Stu Johnson, WEKU

Reporter/Producer - Lexington

Ways to Connect

Military veterans across Kentucky can now secure a driver’s license with a new ‘veteran’ designation.  The new license option was approved during the 2012 general assembly session.  The word ‘veteran’ will be printed vertically and in capital letters along the right border of the license holder’s photo.  To obtain the license, a veteran must present a Department of Defense form that verifies service at the local circuit court clerk’s office.  Representative Tanya Pullin says the designation will help veterans receive benefits they have earned.

Talk continues at city hall over a proposed affordable housing trust fund for Lexington.  The idea, which has been under study for years, would finance homes for low-income residents.  Proponents say the city could raise two-million dollars each year for the fund with a half-percent tax on insurance premiums.  Council member Chris Ford says the time to act is now.  “Nobody can refute the need.  We can leave these chambers right now and drive throughout our districts and recognize the need.   The question is will we respond and react to the need,” said Ford.

A stomach virus is making its way through some Fayette County Schools.  Health officials suggest spending a little more time over the sink.  It’s not hand to hand combat when it comes to fighting a stomach bug.  It’s soapy hands over the sink which offers the best protection.  Kevin Hall, with the Fayette County Health Department, says a quick squirt of a hand sanitizer might not do the trick.

Hard hits are fact of life for football players who compete on the high school, college, and professional levels.  With those hits, comes the risk of significant head injury.  While much is known about head injuries, Eastern Kentucky University Professor of Exercise and Sports Medicine Matt Sabin recommends caution.  For example, when a helmet hits a helmet, Sabin says diagnosing the health consequences can be difficult.

Some 16 central Kentucky arts projects are receiving government support to further an environmental message.  This year’s Eco-Art grants cover everything from performances, to photographs, to sculptures.  Each has an environmental theme.  Lexington Mayor Jim Gray says the Eco-Art program helps the city creatively connects citizens with the environment.

Gross receipts for Keeneland’s eleven day yearling sales were down slightly from a year ago.  But, the average price and median figure were up.  Just over 25 hundred horses were auctioned off during the eleven day sale,  A little more than 29 hundred horses were sold last year.  The cumulative average price this year increased 14 percent while the median jumped up 50 percent.

The final disposal of chemical munitions stored at the Bluegrass Army Depot is years away.  Still, local leaders are already considering the economic potential of the Madison County installation once the clean-up is complete.  It’s a challenge, but there’s also optimism the site can remain a major employer.  The clean-up’s timeline remains tentative, at best.  Assuming Congress fully funds the project, over the next decade, some one-thousand people will work to eliminate the chemical weapons stockpile at the Bluegrass Army Depot.

Great medical strides have been made in the treatment of childhood leukemia.  Follow up care is a critical part of the formula for a healthy success long term.  A half century ago, the survival rate for children with leukemia hovered around ten percent.  Today, that percentage is more like 90 percent.  Despite the success, University of Kentucky Chief in the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Lars Wagner says there can be a cost to these kids…later in life

The Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Jefferson Community and Technical College will benefit from a half billion dollar federal grant program.  The money is being spread across the country to  develop and expand training programs.  The two Kentucky schools will receive a part of 15 million dollars coming to the Henry Ford Community College Consortium.

In rural counties, state-run prisons are often major employers.  And, after state budget cuts and reforms in the penal code, they remain an important part of the local economy. Some 12 state operated prisons are situated in relatively small towns.  There’s a maximum security prison in Eddyville and the others are either community or medium security complexes. Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner Ladonna Thompson says they’re a state agency that’s hiring.

Fayette County’s criminal electronic monitoring program has grown substantially over the last three years.   The ankle bracelet system was reviewed during an Urban County Council meeting Tuesday.  Jail officials say 42 people are on electronic monitors currently.  39 of those individuals have not gone to trial.  Jail Sargent Chris Toombs says there’s room for growth in the program.  “We could have as many as need be.  We can get over a hundred if that’s what the community requires and if the judges and city leadership wants to get together, then the jail can make that happen,” said Toombs.

