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Recent News

Lawmakers study plans to protect the vulnerable - 09/20/18

Legislative panel discusses medical marijuana - 09/14/18

Calendar set for General Assembly’s 2019 session - 09/06/18

Kentucky dairy, other farms look to the future - 09/05/18

Kentucky Medicaid program eyes options in face of shortfall - 08/30/18

State lawmakers check in on federal bank regs - 08/29/18

Medical marijuana supporters pitch lawmakers - 08/24/18

Kentucky looks at new reforms to cut jail, prison population - 08/23/18

Lawmakers review VA suicide prevention initiatives - 08/14/18

Step right up: LRC fair booth informs citizens - 08/14/18

Panel looks at improvement plans for state's bridges - 08/07/18

Water needs discussed by state legislative panel - 08/07/18

Experts view youth violence as public health crisis - 07/19/18

New state laws go into effect July 14 - 07/06/18

September 20, 2018


Lawmakers study plans to protect the vulnerable

FRANKFORT – Bridgett Howard lived with spina bifida for 32 years before pancreatitis sent her to the hospital where she developed and died from bedsores – in nine days.

That’s what her father, Tom Howard of Salyersville, said while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services.

“This doesn’t need to happen,” he said, adding that Bridgett never developed a bedsore while under her mother’s care for more than three decades.

Howard was joined by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, who introduced legislation in 2017 relating to pressure sore treatment and prevention, named the Bridget Ann Howard Act (House Bill 297). The men’s testimony came at a meeting dominated with issues concerning Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens, particularly children, and public policies to protect them.

Two of the state’s top pediatric oncologists testified at the meeting about the Kentucky Pediatric Cancer Research Trust Fund. The fund was created in 2015 with the passage of Senate Bill 82 and appropriated $5 million in the current biennium budget. The appropriation spurred a private donor to contribute an additional $6 million to the fund, said Jamie Ennis Bloyd, the president of the fund’s board.

Dr. John D’Orazio of the University of Kentucky said his school is spending the money on two research projects dealing with leukemia, one with brain tumors and one with sarcomas.

“Thank you for helping us reduce the burden of disease caused by pediatric cancer in the commonwealth,” D’Orazio said to the committee members.

Dr. Ashok Raj of the University of Louisville testified while wearing a sports jacket of gold ribbons given to him by a patient. He explained that the international awareness symbol for childhood cancer is the gold ribbon.

Raj said U of L is spending part of the money on CAR T-cell therapy. It is a type of treatment in which a patient's T cells, a type of immune system cell, are changed in the laboratory so they will attack cancer cells.

“I know it is kind of the nerd in me talking, but when you talk about the CAR T-therapy that, to me, is incredibly exciting,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who is a pediatrician. “I try to emphasize that for all of the members of this committee to understand. This is revolutionary stuff.”

The committee also heard an update from the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel. The panel was established with the passage of House Bill 290 during the 2013 Regular Session after news reports about Kentucky leading the nation in the number of caregiver-related child deaths.

“What this (panel) does best is to try to identify gaps in the system,” said retired Jefferson County Family Court Judge Paula Sherlock, who serves on the panel and testified before the committee. “What are emergency rooms not doing? What is the Cabinet (for Health and Family Services) not doing? What are the courts not doing?

“This is a forum where we can put it all on the table and look at it and not in the blame game but be in the let’s fix this game.”

Sherlock said drug and alcohol abuse leads to many injuries and deaths, prompting Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, to ask if there should be a law requiring doctors to report suspected drug and alcohol abuse to police. He said he considered such legislation a couple of years ago. Panel member Dr. Jaime Pittenger, who also testified, said the fear was that it would discourage parents from sending their child to the pediatrician or being honest with the doctor.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, said the review panel and the pediatric abusive head trauma legislation (House Bill 285) passed during the 2010 regular session have become national models.

“When we as legislators collaborate and work with everyone together, I think we come up with the best solution,” Wuchner said. She added that another tool Kentucky has to combat child neglect is the Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky organization.

“We are going to dovetail nicely with the prior presentation because what we do is prevention,” said Jill Seyfred, the organization’s executive director. “We try to catch the kids upstream. We don’t do treatment. We don’t do intervention. We are prevention in all of its form.”

She said the organization’s programs include a new partnership with a managed-care group and the state hospital association that focus specifically on parents of newborns before they leave the hospital. It is designed to promote safe sleep practices and prevent head trauma.


-- END --


September 14, 2018


Legislative panel discusses medical marijuana

FRANKFORT -- A drug policy advisor for three former presidential administrations cautioned state lawmakers today about legalizing medical marijuana.

"As somebody who has studied this as a social scientist for over 20 years, my position is unequivocal that we should not legalize marijuana," said Kevin Sabet, while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations. "We have a hard enough time with our legal drugs."

If Kentucky lawmakers were to legalize medical marijuana, Sabet said they should study Louisiana. He said that state's very restrictive law has reduced problems associated with marijuana such as underage use, workplace accidents and impaired driving. Sabet added that New Jersey and New York also had some restrictive laws before liberalizing them.

