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House committee approves bill to redraw state House districts

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

PDF: House redistricting plan

FRANKFORT — Over protests from Republicans, a state House committee approved a bill Wednesday to redraw boundaries of the 100 state House districts.

The new House redistricting plan, prepared by House Democratic leadership, puts nine incumbents in districts with other incumbent representatives.

That affects eight incumbent Republicans and one Democrat.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, would both be in the 99th House District.

Ethics panel holds closed-door hearing regarding Rep. Keith Hall

State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The Legislative Ethics Commission held a closed-door hearing Tuesday to review a complaint about state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, and more than $171,000 one of his companies collected through utility contracts that avoided competitive bidding and public discussion.

The commission heard testimony from several witnesses, including an auditor for state Auditor Crit Luallen, who issued a report about Hall’s contracts in January and referred it to the ethics commission.

“Today they requested testimony from one of our auditors who worked on that report,” said Luallen, who did not attend the hearing. “It certainly is gratifying to see the process moving forward.”

George Troutman, the commission’s chairman, declined to discuss the day’s proceedings or publicly identify the subject of the complaint. The panel plans to meet again Aug. 16 to resume its work on the case, Troutman said.

Slew of Republicans considering run for governor

By Jack Brammer – jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A slew of Republicans is considering challenging Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in next year’s race for governor even though he already has more than $2 million in his campaign coffers and the power of incumbency at his disposal.

“Steve Beshear is vulnerable,” state Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said Tuesday, noting a GOP poll in early June of 1,020 likely voters that showed 37 percent of the respondents did not think Beshear deserves re-election and 51 percent thought someone else should have a chance to be governor.

That’s why you are seeing so many Republicans considering the race, Robertson said.

Beshear’s campaign spokesman, Matt Osborne, responded with a statement that said “it is way too early to start talking about next year’s campaign.”

Legislative leaders claim more than half of new borrowing for roads

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-PrestonsburgSenate President David Williams, R-Burkesville

By Beth Musgrave and Jack Brammer – bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — On the final night of last week’s special legislative session, Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, complained about voting on a 245-page bill outlining $6.7 billion worth of road projects without even seeing it.

“This is an absolute outrage,” she said after casting one of two votes against the measure in the Senate. “Who knows what’s in it?”

The answer: A lot.

A review of the massive bill passed after 10 p.m. last Saturday shows that the districts represented by legislative leaders fared well. The bill included more than $400 million in borrowing, more than half of which is going to projects in 12 legislative leaders’ districts.

In some cases they snagged money for new road projects that were not included in any of the road-building proposals considered by the House and Senate earlier this year.

For example, the plan calls for spending $3 million of borrowed money on a “scoping” study to determine the feasibility of building a new bridge over Lake Cumberland near Wolf Creek Dam, in the districts of House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

“The money always seems to go to leadership. They are the ones who hold the fiscal pencil,” said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who also voted against the road plan.

Leaders will discuss law-making session on ‘Kentucky Tonight’

Four state legislative leaders are scheduled to appear on Monday’s edition of “Kentucky Tonight” with host Bill Goodman to discuss the 2010 General Assembly.

They are Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville; House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; Senate budget chairman Bob Leeper, I-Paducah; and House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford.

The show will air at 8 p.m. EDT MOnday on KET and at www.ket.org/live.

House members raise $12,000 for Haiti

Lawmakers line up to meet with Coach Calipari

FRANKFORT — Members and staffers of the House dug deep into their own pockets to raise $12,000 for the University of Kentucky’s Hoops for Haiti program.

The program — which won praise from President Barack Obama earlier this week — has raised more than $1 million for relief efforts in Haiti following a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that left the poverty-stricken nation in shambles. Spearheaded by UK Coach John Calipari with an assist from his team and local business leaders, the fundraiser raised the the bulk of its cash during a Jan. 17 telethon and an online auction. But more money keeps trickling in.

Raising coal industry tax a tough sell

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.comKentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor

Gov. Steve Beshear and the legislature could find themselves wrestling this summer with a $1 billion state budget shortfall. But there’s one option the politicians say they will not consider: higher coal taxes.

Kentucky hasn’t touched its coal severance tax rate or its mine permit fees in about 30 years, while other taxes and fees gradually increased and other coal states asked the mining industry to contribute more.

Tennessee lawmakers, for instance, sent a bill to their governor April 24 hiking that state’s coal severance tax from 20 cents a ton to $1 a ton over four years.

But few at the Kentucky Capitol expect such action here, no matter how painful the spending cuts that might be coming.

While Beshear says it’s too early to discuss specifics, the House and Senate budget chairmen this week said coal is off-limits. They, and the Kentucky Coal Association, warned that raising coal taxes would discourage mining in the state and eliminate jobs.

“If you try to raise the severance tax, we’ll squeal,” said Bill Caylor, Kentucky Coal Association president.

Beshear says budget shortfall could top $1 billion

FRANKFORT — Kentucky is bracing for what may be the largest shortfall ever in its state budget — more than $1 billion.

Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday that a special legislative session is likely to address the dismal financial scene that comes on top of this year’s law-making session that raised taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and made about $150 million in cuts to handle nearly a half-billion budget shortfall.

Renewable energy bill likely killed by nuclear power, drilling proposals

FRANKFORT — A bill to promote renewable energy is likely dead after the state Senate tacked on measures last week that would lift a state moratorium on nuclear power plants and allow drilling for oil and gas on state-owned lands.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, who sponsored the original bill for Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, does not expect the House to take up the amended measure when lawmakers return to Frankfort next week, said Susan Klimchak, a spokesman for Adkins.

Lawmaker’s coal mine was cited

State inspectors last year cited and shut down a small coal mine near Pikeville for not having a mine emergency technician on duty, in violation of a mine-safety law requiring at least two METs whenever coal is being produced.

That mine was owned by state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, who is now using his political clout to attack the law, calling it unreasonably tough.