Friday, February 27, 2015

State Senate unanimously passes new ‘fracking’ regs

FRANKFORT – The state Senate today passed legislation that would modernize Kentucky’s regulations on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as “fracking,” for the first time in more than two decades.

 The legislation, known as Senate Bill 186, would mandate energy companies notify nearby landowners of any planned fracking process, clean up the well before abandoning it and disclose of the chemicals used in the fracking process, said Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, the sponsor of the bill. He added that the bill would apply to new drilling operations.

 “We haven’t really changed our laws or regulations in 20 years,” said Carroll. “During that time, technology has advanced that could essentially make Kentucky energy independent if we will go after our (energy) reserves. We are already doing that in the area of gas. This moves us in that direction with oil.”

Similar legislation passed the state House on Wednesday. The House bill, HB 386, is sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

 Fracking is an oil and gas well development process that typically involves injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into a bedrock formation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The technique is used commonly in low-permeability rocks like tight sandstone, shale and some coal beds to release oils and gasses.

 Tom Fitzgerald, director of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Kentucky Resources Council, previously testified that he supported the bill. Carroll said during a floor speech that a key to getting Fitzgerald’s support was to include language in the bill that would require baseline water quality testing before any new fracking could begin. Those tests would be followed with additional water sampling once operations begin in order to monitor drilling impacts to local water sources.

 Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said the legislation is the product of a year’s worth of work by officials at the state Energy and Environment Cabinet. He added that the legislation is also backed by the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.

CPR training bill passes Kentucky House

Kentucky's public high schools would be expected to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation training to students under a bill that has passed the state House.

The measure would require that the CPR training be included in health education curriculum.

The bill cleared the House on a 94-1 vote Thursday and now goes to the Senate.

Democratic Rep. Jeff Greer of Brandenburg says training more people in CPR will save lives.

Greer, the bill's sponsor, says CPR training is crucial in rural areas where no hospital is nearby and it can take paramedics some time to reach a person stricken with a heart attack.

The legislation is House Bill 249.

US mining regulators cite Virginia coal mine after Jan. visit


Federal mine inspectors say they issued 176 citations during a January inspection of mines, including 31 at a Virginia coal mine.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration on Thursday released the results of its inspections last month. The inspections occurred at 13 coal mines and three metal and nonmetal mines.

The monthly inspections focus on mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement because of a poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

On Jan. 13, MSHA conducted an impact inspection at Mill Branch Coal Corp's Osaka Mine in Wise County, Virginia. As a result, inspectors issued 31 citations, among other findings.

MSHA said its inspectors found hazardous conditions that exposed miners to potential ignitions, fire and explosions, and the risk of developing black lung and other respiratory diseases.

Kentucky House OKs workplace bill for pregnant workers

The Kentucky House has passed a bill that would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for their pregnant workers.

Those accommodations for pregnant workers could include longer or more frequent breaks, modification of equipment, appropriate seating, modified work schedules and temporary transfer to less strenuous roles.

The measure passed the House on a 95-0 vote Thursday and now goes to the Senate.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins, says it would provide clear-cut guidelines for employers and employees in protecting and supporting pregnant workers.

She says the result could help minimize litigation dealing with such workplace issues.

The legislation is House Bill 218.

Lawmaker: More time needed to study tailgating proposal

A Kentucky lawmaker says more time is needed to study the issue of licensing alcohol consumption at tailgating events before college games.

The tailgating language proposed by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian was removed from her bill by the House Licensing and Occupations Committee on Wednesday.

She floated the idea of creating a new liquor license to provide a legal framework for tailgating.
The Louisville Democrat says the issue was more complex than she expected. Marzian says she'll work on the issue ahead of next year's legislative session.

She says one question deals with enforcement of alcohol consumption at tailgating on private property near a university stadium.

The part of the bill that remains intact would allow passengers on certain cycle taxis to drink alcohol.

The committee approved that portion of the bill.

Expungement bill for low-level felons clears Kentucky House

The Kentucky House has passed a bill that would allow certain low-level felons to ask a judge to have their criminal records expunged.

The bill cleared the House on an 84-14 vote Wednesday and now goes to the Senate, where similar bills have died in past years.

Under the measure, people convicted of class D felonies could petition a court for expungement five years after completing their sentence or probation.

