Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Gun-friendly West Virginia to put metal detectors in Capitol

(AP) — West Virginia is limiting public entry points at its Capitol and making visitors walk through metal detectors to enter the building.

The Division of Protective Services said Wednesday one public entrance will be available on the building's west wing starting Jan. 8. An east wing entrance will also be available starting Jan. 10 for the upcoming legislative session.

Visitors will pass through metal detectors and an X-ray machine will scan their items. People with electronic access cards, including state employees and certain media, can still enter any door.

Weapons are already illegal at the Capitol Complex in most instances. Concealed carry permit holders can leave guns locked in cars, for example.

State officials previously loosened gun restrictions around the state, including eliminating gun bans at city centers hosting afterschool activities.

W.Va. senator won't resign until replacement process clear

(AP) — Sen. Daniel Hall says he'll delay his resignation until its clear how his replacement will be picked.

The Wyoming County Republican previously announced Tuesday he would resign Jan. 3 and cover multiple states as an NRA liaison.

Two state law provisions create confusion about which party would suggest replacements to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, since Hall was elected a Democrat and would resign a Republican.

He won in 2012 as a Democrat and switched to Republican after the 2014 elections, breaking a Senate tie to give Republicans an 18-16 majority.

Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said the office is reviewing the law.

Hall's seat is up for re-election in 2016. Democrat Michael Goode has opened a campaign account for the seat spanning Raleigh and Wyoming counties and part of McDowell County.

No voting rights automatically restored to felons

(AP) — An official says no convicted felons had their voting rights automatically restored before Gov. Matt Bevin rescinded an executive order by his predecessor allowing the process.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said 180 applications were under review to make sure they met criteria in former Gov. Steve Beshear's order, including that convictions were for nonviolent crimes.

Lamb said the agency was in the process of determining eligibility when Bevin issued an order on Dec. 22 rescinding Beshear's Nov. 24 order. At the time, Bevin said his order would not apply to anyone who already had their rights restored.

Bevin said felons who want their voting rights restored would have to apply to his office on a case-by-case basis.

Governor Matt Bevin targets Medicaid overhaul plan for 2017

(AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin says he intends to draft a plan to overhaul the state's expanded Medicaid program by the middle of next year, one that could be implemented by the start of 2017.

Bevin, elected in November, campaigned on a promise to dismantle the state's Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. He said Wednesday that the plan will include waivers from the federal government that would allow the state to create its own system for providing health insurance to the poor.

He announced that Mark Birdwhistell, former secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, will lead the team creating the "transformational program."

In the meantime, the 400,000 Kentuckians who received coverage under the expansion will keep it until a new plan is approved by the federal government.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

West Virginia GOP state senator resigning for NRA job

(AP) — State Sen. Daniel Hall says he is resigning to take a job with the National Rifle Association.

A news release Tuesday says the Wyoming County Republican will resign Jan. 3 and cover multiple states as an NRA liaison.

Hall served as Senate majority whip.

He was elected to the Senate in 2012 as a Democrat after two terms in the House.
He switched to Republican after the 2014 elections, breaking a 17-17 Senate tie to give the GOP an 18-16 majority.

A local committee will recommend replacements to Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who will pick Hall's successor.

Hall's seat is up for re-election in 2016. Democrat Michael Goode is the only candidate with an open campaign account for the seat, which includes Raleigh and Wyoming counties and part of McDowell County.

Coal industry on track for record low in mining deaths

(AP) — The U.S. coal industry is close to setting a record low for on-the-job deaths in coal mines.

There were 11 deaths in coal mines nationwide for the year by late December, putting the industry, which is mired in a period of layoffs and idled operations, on track to best the record low of 16 set in 2014.

Pennsylvania is leading the nation with three deaths, the most in that state since 2008. If the numbers hold it would be the first time since 2009 that West Virginia did not record the nation's most coal mine fatalities.

So far, West Virginia has had just two mining deaths, tied with Kentucky and Illinois, which had the most recent on Dec. 8. An equipment crash underground at the MC #1 mine in southern Illinois killed 20-year-old Tyler Rath, who had been mining for two years.

State audit of Morgan Fiscal Court finds 'abuse of power'

(AP) — A state audit has concluded that hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal disaster aid are unaccounted for in Morgan County.

