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Senate President seeks legal opinion on ‘right-to-work’ option for counties

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Senate President Robert Stivers asked for an attorney general’s opinion Monday on whether Kentucky counties can adopt so-called ‘right-to-work’ provisions that let employees work in unionized businesses without joining the union or paying dues.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said in a news release that he is seeking the opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway because Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell recently opined that the Louisville Metro Government has the authority to require a higher minimum wage than the minimum wage established by federal or state law.

“Using Mr. O’Connell’s analysis, a county should also be able to establish itself as a right-to-work county,” said Stivers.

The Senate leader noted that he sought the request as legislators prepare for the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January. Republicans in the state Senate have pushed the issue for years, but House Democrats oppose the measure.

Many Republicans say such a state law is needed to spur economic development while many Democrats argue it would lower wages by weakening unions.

A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentuckians favor changing state laws to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues. Twenty-eight percent of those polled were opposed.

Stivers said the issue “will be of continuing interest to localities that are looking for innovative ways to attract new businesses.”

He noted that 24 states have enacted “right-to-work” laws that are not pre-empted by federal law.

Stivers was not immediately available to take questions about his request. O’Connell, a Democrat, was not immediately available for comment.

Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin, said the attorney general’s office will review Stivers’ request.

Jack Conway raises $750,000 in seven weeks for gubernatorial campaign

Attorney General Jack Conway, who is seeking re-election, touted his record at the Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. Photo by Pablo AlcalaBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Attorney General Jack Conway continued his effort to lock up the Democratic nomination in next year’s governor’s race with an overwhelming show of force, announcing Tuesday that his campaign has raised more than $750,000 since entering the race in early May.

Conway and his running mate, state Rep. Sannie Overly, reported having more than $700,000 in cash on hand.

While a number of other Democrats are considering a run for governor after this year’s elections are over, Conway has moved quickly to consolidate Democratic support, announcing his large fundraising haul after rolling out a series of major endorsements.

“Sannie and I are honored by the bipartisan support we’ve received from friends across Kentucky who believe in our vision of creating better jobs, building infrastructure and investing in early childhood and higher education,” Conway said in a statement. “We have a proven record of experience and following through on the commitments we’ve made to the people of this state. We are uniting Democrats and hard-working Kentuckians who believe that together we can build a better commonwealth to live, work and raise our families.”

When Conway first entered the race, a number of Democrats worried that his early entry might distract from the attention and resources Alison Lundergan Grimes will need to defeat U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this November.

In Tuesday’s news release, the campaign said it had held two fundraising events, “keeping the commitment to avoid fundraising conflicts with Alison Lundergan Grimes and the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus.”

Andy Beshear reports $1.1M on hand for attorney general race, picks up endorsements

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Andy Beshear, a Democratic candidate for attorney general in 2015 and the son of Gov. Steve Beshear, reported Thursday that his campaign has nearly $1.1 million cash on hand, after raising $160,000 in the last three months.

Beshear, a Louisville attorney with Stites and Harbison, has raised more than $1.26 million total for his campaign. He started it last November.

The candidate also announced the endorsements of five prominent Democrats for his campaign – former Attorney Generals David Armstrong and Chris Gorman, state Auditor Adam Edelen, former state Auditor Crit Luallen and state House Speaker and former Attorney General Greg Stumbo.

State expects $57 million net gain over three years from tobacco settlement



By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Kentucky will reap an extra $57.2 million over the next three years from settling litigation involving the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between states and tobacco companies, Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway announced Thursday.

In a joint news conference in the Capitol, Beshear said the end of the legal dispute between 23 states, including Kentucky, and tobacco manufacturers over 10 years of disputed claims and litigation is “a victory not only for Kentucky farmers, but also for critical health care and childhood services.”

Conway said the settlement his office worked on “restores certainty to Kentucky’s annual payments” from the 1998 agreement.

“Under the terms of the settlement, we avoid the possibility of costly litigation and the potential loss of the entire annual Master Settlement Agreement payment.”

Money from the settlement agreement already is designated for farm projects and health issues like lung cancer research.

Beshear acknowledged that the extra money for the state will not have an impact on a budget shortfall Kentucky expected at the end of this fiscal year on June 30.

Six KY counties selected for post-election audits

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT — Six Kentucky counties, chosen Monday in a random drawing by Attorney General Jack Conway, will be checked for any potential irregularities during the May 20 primary election.

They are Clark, Breathitt, Warren, Meade, Allen and Russell.

“These audits ensure a fair and equitable election process in Kentucky and supplement the work our investigators did leading up to and during the primary election,” Conway said in a release.

The post-election audits are required by law.

In each county, the audit will include checking election forms and interviewing county officials. The selection of these counties does not imply that irregularities are suspected.

The six counties selected during the last post-election audit in November 2012 were Bath, Bracken, Bourbon, Grayson, Johnson and Lewis counties. There were no irregularities discovered during that audit.

In addition to the post-election audit, follow-up investigations are continuing regarding complaints to the Election Fraud Hotline, said Conway.

It received 205 calls from more than 60 counties between 6a.m. and 7 p.m. during the May 20 primary election.

There were 49 allegations of vote-buying. Those allegations came from Breathitt, Clay, Pike, Bell, Floyd, Harlan, Laurel, Owsley, Carter, Knott, Magoffin, Bath, Clinton, Knox, Lee, Morgan, Muhlenberg, Perry and Wayne counties.