The bill would not apply to people convicted of sex offenses or crimes against children. A prosecutor or victim would have the right to present evidence to the judge considering an expungement motion.

The bill's lead sponsor is Democratic Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Senate approves SOAR funding legislation

Democratic Floor Leader Jones calls for all coal severance revenue to be returned to coal producing counties
FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate today approved legislation to set up a funding mechanism to finance projects of the Support One Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative. The Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development Fund (KARDF) will receive money from coal severance tax and be administered by the Department for Local Government. KARDF will oversee grants for economic diversification and job creation for the region.
Voicing his support for Senate Bill 168 to spur economic development in Eastern Kentucky, Senate Democratic Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, called for 100 percent of coal severance revenue to be returned to the coal producing counties. He noted the decline in coal severance tax receipts and the much-needed uses for that revenue in the coal counties.
In his floor speech, Leader Jones said that SOAR is truly a bi-partisan initiative and he commended Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers for coming together to recognize the needs in Eastern Kentucky.
“This bill sets the framework to ensure that the SOAR initiative is successful,” said Leader Jones.
Aware of the difficulties facing the region including the hardships resulting from restructuring in the coal industry, SOAR’s mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity, improve the quality of life and support all those working to achieve these goals in AppalachianKentucky.
SB 168 not only creates the funding mechanism, KARDF, but identifies the purposes for which money from the fund may be used and provides an application process.
Leader Jones said SB 168 is a work in progress and is glad to see the SOAR initiative moving forward.
SB 168 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration

Human trafficking bill approved by House committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would step up prosecution of those who pay for sex with Kentucky’s child human trafficking victims was approved today by the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 515 sponsor House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said prosecution of those who pay for sex with child human trafficking victims is difficult because abusers often claim they thought the child was over age 18—an adult, under the law--to avoid prosecution under the state’s human trafficking laws.

HB 515 would change that, ensuring those who pay for sex with a child prostitute cannot claim ignorance of the child’s age as a defense from prosecution for human trafficking.

Ernie Lewis with the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers spoke against the bill in committee, saying it is too broad. “What HB 515 does is take away the defense so even through (an) 18-year-old boy believes a person is of age, he can’t defend himself with that…and he’s facing 10 to 20 years in prison,” which can’t be probated, said Lewis. “That’s the effect of this bill.”

Overly, who has successfully sponsored others human trafficking bills in recent sessions, said the bill addresses “egregious crimes against children.”

HB 515 supporter Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said what the bill does is put the onus on the person buying sex to make sure that a prostitute is, in fact, an adult. “Are you dealing with a child, or are you dealing with an adult?” is what Cohron said the bill attempts to ask.

Prostitution is illegal in Kentucky, but it is a misdemeanor whereas human trafficking-- which includes coerced or forced adult prostitution and the selling of children for sex or other purposes-- is a felony.

HB 515 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Senate approves KEES award bill

FRANKFORT -- A bill that would allow students to use Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money during high school was unanimously approved by the Senate today.

Senate Bill 110, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, would allow Kentucky juniors and seniors earning college credit through dual-credit courses to use KEES money they’ve earned to pay for up to six college credit hours.

Making a dual-credit course more readily available provides many benefits, Wise said.

“It can improve college and career readiness,” he said. “It can increase participation in postsecondary education. It can reduce postsecondary degree time. And it also can increase participation among low income and underserved populations.”

SB 110 passed the Senate unanimously. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Local option sales tax faces hurdle in Kentucky Senate

An effort to let local voters temporarily raise sales taxes where they live to pay for big-ticket construction projects could be in trouble in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Ford, General Electric and a host of other large utility customers wrote a letter to state lawmakers this week opposing the bill, saying a 1 percent sales tax increase would cost them an extra $24 million per year. Residential power bills are exempt from sales taxes, but industrial power bills are not.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown said the letter creates a problem for the bill in the Senate. But Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the companies could easily be exempted.

A spokesman for Local Investments for Transformation, a group lobbying for the bill, said supporters are working on a solution.

Food Bank Receives Grant

The Food Bank of Wise County will receive a grant from Walmart to help in their efforts to replace food lost during this past weekend's storm.

According to a Walmart news release, the food bank will receive a $25,000 grant, after its storage building in Norton collapsed due to heavy snow and winter weather, causing $25-30,000 worth of food to perish.

