By Jack Brammer
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.
HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
FRANKFORT — Mediation in claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct against state lawmakers has been postponed until June 22.
A closed mediation session was scheduled to begin Tuesday but was postponed for a few weeks while one of the attorneys involved recuperates from an accident.
The mediation will address two cases.
One involves 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 involves 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.
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.
By Jack Brammer
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.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — At the urging of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a House committee unanimously approved legislation Tuesday to modernize voter registration.
House Bill 214, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville would allow voters to register online to vote and update their voter registration
“Electronic voter registration is more convenient and secure, saves our county clerks time and money, and results in more accurate voting records,” said Grimes, who noted that it already is in use for military personnel overseas.
She added that 20 other states already use electronic voter registration.
The House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs also unanimously passed HB 212, legislation sponsored by Owens and proposed by Grimes to allow voters who are unable to go to the polls on Election Day due to age, disability or illness to vote in the county clerk’s office prior to the day of the election.
“Under current law, these voters may vote only by casting a mail-in absentee ballot,” said Grimes. “But many people cherish the experience of voting in person, and this bill would preserve that opportunity for them.”
The committee also approved two elections bills.
HB 150, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, would make any candidate for county government who is defeated in a primary election ineligible to run as a write-in candidate for the same office in the general election.
HB 203, sponsored by Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-Greenup, raises the threshold for campaign finance reporting from $1,000 to $3,000.
All the bills now go to the House for its consideration.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach and state Rep. Martha Jane King, D-Lewisburg, unveiled legislation Tuesday designed to help Kentuckians who lack access to a retirement saving plan at their workplace.
The state official and lawmaker said at a Capitol news conference that 786,000 Kentucky workers could take advantage of the so-called Kentucky Retirement Account Program.
“KYRA will provide an opportunity for them to insure they have enough income to support themselves when they retire,” said Hollenbach.
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 350.org, a global climate movement; and Jan Christensen of Louisville with 350.org and the environmental group, Sierra Club.
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.
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.”
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.