"I would say look south and east rather than west," said Sabet, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Florida where he serves as director of the school's Drug Policy Institute. His and Kentucky Society of Addiction Medicine President Michael Fletcher's testimony was, in part, a rebuttal of individuals who spoke in favor of proposed medical marijuana legislation at the committee's Aug. 24 meeting.

"As an addiction medicine physician, I'm here to champion the implementation of safeguards in all jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized or may be legalized in the future," said Fletcher. "My comments today reflect the public policy position stated by American Society of Addiction Medicine."

He said the organization, known as ASAM, does not support the legalization of marijuana.

Committee Co-chair John Schickel, R-Union, asked Sabet whether states with legal medical marijuana have seen an increase in residents filing for disability. Sabet said he has heard anecdotal stories about jumps in the number of people on disability rolls, but he hasn't seen scientific data to back up the claims.

"There has not been a good look at a lot of the data," Sabet said. "We have to scrounge around to find even use data that is relevant."

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, asked what liability a small employer like him would face if an employee caused an accident while on medical marijuana.

"I don't have a crystal ball on how this will affect it," Sabet said, adding that he isn't a lawyer. "I can tell you in other states there is a mishmash of lawsuits that have happened.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, asked whether there was a field sobriety test, or quick method, to determine whether someone was actively under the influence of marijuana.

"There are tests in development," Sabet said. "We do not have anything near what we do for alcohol."

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, asked if any state had repealed laws liberalizing marijuana use. Sabet said Alaska repealed an early marijuana law before a ballot initiative in 2014 made it legal.

"I think you have states going through this debate and discussion," Sabet said of whether anyone is currently considering repeal measures.

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan "Malano" Seum, R-Fairdale, said he is an advocate of medical marijuana who smoked it to relieve nausea after cancer surgery. He said regulating it would help ensure people were not purchasing marijuana laced with other drugs on contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides.

"When is the last time we heard of anybody getting hold of rotgut whiskey?" Seum said in reference to the watering down alcohol with poisonous chemicals like turpentine, common during Prohibition. "It doesn't happen because you can go to a store and get a clean product. You know what you are buying."

Sabet said he sympathizes with anyone in situations similar to Seum's.

"I don't think anyone wants to see adulterated products," Sabet said. "I worry about the legal stores in Colorado who are getting away with selling a lot of adulterated products. I also worry about the black market that is selling adulterated products."

Schickel said he expects some type of marijuana legislation to be introduced in during the upcoming session set to start on Jan. 8.


-- END --


September 6, 2018


Calendar set for General Assembly’s 2019 session

FRANKFORT – The 2019 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly is scheduled to begin on Jan. 8 and will last 30 legislative days.

As usual during an odd-numbered year, in which sessions are half as long as in even-numbered years, the session will have two parts. The first four days of the session – Jan. 8 to Jan. 11 – will focus on organizational work, such as electing legislative leaders, adopting rules of procedure and organizing committees. The introduction and consideration of legislation can also begin during this time.

The second part of the session begins on Feb. 5, with final adjournment scheduled for March 29.

Legislators will not meet in session on Feb. 18 in observance of Presidents’ Day. The House and Senate will also not convene on March 8 or 11.

The veto recess – the period of time when lawmakers commonly return to their home districts while the governor considers the possibility of issuing vetoes – begins on March 14. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on March 28 and 29 for the final two days of the session.

The 2019 session calendar is online at:



September 5, 2018


Kentucky dairy, other farms look to the future

FRANKFORT — Millions of gallons of milk—including milk produced in Kentucky—will be purchased by the federal government to benefit U.S. dairy farmers and food banks, state lawmakers heard today.

Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee Co-Chair Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, said 56 truckloads of milk containing 2.3 million gallons of milk will be hauled through Kentucky as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) $50 million purchase of 11-13 million gallons from dairy farmers nationwide. All of the milk purchased by the USDA will be distributed to food banks across the country, including some in Kentucky.

“That’s going to be beneficial not only to our farmers, but also to those people who desperately need the services of the food bank. So we’re very happy on that right there,” said Dossett.

Kentucky Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Warren Beeler told the committee that the USDA purchase is welcome news to Kentucky dairies that he said have been hard hit by milk quotas in other countries, namely Canada.

“They have what we need. They have a quota-based system where they can control how much milk they produce,” said Beeler, adding that Kentucky may lose 75 dairies this year due to economic pressures. “When consumption’s going down and production’s going up, you’re going the wrong direction … and that’s what happened to us. So, we’re thankful for anything the federal folks can do to help.”

Kentucky dairies are also helping themselves by expanding the products they offer. In Todd County, Dossett said some dairy farmers are looking at opening a cheese plant sourced by the milk that the farmers produce.

Beeler applauded that kind of initiative, saying his agency is currently talking with two or three different groups with similar plans.

“You go to a commodity that’s got some shelf life to it, and you’ve also got something you can price yourself – that’s not priced for you,” he said.

Exhibits focused on agricultural innovation at this year’s recently-concluded Kentucky State Fair also received praise as the committee discussed AgLand – a new fair exhibit highlighting both the past and high-tech future of Kentucky farming. Beeler said he was more proud of the exhibit than of any event in his “40 some-odd years of going to the state fair.”