According to the release, the food bank serves close to 500 families in the area and offers a variety of food and distribution to those who are at risk of hunger.

David Reed, Walmart Supercenter manager in Norton, added that “Wise County and the surrounding areas have experienced a particularly rough winter and the Food Bank has served as a place to help a large number of families.

Ignition interlock device bill approved by House

FRANKFORT--A bill that would replace hardship licenses for DUI offenders with an “ignition interlock license” if an ignition interlock device is installed on an offender’s vehicle passed the House today by a vote of 96-0.

 House Bill 60, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer-type device installed in a dashboard that keeps a vehicle from starting if the driver’s breath alcohol concentration level meets or exceeds 0.02.

 Before being eligible for a license tied to an ignition interlock device—which the DUI offender would have to pay for—an offender would have to be enrolled in, or already have completed, an alcohol abuse treatment program. Anyone who has been incarcerated for DUI for any period of time would be allowed to apply for an ignition interlock license, according to the bill.

Ignition interlock licenses would not be granted for use in commercial motor vehicles under HB 60. Only noncommercial vehicles and motorcycles would apply.

 HB 60 would also increase the time for driver’s license revocation for a first DUI within five years from the current 30 days to 120 days to a minimum of six months and maximum of nine months. It would also require revocation of the ignition interlock license of anyone who has violated the terms of the license, or require that a camera or other monitoring device be installed along with the device in that person’s vehicle.

 Continuing to drive when an ignition interlock license has been revoked would be a Class A misdemeanor. An offender who drives without court-ordered identification or monitoring would be guilty of a Class D felony and have his or her license revoked for a longer period of time.

 Keene said HB 60, which is similar to legislation he has sponsored in past sessions, could save 60-75 lives every year by limiting drunk driving accidents. He explained that the devices are affordable and preserve an offender’s “privilege” to drive.

 “For the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day, the offender is given the privilege—not the right, but the privilege—to drive on own roads,” said Keene

P3 bill passes House, heading to Senate

FRANKFORT--The House voted 84-13 today to advance a bill that would provide oversight and regulations to public-private partnerships, so-called “P3s,” for state government and major transportation projects in Kentucky.

 House Bill 443, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, would allow state government and major transportation projects to partner with private companies to complete public infrastructure, transportation and other needs. 

Provisions regarding local governments found in last session’s P3 bill—which was passed by the 2014 General Assembly but vetoed by the governor due to an amendment that would have eliminated the possibility of tolls for a Northern Kentucky bridge project -- are not found in HB 443, said Combs. 

 “I understand the concerns that have been expressed by several, and right now what we’re going to do is focus on state agencies and transportation. Let’s move this forward because this is something that I think this state definitely needs,” said Combs.

 She also said HB 443 does not mandate use of tolls on any project. The issue of tolls has been a concern of some lawmakers, particularly those in Northern Kentucky where there are concerns about replacing the aging I-75/I-71 Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River. Combs said the legislation specifically states that  a “state authority shall not enter into a public-private partnership related to a project connecting the Commonwealth with the State of Ohio unless the General Assembly expressly authorizes it by passing a joint resolution.”

 “This bill is about creating public private partnerships in Kentucky. It is not about a particular project. It’s not about doing a project in Northern Kentucky. It’s not about doing tolls,” said Combs.

Several amendments were filed to the bill including those called by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington. Some of his amendments failed but others were approved, including Simpson’s amendments would: require that major transportation projects connecting Kentucky to adjoining states be constructed and financed by a bi-state authority and that only that authority be allowed to enter into a P3 as part of the project; require additional cost analysis of any proposed transportation project that exceeds $100 million in total cost to see if a P3 is in the public interest; require that tolls imposed as part of a transportation project costing over $100 million that uses P3s expire when the initial construction debt is paid.

“Relative to full disclosure I think I need to admit two things,” said Simpson. “First, I am the individual who filed the amendment last year that basically precluded the utilization of tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge corridor project, and make no apologies for that. And the second thing I would like to tell you is I hate tolls.”

Simpson said P3s have been used in Kentucky for years including in local government. But he said P3 projects are “so large in scale that we have to proceed very cautiously. If we fail to do so, it puts our tax base at great jeopardy.”

