luallen notified Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne Rutherford and water district Chairwoman Rhonda James that her auditors will start to gather records and conduct interviews in early January.

Rutherford and James did not return calls Tuesday. The Pike County Fiscal Court requested the audit last month, with one magistrate citing “red flags” raised by news stories about the water district.

“We will cooperate fully with anything that they request of us,” said Dan Stratton, an attorney for the water district.

Rep. Keith Hall failed to disclose wife’s state job

State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps

By John Cheves –

FRANKFORT — State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, has failed for seven years to disclose to a state ethics panel that his wife holds a part-time salaried position with the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.

Stephanie Hall is paid $7,200 a year, according to the AOC. As one of three trial commissioners in Pike District Court, Stephanie Hall is sometimes asked to sign paperwork — such as warrants or protective orders — if one of the two judges cannot easily be reached. She is not a lawyer.

Like all lawmakers, Keith Hall is required every year to list his household’s sources of income with the Legislative Ethics Commission so that ethics officials and the public can be aware of possible conflicts of interest as he acts in the General Assembly.

But Keith Hall has failed to list his wife’s state job on his financial disclosure reports, listing her only as an officer in businesses that he owns. She was hired as a trial commissioner in April 2002 by Judge Kelsey Friend Jr.

The omission was not intentional, Keith Hall said in an interview. Until the Herald-Leader inquired, he said, it did not occur to him to disclose it.

“I just don’t have no answer for that,” he said. “It might have just been an oversight that I need to correct.”

Legislator sows, reaps state money

MORE: Hall lobbied for law to protect two water district board members

By John Cheves –

When state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, steers millions of tax dollars to water and sewer line construction in his Pike County district, the money sometimes ends up in his own wallet.

Since taking office in 2000, Hall has earmarked millions in the state budget for Mountain Water District in Pikeville, including $8.1 million in the current budget, according to his own press release and interviews.

At the same time, the water district has paid Hall’s B.M.M. Inc. nearly $3.2 million to build sewer lines, according to district records.

So far, Hall’s three sewer projects have cost an average of 58 percent more than he originally bid for them, with one still under way. The water district — which a state audit criticized last year for sloppy business practices — adds more work and money for Hall after he wins the initial contract. The final cost of one project doubled to $1.9 million by the time he finished.

Also, Hall’s son works at the private firm, Utility Management Group, that runs the water district on behalf of Pike County.

Jordan Hall, who previously helped oversee his father’s companies, started a year ago as personal assistant to Greg May, UMG’s chief operating officer. Jordan Hall says he doesn’t assist his father from within UMG and avoids handling projects in which his father shows an interest.

“He has never had any insider information to my knowledge, and I’m sure that he would say the same thing,” Jordan Hall said.

In this summer’s special legislative session, Hall supported a little-noticed, last-minute addition to a state budget bill that effectively protected UMG’s $34 million contract with the water district, which had been challenged locally.

The situation strikes some observers as too cozy, with a lawmaker giving and taking public funds at the hometown agency where his son is employed in management.

“I can tell you this, that’s not something that I would do,” said Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, another House member from Pike County who assists the water district with funding.