AgLand, Beeler said, showed fairgoers that farming is a modern practice, using modern technologies like soil testing, solar energy and GPS-controlled equipment.

“If what we’ve got to do is produce 70 percent more by 2050 to feed 9 billion people (worldwide) then everything we do – from a technology, from a science standpoint – has to be cutting edge,” said Beeler. “We have such a disconnect. People think we’re still following a mule. This is science - this is technology.”



August 30, 2018


Kentucky Medicaid program eyes options in face of shortfall

FRANKFORT—Kentucky is facing a nearly $300 million state Medicaid shortfall over the next two years that could affect certain Medicaid benefits, state health officials told a panel of state lawmakers today.  

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier told the Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources that his staff will look at benefits, reimbursement rates and other expenditures to address a projected $156 million Medicaid shortfall this fiscal year and a $140 million shortfall in fiscal year 2020.

The shortfall is due, at least in part, to increased costs not accounted for in last year’s budget projections, according to state Medicaid Chief Financial Officer Steve Bechtel.

A Section 1115 Medicaid waiver approved by the federal government in January and now on hold by a federal court order is considered “one way to mitigate some of the costs,” said Meier. The state has plans to use the waiver to modify the state’s existing Medicaid expansion and implement other policies to help lower state costs. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, is currently vetting proposed changes to the waiver.

When asked by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, if savings from the waiver are already built into Medicaid’s budget, Meier said no, adding that the waiver is “uncertain.” When asked by Meredith what the state would do without the waiver, Meier said optional and expanded benefits will probably be looked at more closely.

“We can look at, for example, dental, vision, pharmacy – all the optional benefits – and we’ll have to basically weigh what is the cost of each of those buckets. Or we can look at the eligibility, looking at the expansion population and optional population,” he said. “Once we can get a little bit further down the road and we have some certainty as far as the waiver (we’ll have a better idea) what we’re able to take away as far as cost.” 

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, the Subcommittee Co-Chair, questioned what he said appears to be a nearly $1.6 billion increase in Medicaid costs in Kentucky since 2015. The biggest part of that growth, said the Cabinet’s Office of Finance and Budget Executive Director Eric Lowery, is Kentucky’s current Medicaid expansion.

“Along with the expansion came the woodwork effect of people who were already eligible for the program but had not yet signed up for it. So, through (20)14, ‘15 and ‘16 we really saw the growth and then things kind of leveled back off,” said Lowery.

Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he expects the state’s health outcomes to improve as personal income improves, saying the two are linked. He said Kentucky has seen “dramatic improvements” in colon cancer screening and some improvement in health outcomes overall.

“We’ve got obviously more opportunities to improve there, but I think we’ve made some good progress,” he said.  

Going back to the discussion on the shortfall, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, asked how the matter could be addressed aside from cutting certain benefits. Meier said the Section 1115 waiver is still a possibility; the Cabinet also plans to look at reducing costs by strengthening Medicaid managed care contracts and reforming purchasing and service delivery.

When McGarvey asked Meier if “pulling benefits” would still be an option, Meier said yes.

“It has to be,” he said. “It’s going to be based on the number of (Medicaid) eligibles and what the benefit costs are.” 

Approximately 1.4 million Kentuckians—or about 1/3 of Kentucky residents—receive Medicaid, according to state Medicaid Commissioner Jill Hunter. Of those Kentuckians, 1.2 million are in managed-care programs, she said.  



August 29, 2018


State lawmakers check in on federal bank regs

FRANKFORT – After years of concern that the federal Dodd-Frank Act stifled Kentucky’s rural banks, a state legislative panel reviewed recent changes to that act.

“In the eight years since the enactment of the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank financial control law in 2010, roughly one in five Kentucky credit unions and community banks closed their doors,” U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, said while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Banking & Insurance. “Nationwide, more than 43 percent of banks under $100 million in assets completely disappeared.”

Seventy-two percent of community banks reported that Dodd-Frank regulations restricted their ability to extend credit for mortgages, Barr said. He added that small-business lending is at a 20-year low, and the share of banks offering free checking fell from 75 percent to 37 percent.

“By reducing the number of community financial institutions, Dodd-Frank regulations clogged the plumbing of our economy, especially in rural and underserved communities,” Barr said. “Community financial institutions, after all, support 90 percent of the agricultural loans and represent the only physical banking presence in 20 percent of U.S. counties.”

To address the issues, Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, dubbed the Economic Growth Act, earlier this year.

“Generally speaking, the act tailored many of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank law to reflect the unique nature of community and regional financial institutions that have a different business model and different risk profile than the very large bank holding companies in this county,” Barr said.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, asked if the Economic Growth Act addressed the need for “credit freezes” to combat cyber criminals stealing individuals’ identity. A credit freeze is designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing someone’s credit rating, thus preventing additional lines of credit from being opened.

Barr said, in light of the recent Experian data breach, credit reporting bureaus must now provide to consumers, under certain circumstances, fraud alerts and unlimited, free security freezes and freeze releases.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, asked whether it was too soon to know if the Economic Growth Act had the intended consequence of increasing lending – particularly from community banks.