HB 443 now goes to the Senate for consideration. An emergency clause attached to the bill would allow the bill would take effect immediately if it is signed into law. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pikeville City Commission

Several residents of Pauley Addition and Keel Addition attended Monday night's Pikeville City Commission to voice their concerns about plans to rezone an area between their neighborhoods. Those attending the meeting expressed reservations about the University of Pikeville's desire to build student housing on donated land along Thompson Road. The main concern for the residents who spoke was the safety of their children and the elderly in the area. The building will serve as family housing for students who are attending both of the university's medical schools. Not many details on the appearance or the estimated start of construction have been released yet. Those details will be better known by the next meeting.

Floyd County Water Update

In Floyd County, about 1,500 of Southern Water and Sewer District’s 7,000 customers were without service Tuesday morning. That is down from 2,500 at the height of the utility’s water shortage, and water district manager Dean Hall said he had hopes of trimming that number in half again by Tuesday evening. Hall said a large number of residential water line breaks over the weekend drained the utility dry, prompting a need to shut down much of the system Sunday in order to refill tanks. There are 28 water tanks on the Southern system and at one point, Hall said pumps to 27 of them had to be shut off.

Arrests Made

Two men are in jail after police allegedly found them in possession of items stolen from a church parking lot. According to court records, 56-year-old Phillip Thacker and 34-year-old Chris Sawyers, both of Pikeville, were arrested by Pikeville Police Department Sunday afternoon and charged with receiving stolen property. Police were investigating the theft of hand tools from a pickup truck that had been parked at the Jubilee Christian Assembly earlier that day, when they found the items in the men’s possession. The tools were valued at over $500. Both men remain in the Pike County Detention Center.

Animal cruelty bill heading to House floor

FRANKFORT— Failing to provide adequate shelter and potable water for domestic pets would be considered second-degree animal cruelty under a bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee today.

House Bill 177, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, would not affect hunting, fishing, field dog trials, and several other activities included in the bill.  It would also not change standards governing the shelter of livestock, which is regulated by the state Board of Agriculture.

Second-degree cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor crime in Kentucky.

HB 177 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

Booster seat bill clears House committee

Children between 40 inches and 57 inches tall and younger than 9 years old would have to ride in a booster seat in Kentucky under a bill that cleared a House committee on Tuesday.

Current state law requires children under 7 years old who are between 40 inches and 50 inches tall to ride in a booster seat. Democratic state Rep. Steve Riggs said studies have shown that seat belts do not fit correctly on children shorter than 57 inches, which can cause serious injury in a collision. Riggs noted that every state that borders Kentucky has updated their laws to 57 inches.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said in his annual State of the Commonwealth address the bill was a top priority in his final year as governor. Similar efforts in previous years have failed to pass the legislature.

Telephone deregulation bill passes Kentucky House

Telephone companies would be freed from maintaining their landline networks in Kentucky's urban areas under a bill that passed the state House by a wide margin.

Supporters, led by Democratic Rep. Rick Rand of Bedford, said the bill guarantees that landline phone customers in rural areas can keep their service if they wish.

The measure passed the House on a 71-25 vote Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.

Gov. Steve Beshear hailed the House vote and called on the Senate to pass the bill quickly.

Beshear says the measure strikes a balance between providing consumer protection and creating economic development opportunities spinning off from expanding broadband access.

Rand says the bill will spur more investment in broadband networks across Kentucky.

Opponents say there's no guarantee of added investments.

House panel OKs public-private partnership bill

Supporters have made headway with a bill that would allow Kentucky's government to partner with private sources for a range of projects including big-dollar transportation work.

The legislation would allow for the formation of public-private partnerships in which a private company could construct, finance or operate a public facility.

The bill won bipartisan approval from the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Tuesday.

Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed a similar bill last year because of language inserted that would have banned the use of tolls to fund a new Brent Spence Bridge linking northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

An attempt to insert the anti-toll language into this year's bill was defeated by the committee on Tuesday.

The bill's supporters say a public-private partnership would be an option to fund such a project.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Floyd County Water Outages.