According to outgoing state Auditor Adam Edelen's report, released Monday, found evidence of "waste, fraud and abuse" in the aftermath of a 2012 tornado that devastated West Liberty.

The audit accuses former Judge-Executive Tim Conley of abusing his power and the Fiscal Court to create a situation in which there was minimal oversight.

Conley, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to mail fraud in a scheme in which he took $130,000 in kickbacks from a contractor, declared a state of emergency in Morgan County after the March 2012 tornado.

The audit found the possibility of abuse was so high it couldn't rely on the county's financial records.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Democratic control of Kentucky House weakens further

(AP) — Another Kentucky state lawmaker is switching from the Democratic Party to the GOP, further boosting the Republican Party's mission to take control of the only Southern legislative chamber still run by Democrats.

State Rep. Jim Gooch chairs the Natural Resources and Environment Committee. He said Monday he will seek re-election as a Republican. He attributed his decision to President Barack Obama's "radical agenda," including environmental regulations and push for gun control.

He is the second House Democrat to switch parties since Gov. Matt Bevin was elected in November, highlighting state voters' drastic Republican turn. Two other Democrats accepted appointments from Bevin's administration, leaving the House at 50 Democrats and 46 Republicans when the legislature reconvenes next month.

Special elections will be held to fill the four vacant seats.

US Attorney Booth Goodwin to leave job at end of year

(AP) — U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says he will leave office at the end of the year and return to private law practice.

Goodwin's resignation comes less than a month after the federal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. Blankenship was found guilty on Dec. 3 of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety rules at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine, which exploded in 2010 and killed 29 men.

Goodwin announced his resignation on Monday in a news release.

He was appointed as U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama in 2010. He had served in the federal prosecutor's office since January 2001.

Goodwin's office also prosecuted former executives of Freedom Industries for a January 2014 chemical spill in Charleston that contaminated the drinking water of more than 300,000 people.

Knott County Man Killed While Working On Vehicle

A Knott County man died yesterday afternoon, after the vehicle he was working on rolled over him.  Troopers with Kentucky State Police Post 13, along with Trans Star Ambulance, were dispatched to Trace Caney Road in the Pippa Passes community after  KSP Post 13 received a call at approximately 12:27 p.m., advising that a man had been run over by a vehicle.

Upon arrival, Troopers located 54 year old Steve Halcomb of Pippa Passes, underneath a Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle.  It was determined that Mr. Halcomb was working underneath the SUV, when it rolled off of a ramp and drug him down the driveway, and onto Trace Caney Road.  Knott County Deputy Coroner Donnie Salmons pronounced Steve Halcomb deceased at the scene at approximately 1:04 p.m. 

No foul play is suspected, and no autopsy will be performed.  This incident remains under investigation by Detective Chris Collins with KSP Post 13.

Kim Davis, gay marriage voted top news story for 2015

(AP) — A Kentucky clerk who spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been voted the state's top news story of 2015.

Gay rights activists rejoiced in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned four state bans on same-sex marriage, effectively legalizing gay weddings across the country for the first time.

But the biggest resistance to the court's historic ruling did not come from a Republican presidential candidate or an evangelical pastor. It came from a soft-spoken Democrat in Morehead, Kentucky, who said her religious faith made it impossible for her to comply with the court's ruling.

Kentucky's No. 2 story was the surprising election of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who returned to politics after being shunned by state party leaders for challenging U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2014 primary.

A judge has reduced ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's bond and dropped his travel restrictions after his conviction.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clarke VanDervort in Beckley reduced Blankenship's $5 million bond to $1 million Monday.

VanDervort also dropped restrictions limiting Blankenship's travel to southern West Virginia, Pike County, Kentucky and Washington, D.C.

VanDervort says Blankenship can live at home in Las Vegas and travel throughout the continental United States.

VanDervort ruled Blankenship isn't prohibited anymore from talking to certain people related to the case.

Blankenship was convicted Dec. 3 of a misdemeanor conspiracy to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch, where an explosion killed 29 men in 2010. 

He faces a year in prison at most.

He was acquitted of felonies that could've stretched his sentence to 30 years.

5 people killed in holiday wrecks on Virginia roads

(AP) — Virginia State Police say five people died in traffic accidents over the Christmas holiday weekend.

The victims included three drivers, a pedestrian and a moped operator. State police said Monday in a news release that alcohol was a factor in at least two of the accidents.

