Friday, April 29, 2016

West Virginia Gov. Tomblin endorses Clinton for president

(AP) — West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

The Democratic governor announced his support Friday.

In a news release, Tomblin said he remains concerned about some of Clinton's positions on fossil fuels.

But he said Clinton is the best choice to unite the Democratic Party and the country.
Tomblin said he has talked with former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton's campaign. He believes she is committed to working with West Virginia to diversify its economy and find ways to use the state's coal and natural gas.

Clinton is scheduled to visit Williamson, West Virginia, on Monday and another, yet-to-be-named part of the state on Tuesday.

Clinton to campaign in Appalachia next week

(AP) — Hillary Clinton will campaign in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio next week.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination is scheduled to visit Ashland, Kentucky, and Williamson, West Virginia, on Monday. She will visit West Virginia and Ohio on Tuesday, but details of those stops are not yet available.

In a news release, the campaign said Clinton will meet with voters and discuss her plans to raise incomes for people in overlooked or underserved communities. The Appalachian region has been economically devastated by the decline in the coal industry.

Republicans have criticized Clinton for her comments earlier this year that her policies would put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. Clinton later said she was mistaken and said she is committed to coalfield workers and communities.

New section of US 460 in Pike County tapped for two prestigious engineering awards

The first eight miles of new US 460 in Pike County opened in December 2014. Even though the rest of the 16.7-mile highway is still under construction, the roadway project has been honored with engineering awards by both the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and the American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE).

The project is considered an on-site laboratory for how to deal with difficult mountainous terrain issues. The innovative cost-effective measures developed for the project have been shared through tours and professional meeting presentations with staff from KYTC, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The design awards noted several innovative features incorporated into the project:
  • Modified interchange configurations
  • Original structure design using micropile foundations
  • Innovative design for excess material sites
  • A fresh approach to using coal synergy
  • Creative roadway and drainage design solutions

ACEC Kentucky’s 2016 Grand Conceptor Award for Engineering Excellence put the project in national competition where it earned an honorable mention when pitted against projects from throughout the United States. The project also captured the ASHE/Derby City Section 2015 Transportation Improvement Award.

Owned by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Highway District 12, the project designer is Palmer Engineering of Winchester, Kentucky. Primary contractors on the section opened to traffic in 2014 include Bizzack Construction, Elmo Greer & Sons, Kay & Kay Contracting, and Mountain Enterprises.

“The 8.3-mile segment of US 460 Corridor Q project was in line with the original planning study and was less than the amount spent per mile by other states with similar corridors,” said David Lindeman, lead design engineer with Palmer Engineering.

Mary Westfall-Holbrook, Chief District Engineer, Highway District 12, pointed out that KYTC and its contractors designated and permitted excess material sites in advance, further reducing costs. “These sites are designated for future economic development purposes,” she said, “giving Pike County several excellent locations that can be used to recruit businesses or develop residential communities. Highway District 12 and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet have been pioneers in this important use of excess material sites in Kentucky. We are proud and gratified that the US 460 project has been recognized nationally as well as statewide for its design excellence.”

Highway District 12 and Palmer Engineering officials gathered recently on the new section of US 460 with the engineering design awards the project earned from the American Society of Highway Engineers and the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). From left, Sam Hale, D-12 Project Development Branch Manager; Jeff Cowan  and David Lindeman, both with Palmer Engineering; John Michael Johnson, D-12 Preconstruction Project Manager; Mary Westfall-Holbrook, D-12 Chief District Engineer; and Kevin Damron of Palmer Engineering. Absent when the photo was taken was Paxton Weddington, Construction Project Manager.

West Virginia billionaire spends $2M for governor primary

(AP) — In his bid for governor, West Virginia billionaire businessman Jim Justice has spent more than $2 million before the May 10 Democratic primary.

In campaign finance filings tracking through April 24, Justice spent $2.1 million since his campaign started. He put almost $2 million of his money in the race and has raised $683,700.

Ex-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has spent $302,100 and raised $367,600 in the race.
The third Democratic candidate, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, didn't immediately report fundraising numbers. Through late March, Kessler spent $140,500 and raised $213,800.

Reports are due by the end of Friday.

The winner faces Republican Senate President Bill Cole in November.

Cole's latest report wasn't yet available. Through late March, he spent $467,300 and raised $1.1 million.

All four are running TV ads.

Embankment failure repair work starts Monday on KY 2381 in Johnson County

JOHNSON COUNTY – Friday, April 29, 2016 -- Work starts Monday, May 2, to repair a 305-foot long embankment failure on KY 2381 at Johns Creek in Johnson County.

According to Highway District 12 Engineer Tim Spencer, the work consists of excavating the road break and replacing it with a design from GeoStabilization International.