The Southern Water and Sewer District in Floyd County is shutting down portions of its water system in order to refill water tanks. This will result in outages in areas around Wayland, Mud Creek, Left Beaver and Betsy Layne. The outages are expected to last from as little as a few hours in some places to as much as three days in other areas. As a precaution, Floyd County Emergency Management is distributing gallon jugs of bottled water in those areas. Prestonsburg City's Utilities is not reporting any major problems at this time

Water Outage to impact most of Pike County

A near, county-wide water outage will be in effect in Pike County beginning this morning due to the intake valves on the Big Sandy River being blocked by ice and customer water leaks from frozen pipes  from the recent winter storms. If you know of a leak please report it to MT. Water District. Pike County Emergency Management Director, Doug Tackett, has asked that all residents prepare for this system wide outage.

"It is uncertain how long Pike County residents will be without water," Tackett said. "Mountain Water District is working to clear the ice from their pumps so service can be restored as soon as possible."

Water Distribution Centers are being established at local Fire Departments to distribute water to those residents who are without service. Participating Fire Departments will be announced once they are set up for distribution and water is available."

Dr. James Riley
Director of Communications
Pike County Fiscal Court

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kentucky Senate and House will not meet in session today

FRANKFORT – Due to inclement weather and concerns about hazardous road conditions, the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will not convene on today.

Tuesday’s legislative committee meetings have also been canceled.

As of now, both chambers are scheduled to convene on Wednesday, February 18, with the Senate going into session at 2 p.m. and the House at 4 p.m.

Gov. Beshear Declares Statewide Snow Emergency

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear has declared a statewide emergency after a massive winter storm buried the state under 10 inches of snow in some areas.
The governor's order authorizes the state adjutant general to activate the National Guard to help with relief efforts, and it empowers state officials to close some roads in the interest of public safety. It also authorizes state officials to spend money in order to carry out the governor's orders.
Calling it the worst storm in recent memory, Beshear said some parts of the state could see up to 16 inches of snow. He urged people to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary and asked citizens to check on their elderly neighbors.

Highway Workers Try To Keep Up With Snow in Kentucky




Kentucky's road crews are trying to keep up with the snow as it quickly covers roads that have already been plowed.


Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said in a news release that all resources are being used to keep interstates and other major highways open.


The Transportation Cabinet said in the release that crews in many areas are focusing on plowing instead of salting. Pavement temperatures are below the point of salt's effectiveness. Also, when plowing is repeated, the salt that was applied gets scraped away.


The agency says travel isn't advised, but anyone who has to be out should slow down, buckle up and maintain a distance of at least 500 feet between vehicles. Also, give snow plows and other heavy highway equipment a wide berth.

Monday, February 16, 2015

State of Emergency in Pike County

Pike County Judge Executive William M. Deskins declares a State of Emergency in Pike County until further notice, due to the Winter Storm that is now impacting Pike County. This winter storm is causing very hazardous travel conditions across Pike County. 

Judge Deskins urges everyone to stay off the roads.  Road crews are working to clear the roads, but the current rate of snowfall is so heavy the crews are having difficulty keeping up. All roads are snow covered and extremely dangerous for travel.

At present there are no power outages in Pike County. Should there be power outages shelters and or warming centers will be opened as needed.  Locations will be announced on local media as well as the Pike County Emergency Management Facebook page.

If you need assistance due to the Winter Storm call Pike County Office of Emergency Management at 606-437-4126, If you have an emergency call 9-1-1.\



Floyd County Warming Centers Opened

Allen Fire Department, David Fire Dept, Floyd County Health Dept., Floyd County Rescue Headquarters, Martin Fire Department, Maytown Fire, Middle Creek Fire 1 & 2, Mud Creek fire, Prestonsburg City Hall, Wayland Fire Department.


As a winter storm bears down on Eastern Kentucky, carrying with it the potential for over a foot of snow, local officials have been workinG to make sure everyone is updated and prepared so residents can remain safe.
According to Paul Maynard, Pikeville’s 911 Emergency Director, the city started preparations early Sunday by making sure the Utility Management Group’s trucks are ready and prepared. The city is updating social media as quickly as possible to make sure everyone is in the know and also preparing some emergency shelters.
Pike County 911 Emergency Director Doug Tackett says the county has been letting road crews know exactly what to expect and is updating them with any new information they receive.
According to the National Weather Service, snow is expected begin early Monday morning and last throughout the day. Total accumulation is expected to be between 12 and 16 inches.