The accidents occurred in Bedford and Surry counties, and in the cities of Hampton, Newport News and Richmond.

For the year, state police say preliminary reports indicate 732 people have been killed in traffic accidents as of Monday. That's up from 694 as of Dec. 28, 2014.

Eight people died in Virginia traffic accidents during the holiday period in 2014.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

KSP Investigates Quadruple Fatal Collision in Floyd County

The Kentucky State Police is investigating a two vehicle collision resulting in four occupants suffering fatal injuries. The collision occurred in the early evening hours on Thursday, December 24, 2015.

KSP Pikeville Post was notified of the collision, and Troopers responded to KY Route 114 in the Middle Creek Community of Floyd County. The preliminary investigation at the scene revealed that Sandra Bauer, 54, of Salyersville, was operating a 2013 Hyundai Tucson, traveling east on KY 114. Bauer’s vehicle entered the west bound lane of KY 114, striking a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze operated by Roland Patrick, 52 of Salyersville.  Both operators, along with two passengers in the Hyundai, Nevaeh Bauer, 4, of Teaberry, and an unidentified female, suffered fatal injuries.  Two additional occupants of the Hyundai, Pamela Kendrick-Bauer, and Brayden Bauer, 5, survived the collision and are currently in stable condition.  Pamela was transported from the scene by EMS to Pikeville Medical Center, and Brayden was airlifted from the scene to UK Medical Center.

Multiple agencies and emergency personnel responded to the scene.

Post 09 Accident Reconstructionist, Trooper Jonathan Dixon, is investigating the collision. 

Report: W. Virginia's recovery from recession below average

(AP) — A report says West Virginia is lagging much of the country when it comes to recovery from the recession.

The Pew Charitable Trust report shows that the state's tax revenue was about 1.1 percent higher in mid-2015 than it was in 2007 when adjusted for inflation.

Nationally, states brought in 5.6 percent more revenue than they did at their peak in 2008.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, says the report's findings aren't surprising. He says the implementation of tax cuts along with the downturn of coal production and declining natural gas prices have contributed to a slow recovery.

The study ends in mid-2015, when Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow says the state's economy began a sharp downturn.

W. Virginia attorney general warns residents about jury scam

(AP) — West Virginia's attorney general is warning residents about a jury duty phone scam.

Patrick Morrisey say a scammer who claims that they're from the Nicholas County Sherriff's Office is telling residents there is a warrant out for their arrest because they didn't show up for federal grand jury duty. The scammer says citizens would be held in contempt before a Nicholas County federal judge, but that the charges can be dismissed if they pay the fine over the phone.

The caller asks residents for their cell phone number to pay the outstanding arrests warrants or tells them to buy a prepaid credit card so the money can be transferred onto it.

Morrisey says residents should call their local circuit clerk's office and sheriff's department if they get such a call.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

West Virginia agencies collecting Christmas trees Jan. 2

(AP) — West Virginia Christmas trees can find a new life once the holiday season is over.

Various state agencies are collecting trees at the start of the New Year to repurpose them as fish habitat in lakes and rivers.

The trees will be accepted Jan. 2 at the Capitol Market in Charleston. Trees should be stripped of tinsel and lights, of course.

Donated trees will be used for habitat in Stonecoal Lake, Burnsville Lake, Big Ditch Lake, and Tygart Lake.

Residents who donate a tree can also sign up to win prizes, such as a ski trip for two.

The tree collection is a collaborative effort involving state environmental and natural resources officials.

Bankruptcy judge OKs Alpha's bond deal with West Virginia

(AP) — A bankruptcy judge has approved a deal resolving a reclamation bond dispute between coal operator Alpha Natural Resources and West Virginia regulators.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin R. Huennekens' order says the agreement is fair and equitable.

The order filed Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia, overruled an objection by several environmental groups.

Under the agreement, Alpha will reduce its self-bonded obligations and provide $39 million in financial commitments to back its remaining obligations.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had ordered Alpha to replace the self bonds with other forms of bonding after the company said it might no longer meet criteria for self-bonding. Alpha contended that the DEP didn't have the authority under bankruptcy law to require it to replace the bonds.

Cleveland company sells 2 mines in Alabama, West Virginia

(AP) — A Cleveland mining company has closed its remaining coal business with the sale of two coal mines in Alabama and West Virginia.

