Conservative group gives $50,000 for legal defense for right-to-work

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group initially funded by philanthropist brothers David and Charles Koch, is giving a $50,000 grant to ProtectMyPayCheck.Org to assist in legal fees of Kentucky fiscal courts facing lawsuits by unions for passing right-to-work ordinances.

“Our chapter has committed significant resources to ensure that Kentuckians have choice in the workplace, we believe we should also support the local governments that are standing up for worker freedom and creating a more prosperous Kentucky by passing right-to-work ordinances,” Julia Crigler, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in a release.
The grant comes after 12 counties passed local right-to-work ordinances and have been sued by the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and other unions.

“Americans for Prosperity has been instrumental in connecting Kentuckians to policymakers on the need for worker freedom; we appreciate their gift to aid the defense of these counties who protect the rights of working families, allowing them to keep hundreds of dollars a year they are now forced to pay to just keep their jobs,” said Brent Yessin, executive director of

Lawmakers review salary hike for transportation engineers

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is going in the right direction in raising salaries of hundreds of engineers to curb high turnover and costly contracts for private engineers, several state lawmakers said Tuesday.

But concerns also were raised about state pay to other professionals and skilled workers who are leaving state government to find better-paying jobs in the private sector.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said he was not begrudging better pay for transportation engineers but said he was concerned about pay for correctional officers, social workers, prosecutors, public defenders and teachers.

“If we are going to start handing out increases in pay, there are others to look at, too. I’m frustrated,” said Westerfield, who is running this year for attorney general against Democrat Andy Beshear of Louisville.

Westerfield said he saw in news reports that some of the engineers receiving raises were “already making six figures.”

The average annual salary for engineers before the increase ranged from $109,764 for transportation engineer directors to $30,137 for transportation engineer technologists I.

Senate Transportation Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, noted that the Road Fund, which pays salaries in the Transportation Cabinet, is separate from the General Fund, which pays salaries of most state workers.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Tuesday that about 550 engineers in the Transportation cabinet received raises on June 16 averaging 20 percent to follow an order from Kentucky’s 2014 General Assembly for the state to make the salaries more competitive with similar jobs in surrounding states and private businesses.

The pay hike will cost about $7.8 million a year. The money is expected to come from savings in personal-service contracts used to hire outside engineers.

Members of the state legislature’s Transportation Committee received information about the pay hike Tuesday from human resource officials Mary Elizabeth Bailey in the Personnel Cabinet and Carol Beth Martin in the Transportation Cabinet.

Much of the reaction from the lawmakers was favorable.

Harris said the money for the pay hike is “well spent” compared to the escalating cost of contracts for outside engineers. The cabinet last year spent $150.7 million for professional engineering service contracts, compared to $101.7 million in 2004.

Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, said the salary jump is needed.

Two Republican senators –Albert Robinson of London and Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon – asked the human resources officials to determine how much retirement benefits will cost with the salary increases.

Higdon also said the cabinet should look at raising the number of weekly hours worked by the engineers from 37.5 to 40 to boost their pay.

The cabinet is considering that change, said spokesman Chuck Wolfe.

It would cost an additional $5.6 million but would also affect about 500 engineer technologists who did not get the raises last month, he said.

Former natural resources secretary Carl Bradley dies

By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Carl Bradley, who was state natural resources secretary in the administration of the late Gov. Wallace Wilkinson, died Thursday at his home in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was 89
Bradley’s son, David Bradley, confirmed the death. He said his father died of natural causes and had turned 89 on Tuesday.
Carl Bradley served in the Wilkinson administration from 1988 until he resigned in October 1991.
Bradley, a native of Muhlenberg County, was named natural resources secretary soon after Wilkinson took office. He had been an assistant to the natural resources secretary for a year before that.
He formerly had worked in the state Transportation Cabinet, the Department of Highways and the old Revenue Department.
Bradley served in the Army in World War II and the Korean War. In 1953, he was graduated from the University of Kentucky.
Bradley was parks commissioner for Jefferson County when the county was hit hard by tornadoes in April 1973.
His son said Bradley was “as proud of the tornado clean-up as anything he had done.”
Bradley also worked in the coal industry.
A private memorial service for Bradley will be held in Hattiesburg, Miss., his son said.

Kentucky property tax rate remains unchanged since 2008


FRANKFORT -Kentucky’s property tax rate for 2015 will remain as it has been since 2008.

The state Department of Revuene announced Wednesday that it has set the 2015 state real property tax rate at 12.2 cents per $100 of assessed valued.

Stat law requires the department to set the real property rate no later than July 1 of each year.

The rate is based on the revenue generated from the increase in taxable real property assessments from 2014 to 2015.

If the revenue increase is more than 4 percent after the exclusion of new property added to the tax roll during 2015, then the prior year rate must be reduced.

Because the assessment increase for 2015 is estimated at 2.78 percent, the state rate will remain the same as the 2014 rate, 12.2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

All of the moneygenerated from the state property tax rate will go into the state’s General Fund, which pays for most state programs.

State gets new malt beverage administrator


FRANKFORT — Veteran state official Holly McCoy-Johnson is the state’s new malt beverage administrator in the Department for Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Public Protection Secretary Ambrose Wilson IV appointed McCoy-Johnson to the position Wednesday, replacing Stephanie Stumbo, who resigned.

McCoy-Johnson has been executive director of General Administration and Program Support Shared Services (GAPS) which provides personnel, fiscal, budget, IT and operational support for the Public Protection Cabinet, Energy and Environment Cabinet and Labor Cabinet.

“Holly’s wide range of knowledge of the workings of state government and, in particular, the ability to build consensus among varied interests makes her an excellent choice for this very important role in ABC,” Wilson said in a release.

