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KY House Democratic leaders talk road projects with Rogers, Paul and Boehner

Four Kentucky Democratic House leaders met Wednesday in Washington with U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, to discuss road projects in the state. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, attended the meeting with Rogers.

The discussions involved Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s efforts to extend the Mountain Parkway in Eastern Kentucky from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W.Va., and widening the Hal Rogers Parkway in south-central Kentucky, bringing it up to interstate standards and extending it southeast to Tennessee.

The combined projects would become part of the Interstate 66 project that Eastern Kentucky leaders and Rogers have long championed.

“These meetings went exactly as we had hoped and show that the support is growing in our nation’s capitol,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in a release.

“They realize, as we do, that projects like these can open up the region in a way no other can. Eastern Kentucky needs a major interstate route to the east and south, and these plans are the best way to do that.”

Kentucky House members with Stumbo were House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, House Speaker Pro Tem Jody Richards of Bowling Green and House Majority Whip Johnny Bell of Glasgow.

They arranged the meetings while in Washington for the National Conference of State Legislature’s Symposium for Legislative Leaders.

Stumbo has asked the state Transportation Cabinet to look at how the project from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W.Va., could be accomplished.

He supports using up to $1 billion of federal abandoned mine land funds.

“Rather than sitting idle, these funds can be used to improve the coal region’s infrastructure and economic future,” he said.

The Kentucky House leaders support expanding the project’s scope to include the Hal Rogers Parkway and tying it together under the I-66 umbrella.

“I want to thank Rep. Rogers, Sen. Paul and House Speaker Boehner for meeting with us and offering their suggestions,” Stumbo said. “These billion-dollar projects can’t be built overnight, but the sooner we can lay the groundwork and planning, the sooner we can begin turning this dream into reality.”

–Jack Brammer

State Road Fund expects $11M shortfall

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – The state Road Fund, which pays for highway projects, may come up $11 million less than expected for the year.

State budget director Jane Driskell reported Wednesday in a release that Road Fund receipts fell 4.1 percent last month compared to May 2014 with collections of $126 million. Year-to-date collections have fallen 1.5 percent.

The official Road Fund revenue estimate calls for a decrease in revenues of 0.9 percent for fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30.

Based on year-to-date tax collections, revenues must grow 5.6 percent in June to meet the estimate.

The most recent internal revenue estimate predicted a Road Fund revenue shortfall of $11 million for the fiscal year, Driskell said.

State Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said, “Anytime there is a budget shortfall,something has to give.”

But Wolfe said it would not be possible to say at this time what might be affected in the cabinet with a budget shortfall.

“It could mean a delay in some kind of activity or project,” he said, adding that the cabinet’s expected budget for this fiscal year is about $1.5 billion.

Auditor Edelen to hold statewide meetings on untested rape kits

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT – State Auditor Adam Edelen and officials with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs will hold 14 meetings across the state this summer to talk about the state’s problem with untested rape kits.

Edelen, a Democrat who is seeking re-election this year, said the meetings are part of his office’s efforts to conduct a statewide count of untested sexual-assault kits.

He also plans to make recommendations to the state legislature to reform how evidence in cases of sexual violence is handled.

The statewide count was prompted by legislation sponsored this year by Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville.

Senate Joint Resolution 20 calls on Edelen to count the number of untested sexual-assault evidence kits in the possession of law enforcement. Kentucky State Police officials have said there might be as many as 2,000 to 5,000 untested kits sitting on shelves in police stations and prosecutors’ offices across the state.

Edelen said the kits contain biological evidence collected from assault victims during investigations and might contain DNA from assailants who can be identified by comparisons with the national DNA database.

“These meetings are an important part of our examination of the complex issues surrounding untested rape kits,” Edelen said in a release. “I hope to hear from law enforcement, prosecutors, survivors and others as we begin working toward recommending reforms to the system.”

Edelen said he wants to talk to survivors, victims’ advocates, nurses, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and others who are involved in sexual assault investigations and gather testimony about the issues and challenges they face.

He said his office is focused on issues such as how kits are logged, tracked and stored, how decisions to test kits are made, whether victims are notified of the status of their kits and whether law enforcement have sufficient policies, procedures and training to handle kits and deal with victims.

Survivors, victims’ advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors and others who are involved in sexual assault investigations are invited to attend the meetings to voice their concerns and experiences.