GSI recently completed a rockfall mitigation project in Pike County and is repairing an embankment failure on KY 292 in Pike County using similar techniques. In areas where there is not enough rock underneath the road surface to support drilling railroad steel, GSI uses a soil nail technique. This involves placing rebar underneath the pavement, perpendicular to the roadway, from the break to the hillside, shooting the opening with concrete, and then facing the break with concrete that has built-in drainage.

The contractor plans to work from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with some Saturday work possible. The repairs will take about three weeks to complete. Traffic will be down to one lane, Spencer said, so delays are possible. “We apologize for the temporary inconvenience,” Spencer said, “but the delays in using this process instead of drilling railroad steel will be minimal by comparison. Even though traffic will be reduced to one lane, the road will not be completely blocked at any time, so traffic should keep moving and delays should be minimal.”

KSP Participating in National Drug Take Back Day

Kentucky State Police (KSP) is partnering with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on April 30, 2016 in a collaborative effort to remove potentially dangerous controlled substances from home medicine cabinets.  Collection activities will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in every KSP Post area across the state. 

Sgt. Michael Webb, spokesperson for KSP, advised that the program is designed to be easy for citizens and offered the following tips for those interested in participating:

  • Participants may dispose of medication in its original container or by removing the medication from its container and disposing of it directly into the disposal box located at the drop off location. 

  • All solid dosage pharmaceutical products and liquids in consumer containers will be accepted. Liquid products, such as cough syrup, should remain sealed in original containers. The depositor should ensure that the cap is tightly sealed to prevent leakage.

  • Intravenous solutions, injectables and syringes will not be accepted due to potential hazard posed by blood-borne pathogens.  

  • Illicit substances such as marijuana or methamphetamine are not a part of this initiative and should not be placed in collection containers.

For more information about the ‘Take Back’ program, contact KSP at 502-782-1780 or visit the DEA website at

Attorney general's office participating in Drug Take-Back

(AP) — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office is participating in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday with a drop off site at the state Capitol.

The attorney general's office is participating in coordination with Capitol Police. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the East Rotunda on the California Street side of the Capitol. It is one of almost 120 collection locations in the state. Other locations can be found at .

The event involves local and state law enforcement agencies collecting unused medication and properly disposing of it.

Morrisey says disposing of unused medication safely is important to keep drugs from getting into the wrong hands.

University of Louisville to remove Confederate monument

(AP) — Officials say a Confederate monument will be removed from near the University of Louisville campus.

University President James Ramsey and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced on Friday that the monument at Third Street would be taken down and moved to another yet-to-be determined location. Officials said in a statement that the monument would be disassembled and cleaned while it is in storage awaiting a new home that would be "an appropriate historical venue."

The statue was given to the city in 1895 by the Kentucky Woman's Monument Association to commemorate those who fought and died for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Governments and universities across the country have re-evaluated displays of Confederate symbols following the racially motivated slayings last summer of nine black parishioners at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Rockefeller legacy exhibit open at West Virginia University

(AP) — The West Virginia and Regional History Center is chronicling the legacy of former Sen. Jay Rockefeller in Wise Library's Rockefeller Gallery at West Virginia University.

The center's assistant curator and congressional and political papers archivist Danielle Emerling is curating the exhibit, using the Rockefeller Legacy Memos, a collection of 12 memos, to show Rockefeller's work in the areas of health care reform; West Virginia jobs, economy and industry; children, families and education; and veterans' affairs.

Items on display come from Rockefeller's papers donating his 30-year tenure in the Senate. He donated the collection to the West Virginia University Libraries in 2014.

Jay Rockefeller: A Legacy of Leadership can also be seen online at .

'The Mine Wars' film being shown at May Day event Sunday

(AP) — The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is offering a screening of a new documentary for public television about miners in southern West Virginia and their fight for civil liberties. 

The film, "The Mine Wars," will be shown at a May Day event that begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at the United Mine Workers of America Local 1440 Union Hall on Mate Street in downtown Matewan. Also featured will be snacks and musical performances. 

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is open noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays just up the street from the union hall.

Conn trial postponed indefinitely

The trial of embattled disability attorney Eric C. Conn and two others won’t take place anytime soon. Conn, retired Social Security Judge David Daugherty and Pikeville psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins were named in an 18-count federal indictment April 1. The indictment alleges a series of crimes related to a scheme to improperly obtain disability benefits for Conn’s clients. Last week, defense attorneys asked that the case be declared complex, due to the volume of evidence. Previous filings by prosecutors have noted that the evidence against the three includes 4 million pages of documents and that the trial would take 4-to-6 weeks. On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier agreed that the case is complex and cancelled the June 7 trial date. No new date has been set, but attorneys will be in court in July to discuss how the case is coming along.