UNITE “Celebrate Successes” event has been canceled for Feb. 17, will be rescheduled

Operation UNITE’s “Celebrate Successes in Prevention and Education” Coalition Awards luncheon scheduled for 11 am to 12:30 pm on Tuesday, February 17, at the Eastern Kentucky University Manchester Campus has been CANCELED due to the prediction of hazardous winter weather coming into the region Monday and Tuesday.

UNITE is working with the offices of Congressman Hal Rogers, ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli, and NIDA Director Dr.  Nora Volkow to reschedule this event for later this year.

Stores Stayed Busy Yesterday

In preparation for today’s winter weather, many took some proactive steps to stay ahead of the storm.

A lot of people took advantage of Sunday's sunshine and clear roads, and headed to the grocery store.

Customers spent the day stocking up on the necessities like bread, water, canned foods, milk and more.

Some stores are open 24 hours. Items other than food, like hand warmers, are also in high demand.

Friday, February 13, 2015

In state with tobacco ties, Kentucky House OKs smoking ban

The Kentucky House has endorsed a statewide smoking ban in public buildings and most workplaces in a landmark vote in a state with historic ties to tobacco.

Lawmakers on Friday debated individuals' right to light up versus public health concerns in a state with some of the nation's highest smoking, cancer and heart disease rates.

The lead sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, said about 950 people die every year in Kentucky due to secondhand smoke exposure.

The measure passed the Democratic-led House, 51-46. It now goes to the Republican-run Senate, where it faces tougher odds. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer has said there's not much sentiment in the chamber to pass a smoking ban.

Several dozen Kentucky communities have smoke-free ordinances, but broad swaths of the state have no such restrictions.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Senate panel approves ‘prescription’ for reducing colon cancer

FRANKFORT – A state Senate committee today approved legislation designed to remove barriers to colorectal cancer screening.

Senate Bill 61 would clarify that a fecal test to screen for colon cancer, and any follow-up colonoscopy, is preventive care and should be covered by medical insurers, said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, the sponsor of the bill. He told the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare that his legislation mirrors a sister bill in the state House.

 Alvarado, who is a family physician, said the problem is that insurers often not pay their share for follow-up colonoscopies if blood is detected in the preventive-care fecal testing. He called that ironic because the same insurers will pay the more expensive and evasive colonoscopy if a patient opts not to do a fecal test.

Dr. Whitney Jones testified that SB 61 was a “prescription” to save lives and money in Kentucky. He said over the last decade colon cancer diagnoses are down by more than 25 percent in Kentucky but that the state still leads the nation in colon cancer.

 “The sole purpose of this legislation is to create a clarifying law that serves as an unequivocal guide to all parties involved … about what is and what is not covered in colon cancer screening services,” said Jones, a gastroenterologist from Louisville.  “Kentucky citizens deserve a broader more accessible access to screening not a narrow restrictive policy that supports other people’s interests.”

 SB 61 now returns to the full Senate for consideration.

Kentucky revenue dips, but officials remain optimistic

Tax collections fell slightly in January, but Kentucky's budget director said it is no reason to worry the state will end the year with a deficit.

The state collected $828.9 million in fees and income and sales taxes in January, down 0.3 percent from last year. So far this year, Kentucky's revenue has increased 2.9 percent. State officials had predicted it would increase 3.6 percent. To make up the difference, revenues need to increase by 4.5 percent during the next five months.

State Budget Director Jane Driskell said officials expected the decline because the deadline for withholding payroll taxes was on a weekend. Driskell said she is confident the state is on track to reach its goal. Gas tax collections increased 2.9 percent. The state uses the money to pay for roads.

Senate advances telephone deregulation bill

The Republican state Senate has advanced a bill that would likely accelerate the death of Kentucky's traditional landline service after a similar proposal seemed to falter in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Supporters were optimistic the bill would get a vote in the House after it easily cleared a committee last week. But since then House members piled on eight amendments, a sign the body is far from a consensus.

The bill wouldn't require telephone companies to maintain traditional landline service in areas that have more than 15,000 households. AT&T of Kentucky President Hood Harris vowed no one with an existing landline would lose service.

Opponents say the state is moving too fast, arguing alternative services are not reliable for home security systems and medical monitoring devices.