Cliffs Natural Resources announced the sale Tuesday of Pinnacle Mine inWest Virginia and Oak Grove Mine in Alabama to Seneca Coal Resources.

Cliffs says the sale was valued at $268 million based on Seneca Coal assuming all liabilities of the business. Seneca Coal is affiliated with West Virginia-based ERP Compliant Fuels.

Both the Oak Grove Mine in Alabama and the Pinnacle Mine in West Virginia produce metallurgical coal, which is used for steel production.

Seneca plans to produce 4.4 million tons of metallurgical coal in 2016 and employ 811 people in West Virginia and Alabama.

Jobless rates down in 92 Kentucky counties

(AP) — State officials say unemployment rates fell in 92 of Kentucky's 120 counties between November 2014 and November 2015.

The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training says jobless rates rose in 23 counties during that time and remained the same in five counties.

Woodford County had the state's lowest jobless rate at 3.2 percent.

It was followed by Fayette, Oldham and Spencer counties at 3.6 percent each. Shelby County was next at 3.7 percent.

Magoffin County had the state's highest unemployment rate at 12.6 percent.

It was followed by Letcher County at 10.2 percent; Harlan County at 10.1 percent; Owsley County at 9.9 percent and Wolfe County at 9.7 percent.

Traffic deaths in Kentucky up from last year

(AP) — Heading into the holiday season, state officials say traffic deaths on Kentucky roadways are up from a year ago.

Kentucky State Police say there were 712 traffic fatalities statewide as of Dec. 21, an increase of 72 from the same period a year ago.

State police are urging motorists to wear seat belts as they head out on roads for the holiday season.

KSP Sgt. Michael Webb says some traffic deaths this year could have been avoided if motorists had buckled up. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers by 45 percent, opposed to those who don't wear seat belts.

Webb says state police will use all available resources this holiday season in an effort to reduce fatalities.

State building cleared after 'unfounded' report of armed man

(AP) — State officials evacuated a government building on Wednesday after "unfounded" reports of a man in the building possibly with a gun.

Kentucky State Police said in a news release the complaint appears to be unfounded.

Workers and visitors to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services building in Frankfort were evacuated. The cabinet often handles sensitive family issues including foster care and adoption cases.

State police and local law enforcement officials were still searching the building at about noon on Wednesday. State police officials said there is "no credible information" that a person is at the building with a gun.

Mine guards to get final paychecks after more than a year

(AP) — More than a year after they last worked for a Frasure Creek Mine contractor in Oak Hill, about 40 mine security guards are set to soon receive their final paycheck.

TMK Security, based in St. Albans and Delbarton, left about 40 employees at Frasure Creek and more than 100 at other locations in West Virginia and Kentucky without their final paycheck in November 2014. Trinity Coal Corp. owns the Oak Hill mine.

Attorney Ben Salango says he filed a class action lawsuit against the now-defunct TMK Security in January, with the defendants having since admitted liability.

Salango says he has collected about $110,000 and expects to move through a notice process in January and February before beginning to distribute the money.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Zatarain's recalls Red Beans and Rice

(AP) — Zatarain's is voluntarily recalling its 8 ounce boxes of Red Beans and Rice Original because the product may contain undeclared dairy ingredients that could prompt serious or life-threatening allergic reactions.

In a news release, the Gretna, Louisiana-based company said the product may contain Creamy Parmesan Rice Mix with dairy ingredients. The dairy allergens are not listed. The product in question has the words "best by" followed by "July 31 16Z."

The news release says the company has not received any reports of the mislabeled product resulting in any illnesses or allergic reactions.

The product was shipped to Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Virginia revokes handgun permit agreement with 25 states

(AP) — Virginia will no longer recognize concealed handgun permits from more than two dozen states that have less stringent laws.

Attorney General Mark Herring said Tuesday that the state will revoke its reciprocity agreement with 25 states after a review found that their permit requirements are weaker than Virginia's. The change takes effect Feb. 1.

Herring says those states hand out permits to people who are barred from getting one under Virginia law, including fugitives, convicted stalkers and drug dealers. He says it's a common sense step that will help keep concealed weapons out of the hands of dangerous and irresponsible people.

Republican Del. Rob Bell, who's seeking to oust Herring in 2017, called the move another "Washington-style overreach from a nakedly partisan attorney general."