Persons who would prefer to share privately their concerns with the auditor’s office may request time in advance of the meetings to do so, Edelen said.

Also, individuals may share their stories, concerns and opinions via email at stephenie.hoelscher@ky.gov. Confidentiality may be requested.

Here is the schedule of the meetings:

June 23
2 p.m. CST
New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services, 1716 Scherm Rd., Owensboro

June 26
10 a.m. CST
Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center, 1605 North Friendship Road, Paducah

June 30
10 a.m. EST
Women’s Crisis Center, 3580 Hargrave Drive, Hebron

July 1
11 a.m. EST
Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services, 751 South Provident Way, Elizabethtown

July 7
10 a.m. EST
Cumberland River Behavioral Health, 1203 American Greeting Road, Corbin

July 7
2 p.m. EST
Adanta Sexual Assault Resource Center, 130 Southern School Road, Somerset

July 8
1 p.m. EST
Center for Women & Families, 927 S. 2nd Street, Louisville

July 9
10 a.m. CST
Economic Justice Institute, 2109 Old Louisville Road, Bowling Green

July 9
2 p.m. CST
Hopkinsville Municipal Center, 715 S. Virginia Street, Hopkinsville

July 13
10 a.m. EST
145 Constitution Street, Lexington

July 14
11 a.m. EST
Mountain Comprehensive Care Center’s Healing Program for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, 104 S. Front Street, Prestonsburg

July 14
2 p.m. EST
The Rising Center, 637 Morton Blvd., Hazard

July 21
10 am EST
Mason County Health Department, 120 West Third Street, Maysville

July 21
2 p.m. EST
Park Place, 1701 Central Avenue, Ashland

–Jack Brammer

Attorney general: Lexington police broke records law by demanding address of man who sought documents about shooting of dog

By Will Wright
wwright@herald-leader.com

The Lexington Division of Police violated Kentucky’s Open Records Act in January when it required a man seeking records about the 2010 shooting of a dog by a police officer to provide his address, the state Office of Attorney General has ruled.

Tyler Fryman, who lives in Bourbon County, appealed to the attorney general’s office after police required Fryman to provide his address before fulfilling his request for documents related to the shooting by Lexington police officer Aaron Greenleaf. The Open Records Act does not require a person to provide an address unless they want the documents mailed to them.

Greenleaf shot the dog six times after it bit him as he ran through the back yard of a Lexington home while pursuing a suspect on foot. The bite did not draw blood and Greenleaf was not hospitalized. Police defended the officer’s decision at the time, saying he did not violate any policy and that he had the right to be in the back yard because he was pursuing a suspect.

Fryman told the Herald-Leader Monday that he requested the documents because he was interested to know what happened in the case. Fryman said he regularly makes requests for documents — about one a day — from various government agencies.

The city told attorney general investigators that the police department “could not be sure if and when Mr. Fryman would show up at police headquarters, so without a valid address, a response could not be given in three business days.”

To comply with the Open Records Act, public offices must respond to requests within three business days.

Fryman said there was no reason for the police to ask for his address, considering that he was able and willing to come to Lexington to review the documents.

“What if you were homeless?” Fryman asked. “Does a homeless person not have the same rights … to open records?”

Susan Straub, a city spokeswoman, declined to comment on the attorney general’s decision, which carry’s the weight of law unless appealed in Fayette Circuit Court.

Fryman also alleged that police made him pay for the documents even though he requested to view them in police headquarters. State law allows a person to review documents without paying for them. If a copy is requested, the cost is 10 cents per page.

The attorney general ruled that police did not violate this portion of the Open Records Act, citing a lack of evidence.

Police charged a fee for copying the documents and Fryman left the office with the records, according to the attorney general’s office.

Police told state investigators that “it is believed” Fryman paid for the copies without saying that he preferred to view them in the office.

Fryman said Monday that police knew he wanted to view the documents in the police station, but that a police employee refused to give him the documents without paying.

Conway and Overly agree to appear at six forums or debates with Bevin and Hampton

conwaysetupJack Conway’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign on Monday released a schedule of six forums where Conway or his running mate, state Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris, plan to appear alongside their Republican opponents, Louisville financier Matt Bevin and Jenean Hampton.

“I look forward to a serious discussion with my opponent about the issues that matter most to Kentucky families,” Conway, finishing his second term as attorney general, said in a statement.

Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, said: “We have agreed to some (of the forums) and are in the process of scheduling the rest. As Matt has said numerous times since Election Day, we would like as many debates as possible.”

Matt BevinThe schedule offered by Conway is:

June 19: Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association summer conference at the Galt House in Louisville.

July 23: Kentucky Farm Bureau “Measure the Candidates” forum at KFB state headquarters in Louisville.

Oct. 6: Centre College in Danville. This will be broadcast on television.

Oct. 19: Kentucky Educational Television’s Kentucky Tonight forum for lieutenant governor candidates in Lexington. This will be broadcast on statewide television.

Oct. 25: Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. This will be broadcast on television.

Oct. 26: KET’s Kentucky Tonight forum for gubernatorial candidates in Lexington. This will be broadcast on statewide television.

Beshear raises pay of about 800 state workers to $10.10 an hour

Gov. Steve Beshear By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Gov. Steve Beshear is raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for hundreds of the lowest-paid workers in Kentucky’s executive branch of government, a move cheered by his Democratic supporters and ridiculed as an abuse of power by key Republican lawmakers.

Beshear, who will leave office in December, ceremonially signed an executive order Monday afternoon at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington to raise the pay of nearly 800 state workers starting July 1. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Tipped employees — such as those who work in state park restaurants — will see their wages more than doubled to $4.90 an hour.

The wage increases will cost about $1.6 million, and less than $800,000 of that cost will come from the General Fund, Beshear said. Other sources of money, he said, include federal dollars, the state Road Fund and various state agency accounts.

Hundreds of state government workers care for veterans in nursing homes, maintain parks and help adults with mental disabilities for about $15,000 a year, the governor said.

“That’s a disgrace,” Beshear said. “Raising their pay is a moral imperative.”

The Democratic governor also challenged employers in the private and public sectors to follow the lead of the state’s largest employer, and he contended that common arguments against raising the wage don’t hold up to scrutiny.

“I call on every business leader and local government to take a hard look at the facts,” Beshear said. “Paying our people a living wage isn’t a fiscal backbreaker, and the impacts will be extraordinarily beneficial.”

State lawmakers have debated in recent years whether to raise the minimum wage, with House Democrats pushing the idea and Senate Republicans blocking the measure.

The General Assembly can review Beshear’s order when legislators return to session in early January, but it would be difficult for them to lower state workers’ wages. The next governor also could roll back Beshear’s order, but Beshear said Monday he doubts that will happen.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, accused Beshear of taking “a page out of the Obama administration’s playbook by forcing through failed legislation by executive action.”

“It seems Gov. Beshear apparently now understands he doesn’t have to pass another budget and feels comfortable in adding to the strain on Kentucky’s finances,” Hoover said.

Hoover said Beshear’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act, combined with a growing unfunded liability in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, “will increase the budgetary structural imbalance in excess of $250 million, which the General Assembly will have to address immediately.”

“Today’s action will have repercussions long after Gov. Beshear has left office,” he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he hopes Beshear’s action “does not cause any future-year fiscal problems.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he would support raising the minimum wage for legislative branch employees and hopes the Senate will approve his proposal to increase the minimum wage statewide next year.

Leigh Anne Hiatt said the judicial branch’s lowest-paid, full-time position begins at $11.53 per hour and increases to $12.10 an hour after the employee completes probation.

The change will affect 510 state workers in the executive branch who earn less than $10 an hour. An additional 269 who earn about $10 an hour will see a small raise. Tipped employees will see an increase in their base hourly income from $2.19 an hour to $4.90 an hour, matching recent federal changes.

The new policy also requires private companies that have service contracts with state government to pay a minimum wage of at least $10.10 an hour to employees who perform work in connection with those government contracts. That requirement will be added to contracts as they come up for renewal.

Of the 510 employees who make less than $10 an hour, more than a third work for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, many of them caring for Kentucky veterans in the state’s veterans nursing homes. Another 90 people work in behavioral health agencies, taking care of vulnerable Kentuckians. Other large groups of low-paid employees work at state parks and at the Department of Natural Resources.

“The irony here — and it’s an appalling irony — is that the people we have tasked with the difficult job of caring for our vulnerable populations are paid so little that they too are vulnerable, at least when it comes to financial security,” Beshear said.