Opening up Lexington to natural gas filling stations was a point of discussion today at City Hall.  With natural gas cheap and plentiful, it’s prompting interest among some motorists.  Council member Bill Farmer has heard a lot of buzz about the potential of natural gas as a cheap, clean-burning fuel.  “I just became familiar with it from a couple of conversations in terms of how much natural gas there is here naturally and how many pipelines this state and this part of the state to supply natural gas to other parts of the country,” said Farmer.

Unrest in countries around the world makes national as well as international headlines.   A central Kentucky lawmaker believes those events have taken some of the focus away from pressing domestic issues.  Jessamine County Senator Tom Buford says it seems to be the case with the federal health care law.  “Well to me it appears that much of the emphasis on the health care act has taken a back seat to the events overseas in Libya and Syria, other countries where we’re having difficulties now.  Probably that could be to the president’s advantage to thrown off the opposition that still is out there for the health care act,” said Buford.

There’s interest in a total overhaul of the Lexington’s historic downtown courthouse.  Last week, the city indefinitely closed the building, which sits at the corner of Main and Upper Streets, to the public.  Lexington General Services Commissioner Sally Hamilton says the 114 year old building has lead, asbestos and structural problems.  “We know we have got a lot of lead in there, but we would like to have something in concrete that tells us exactly where the majority of that lead is and some of the recommendations on how to abate that,” said Hamilton.

“Expansive” is the term Kentucky’s President of the State Council on Postsecondary Education offers to describe research at Kentucky’s Universities.  Bob King and the other members of the council will learn more about research efforts at the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville during a meeting Friday.  “In the long run, the payoff of having research success on our campuses can translate into economic prosperity in terms of creating more jobs for Kentuckians down the road,” said King.

Lexington’s effort to redo much of its sanitary and storm water sewer systems brings with it the cost of hiring consultants.  The most recent engineering contract presented to Lexington’s council was for a half-million dollars.  Council member Ed Lane says it deserves close scrutiny. “This should be the highest due diligence of our council is to make sure that our process is protecting our taxpayers and ratepayers and make sure we’re getting a fair return on our investment,” said Lane.  Mayor Jim Gray agrees….saying city officials are closely tracking expenses.

An international law firm is expected to bring more than 200 jobs to the Lexington community.  Bingham McCutchen announced Wednesday plans to open a shared services center next spring.  Company officials say the center will eventually house about 250 employees, who will be relocating from Bingham offices or hired from the Lexington area.  The move is tied to pending state and local economic development incentives.

Work continues on a multi-million dollar disposal facility designed to eliminate chemical munitions stored at the Bluegrass Army Depot.  Under the current Army timeline, actual destruction of nerve and mustard gas agents is set to start in 2020.  As technology improves, Chemical Weapons Working Group Director Craig Williams says  ‘neutralization’ will remain their preferred method of disposal.

Thousands of Lexington city employees will be making decisions about their health insurance plans in the coming weeks.  The new plans and rate structure is expected to save the city and workers money.  Urban County Council members were briefed on insurance matters Tuesday.  Benji Marrs is Senior Vice President with Benefit Insurance Marketing.  “So, for next year, employees, we anticipate, 50 percent of them will have a lower payroll deduction that what they have today.  And for some employees, there’s 28 percent of the population participating on an H-S-A and for those non tobacco users, they will experience anyway from a rate reduction to a one or two dollar increase per pay period,” said Marrs.

Governor Beshear is in India for a seven day economic development visit.  This is the governor’s third trip to India.  Last year, he announced 250 new jobs in Elizabethtown for the India based packaging company, Flex Films.  The firm is investing 180 million dollars in the Commonwealth.  Almost 30 percent of all capital investment and more than 22 percent of all jobs announced in 2011 were the result of foreign owned enterprises.

