Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kentucky Supreme Court reviews Floyd County bullying case

(AP)- The Kentucky Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case delving into whether teachers and school administrators can be found negligent for the suicide of a bullied student.

The case stems from the 2007 suicide of Stephen Patton, a middle school student in Floyd County. His mother sued teachers and administrators, claiming they were negligent by failing to stop the bullying.

In arguments Wednesday, an attorney for Patton's family said the boy was bullied in front of teachers. The attorney, Vanessa Cantley, said school officials failed to follow the school district's anti-bullying policy.

Neal Smith, representing some of the defendants, says no one knows why the youngster killed himself. He says Patton never complained of bullying to school officials.

Patton's family is appealing after losing in circuit court and the state Court of Appeals.

Ford recalls 213,000 police vehicles and 6,500 ambulances

Ford is recalling about 213,000 police vehicles in North America to fix springs that may not keep doors closed in a crash.

The recall affects Ford Explorer and Police Interceptor utility vehicles from the 2011 through 2013 model years.

The company traced the problem to a spring that controls the interior door handles. The spring can become unseated and may become unlatched in a side-impact crash, increasing the risk of injury.

Ford said it doesn't know of any crashes or injuries from the problem.

Dealers will inspect all four doors and fix or replace the handles if needed, free of charge.

Ford also is recalling about 6,500 Super Duty ambulance and emergency vehicles from 2011 through 2015 with 6.7-Liter diesel engines. The exhaust gas temperature sensors can malfunction.

Justices seem divided over EPA mercury limits

The Supreme Court appears divided in a dispute over the Obama administration's first-ever regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions.

The focus of the case is on mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children.

The justices heard argument Wednesday in a challenge brought by industry groups and Republican-led states to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to take action against coal- and oil-fired power plants that are responsible for half the nation's output of mercury.

Several conservative justices questioned whether EPA should have taken costs into account when it first decided to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants, or whether health risks are the only consideration. The EPA did factor in costs at a later stage when it wrote standards to reduce the toxic emissions.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Senate panel aims to heighten safety with booster seat bill

FRANKFORT – The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a booster seat bill today.

House Bill 315, as amended by the committee, requires booster seats to be used by children who are less than eight and are between 40 and 57 inches in height. HB 315 also clarifies that a child of any age who is over 57 inches in height shall not be required to be in a booster seat.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, who sponsored the bill, said it just adds an additional year and seven inches to the current state law.

“The reasons we need to do this is because all the interested groups – like engineers, medical professionals and car manufacturers – tell us that our current height limit is just wrong,” Riggs said. “It needs to be fixed.”

He said the seat belt does not correctly fit across the shoulder and lap of a child who is less than 57 inches. Riggs said the seat belt goes across the neck and abdomen of children who are shorter than that.

“Right now our law is telling our parents to do this incorrectly,” he said. “We have to fix the law.”

Riggs said all of the states neighboring Kentucky have adopted the new height limit.

Bill Bell, director of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, brought his young son, Ryder, to demonstrate to committee members how booster seats do not properly protect children under 57 inches.

Lexington police officer Brandon Muravchick also testified in support of HB 315. He was 8 when he was riding in a vehicle that wrecked in Frankfort. Muravchick said the seat belt he was wearing likely saved his life but caused internal injuries because he was under 57 inches in height.

“I just had my tenth surgery in 2012,” he said, “which hospitalized me when I was in the police academy in Lexington. I’m still having issues from this wreck 25 year later. It’s very important the seat belt fits properly. The booster seat does that.”

HB 315 has already been approved by the state House and received its first reading in the Senate.

KSP Searching for Person of Interest in Vehicle Theft

The Kentucky State Police, Pikeville Post, is looking for a person of interest wanted for questioning in a recent car theft.

In the early morning hours of March 11, 2015, a 2003 Tan GMC Sonoma pickup truck, bearing license plate 167KWB, was stolen from a residence on Maple Road in the Harold community.  Trooper Bryan Lane responded to the residence, and through investigation, was able to obtain a picture depicting a person of interest regarding the incident. Kentucky State Police is asking if anyone has any information as to the identity of this individual, please contact the Kentucky State Police Post 09, Pikeville at (606) 433-7711 or toll free at 1-800-222-5555.  Callers can remain anonymous.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by Trooper Bryan Lane.

Child abuse prevention bill amended with ‘snow days’ provisions, returned to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill to require child abuse prevention and reporting training in Kentucky’s public schools and allow “snow days” to be waived in school districts hardest hit by this winter’s storms was approved today by the House.

SB 119, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, was passed by the Senate last month to require school administrators, teachers, office state, teaching assistants, coaches and other employed by a school district to receive child abuse and neglect prevention, recognition and reporting training through the state by Jan. 31, 2017 then every two years thereafter. Those hired after Jan. 31, 2017 would be required to complete the training within 90 days of being hired, then every two years.