Beshear said a raise of less than $3 an hour might be enough for some employees to move off government assistance programs. For example, a single person with no dependents working full-time at $10.10 an hour would no longer be eligible for food stamps or Medicaid.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services estimated that a statewide increase in the minimum wage would move 13,000 Kentuckians off Medicaid.

Beshear was pressed at his Lexington news conference about the timing of his policy change, given that his two four-year terms in office are concluding in a few months.

This year also is an election year for all state constitutional offices, including attorney general. His son, Democrat Andy Beshear, a Louisville attorney, is running for that office against state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican.

Beshear, who held a similar news conference later Monday in Louisville, said Kentucky is coming out of a recession and the economy is improving.

“It’s time to share,” he said, noting that polling has consistently shown that a majority of Kentuckians favor raising the minimum wage.

Raising state government’s minimum wage would also help reduce turnover in low-paying jobs, cutting the costs of training, increasing productivity and reducing inefficiency, Beshear argued.

“As the economy accelerates, the job market grows more competitive,” Beshear said. “These critical state agencies need qualified workers to deliver services to our citizens.”

Kerri Richardson leaving as governor’s communications director; Terry Sebastian will replace her

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear’s communications director, Kerri Richardson, is leaving the administration at month’s end to become vice president of C2 Strategic Communications, a public relations firm, in Louisville.

Beshear named deputy communications director, Terry Sebastian, to replace her.

“Kerri’s work to keep Kentuckians informed and engaged about job creation, education and health has been a valuable asset to this administration. I wish her every success as she returns home to Louisville, where she will be closer to her husband and one-year-old daughter,” said Beshear.

“Terry is a capable and energetic leader with an extensive background in state government, and he will be a great fit in this position.”

Richardson joined the Beshear administration in 2009 and has served as communications director since 2011. She managed both day-to-day media interactions and strategic communications for major initiatives such as Medicaid expansion; kyhealthnow, the state’s plan to meet multiple health goals and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR).

She was named the 2014 National Communicator of the Year by the National Association of Government Communicators for her work on kynect, the state’s nationally-recognized health benefit exchange, and Kentucky’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“Working for Gov. Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear has been both the biggest honor and biggest challenge of my career,” said Richardson. “They love Kentucky and they work every day to make our state stronger, healthier, and more capable. Over and over, the Governor has proven himself as a strategic, thoughtful and compassionate leader, and it has been a privilege to witness that work and to share it with my fellow Kentuckians over the past six years.”

Sebastian, a veteran of state government communications, has been the deputy communications director since 2011. He was deputy communications director for Gov. Paul Patton, communications director for former Auditor Crit Luallen and former Treasurer Jonathan Miller and communications director for the Kentucky Justice Cabinet. He also served as media and public relations director for Louisville Collegiate School.

“The Governor, First Lady and lieutenant governor have so much more to do the last six months of this administration. I know the overnor wants to finish as strong as he started, and I’m honored to continue to work alongside him and his team,” said Sebastian.

Richardson’s final day in the Capitol office will be June 26.

–Jack Brammer

Stumbo open to tolls and naming Mountain Parkway extension to West Virgina after McConnell

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

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.

Secretary of State Grimes takes economic development trip to China

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT — Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is joining four other secretaries of state on an economic development trip to China.

The trip, which started May 30 and runs through June 7, is being coordinated and completely funded by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Grimes said in a release that she is working to advance Kentucky’s economic development efforts by providing information about Kentucky, its business climate and economic development opportunities in the state.

The American delegation will spend time in several cities in China and meet with various government and business officials.

“Since taking office in 2012, I’ve worked with our General Assembly to update our laws and expand our online business services so that Kentucky truly is open for business,” said Grimes. “Encouraging businesses to make Kentucky their home and growing our economy is the next step.”

China ranks as Kentucky’s fifth largest export partner, with more than $1.6 billion of Kentucky exports in 2014. The aerospace industry accounted for more than 40 percent of total Kentucky exports to China last year.

Several Kentucky companies, including Lexmark, KFC/Yum! Brands, Brown Forman and Ashland Oil, have offices in China.

Ahead of the trip, Grimes visited Birtley Industrial Equipment Corporation’s Lexington headquarters. Birtley, a manufacturer of advanced coal preparation products, was the first Chinese manufacturer to locate in Kentucky, investing approximately $10 million and creating as many as 50 new full-time jobs.

–Jack Brammer

Mediation in sexual harassment claims in state legislature postponed until June 22

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.