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Bill to provide public financing of state Supreme Court races clears committee on 2nd try

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – The House budget committee approved a bill Tuesday night that would allow for optional public financing of Kentucky Supreme races after the panel earlier in the day failed to garner enough votes for it.

The sponsor of House Bill 31, Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, found enough Democratic votes to get a second vote on the measure and send it to the full House for its consideration.

Earlier in the day, the bill came up one vote shy of getting out of committee.

This is the third year in a row that state lawmakers have considered a similar measure. Four Kentucky Supreme Court districts are to be contested next year.

Bill giving domestic violence protections to dating couples clears first hurdle

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A bill that would give domestic violence protections to dating couples passed out of a House committee on Wednesday for the fifth time in five years.

Kentucky is one of only two states that does not allow domestic violence protections for dating couples. Civil protection orders are only available in Kentucky to people who have been married, have a child in common or live together.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 0 in favor of House Bill 9, but five members opted not to vote on the measure. It now heads to the full House. Similar bills have died in the Republican-led Senate in previous years.

Opponents of the proposal have pointed out that dating couples may file criminal charges in cases of domestic violence. Supporters counter that allowing couples to work through the civil court system could save the state as much as $85 million a year. In addition, advocates say that civil protective orders are generally served immediately, are often taken more seriously by police, and may last for an extended time.

Ky. House panel passes bill to allow DNA collection at time of arrest

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A House panel approved a measure Wednesday that would allow police to collect DNA swabs from people arrested for felony crimes without getting a court’s permission.

If the General Assembly approves House Bill 89, Kentucky would become the 26th state to allow the automatic collection of DNA evidence before someone has been convicted of a crime.

Jayann Sepich has pushed states to pass the measure after her daughter, Katie Sepich, was raped and killed in New Mexico in 2003. The killer was caught using DNA evidence.

Sepich told the House Judiciary Committee that DNA collected during felony arrests in other states has saved lives and freed people who were wrongly convicted of crimes.

Felony expungement bill clears House

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House voted 78-18 to approve a bill that would give people convicted of Class D felonies a chance to expunge the crime from their record.

House Bill 47 would allow people to expunge non-violent felonies if they do not have any new convictions for five years after they complete their sentence, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville.

Proponents of the bill argue that those who commit one felony are often doomed because a criminal record can make it difficult to get a job or an education. The Democratic-led House has passed similar bills for several years, but the proposal has never passed the Republican-led Senate.

Minton: No furloughs for Kentucky court workers in 2013

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Employees of Kentucky’s court systems won’t have to take unpaid furlough days during this calendar year, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said Thursday.

Minton said the state’s judicial branch is wrestling with a $28.7 million budget shortfall in its $186 million operating budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. As a result, he would not eliminate the possibility of furloughs for courts workers in the first six months of 2014.

Minton also said layoffs have not been eliminated as a budget-control option this calendar year, but there are no plans for them at this time.

“We live from month to month,” Minton told reporters after delivering his annual State of the Judiciary Address to the legislature’s Interim Joint Judiciary Committee.

Minton reminded state lawmakers that the judicial branch furloughed its 3,300 non-elected employees for three days last year to save nearly $1.2 million. That marked the first time in the court system’s modern history that it had to shut down because of a funding shortfall.

Kentucky Supreme Court agrees to review instant racing appeal

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — The controversial issue of instant racing is headed to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court agreed Friday to review a ruling by the state Court of Appeals that returned the issue of instant racing to Franklin Circuit Court.

Kentucky’s horse racetracks and Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration had requested a review by the state Supreme Court.

The Beshear administration said it considered correct the Franklin Circuit Court ruling that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had statutory authority to adopt a regulation permitting pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse races.

It had no immediate comment Friday on the Supreme Court decision to hear the case.

Instant racing, which is in place at Kentucky Downs in Franklin and Ellis Park in Henderson, allows players to bet on previously run races using devices that operate much like slot machines.

Senate President David Williams appointed to judgeship in Southern Ky.

By Beth Musgrave and Jack Brammer —

FRANKFORT — Kentucky Senate President David Williams, a Republican reviled by the Democrats he has stymied for nearly 13 years, will resign his post Nov. 2 to accept a judicial appointment by Gov. Steve Beshear.

In a widely anticipated move, the Democratic governor selected his longtime political foe Friday to fill an open circuit court judgeship in Southern Kentucky.

The Burkesville Republican’s appointment leaves a void in Republican Senate leadership for the first time since Republicans assumed control of the Senate in 2000.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said late in the day he had contacted Senate Republicans to inform them that he will pursue the presidency if the GOP remains the majority party in the Senate after the Nov. 6 elections.

Stivers said he did not advise Williams about the judicial position, “but I wish him the very best.”

David Williams nominated for judgeship; says he will accept if appointed

By Beth Musgrave

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — Kentucky Senate President David Williams, who has bedeviled Democrats in the Capitol for more than a decade, might vacate his office in coming days.

A seven-member judicial nominating commission recommended the longtime Republican lawmaker and two other lawyers Thursday for an open circuit court seat in Williams’ district in Southern Kentucky.

“I am appreciative of the nomination and if the governor appoints me, I will accept the position,” Williams said in a statement.

The nominating commission met Thursday morning in Burkesville for a little less than an hour. The two other people recommended for the job are Angela M. Capps, a public defender, and Stephen Douglas Hurt, a retired district court judge.

Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, has 60 days to appoint one of the three nominees to the open seat in the 40th Circuit, which covers Cumberland, Clinton and Monroe counties. A spokeswoman for Beshear did not say when the governor plans to make an appointment.

Members named to external review team for child abuse deaths

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — Retired Franklin Circuit Court Judge Roger Crittenden will head a new independent panel that will examine deaths and severe injuries involving abused or neglected children in Kentucky.

Crittenden was one of 17 people named to the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel on Wednesday. Attorney General Jack Conway appointed many of the members of the panel. Others were appointed by their peer groups.

The external review panel, which Gov. Steve Beshear created in July, includes doctors, prosecutors, social workers, advocates and police officers.

The group will meet quarterly, review all child deaths and near deaths resulting from abuse or neglect, and issue annual reports that will be posted online and sent to Beshear, Chief Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton and the legislature. In addition, the panel will make recommendations when needed on how to strengthen child protection within the cabinet and in outside agencies.

Courts to close on Tuesday

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — All Kentucky courts will be closed Tuesday, the second of three scheduled furlough days for the cash-strapped court system.

The courts will also be closed on Monday, Labor Day, as well. The courts were forced to implement the three-day furlough to make up a $25.2 million cut in this year’s operating budget. That cut was on top of several years of budget reductions. In the past few years, the courts have eliminated 282 jobs and axed some programs.