He added, “Stephanie Stumbo played a key role in helping Kentucky move forward in modernizing and streamlining the complicated laws and regulations that govern our alcoholic beverage industry. Her service to Kentucky and the many constituent groups in the industry was very valuable and I want to thank her for being part of this administration.”

McCoy-Johnson has more than 20 years of government experience, serving as executive director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Energy and Environment Cabinet, executive staff advisor for the Department for Natural Resources and staff assistant in the former Department of Mines and Minerals.

Replacing McCoy-Johnson at GAPS is Ray Perry, who has served as deputy commissioner of the Department of Insurance.

–Jack Brammer

Acting LRC director Seiler to retire July 31, will not seek permanent job

By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Marcia Seiler, acting director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, announced Tuesday she has decided to retire at the end of July and not seek the job of permanent director.
Seiler, of Louisville, became acting director in October 2013. She had been director of the legislature’s Office of Education Accountability. She has been working from home in recent weeks, recuperating from bone fractures sustained in a bicycle accident.
Seiler replaced Bobby Sherman, who resigned from the post in September 2013 after he said his office investigated two female staffers’ complaints of sexual harassment by a Western Kentucky lawmaker.
Those complaints and that of another staffer have been settled in a mediation session. Details of the settlement have not yet been made public.
A search panel for a full-time director hopes to fill the non-partisan position of LRC director on Oct. 1, three months before the 2016 General Assembly begins. The job pays from $120,000 to $140, 000 a year and includes state benefits.

McConnell reacts to U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Care Act

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate Floor Thursday regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld the federal Affordable Care Act:

“That we’re even discussing another of Obamacare’s self-inflicted brushes with the brink — again — is the latest indictment of a law that’s been a rolling disaster for the American people.

“Today’s ruling won’t change Obamacare’s multitude of broken promises, including the one that resulted in millions of Americans losing the coverage they had and wanted to keep. Today’s ruling won’t change Obamacare’s spectacular flops, from humiliating website debacles to the total collapse of exchanges in states run by the law’s loudest cheerleaders. Today’s ruling won’t change the skyrocketing costs in premiums, deductibles, and co-pays that have hit the middle class so hard over the last few years.

“The politicians who forced Obamacare on the American people now have a choice: crow about Obamacare’s latest wobble towards the edge, or work with us to address the ongoing negative impact of a 2,000-page law that continues to make life miserable for too many of the same people it purported to help.”

–Jack Brammer

Resolution reached in mediation of legislative sexual harassment claims

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – A resolution has been reached in the mediation of claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct against state lawmakers.

Leslie Vose, attorney for the Legislative Research Commission, and Thomas Clay, attorney for three women who made the claims, confirmed the resolution Tuesday morning but declined to provide any details of it.

Vose, of Lexington, said, “I can say the mediation was successful to all parties involved,” but said legislative leaders now will have to sign off on it.

Neither House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, nor Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, had any immediate comment.

John Cox, a spokesman for Stivers, said details of the resolution will not be immediately released. He did not elaborate.

Clay, of Louisville, said the parties Monday night “reached a mutually satisfactory resolution.”

The closed mediation started Monday in the Lexington law office of Steve Barker.

Clay also said “all parties involved” should be pleased and that the resolution will take care of all lawsuits in the cases.

The mediation addressed two cases, both brought in October of 2013.

One involved 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 involved 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.

Beshear creates special panel to study teachers’ retirement funding; Hoover criticizes it

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order Tuesday to create a 23-member group to address the state’s financially strapped Teachers’ Retirement System.

Beshear named David Karem, a former Democratic state senator from Louisville and a former chairman of the state Board of Education, to chair the panel and to submit a report to him by or on Dec. 1.

Beshear leaves office in early December and could turn over any recommendations to the 2016 General Assembly.

The creation of the special panel drew applause from the top two legislative leaders – House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester – but criticism from House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.

Hoover said he was “extremely disappointed.”
“Gov. Beshear had a real opportunity to create an independent, non-partisan panel to give a thorough review of KTRS in an effort to make substantive recommendations to solidify the system,” said Hoover in an email.

“Instead the governor chose to fill this task force with self-serving special interest groups that have been part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

John Schaff named new head of Legislative Ethics Commission


FRANKFORT — John Schaaf, who has been legal counsel for the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission since 2004, will become its news executive director Aug. 1.

Schaaf will replace Anthony Wilhoit, who is retiring.

The bipartisan commission, made up of private citizens, selected Schaaf from 38 applications from all over the country, commission chairman George Troutman of Louisville said in a release.

In 1992, Schaaf worked with the Task Force on Governmental Ethics to draft the legislation which created the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Before joining the commission as its legal counsel, Schaaf was general counsel for the Legislative Research Commission for 16 years. He and his wife have three sons and lives in Scott County.

Wilhoit has led the commission staff since 1997. He took the job shortly after he retired as chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. He served on the court for 21 years.

Prior to that, Wilhoit was the state’s first public advocate, and served as Woodford County attorney and police judge.

In 2012, Wilhoit received the COGEL Award, the highest honor given by the international organization of public and private organizations working in the fields of ethics, campaign finance, elections and open records.

In addition to Troutman, other members of the Ethics Commission are vice chair Pat Freibert of Lexington, former Sen. Charlie Borders of Grayson, Deborah Jo Durr of Richwood, Bob Fulkerson of Louisville, attorney Elmer George of Lebanon, retired Judge Paul Gudgel of Lexington, Henry L. Stephens, Jr. of Union and former Sen. Ken Winters of Murray.
–Jack Brammer