Conway said specifics of the calls may not be discussed until his office’s investigations are complete.

–Jack Brammer

Conway announces $1.5M for UK to help youths with substance abuse

conwaysetupBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The University of Kentucky will receive a $1.5 million, two-year grant from the state to develop a plan to prevent and treat substance abuse by adolescents.

The money comes from two legal settlements that Attorney General Jack Conway’s office reached with two pharmaceutical companies. The settlement funds are administered by the Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory Committee, which Gov. Steve Beshear created by executive order. It is chaired by Conway.

Adolescent substance abuse is at “epidemic proportions,” Conway said.

He noted that a 2011 study from the Centers for Disease Control showed that 66 percent of Kentucky kids have used alcohol, 37 percent have used marijuana, and 19 percent have abused prescription drugs.

“This grant will allow us to explore all of the resources available to Kentuckians to fight this growing problem,” he said.”

The money will be used to create and implement “UK Kentucky Kids Recovery,” a program that officials said will address every stage of adolescent substance abuse.

Conway’s office settled cases last year against two pharmaceutical companies for $32 million. The court orders filed in both settlements require that the funds be spent on substance abuse treatment programs, he said.

From the settlement, $19 million created the Kentucky Kids Recovery grant program. The grants are being used to expand treatment beds at existing facilities and to create new programs, including intensive outpatient and follow-up care centers.

Proceeds from the settlements are going to a variety of programs around the state, including $2.5 million for almost 900 scholarships over two years to Recovery Kentucky centers; $6 million to administer and upgrade KASPER, Kentucky’s electronic prescription drug monitoring program; and $1 million to develop a school-based substance abuse screening tool with the Kentucky Department of Education to intervene with at-risk children before they enter judicial or social services systems.

April receipts for General Fund show slight gain, Road Fund dips

ERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT – The state’s General Fund showed a slight gain in revenue receipts last month compared to April 2013, the state budget director’s office said Monday.

Meanwhile, receipts for the Road Fund decreased 7.7 percent.

State receipts in April for the General Fund, which pays for most state programs, grew 1.1 percent compared to April of last year. That was a nominal increase of $8.8 million.

Conway criticizes bill approved by Senate dealing with settlement funds

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT – The Senate approved Tuesday a bill sponsored by Sen. Robin Webb that would require any funds recovered by the attorney general’s office in a legal case to be deposited into the General Fund, which pays for most state programs.

Some lawmakers have claimed that $32 million Attorney General Jack Conway has collected from lawsuit settlements with two drug companies should have gone into the General Fund.

Conway decided to use the money to expand substance abuse treatment in Kentucky. He said court orders filed in both settlements required that the money be spent on drug treatment programs.

Conway, who is considering a run for governor in 2015, said in an email Tuesday that the bill is unconstitutional. “It is a violation of the separation of powers and a violation of legal ethics to negotiate settlements while bringing in legislators,” said Conway.

He noted that Webb’s district in northeastern Kentucky is receiving an adult substance abuse treatment center “thanks to the settlement negotiated by my office, so it frankly surprises me that she would file such legislation when there is such a need in her area and throughout our commonwealth.”

Since taking office in 2008, Conway said, his office “has returned more than $260 million to state coffers, which is a 400 percent return on its investment.”

–Jack Brammer

Senate approves bill giving top lawmakers power to defend state laws in court

Attorney General Jack ConwayBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – With no discussion, the Senate approved a bill Monday that would allow the Senate president or House speaker to intervene in a court case when the attorney general fails to defend a state law or part of the Kentucky Constitution.

The vote on Senate Bill 221, sponsored by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, was 31-6, with one Democrat passing. Six other Democrats cast the “no” votes.

Gregory said the bill was filed in part due to Attorney General Jack Conway’s recent decision not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. Gov. Steve Beshear is appealing the ruling using outside attorneys. He and Conway are Democrats.

SB 221 also would allow the top two legislative leaders to intervene in court cases in which attorneys general submit an order to the court giving them sole discretion to spend funding from a legal settlement.

That provision stems from Conway’s decision earlier this year to use more than $32 million collected from lawsuit settlements with two drug companies to expand substance abuse treatment in Kentucky and not put the money in the state’s General Fund, which pays for most state programs.

Conway, who is frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2015, has dismissed SB 221 as unconstitutional.

Senator files bill to let legislative leaders intervene when attorney general does not defend state law

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – A state lawmaker has filed a bill to allow the Senate president or House speaker to intervene in a legal action when the attorney general fails to defend a state law or provision of the Kentucky Constitution.

Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, said Tuesday she filed Senate Bill 221 in part due to Attorney General Jack Conway’s decision last week not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other states and countries.

Gov. Steve Beshear has said he would appeal the ruling by U.S. District John Heyburn.

Gregory also said her bill would allow the top two legislative leaders to intervene in court cases in which attorney generals submit an order to the court giving them sole discretion to spend funding from a settlement.

Senate President Robert Stivers, who supports Gregory’s bill, said the provision dealing with funding stems from Conway’s decision earlier this year to use more than $32 million collected from lawsuit settlements with two drug companies to expand substance abuse treatment in Kentucky.

Stivers said the money should have gone to the state’s General Fund, which provides money for most state programs.