The states are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Agreements will remain with West Virginia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

Governor Bevin Fulfills Commitment to People of Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Dec. 22, 2015) – Today, Governor Bevin issued five Executive Orders pertaining to marriage licenses, minimum wage, hiring practices within the state government, the restoration of rights to felons and a superfluous state board.

“Today, I took action to uphold several commitments I made during my campaign so that we can implement real solutions that will help the people of Kentucky,” said Governor Bevin.  “While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people.  As we move into the New Year and upcoming session, I look forward to working with legislators and stakeholders to build consensus and drive policy that makes a meaningful impact on the lives of all Kentuckians”

The following Executive Orders are being filed today:

•   To ensure that the sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians are honored, Executive Order 2015-048 directs the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives to issue a revised marriage license form to the offices of all Kentucky County Clerks.  The name of the County Clerk is no longer required to appear on the form.

•   Executive Order 2015-049 relieves executive branch agencies and vendors of the obligation to comply with the higher minimum wage established by Executive Order 2015-370, except as to classified employees with status who have already received increases as a result of the Executive Order.  Their remuneration will not be affected.

•   Executive Order 2015-050 prioritizes effective and efficient management of state government operations by implementing a new moratorium on hiring.  This order removes all oversight of the merit system hiring from the Governor’s Office. Unlike Governor Beshear’s Executive Order which had the Secretary of the Governor’s Executive Cabinet approve all personnel actions regarding merit employees, this Executive Order transfers that responsibility to the Personnel Secretary.  Approval of non-merit employees will remain the duty of the Secretary of the Governor’s Executive Cabinet.  Furthermore, effective immediately, all vacant positions in any agency will be reviewed to determine if they are necessary to the maintenance of essential government services.

•   Executive Order 2015-051 rescinds Governor Beshear’s Executive Order 2008-471 which established the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council (GEAC).  The GEAC was created to discuss issues pertaining to wages, hours, and terms of employment for merit employees, but is non-value added given that the Governor has no power to extend negotiation and collective bargaining rights to employees of the Commonwealth.  The merit system, along with the policies and procedures enacted through the Personnel Cabinet, provide sufficient protections and oversight of these issues and functions in a streamlined and efficient manner.

•   While Governor Bevin has been a strong advocate for the reinstatement of non-violent felony offenders’ voting and civil rights, Executive Order 2015-052 suspends the provisions of Executive Order 2015-871 as that order is contrary to the Kentucky Constitution and undermines the very right it seeks to restore by circumventing elected representatives in the state legislature and the voice of the people at the ballot box. 

The Office of the Governor will continue to utilize the processes and procedures under current law in the same manner as the previous administration pending further study and consideration by the Kentucky General Assembly.  This Executive Order does not affect anyone whose rights have already been restored by the previous Executive Order.

KSP Asks Citizens for Unique Christmas Gift

The Kentucky State Police request a unique Christmas gift from Kentuckians this year. 

They are asking for the gift of life. Simply put, they want motorists to wear their seat belts every time they get in their vehicle.

Sgt. Michael Webb, spokesperson for the agency, says performing the simple click of a seat belt will save lives.

"We are seeing an increase in traffic deaths in Kentucky this year and several of those tragedies could have been avoided if the motorist would have been wearing a seat belt," says Webb.

Webb says it is heart-wrenching for troopers who have to notify families that their loved one has been killed in a crash.

"It's twice as hard when you know the death could have been prevented," adds Webb. "It's a proven fact that people have a better chance of surviving a crash when they are wearing their seat belts."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers by 45 percent, opposed to those who don't wear them.

Webb says the agency will utilize all resources available during the holiday season in an effort to reduce loss of life on Kentucky roadways. This will include traffic safety checkpoints, saturation patrols in high crash, high traffic locations, radar and laser details and coordinated enforcement activities with local police and sheriffs departments for maximum coverage.

As of December 21, 2015, there have been 712 traffic deaths on Kentucky roadways this year. That is 72 more traffic deaths than reported in 2014 during the same reporting period.

KSP has a toll-free number (1-800-222-5555) that citizens can call to confidentially report impaired or erratic drivers. They can also download the free KSP mobile phone app. The app provides quick, direct access to the state police for a wide range of benefits including weather, road and traffic information as well as text, voice and photo tip capabilities to report criminal behavior. The app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android applications and can be easily downloaded free of charge through Apple and Google Play stores.