“Anecdotally, we do hear loan demand is strong in certain markets and that lending is picking up,” said Barr, adding that law is still being implemented.

Rowland also asked whether federal legislators were still considering privatizing at least part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Currently, the NFIP is about $21 billion in debt, despite the fact that Congress canceled $16 billion of its debt in October of last year.

Barr, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, confirmed legislators were looking at some level of privatization.

“As a result, our committee continues to work on reforms that would make the program fiscally sustainable so it would no longer need taxpayer bailouts,” said Barr, adding Congress extended NFIP through November.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said he didn’t think wealthy waterfront-property owners should be allowed to continue to rebuild after floods and be eligible for taxpayer-backed flood insurance. He said 30 percent of the claims made to NFIP are for structures that have been repeatedly flooded and rebuilt with no additional flood mitigation.

“You will be encouraged to know that the reform legislation that passed the (U.S.) House takes on that problem,” Barr said in response. “I certainly support reforms that discourage continuous building in floodplains.”

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, asked whether the Economic Growth Act would ease the regulatory burden of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) on small lenders. Starting in 1975, HMDA required mortgage lenders to report data on housing-related loans to, among other things, evaluate home lending practices, including determining if lenders are engaging in discriminatory lending patterns. The Dodd-Frank act greatly expanded the amount and type of data that lenders are required to collect.

Barr said the final version of the Economic Growth Act provided relief to banks who handle less than 500 mortgages per year. He added that he would have liked the act to provide greater relief to more institutions.

Meredith also asked whether the federal government was considering extending a HMDA-like program to small business lending. Barr said he hoped regulators “pulled back on that idea” because of the compliance costs to lenders.

Meredith responded: “If you want to see small business lending get dried up in Kentucky, passing those HMDA-type disclosers onto small-business lending ... would be disastrous for the industry.”

-- END --


Aug. 24, 2018


Medical marijuana supporters pitch lawmakers

FRANKFORT – Whether legalizing medical marijuana is the right prescription for Kentucky was pondered today by a state legislative panel.

“I know medical cannabis can help some folks,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations. “I say that as someone who has never done any illegal drug. I say that as someone who tries to follow every law, even speeding limits. I would break the law willingly if it would help myself, my wife or my children.

“And if I would do it, it ought not to be illegal for our neighbors.”

He testified alongside Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Fort Wright, on proposed legislation to legalize medical marijuana. The two stressed that they strongly opposed any legislation that might lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

St. Onge said the proposal would not specify what ailments would be legal to treat with marijuana.

“We are not doctors,” she said, “and we feel it is best left to our physicians to recommend in their confidential patient-doctor relationship what they feel might help alleviate some of the pain or some of the symptoms. Marijuana is not a cure that we know of to date. It is used for palliative effects. We believe that is best left to our physicians.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, applauded the fact Nemes and St. Onge said the proposal wasn’t an effort to raise money for the general fund as others have proposed.

“I think advocates for medicinal marijuana need to stop saying this is going to solve our pension problems,” Thayer said. “It is a false promise. We don’t tax pharmaceuticals in this state so why, if we passed medicinal marijuana, would we tax it? It is unfair.”

Thayer said he was against a provision in the proposal that would allow people to grow their own medical marijuana. He expressed skepticism that regulators could prevent homegrown marijuana from being diverted for illegal use.

St. Onge said she now supports a home-grow provision because it accommodates low-income residents unable to afford marijuana dispensaries or rural residents in counties with no dispensaries. St. Onge said the provision would also further discourage the illegal growing and selling of marijuana to medical patients.

Nemes said medical marijuana would be regulated by a new state agency called the Department of Cannabis Administration. He said any violations of the provisions of the proposed medical marijuana law would be a criminal offense.

“It will be their job to make sure the doctors are doing what they need to do and not overprescribing,” Nemes said. “We don’t want any marijuana mills like we have had pill mills.”

Registered users couldn’t smoke medical marijuana in public places, Nemes said. He added that landlords could also prohibit home growing of medical marijuana.

The proposal would discourage medical marijuana “vacationing” by restricting the sale of cannabis to out-of-state residents. Nemes said the proposed legislation is about helping the chronically and critically ill.

“I understand there is opposition to this,’ Nemes said. “ There is good-faith opposition to this. There is legitimate opposition to this. I was against this concept when I ran for office. I respect those who disagree with me today.”

Interim Committee Co-Chair Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, asked if employers could fire employees for testing positive for marijuana use.

St. Onge said employers couldn’t discriminate against job applicants approved by a doctor to use medical marijuana. She said the employer could prohibit the use of medical marijuana on their premises. Nemes added that employers could also prohibit employees operating heavy machinery from using marijuana.

Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, said he supported medical marijuana but asked about the legal liability of employing people using medical marijuana. Nemes said the proposal included suggestions from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce designed to shield employers from those employees’ actions.

Rep. Kimberly Poor Moser, R-Taylor Mill, asked what it would cost to establish and operate the Department of Cannabis Administration. Nemes said it would be paid for by a licensing fee on medical marijuana businesses. The proposal calls for the fee to be set at a percent of the gross receipts for each business.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said legalizing some form of marijuana has been a perennial issue during the nearly two decades she has been in the state legislature. She said that has given her an abundant amount of time to study the issue including visiting California and Colorado dispensaries and the doctors prescribing marijuana instead of opioids.