Bill to allow distilleries to sell their own products by the drink advances

A bill advanced by the House Licensing and Occupations Committee on Wednesday would allow distilleries to sell their own products by the drink on their premises. Visitors could sip a small batch bourbon or a bourbon cocktail after tours or at special events at the distilleries.

Bourbon tourism has become a big business in Kentucky. Tourists made nearly 725,000 visits to distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour last year.

Breastfeeding now protected under Virginia law

Mothers in Virginia can now breastfeed their babies anywhere in the state.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Nancy Hale named UNITE President/CEO; Dan Smoot to lead new AHIDTA initiative

Nancy Hale, a long-time educator and current Co-Program Director of the UNITE Service Corps (AmeriCorps) initiative, will become President and Chief Executive Officer of Operation UNITE effective Monday, February 9.

Hale succeeds Dan Smoot, who has been tapped to lead a new drug prevention/education initiative for Appalachia HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area).

“I am humbled and appreciative of the Board’s decision and their faith in my abilities to lead Operation UNITE,” Hale said. “It has been an honor to be part of the UNITE team – both as a volunteer and an employee – in service to our communities. There is nothing more important we can do than to educate and save our youth.”

“We first became acquainted with Nancy through her volunteering with the UNITE community coalition in Rockcastle County,” noted Tom Handy, chairman of the UNITE Board of Directors. “She has been an excellent leader in creating and sustaining educational and treatment programs. We have every expectation that she will take UNITE to new heights.”

“I have the utmost respect and confidence in Nancy Hale’s abilities to lead the UNITE program,” said Kentucky Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, whose vision resulted in the creation of the anti-drug initiative in 2003. “She is highly respected and brings a solid background of leadership, skills and compassion to the position.”

Hale retired from public education in 2012 after 34 years as a teacher, career counselor, and administrative coordinator. That fall she joined UNITE to help provide coordination for the AmeriCorps grant program, which currently serves 44 elementary schools in 13 districts across southern and eastern Kentucky.

Very involved in her community, Hale has served as an Executive Board Member and volunteer with the Rockcastle County (KY) UNITE Coalition for the last 10 years, with the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association for 25 years, as well as a current Board Member and twice-elected President of the Kentucky Association of Professional Educators.

As a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society, Pi Chapter, Hale was named "Kentucky Volunteer of the Year" in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2004. She received the "Golden Apple Achiever Award" from Ashland Oil, Inc. in 2000 as one of Kentucky's outstanding educators. In 2001, she was chosen as the "Kentucky YMCA Champion," and was the first inductee into the Kentucky YMCA Youth Advisor Hall of Fame in 2010.

She and her husband, John, also an educator and principal for 42 years, are the parents of two grown sons and have two granddaughters.

Nancy is a passionate advocate for drug abuse prevention and education,” Smoot said. “Like many residents of the region, her family has endured the anguish and uncertainties of dealing with substance abuse. She is a well-respected and capable leader that brings a strong perspective to UNITE’s important mission.”

Prior to joining UNITE, Smoot worked 22 years with the Kentucky State Police – primarily in narcotics enforcement. In November 2003, Smoot joined UNITE as Drug Task Force Manager for the Kentucky River Region. A month later he was promoted to Law Enforcement Director, and in September 2011 was named UNITE Vice President. Smoot became President/CEO in May 2013. He begins he new role on March 1.

As AHIDTA’s first Director of Drug Prevention and Education Smoot will coordinate such programs as the “Give Me A Reason” drug prevention initiative, designed to provide youth another way to resist peer pressure to experiment with drugs. Launched in partnership with UNITE in October 2014, this program provides free saliva-based drug test kits to parents.

“Operation UNITE has become an extremely effective drug-fighting program, especially in addressing the need to educate our youth to the harmful effects of drug use,” said Frank Rapier, executive director of AHIDTA. “We want to replicate this huge success into other areas of Appalachia.”

“Dan has proven to be a true professional and tireless worker,” Rapier continued. “We want to utilize his skills to continue coalition-building and find new ways to be more effective in stopping the cycle of abuse.