Another opportunity to gauge the strength of Kentucky’s Equine industry takes place over the next two weeks at Keeneland.   The Keeneland Yearling Sale is regarded by many leaders in the thoroughbred industry as a ‘barometer’ on their business  Keeneland spokeswoman Julie Balog says one year olds from Kentucky, Indiana, New York, and Pennyslvania are auctioned off this week and next

Catholic Charities of Lexington

At some point in their lives, the World Health Organization says more than a third of people report some kind of mental disorder.  The care and treatment of a mental illness includes the use of ever improving medications and intense counseling.  Some counselors believe ‘spirituality’ can impact mental health.

Patti A. Clay Hospital, which has been a part of the Richmond community since 1892, is entering a new era.  Hospital CEO Todd Jones says the Madison County Healthcare facility is changing its name and joining a regional network.

The first weekend during the fall months is set aside for some digging around a historic site.  It’s tabbed ‘Archaeology Days’ at White Hall in Madison County.  White Hall was the home to Cassius Marcellus Clay, a major general in the Union Army, an ambassador to Russia, and a friend to Abe Lincoln.  The archaeological digs there are coordinated by Jon Endonino with Eastern Kentucky University.

A cracked runway is not something a pilot wants to see when landing at a Kentucky airport.  But, rough runways have aviation officials here worried.  Winn Turney, who’s commissioner of Kentucky’s Department of Aviation, says maintenance funds have been short.  “We have a lot of runways that are cracking and stuff like that.  Most of the time, with the funds we have, we doing we call crack and seal repair.  We’ve had some runways where if you went down the center line of it, actually a nose wheel of an aircraft could almost fall into one of them.  We’ve taken care of that particular area,” said Turney.

There’s still plenty of work to do on the ten –year, five-billion dollar chemical weapon clean-up at the Bluegrass Army Depot.  Still, leaders in the public and private sectors are already wondering ‘What’s next?’  A long term economic study could provide an answer. It’ could be a dozen years before the last of the chemical munitions stored at the Bluegrass Army Depot is neutralized.  Then, as many as two thousand of people who worked on the clean-up will need new jobs.  With some planning, David Dutlinger, who’s with the Bluegrass Area Development District, thinks they can find a new mission, but there needs to be a game plan.

Kentucky delegates at the Democratic National Convention may differ a little ideologically with their party but they're still proud to be Democrats. Correspondent Matt Laslo reports from Charlotte.   The Massachusetts and Oregon delegations are seated directly in front of Kentucky's delegation. For the most part the groups couldn't be more different on economic issues, but Daniel Logsdon - the chairman of Kentucky’s Democratic Party - says that's okay.

As Kentuckians prepare to enter the fall season, there are a number of medical matters to contemplate.   Whooping Cough and West Nile Virus cases have gotten a great deal of attention in Kentucky and many other states.  Now, a third disease, influenza is being put on Kentuckians radar screen.    Lois Davis is the Public Health Nursing Manager in Fayette County.  “We have had a few confirmed cases already in eastern Kentucky.  That may or may not indicate that it could be an earlier than usual flu season.  It may peak earlier.  You never know that.  It could just be a few random cases,” said Davis.

Public golf in Lexington is on an uptick.  In recent years, the Urban County Government had been subsidizing the five golf courses by hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Then last spring the green fees were reduced substantially and a golfer loyalty program implemented.  Director of Golf Mike Fields says it has resulted in a turnaround.  “I think it allowed us to get our rates in line with what the market demand was.  We were out pricing ourselves, we didn’t have any programs in place to create any loyalty for our customers to keep returning to us,” said Fields.

For the first time, Eastern Kentucky University and Purdue meet this Saturday on the football field.  In other opening games recently, the Colonels have caused a few anxious moments for their opponents.  EKU has fallen short in two of the last three years to teams, which were on paper, stronger.  In 2009, Eastern lost to Indiana in Bloomington.  Last year, in a real nail biter, the Colonels fell to Kansas State by three points.  Eastern Coach Dean Hood says it’s important for his players to stay grounded