“I didn’t realize the science had become so perfected that you really could treat specific diagnoses,” Westrom said. “There is something very positive about medical marijuana. I think there are a lot of people here who could benefit from this. I just wish we could have some oncologists who could come in and discuss this.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan “Malano” Seum, R-Fairdale, said he has had several doctors tell him they wished they could recommend marijuana as another tool to treat patients. He added that there was at least one oncologist nurse in the audience.

“I am a cancer survivor,” Seum said. “I’ll tell you point-blank if you get nausea after cancer surgery ... you will be smoking a joint from here to that damn wall if it would take that damn nausea away from you – and I did just that.”

Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, said he supported the proposal even though he will not be returning for the next session of the General Assembly to vote.

“I will tell you over the last 50 years we have probably spent $40 trillion trying to enforce the drug laws,” he said, “and frankly, we have not succeeded. And that’s a fact.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who chaired the meeting, said opponents of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky are scheduled to testify at the interim committee’s next meeting on Sept 14.

-- END --

August 22, 2018


Kentucky looks at new reforms to cut jail, prison population

FRANKFORT—Staying out of jail may be as easy as having a steady job for some former Kentucky inmates.

Former inmates who stay employed for one year are about 35 percent less likely to return to jail than those who don’t work, Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government in an August 22 meeting. He praised county jails that offer GED and work certification programs which, he said, are helping Kentucky reduce its inmate population and grow the state economy.

“We release 16,000 people a year from state prison alone – 16,000,” Tilley told the committee. “Imagine if we could count on having those people ready for the workforce.”

Fewer than one-third of the state’s 76 county jails have some kind of program to ease reentry for prisoners, he said. Among the jails that do offer such programs is the 297-bed Marion County Detention Center where programs ranging from GED classes to R.E.A.C.H. (Re-Entering American Communities with Hope) help inmates succeed once they are released.

A high-profile former inmate at the Marion County center who Tilley said praised the jail’s programming is former Northern Kentucky football star Zeke Pike, a one-time Auburn quarterback who has struggled with addiction and arrest in recent years.

“I encountered him at the jail several years after he left Auburn … Long story short, he told me that inmates want to be at this jail because they know they’ll get programming help and get back on their feet. And as far as I know, Zeke’s doing pretty well,” said Tilley.

But with its successes, the jail has also faced challenges, said Barry Brady, jailer at the Marion County Detention Center. The cost of incarceration is rising. So are operational costs, which Brady said have increased from a little more than $2 million in 2005 to $4.8 million. Similar stories have been reported by other jailers in a state where the county inmate population is currently between 12,000 and 14,000.

Senate President Pro Tem Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, suggested that performance-based funding for jails may encourage more counties to “step up” by becoming accredited or offering effective inmate programs.

“Not all jails are created equal. Some jails in counties work hard to offer every program that they can offer. Some jails, the only thing they can do, the way they’re set up, is to warehouse prisoners – ‘three hots and a cot,’” said Higdon. “We’ve talked about performance-based funding in education. It’s time we talked about performance-based funding for jails.”

Some solutions are expected to come from 2017 Senate Bill 120, sponsored by Rep. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. The legislation, now law, is expected to reduce the inmates in Kentucky jails and prisons through alternative sentencing—including reentry programs—and prison industry enhancement programs.  Tilley said the state is waiting on regulations to move those reforms forward.

Committee Co-Chair Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, asked about the education level and skill set of inmates in Kentucky jails. Brady said many inmates do not have their diploma or GED, while Tilley said around 70 percent of state inmates come to prison with their diploma or GED.

“There is a line of thinking, and there is certainly validated evidence, to suggest that a lack of education is a predictor of prison,” said Tilley. While there are highly-educated professionals who suffer from addiction or other events that could land them in prison, he said those individuals often “don’t end up in prison because they’re able to get help and diversion and treatment outside the walls of a prison or jail.”

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said another predictor of incarceration is a person’s mental health. Good mental health, he said, comes before a desire for job training and educational attainment.

“So my question about performance-based funding: Does it include the factor of, is mental health counseling and proper medicine being administered…or is in only based on job training opportunities and GED opportunities?” asked Riggs.

Tilley said he agrees mental health should come first, but “there’s … reality and there’s what policy should look like.” Community mental health centers in Kentucky haven’t received a Medicaid reimbursement increase since 1998, he said, and mental health professionals today are scarce.

“To the question of whether we should include that as a factor... We’ve got good people working in community mental health,” said Tilley. “So yes, the answer’s yes. What it looks like is really up to you … We want to build it with you … .”

- - END --


August 14, 2018


Lawmakers review VA suicide prevention initiatives

FRANKFORT – An average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day.

That was a statistic federal and state veteran affairs officials kept coming back to while testifying about suicide prevention programs available to Kentucky’s 300,000 veterans at yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.

“Within our veterans’ community, there has been a recognized problem with young men and women coming home from serving ... and then finding themselves drifting outside of the military,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, who co-chaired the committee. “This is an issue important to all of us.”