Mingo mother pleads not guilty to hospital room charges

A Mingo County mother pleaded not guilty Friday to charges she placed fecal matter in her son’s IV to make him sicker.
Candy Fluty was indicted last week on four felony counts, including two counts of felonious assault for an incident that allegedly happened at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
She was arraigned in Cincinnati on Friday and released on the same $50,000 bond she was given after an initial court appearance. Fluty was ordered once more to stay away from her children.
Prosecutors have said they don’t believe Fluty meant to kill her son, who suffers from Hirschsprung’s disease, which affects the colon.

A defense attorney told the judge that Fluty’s an unemployed mother who is a full-time student.

Ex-coal chief says Alpha reneged on deal to pay legal costs

The former coal executive charged in a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 men is alleging Alpha Natural Resources has reneged on an agreement requiring the company to pay his mounting legal costs.

Ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship filed a lawsuit against the Bristol, Virginia-based company this week.

He alleges that Alpha recently told him it wouldn't cover the costs to defend charges that he conspired to violate safety standards at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine. Massey was bought by Alpha in June 2011.

According to media reports, Alpha confirmed in a statement Friday that it doesn't intend to pay Blankenship's legal fees going forward.

The legal filing says Alpha's lawyers said the company determined Blankenship had reasonable cause to believe his conduct was unlawful.

 (Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gov't investigating if Medicare data stolen in Anthem hack

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is investigating whether the personal information of Medicare beneficiaries was stolen by hackers who breached health insurer Anthem's computer networks.

The Health and Human Services inspector general's office said Thursday it is assessing whether personal data about Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries has been compromised.

Government programs are a major business for Anthem, the nation's second-largest health insurance company. It offers Medicare Advantage health insurance plans, Medicaid managed care coverage, as well as subsidized insurance under the president's health care law.

The company says hackers broke into a database storing such identifying details as names, addresses and Social Security numbers of about 80 million customers.

The FBI is taking the lead in the investigation.

The HHS inspector general's office often works with the FBI on health fraud cases.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ultrasound bill clears state Senate

 FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill today by a 31-5 vote that would change the informed consent process required prior to an abortion.

 Senate Bill 7 would require a medical doctor to perform an ultrasound prior to a woman giving informed consent to having an abortion, said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who sponsors the bill along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville.

“Full disclosure is so important to the health of the mother and her baby,” Adams said. “Kentucky women deserve no less. In closing, we need to stop chipping away at the right for Kentucky women to receive the healthcare and the answers they deserve.”

 Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, explained his vote against SB7.

“This is my third session here in the state Senate and I don’t think anyone’s opinion has been changed by the debate on this floor in those three years,” he said. “We talked a lot today about the court decisions and what those mean. We didn’t talk about what is actually in the bill. The one thing I would like to point out, in explaining my ‘no’ vote, is that do not see any exceptions for women who have been the victim of rape … .”

 SB 7 now goes before the state House for consideration.

In January, the state Senate passed another abortion-related measure, known as Senate Bill 4, and sent it to the House for consideration.

SB 4 calls for a face-to-face meeting between the pregnant woman and a healthcare provider at least 24-hours before an abortion takes place. Adams explained last month that current law states a physician, licensed nurse, physician assistant or social worker must verbally inform the woman of the medical risks and abortion alternatives at least 24-hours before an abortion, but it does not specify that the information be given in a face-to face meeting. She added that it is sometimes done via a recorded telephone message.

Senate bill would exempt school construction from prevailing wage law

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a measure today that would exempt public schools from a statute requiring them to pay construction workers a specified minimum – often referred to as the prevailing wage law.

“While we can debate the policy of workers’ wages, we can all agree that our children of the Commonwealth deserve the best, and they deserve the best we can provide them now,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill.

 Schroder said the legislature’s own report found the measure (Senate Bill 9) would decrease 
construction costs of elementary and secondary education buildings by 7.6 percent.

“When we are dealing with multi-million dollar projects, this adds up quickly,” Schroder said. “Senate Bill 9 would simply allow more to be done with less with no change in quality of overall projects. More schools could be built from the savings, allowing more of our children to be placed in updated schools sooner.”

Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, was one of 12 Senators who voted against SB 9, arguing that the measure would redistribute “money from hard working construction workers to construction company owners.”

Jones said prevailing wage laws across the United States date to the Great Depression when U.S. Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act that mandated contractors pay prevailing wages on federally funded projects. He added that Kentucky passed its first prevailing wage law in 1940s.

SB 9 now goes to the state House for consideration.