Efforts to redraw Kentucky’s U.S. House districts are dead in the General Assembly. State House Speaker Greg Stumbo made that declaration after the state Senate could not agree to the latest compromise on district maps. “I think that ship has sailed, that bell’s rung,” Stumbo said. “I think the Secretary of State will have to certify those folks as the candidates and so the current status of law is that in my opinion they would run in the current Congressional district.”
Kentucky’s private Medicaid providers say they need immediate changes in the state Medicaid system. Kentucky turned the system over to managed care providers four months ago. And today doctors, pharmacists and hospital executives told a Senate committee how disastrous the change has been. Kentucky currently contracts with four Managed Care Organizations, known as MCOs. Passport is based in Louisville, while Kentucky Spirit, WellCare and Coventry Cares operate statewide.
A Franklin Circuit Court judge has thrown out new legislative district maps, saying they violate the basic principles of the Kentucky Constitution. Judge Phillip Shepherd’s ruling is based on the so-called “five percent rule.” It says new districts must be within five percent of their ideal size. Shepherd added that the maps of both the House and Senate districts divided too many counties. Shepherd also extended the deadline for candidates to file to run for the General Assembly until Friday. Unless the ruling is overturned or new districts are drafted, candidates will run in the current districts.
Students from all eight of Kentucky’s public universities have once again descended on Frankfort with a familiar message… stop cutting higher education. At the annual Rally for Higher Education today, the messages were familiar. Students called on lawmakers to restore or increase funding for higher education. In one of the toughest budget cycles yet, that call is once again likely to go unanswered.
Kentucky lawmakers are protesting a current trade agreement that they say would hurt tobacco. The U.S. is currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which includes countries like New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam. But the lawmakers say the proposal excludes tobacco protections. At a news conference in Frankfort today, Democratic and Republican lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to add provisions for tobacco to the agreement.
Changes to Kentucky's special elections procedures could be imminent. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is supporting a bill to reduce the number of polling places for uncontested special elections for legislative seats. Grimes says the change will save money for her office, county clerks and taxpayers.
Budget cuts and education reforms are putting pressure on teachers and principals to improve student performance. And the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is reaching out to help them. The chamber’s Leadership Institute program gives Kentucky’s principals the same training many corporate CEOs go through. The program costs $9,000 per principal, but is paid for with donations raised by the chamber.
Kentucky’s bourbon distillers may soon be getting one of their biggest wishes… a change in the barrel tax. The tax, named because it charges property taxes on bourbon aging in barrels in distillery warehouses, is one of its kind. But other alcoholic beverages made it the commonwealth aren’t subject to the same taxes, Beshear says. “It is the only such tax in the world and it’s not assessed in Kentucky on any other alcoholic beverage such as beer, vodka or scotch whiskey,” he said.
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell is once again trying to become Majority Leader. McConnell’s PAC—called the Bluegrass Committee—is in full campaign mode heading into this year's elections. The PAC raised over $300,000 at the end of last year. It then promptly spent it all, giving most of the money to four Republican candidates for the Senate. The GOP needs to capture four Senate seats to gain the majority in that chamber.
A bill allowing charter schools in Kentucky will get a hearing in the House Education Committee. Chairman Carl Rollins has set February 14th as the hearing date, but that could change if the deadline for candidates to file to run for General Assembly seats is pushed back again. Rollins still doesn’t support charter schools, but thinks it's time for the bill to be discussed.
A bill to crack down on illegal pain clinics has been introduced in the Kentucky House. Governor Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, all Democrats, collaborated on the bill. It would transfer the operation of KASPER, a statewide pill tracking system, to the Attorney General’s office. It would also require all doctors practicing in Kentucky to use the system.
Kentucky’s two largest universities are facing grim futures with more budget cuts planned for the coming years. But the schools' presidents say they can survive. University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and University of Louisville President James Ramsey addressed the Senate Education Committee today. They did not attempt to talk their way out of proposed 6.4 percent budget cuts. Instead, both men talked highly of their current programs and their ability to survive past budget cuts.
Governor Steve Beshear is warming to a modified proposal to raise the high school dropout age. Beshear has long pushed to raise the dropout age to 18. The Senate Education Committee passed a bill today that lets individual school boards opt in to a higher dropout age. It also requires those boards to provide the Kentucky Department of Education with proof that a solid alternative program exists in their districts.
Kentucky lawmakers are giving themselves another long weekend by taking tomorrow off. And one legislator is blaming the filing deadline for the break. Candidates have until Tuesday to file to run for the General Assembly. A judge pushed back the deadline back earlier this week so he could further consider the constitutionality of new district maps
More cuts to Kentucky’s education budget will slow down the implementation of a landmark reform law. Senate Bill 1 is a wide-ranging education law that replaced Kentucky’s school testing system with stronger tests and content standards. Currently only English and math standards have been developed. And with a 4.5 percent cut planned for the Department of Education in Governor Steve Beshear’s latest budget proposal, new standards in other subjects are going to be delayed.
Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education is confident the commonwealth will receive a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards. Terry Holliday has been in direct talks with federal officials, and he says a big announcement confirming the waiver is coming next week.
A Franklin Circuit Court judge has pushed back the filling deadline for state legislative candidates. In response to a lawsuit claiming the new redistricting maps are unconstitutional, Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a restraining order moving the deadline back one week. Shepherd also set a hearing on the constitutionality argument for Monday morning.
Redistricting in the Kentucky Senate has claimed another Democrat: Walter Blevins. The outspoken but soft-spoken senator will not seek re-election in the district he's been drawn into with Republican Senator Robert Stivers. “This is my 31st year," Blevins says. "It’s just time to try something different. Look at my options, see what I’ve got. Of course I’ve also been through cancer this past year and married to a lovely wife and I want to spend time with her.”
As the wheels slowly turn on Governor Steve Beshear’s tax commission, observers are wondering what changed the governor’s mind on taxes in the first place. All last year the governor said he wasn’t in favor of changing the tax code during a recession, while his opponent David Williams constantly advocated for it. But after his re-election, the governor created a new commission to study the issue. Beshear says it wasn’t a change at all.
Responding to critics, Governor Steve Beshear says he believes he already has ample support in the state Senate to send an expanded gambling amendment to the ballot. Beshear says there are 23 state senators who would vote in favor of the measure. That doesn’t mean all 23 support gambling though, as some senators, like Republican Damon Thayer, have said they will vote to put the issue on the ballot but aren’t supportive of gambling in Kentucky. Opponents have said the governor does not have the votes in his favor.
The state’s community and technical college system is enlisting Governor Steve Beshear in an effort to increase Kentucky’s African-American college enrollment and graduation rates. At a news conference in the Rotunda today, KCTCS and Beshear announced a new effort to hold college fairs at African-American churches across the Commonwealth on February 12.
Four Republicans will compete against each other in the Fourth Congressional District primary this spring. Republicans Alecia Webb-Edgington, Thomas Massie and Brian Oerther filed their paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office today. Republican Gary Moore filed his paperwork earlier this month. Massie is the Lewis County Judge-Executive and close friends with U.S. Senator Rand Paul. While many observers expect a close primary battle, Massie doesn’t.
A judge is expected to rule tomorrow in a lawsuit over Kentucky’s new state House and Senate redistricting maps. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepard listened to three hours of arguments today and told the involved parties that he will decide tomorrow whether to grant a temporary injunction.
After two weeks of no movement, legislative leaders are hopeful they’ll reach a compromise on Congressional redistricting soon. That hope is the reason they’re giving for extending the filing deadline until February 7th, as the General Assembly did last week. State Senator Damon Thayer says so far, the problem has been wildly different approaches to drawing new maps.
The debate over how to regulate pseudoephedrine is becoming more polarized. Lawmakers are wrestling with the idea of whether to make the drug, known as PSE, available by prescription only. Law enforcement supports that idea, while health care and citizen groups don’t. The debate has led one state Senator to dial back his leadership on the issue due to personal attacks. But Senator Tom Jensen says he’s going to continue to advocate to make PSE prescription only.
House Republicans aren’t the only members of the General Assembly looking to sue over new redistricting lines. Democratic state Senator Kathy Stein says she and many of her Lexington supporters are strongly considering getting involved as well. A handful of House Republicans filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Circuit Court today challenging the House redistricting map. Stein says she is likely to join those Republicans.
The head of Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education foresees a dire future for higher education if the state can’t correct its budget woes soon. CPE President Robert King told a budget subcommittee today that Governor Steve Beshear’s 6.4 percent budget cut on higher education will definitely mean higher tuition for college students. But another increase won’t be enough to fill the hole created by four years of budget cuts.
Several Kentucky House Republican shave followed through on their threats to file a legal challenge to new legislative district lines. The Republicans filed the lawsuit and request for an injunction in Franklin County Circuit Court today. And because of the injunction request, they will go before Judge Phillip Sheppard on Monday morning.
Governor Steve Beshear’s proposal for a constitutional amendment to expand gaming could get a big boost soon. State Senator Damon Thayer, a Republican, says it’s very likely he will sponsor Beshear’s amendment this session. Thayer has been working with Beshear on the gambling issue this session, giving the amendment leverage it hasn’t had before.
Several Kentucky House Republicans are hoping to derail new legislative districts with a lawsuit challenging the redistricting map. Members of the GOP caucus and a group of private individuals could file the suit as soon as the end of this week. It will start in Franklin County Circuit Court and will include a motion to stop the redistricting maps from taking immediate effect.