Lexington Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Case Manager Becky Stinsky testified that on average 70 percent of veterans who kill themselves are not seeking treatment through the VA health care system. She told legislators that she conducts suicide prevention training in the community, including companies that employ large numbers of veterans, to try to reach that 70 percent.

Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Heather French Henry testified that her department collaborates closely with the VA.

“If you would have told me 18 years ago that the VA would be offering things like acupuncture, tai chi and yoga, I would have said there probably is never going to be a chance,” Henry said. “But now every VA hospital really is a specialty care facility when it comes to mental health, behavioral health. They do offer some of these more nontraditional ways to address mental health.”

Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, asked how long, on average, it takes a veteran to qualify for VA health care benefits if they have suicidal thoughts.

“If anyone (with suicidal thoughts) contacts the VA, whether they are eligible or not, we are going to care for them,” said Lexington VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator Rebecca Willis-Nichols, who also testified before the committee.

She said the process to apply for VA health care benefits has become “much leaner” and easier in recent years. It can be done online, via mail or in person by filling out a 10-minute form, she said.

Schamore then asked what happens to suicidal veterans that do not qualify for VA health care benefits.

“For those veterans, we are going to care for them acutely and make sure they are safe,” Willis-Nichols said. “We are then going to talk to them about community resources, whether it is their comp care, whether it is contacting their health insurance to get them access that way, or looking at free resources.”

Sen. Perry B. Clark, D-Louisville, asked what percent of veterans utilize VA health care. Henry said it was only 9 percent.

“Unfortunately, there are going to be a percentage that do not want to use the VA,” she said. “There might still be a misperception that it is a second-rate health care system. But I will tell you, as one whose dad gets excellent health care at the VA, it is a top-rate health care institution – the only national health care system we got. They do extremely great research and health care work.”

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, asked the officials testifying if they had insight on why female veterans are two-and-half times more likely to kill themselves than female civilians.

Henry said she is working hard to make her department less male centric so women get proper recognition and care. Willis-Nichols added that VA health care had historically been such a male-dominated system that women simply didn’t get the support they needed.

Stinsky theorized that it was because female veterans are more likely to have access to a gun then female civilians. She added that female civilians are more likely to use pills or other methods that are less lethal than firearms.

“I really just want to emphasize that time and distance between someone in crisis and the means in which they can kill themselves makes all the difference,” Stinsky said. “That time and distance is a protecting factor.”

She added that VA health care offers gunlocks to all its patients with no questions asked.

“We don’t put your name on a list,” Stinsky said. “We give them free of charge.”


- - END --


August 14, 2018


Step right up: LRC fair booth informs citizens

FRANKFORT –  As part of an ongoing commitment to encourage participatory democracy for the citizens of Kentucky, the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will unveil an expanded Kentucky State Fair booth on Thursday. 

New components of the fair booth include a virtual reality experience delivering a bird's-eye view of the legislative process, information about LRC's various social media channels and a demo of LegislaTV. That is an expanding digital signage system at the Capitol Annex, which displays legislative committee meeting schedules and a stream of hundreds of informational slides and videos about the legislative process. 

Visitors will also have the opportunity to receive a complimentary souvenir photograph of themselves in or around the state Capitol, using green-screen technology. 

"The Mission Statement for LRC's nonpartisan staff includes our commitment to encourage participatory democracy for the citizens of Kentucky," said LRC Director David Byerman. "LRC's annual presence at the Kentucky State Fair is an exciting part of our public engagement strategy. Through this exhibit, we hope to connect Kentucky residents more closely to their legislators and the legislative process." 

This year marks the sixth consecutive year that the LRC has operated a booth in the Main Street section of the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. This annual outreach program of the LRC gives citizens of the Commonwealth opportunities to learn about the operations of the legislative branch of Kentucky state government. 

Each year the booth averages personal interactions with over 10,000 people. These interactions help citizens discover who their legislators are through an interactive find-your-legislator program. Citizens also become familiar with the legislative process through publications made available to fairgoers.

-- END --

A photo of Legislative Research Commission (LRC) Inventory Control and Maintenance staff members 
assembling the agency's state fair booth on Monday in Louisville can be found here.













August 7, 2018


Panel looks at improvement plans for state's bridges

FRANKFORT – Kentucky transportation officials plan to spend $700 million to repair or replace 1,000 bridges in six years despite forecasting stagnant growth in the road fund – the pot of money used to pay for transportation projects.

“It is one of the most aggressive bridge rehab and replacement programs in the country,” said Royce Meredith, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official who testified about the initiative during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation. “These are critical structures that affect every Kentuckian.”

Named Bridging Kentucky, the initiative will allow transportation officials to tackle more than three times as many bridge projects as years past. There is $340 million earmarked for nearly 350 bridges in the state’s current biennium, or two-year, budget that started on July 1.

“This program is large and broad,” Meredith said. “It includes structures in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties with a mix of bridges in rural and urban areas. This is a program that affects all parts of the state and impacts almost every driver that uses our roads.”