The House adopted those provisions (which mirror language in HB 301, passed by the House 94-0 last month) after adding the “snow days” provisions to the bill. Those provisions would give school districts until June 5 to complete all 1,062 school instructional hours required by the state. Any remaining hours that cannot be made up could be waived by the state.

The adding provisions also clarify that instructional days cannot exceed 7 hours, cannot include Saturdays, and that school districts can be open on primary election day if no school in a district is used as a polling place.

“It’s … the exact same bill that the House and Senate agreed upon last year when we came upon this same problem,” according to House Education Committee Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who presented the amendment for a vote. 

Speaking in opposition to the amendment was Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who was concerned that considerable instructional time is being lost in some districts.

“If we’re going to demand that our kids go to school and that every high school diploma is the same everywhere, then we need to figure out how to make sure these kids are able to go to school for the full term every year,” said Koenig.

School instructional time waivers were allowed last school year with the passage of HB 211 by the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly.

The snow days waiver provisions in SB 119 include an emergency clause, which would make those provisions effective immediately should SB 119 become law.

The bill passed the House on an 87-8 vote. It now goes back to the Senate for consideration of the changes the House made to the legislation.

Bill to define bees, address dog fighting returns to Senate for vote

FRANKFORT—Provisions to combat dog fighting were attached by the House today to a Senate agriculture bill.

Dog fighting is already illegal in Kentucky, but supporters of the House amendment say additional steps should be taken to prosecute those engaged in it. The amendment would classify the ownership, breeding, training, selling, possessing, or transferring or four-legged animals—including dogs—for the purpose of fighting as first-degree cruelty to animals.

Kentucky is the only state in the nation that does not regulate dog fighting like every other state,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, the sponsor of the amendment that was attached by a vote of 62-33 to Senate Bill 143.

Jenkins said that the amended bill would not affect legal activities involving dogs including field trials, hunting, dog training, and other legal activities.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, asked the House to rule on whether the amendment was relevant, or “germane,” to SB 143. House Speaker Greg Stumbo ruled that the amendment is relevant, stating that dogs are used in agriculture. That ruling was or challenged, by Hoover and Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, and the ruling stood by a vote of 43-55. Other challenges to the amendment were also defeated.

Among those lawmakers opposing the amendment and voting against the bill was Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson. York said she feels the amendment could impact legal activities, such as hunting.

“I suppose everyone in here recognizes the need to protect our animals from being used in a perverse fighting environment. The trouble is that while our intentions are pure, I believe that, in this instance, our words are flawed and inadequate,” said York.

The amended version of SB 143 retains the original provisions of the legislation, which would define bees as “livestock” under Kentucky law. SB 143 is sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville.

SB 143 was returned to the Senate by House members on a 75-13 vote.

House adds anti-heroin provisions to bill

FRANKFORT— Sweeping changes to the treatment and prosecution of those involved in Kentucky’s heroin trade were unanimously approved by the House tonight and returned to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate, which passed its own anti-heroin measure in January, swiftly voted against concurring with the House proposal, setting the stage for continued efforts to pass a bill that both chambers can agree on during the final days of the 2015 legislative session.

The House proposal, attached tonight to Senate Bill 192, includes essentially all of House Bill 213, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. That bill, which passed the House 98-0 last month, contains substance abuse treatment options for addicts, tiered penalties for traffickers, “good Samaritan” immunity for those who call for emergency help in case of an overdose, better access to the rescue drug naloxone, and the option for local needle exchange programs authorized at the local government level, among other provisions.

Additionally, a second amendment was attached to the bill that would appropriate $10 million in state funds for substance abuse treatment and drug-related prosecution. The amendment, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, was added to the bill by voice vote.

The original provisions in SB 192, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, were removed by the House. Those provisions dealt with health care service contracts for inmates.

Tilley said SB 192, as amended by the House, represents “the most comprehensive, common sense, evidence-based, data-driven approach to what is a public health epidemic.” He said the funding component found in Overly’s funding amendment would allow the drug treatment and other anti-heroin provisions added to SB 192 by the House to be funded sooner rather than later.

Overly said funding was proposed in HB 213 for seven different drug treatment and related services beginning in the next state budget cycle. “What (this amendment) would do would be to provide immediate funds beginning in fiscal year 2016 for treatment,” said Overly.

Recent news reports indicate that there were nearly 200 deaths caused by heroin overdose in the Commonwealth in the first nine months of 2014.

Lawmakers crack down on gambling halls

FRANKFORT -- Legislation that would shutter Internet cafes doubling as gambling halls received final passage today in the state Senate.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 28, included an amendment from the state House expressing legislative intent to remain neutral in a pending legal dispute regarding historical horse racing.

Internet cafes are for-profit businesses that sell Internet access for a chance to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes, said SB 28 sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green. He said the cafes are located in buildings that contain banks of computers with Internet access. Each purchase at the cafe entitles a customer to a certain number of sweepstakes entries. The customer then determines whether the sweepstakes entries are winners by logging onto a computer.