Kentucky Gov. removes names of clerks from marriage licenses

(AP) — Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has ordered the state to prepare new marriage licenses that do not include the names of county clerks in an attempt to protect the religious beliefs of Kim Davis and other local elected officials.

In a news release Tuesday, Bevin said he has issued an executive order directing the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives to issue the revised marriage license forms to all county clerks. The order comes after Davis, the Rowan County clerk, spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Census: West Virginia loses residents in 2015

(AP) — The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show West Virginia was one of seven states to lose population.

According to figures released Tuesday, West Virginia lost 4,623 residents between July 2014 and July 2015. The 0.25 percent dip was the highest in the nation.

Illinois lost 22,194 residents, the most of any state. Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Vermont also lost population.

West Virginia and Maine were the only states where deaths outnumbered births. There were an estimated 21,704 deaths and 20,764 births in West Virginia during the period.

North Dakota was the fastest-growing state with a 2.2 percent increase. California remained the most populous state at 39.1 million.

North Carolina added 102,415 residents to surpass 10 million in population.

Virginia saw a gain of nearly 55,000 residents.

West Virginia AG, Social Security partner on anti-fraud unit

(AP) — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is partnering with the Social Security Administration to target disability fraud.

In a news release Tuesday, Morrisey announced the formation of an anti-fraud unit with Social Security and its inspector general.

The new Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit in Charleston will investigate Social Security disability claims and help to resolve potential fraud before benefits are paid.

Morrisey said he hopes the program will help save taxpayer money.

The national Cooperative Disability Investigations program includes 37 units in 31states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Jobless rate rises in 30 West Virginia counties in November

(AP) — Unemployment rates increased in 30 of West Virginia's 55 counties in November.

Workforce West Virginia says unemployment rates fell in 16 other counties, while nine counties saw no change.

Jefferson County's 3.1 unemployment rate was the lowest in the state. Mingo County had the highest unemployment rate, 12 percent.

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a percentage point to 6.5 percent.

Fall forest fire hazard season ends in Kentucky

(AP) — Kentucky forestry officials say the fall forest fire hazard season is over, which ends the restriction of waiting until 6 p.m. to do outdoor burning.

The forestry officials continue to urge caution when conducting any outdoor burning.

Leah MacSwords, director of the Kentucky Division of Forestry, says this has been 
one of the lowest years for reported wildfires. MacSwords says rains last spring and in the fall kept the fire dangers low.

Since January, officials say KDF firefighters responded to 735 fires across the statethat burned 18,583 acres. The division's figures do not include wildfires controlled by local fire departments.

MacSwords says arson continues to be the leading cause of wildfires in Kentucky, but many regions of the state had an increase in fires caused by people burning carelessly.

Health officials report outbreak of whooping cough

(AP) — An outbreak of whooping cough has health officials in northern Kentucky urging people to get vaccinated against the disease.

A statement from the Northern Kentucky Health Department says 31 cases of whooping cough have been reported in the region since Nov. 1. In comparison, officials say there were seven cases reported last year in November and December.

Director of Health Lynne M. Saddler says getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the disease from spreading. The health department says young children should be vaccinated and older children and adults should make sure they are up to date on their vaccines.

Early symptoms of whooping cough include runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough. Later symptoms can include coughing fits that end with a high-pitched whoop and vomiting.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Distillery drops lawsuit against University of Kentucky

(AP) — Kentucky Mist Moonshine has dropped a federal lawsuit against the University of Kentucky over trademarks.

James Francis, a lawyer for the eastern Kentucky distillery says the two sides are trying to work out an agreement. Kentucky Mist asked for the case to be dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be filed again if necessary.

The Whitesburg distillery filed suit because UK threatened legal action to stop the company's registration in a trademark category that includes hats, hooded sweatshirts, jackets, pants, shirts, shoes and socks.

The category is one in which UK claims use of the word "Kentucky" to identify its various articles of clothing sold to fans.

Kentucky Mist had asked the court to rule there's no infringement by Kentucky Mist Moonshine's use of the word "Kentucky."

Glitch blocks plan to increase child care funds

(AP) — A plan to boost child care assistance for poor working families has collapsed because it wasn't enacted before Gov. Steve Beshear left office.

Beshear is urging his successor, Matt Bevin, to deal with the problem. Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says the Bevin administration is reviewing the matter but hasn't reached a decision.