State transportation officials, highway engineers and consultants are currently screening Kentucky’s more than 14,000 bridges using detailed analytics and calculations for the life-cycle costs of rehabilitation verse replacement. Meredith said the evaluations should be completed this month. It will be followed by a series of industry forums this fall with bridge builders.

“We’re not going to rehab a bridge that should be replaced, and we’re not going to replace a bridge that should be rehabbed,” Meredith said. “Right now it appears about 30 percent of these bridges can be rehabbed.”

He said the bridge construction projects are being prioritized based on budget, construction of structure and project challenges.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, asked why the number of vehicles that cross each bridge isn’t being considered in the prioritization process if the cabinet is using a data-driven system.

“If there are 130 vehicles a day using the structure verse 13 vehicles a day, the one with 130 should be prioritized,” he said, “but you don’t list the number of vehicles that use the bridge as a factor.”

Meredith said the number of vehicles is among the multitude of factors being considered that was not highlighted in the slide presentation shown to the committee.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said there are bridges in eastern Kentucky that cannot handle the weight of a loaded school bus. He said the children literally have to get off school buses and walk across some bridges before the buses can cross the spans. He added that those bridges should be prioritized even if they have a low number of vehicles that cross them.

“That’s just good common sense,” Smith said.

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, echoed Smith’s comment. He said his district has a substandard bridge that provides access to four homes.

“They need that bridge available, not only to get out, but so emergency vehicles can get to them,” Embry said. “The traffic on that bridge will always be very low but it is still important that bridge is fixed – even if the traffic count isn’t very high.”

Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, asked where one could find a complete list of bridges that are being repaired or replaced. Meredith said a list is being maintained on the website He said that list would be updated in the next couple of weeks.

Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, urged the transportation department to expedite bridge inspections to avoid lane closures and traffic jams. He said there have been lane closures on the Interstate 24 bridge over the Tennessee River in Calvert City for about three months.

During the last half of the meeting, Robin Brewer of the Transportation Cabinet testified that the state road fund ended the fiscal year $7.7 million above the official revised revenue estimate of $1.5 billion.

Brewer estimates the road fund revenue through fiscal year 2020 to remain $1.5 billion per year.

“We are not really estimating any additional growth through the biennium,” she said. “It’s pretty much on autopilot at this point.”

The committee’s next meeting will be on Sept 12 at the Wayne County Public Library in Monticello.

-- END --



August 7, 2018

Water needs discussed by state legislative panel

FRANKFORT—Kentucky has billions of dollars in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure needs, and some state lawmakers are eager to find solutions.

Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy co-chair Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, told Energy and Environment Cabinet officials testifying before the committee yesterday that there is still local water infrastructure in the state dating to the Works Progress Administration of the late 1930s.

“Most cities don’t have the money to make those kinds of investments anymore,” said Gooch, even though water lines regularly break and need repair. “Those kinds of things are problems that we need to address, and they need help.”

He agreed with Deputy Cabinet Secretary Bruce Scott and Division of Water Director Peter Goodmann that local governments need funding to meet their water infrastructure needs. The source of the funding, said Gooch, is “something we definitely ought to look at.”

Investment in Kentucky’s drinking water infrastructure would be the most costly according to Goodmann, who estimated the cost of needed statewide investment at $8.2 billion over the next 20 years. Wastewater infrastructure investment runs a close second at $6.2 billion over the next 20 years, he said.

Also needed is $100 million for work on the state’s dams “in the near-term” based on the state’s 2014 Dam Safety Mitigation Plan, Goodmann told the committee. He was backed up by Scott, who told the committee that water and sewer infrastructure cannot be overlooked indefinitely.

“We have to make an investment. We can’t not make an investment in water and sewer,” said Scott. The outcome would be to be “reactive”—or wait until a major infrastructure failure occurs before some action is taken.

Possible funding options for infrastructure, Scott said, include federal sources like Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loans, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, Appalachian Regional Commission grants and Abandoned Mine Land grants. State sources may include state general funds, tobacco settlement funds, or coal severance funds. Local funding and private funding—through a P3 partnership, perhaps—are other possibilities, Bruce said.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, asked Scott and Goodmann about the Cabinet’s view of Louisville Metro’s sewer company, the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which he said has had some “serious issues.” 

“It is in our interest that the small communities be served, period,” Meeks said, but the state’s view of MSD, he said, is also of interest.

Scott said the state has the authority to deal with an issue if “demonstrative progress” is not being made. “The question becomes what constitutes demonstrative progress?” he said.

Two unforeseen sewer collapses in Louisville have raised the question of whether the collapses “negatively impact Jefferson County’s ability to manage its sewage, stormwater or not,” said Scott. “That’s something we have to talk with them about and see whether or not that’s something we have to get involved in in terms of mandates.”




July 19, 2018


Experts view youth violence as public health crisis


FRANKFORT – A legislative panel explored the issue of violence, mental health and guns among Kentucky’s youth during a recent gathering 

“This is a topic that we talk about amongst each other ... but it’s something we haven’t really talked about publicly yet,” Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services. “I think it deserves a forum.”

Dr. Brit Anderson, who practices pediatric emergency medicine in Louisville, testified that she realized discussions about firearm injuries can be a divisive topic, but firearm injuries among children is a public health problem. She said recognizing that can allow society to change the conversation and its approach to these injuries.