Officials from Kentucky cities previously testified that they have seen an increase in these businesses throughout the state, often in cities bordering Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio – states that have cracked down on such business. One of the first Internet cafés in Kentucky opened in Bowling Green several years ago. In the last few months, an Internet café opened in Covington.

Wilson said the cafes advertise they are “better than bingo.” Non-profit bingos in his district have seen revenues decline as much as 40 percent because of the competition, he said.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

State Senate passes ignition interlock legislation

FRANKFORT – Saying it would reduce the number of habitual drunken drivers, a majority of state senators voted today for legislation that would expand the use of ignition interlocks for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 133, would supplement hardship licenses – special licenses allowing people with suspended licenses to drive to work, school and doctor’s appointments – with ignition interlocks.

An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A person convicted driving under the influence must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.

“Drunk driving kills,” said Sen. Morgan McGarvey, who is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “In 2013, over 10,000 people lost their lives at the hands of a drink driver.”

McGarvey said while legislators across the country have not found a way to eradicate drunken driving, lawmakers in 24 states have found ways to reduce it through the use of ignition interlocks.

“The states that have done this have seen a 30 percent decrease in fatalities due to drunk driving,” McGarvey said.

Unlike previous versions of the bill, McGarvey said ignition interlocks would only be available to people convicted of drunken driving with aggravating circumstances, like having a child in the car, going more than 30 mph over the speed limit or having prior drunken driving convictions.

McGarvey said a special fund would be set up to supplement the costs of ignition interlocks for the poor to address concerns raised by the state’s public defenders. In response to a question by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, concerning who would pay for the indigent fund, McGarvey said the companies who provide the ignition interlocks to the state would subsidize the fund.

SB 133 now goes to the House for consideration.

Public-private partnerships bill in peril in Kentucky Senate

Concerns about tolls on a proposed Ohio River bridge in northern Kentucky are threatening to once again derail legislation that would let the state partner with private developers on transportation projects.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Monday the public-private partnerships bill is in trouble in the Republican-led Senate. The measure passed the Democratic-run House last month.

Thayer says one problem for the bill is the lack of sufficient protection from tolling as part of the proposed Brent Spence Bridge project. The proposed new span would connect northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

Anti-tolling language was attached to last year's public-private partnerships bill. That prompted a veto by Gov. Steve Beshear, who is a strong advocate for the partnerships.

Beshear said Monday he's trying to help jump-start the bill in the Senate.

Some schools could make up snow days on Election Day

Some Kentucky students could be going to school on Election Day under a bill moving through the state legislature.

Republicans and Democrats go to the polls on May 19 to choose their nominees for governor. Schools usually are not in session that day because they are often used for polling places. But after two winter storms dumped several feet of snow on Kentucky in the past month, some schools are scrambling to make up the missed days without eating into the summer vacation.

The Senate Education Committee approved a bill Monday that would let schools be in session on Election Day if the district does not use any facilities for polling places. State Sen. David Givens says a handful of districts meet those requirements.

House lawmakers are considering similar legislation.

Senate Republicans pass on $3.3 billion teacher pension loan

Kentucky's Republican Senate caucus wants a second opinion on the state's teacher pension woes.

The Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System is running out of money. Officials say the system has a little more than half of the money it needs to continue making benefit payments to retired teachers. Officials asked lawmakers to borrow $3.3 billion to help stabilize the system, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved it.

But Senate Republicans want to wait a year before approving what would be the largest loan in state history. Monday, a Senate committee amended the bill to create a task force to study the problems facing the teachers' retirement system. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said lawmakers would address the funding issue next year once the study is complete.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Stroke care bill heading to governor

FRANKFORT—A bill that would require the state to post a list of all Kentucky stroke hospitals and stroke centers online and distribute the list to local emergency services providers is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, and Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, received final passage in by a vote of 99-0 in the House. It now goes to the governor for his signature.

Specifically, the bill would require that a list of all acute stroke ready hospitals, comprehensive stroke centers, and primary stroke centers in Kentucky be posted to the web site of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and be distributed to emergency medical services providers, whose directors would be required to create protocols for assessment and treatment of stroke patients before the patients reach the hospital. 

The bill would also expand the types of stroke-care certification available to hospitals across the Commonwealth, building on a 2010 law that requires Kentucky to recognize certified primary stroke centers.

Kentucky currently has two comprehensive stroke centers—one at the University of Louisville and one at the University of Kentucky—and around 21 total certified stroke hospitals, according to Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, who presented SB 10 for a vote in the House.

“Having a stroke system of care in Kentucky is an important component of our health care delivery system,” said Watkins, a physician. “I feel like this is an extremely good bill.”

The Cabinet reports that stroke accounted for two percent, or 12,024, of all hospitalizations in Kentucky in 2010, and that Kentucky had the 11th highest stroke death rate in the country in 2009.

SB 10 passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 5.