Beshear announced Dec. 3 that his administration planned to use about $15 million in surplus federal money to boost payments to centers that accept children whose parents qualify for help through the Kentucky Child Care Assistance Program. The higher payments were supposed to begin Jan. 1.

But the new plan wasn't filed by cabinet staff until Dec. 9, the day after Bevin became governor.

Auditor-elect names members of his management team

(AP) — Kentucky Auditor-elect Mike Harmon has selected former state lawmaker Sara Beth Gregory as general counsel for the auditor's office.

Gregory, who currently works as an attorney in Monticello, formerly served in the Kentucky House and Senate.

Her appointment was among several announced by Harmon, who defeated Democratic incumbent Adam Edelen in the November election.

Harmon says Alice Wilson will serve as assistant state auditor. Wilson has more than 20 years of government auditing experience, most recently serving as executive director of the Office of Audits for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Ginger Wills will serve as Harmon's chief of staff. Her government experience includes a tenure at the state Department of Agriculture.

Harmon says Michael Goins will serve as his communications director.

Harmon takes office on Jan. 4.

Winter photo event being held at Pine Mountain State Park

(AP) — Pine Mountain State Resort Park in eastern Kentucky is hosting a weekend for outdoor photographers.

The Winter Photography Weekend is Jan. 15 to 17 and will feature digital photography sessions and competitions with divisions for amateur, intermediate and accomplished photographers.

There will also be a session for beginners and critiques will be offered.

Programs will be led by natural history photographer Ken Jenkins, whose work over the last 30 years has appeared in publications such as National Geographic and Southern Living. His galleries are located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The emphasis will be on outdoor nature photography during the weekend. The park is offering a special lodging package and registration for the programs and competition.

Bert Combs Lake closed for several months for repairs to dam

(AP) — The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources says a 36-acre lake in eastern Kentucky is closed for repairs to its dam.

The agency said in a news release the Bert T. Combs Lake in Clay County should reopen in May, barring any weather delays.

Workers must fix a leaky area near the concrete spillway of the earthen dam. Bert Combs Lake Road is the only road to the lake and boat ramp, and it will be closed to the public throughout the project.

The agency said while the project is underway, contractors may lower the lake by several feet. Fish populations aren't expected to be affected.

Fish and Wildlife Resources owns the lake. The Division of Water is overseeing repairs.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Kentucky county upbeat about chances to land federal prison

(AP) — A Kentucky county's efforts to become home to a federal prison appear to be improved with congressional approval of a budget that includes more than $400 million for such a facility.

The budget approved Friday does not specify the money must be used to build a prison in Letcher County. But local officials say the proposal for a prison in the Appalachian county is farther along in the review process than any others in the nation.

Letcher County's effort has a powerful ally in U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who heads the House Appropriations Committee.

Rogers worked to include money for a new federal prison in the budget. The Republican congressman called members of the Letcher County Planning Commission to let them know about the appropriation.

Coal company announces layoffs in West Virginia, Virginia

 (AP) — Alpha Natural Resources continues to scale back its coal-mining operations.

Workers were told Friday at mines in both states that they were being laid off. The total in both states is totals more than 160, with the majority occurring in West Virginia, according to media reports.

Alpha cited a soft market for its coal in announcing the so-called reduction in force at four West Virginia mines. They're in Raleigh and Boone counties.

In Virginia, 25 workers were laid off in Tazewell County.

Alpha plans to end operations at 23 properties in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, among others. It's part of a bankruptcy restructuring.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Morning Fire in Pikeville

Around 8:00 this morning, Pikeville Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 176 Second Street.

Upon arrival, firefighters saw smoke coming from the second floor of the building. Business offices were located in that part of the building. The fire was quickly extinguished but the structure did receive heat, smoke and water damage.

The cause of the blaze is still unknown and remains under investigation.

The Pikeville Fire Department was assisted on scene by Pikeville Police Department and Pikeville Emergency Management.

Governors of West Virginia, Missouri wager on DII title game

(AP) — West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is challenging his Missouri counterpart to a friendly wager on the Division II football championship game involving teams from their states.

Shepherd (13-0) and Northwest Missouri State (13-0) will meet for the title Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas.

A Shepherd victory means Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon would send Tomblin some Missouri barbecue. Tomblin promises to send some West Virginia apples to Nixon if Northwest Missouri prevails.