“Many people read about children killed or seriously injured in the newspaper,” Anderson said, “but before that story is written, I meet that child. I’m sorry to be graphic but it is a reality. I know what it is like to lead a team to save a life. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we do not. I know how hard it is to watch a child bleed, cry, or worse yet, not respond at all 

“I have choked back tears trying to remain professional as I call a time of death and look down at a tiny body. And I know the horrible, chilling, heart-wrenching wail of a parent who has just lost a child. 

Anderson was among a group of doctors and health professionals who testified. She said the group included gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats brought together because they all treat children impacted by firearm injuries.

Dr. Cynthia Downard, a pediatric surgeon in Louisville, said suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people 10 to 24 years of age in the United States. But in Kentucky, it is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in this age group. And 58 percent of those deaths are suicides.

“I think this is, again, a significant public health problem we need to pay attention to,” Downard said. “As Dr. Anderson said, the sound of a mother losing her child is something you never forget and I would never want to hear again.”

Dr. Christopher Peters, an adolescent psychiatrist in Louisville, said policymakers need to think of suicide as a preventable death. He said the most common way someone takes their own life is by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“The CDC recently reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of suicide for this country since 1999,” Peters said. “Kentucky has its own increase within that average of 30 percent. 

He said teenagers who live in homes with a loaded, unlocked gun are at four times greater risk of killing themselves than if it was unloaded and locked away.

Adams said the group’s presentation was not a referendum on gun ownership or non-gun ownership. She said it just reflected the violence occurring across the nation.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, asked what could be done. 

Peters said increasing access to health care, improving identification of children who need mental health treatment and limiting children’s access to guns would make a difference.

“It is as simple as locking it up,” he said. “Keep guns locked and safe.”

Co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, asked whether mental-health professionals had identified the contributing factors to the increase of anxiety and mental-health issues among the nation’s youth.

“It is a difficult question to answer,” Peters said. “People spend their lives really studying this issue of suicidology.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, thanked the group for their presentation.

“This is a critical conversation we need to have,” she said. “It is in the news quite a bit. We need to look at this as a big-picture problem.”

She added that there seems to be a lack of coping skills among the nation’s youth.

-- END --




July 6, 2018


New state laws go into effect July 14

FRANKFORT – Most new laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2018 session will go into effect on Saturday, July 14.

That means drivers will soon be required to leave at least three feet of space between their vehicles and cyclists they pass. Children under the age of 17 will not be allowed to get married. And penalties will get tougher for those who post sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. 

The Kentucky Constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature unless they have a special effective date, are general appropriations measures, or include an emergency clause that makes them effective immediately upon becoming law. Final adjournment of the 2018 Regular Session was on April 14, making July 14 the effective date for most bills.

Laws taking effect that day include measures on the following topics:

Abstinence Education. Senate Bill 71 will require the inclusion of abstinence education in any human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases curriculum in Kentucky high schools.

Bicycle safety. House Bill 33 will require drivers to keep their vehicles at least three feet away from bicyclists during an attempt to pass. If that much space isn’t available, drivers must use reasonable caution when passing cyclists.

Breweries. House Bill 136 will increase what breweries can sell onsite to three cases and two kegs per customer. The new law will also allow breweries to sell one case per customer at fairs and festivals in wet jurisdictions.

Dyslexia. House Bill 187 will require the state Department of Education to make a “dyslexia toolkit” available to school districts to help them identify and instruct students who display characteristics of dyslexia.

Financial literacy. House Bill 132 will require Kentucky high school students to pass a financial literacy course before graduating.

Foster Care and Adoption. House Bill 1 will take steps to reform the state’s foster care and adoption system to ensure that a child’s time in foster care is limited and that children are returned to family whenever possible. It will expand the definition of blood relative for child placement and ensure that children in foster care are reunified with family or placed in another permanent home in a timely manner.

Organ donation. House Bill 84 will require coroners or medical examiners to release identifying and other relevant information about a deceased person to Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates if the person’s wish to be an organ donor is known and the body is suitable for medical transplant or therapy.

Police cameras. House Bill 373 will exempt some police body camera footage from being publicly released. It will exempt the footage from certain situations being released if it shows the interior of private homes, medical facilities, women’s shelters and jails or shows a dead body, evidence of sexual assault, nude bodies and children.

Prescription medicines. Senate Bill 6 will require pharmacists to provide information about safely disposing of certain prescription medicines, such as opiates and amphetamines.

Price gouging. Senate Bill 160 will clarify laws that prevent price gouging during emergencies. The bill specifies that fines could be imposed if retailers abruptly increase the price of goods more than 10 percent when the governor declares a state of emergency.

Revenge porn. House Bill 71 will increase penalties for posting sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. The crime would be a misdemeanor for the first offense and felony for subsequent offenses. Penalties would be even more severe if the images were posted for profit.

Teen marriage. Senate Bill 48 will prohibit anyone under the age of 17 from marrying. It will also require a district judge to approve the marriage of any 17-year-old.

Terrorism. Senate Bill 57 will allow a person injured by an act of terrorism to file a claim for damages against the terrorist in state court.