Arson convicts ordered to pay $8 million in restitution

Two men who pleaded guilty to setting the Robinson Creek railroad tunnel on fire two years ago have been slapped with a hefty bill. Ricky Johnson and Harlan Damron pleaded guilty to arson in January. On Thursday, they were back in court for a sentencing hearing. Their sentences will be entered at a later time, but U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves ordered them to pay restitution to CSX for damages to the tunnel and lost business. The amount – just under $8 million. Both men were placed in the custody of U.S. Marshals following Thursday’s hearing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bevin vetoes include driver's licenses, preschool program

(AP) — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has vetoed all or parts of seven bills passed on the last day of the legislative session.

Bevin's vetoes mean Kentucky will not have a new driver's license that complies with federal security standards. Bevin had said he supported the new driver's license but said he changed his mind after noticing what he called "tremendous opposition" to the bill.

His vetoes mean some Kentucky high school graduates will not have free community college tuition beginning in the fall. Instead, the program will start in 2017.

And Bevin's vetoes mean some parents won't be able to send their children to public preschool programs. The budget bill included language that expanded the program's eligibility requirements. But Bevin vetoed it, saying the state could not afford to pay for it.

Bevin revamps Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

(AP) — Gov. Matt Bevin has revamped the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission with 11 new members that include Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day and the son of former Gov. Brereton Jones.

The only member of the old board who was reappointed Wednesday was David Richardson, a horse industry veteran.

Among former members who were removed before their terms expired was Tom Conway, the father of Jack Conway, who lost to Bevin in last year's gubernatorial election.

In his executive order revamping the commission, Bevin said Kentucky's global leadership in the horse industry could diminish without quick action to improve the industry.

Bevin's order says the new commission should follow a more "focused vision" to promote safety, improve fans' experience and attract tourism and investment in the industry.

Bevin's move comes 10 days before the Kentucky Derby.

Public comments on hospitals' merger overwhelmingly negative

(AP) — None of the 18 letters sent to the West Virginia Attorney General's office recently were in favor of a proposal to merge two Huntington hospitals.

During the 10-day comment period, which ended April 18,all of the comments , including one from the Federal Trade Commission, expressed concerns over Cabell Huntington Hospital's proposed acquisition of St. Mary's Medical Center.

The comments argued the merger would create a monopoly, thereby eliminating competition in Huntington and leading to higher prices.

The West Virginia Health Care Authority and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are now tasked with weighing the potential loss of competition with the benefits that hospital officials say the merger will bring to the community.

The authority and Morrisey have until June 8 to issue a written decision.

West Virginia governor: $50M more in reserves to patch gap

(AP) — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin expects to take about $50 million more from reserves to cover a pressing budget hole.

The Democrat said Wednesday that the Rainy Day Fund money would help West Virginia get through the current fiscal year ending June 30. Tomblin used reserves and cuts to cover a 2016 gap of about $353 million.

Last week, revenue officials said they expected a bigger gap.

Falling revenues from the diminished coal industry and low-priced natural gas have fueled West Virginia's budget problems.

Tomblin said that largely because of natural gas prices, withholding tax dollars on royalties are about 70 percent below revenues this time last year.

Tomblin and the GOP-led Legislature still haven't crafted a 2017 budget short by $270 million. They're negotiating tax increases, cuts and use of reserves.

Prosecutors: Ex-coal chief should be in prison during appeal

(AP) — Prosecutors are urging a federal appeals court not to allow former coal company executive Don Blankenship to remain free while the court considers an appeal.

Government lawyers say allowing the ex-Massey Energy CEO to continue his $1 million bail would be contrary to federal law. They say the law allows appeals to delay jail sentences only in "exceptional circumstances." Blankenship is scheduled to report to prison May 12.

He was sentenced April 6 to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.

The coal mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.

Blankenship's attorneys say he could serve much, or all, of his sentence before a decision is reached.

Former Attorney General Conway to join Louisville law firm

(AP) — Former Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway has joined a law firm in Louisville.

Conway is joining attorneys Tyler Thompson and Liz Shepherd to form Thompson, Shepherd & Conway. The new firm will focus on medical negligence, personal injury, trucking and auto accidents and general negligence. Conway will also represent some clients in state regulatory and attorney general matters across the country.

Elected twice as Kentucky's attorney general, Conway was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2015. He lost to Republican Matt Bevin. He also lost a U.S. Senate race to Rand Paul in 2010.

In a news release, Conway said he was "extremely fortunate" to be joining a firm he says will focus on people and the rights of the injured.

Beshear says Bevin is abusing authority as governor

(AP) — Former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear says his Republican successor is abusing his authority as governor.

Beshear has accused Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of threatening to cancel road projects in Democratic districts unless state representatives switched to the Republican party. He said Bevin has fired state employees simply for making political donations to Democrats. And he said Bevin threatened to refuse agency bond requests for colleges unless they agreed to his budget cuts.

Beshear did not offer specific examples
Bevin was traveling in Europe on Wednesday. But Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto called Beshear's accusations "wild" and "baseless" and said they were "not corroborated by any facts whatsoever."

Last week, Bevin accused Beshear of breaking state ethics and procurement laws and announced he was hiring a private law firm to investigate.

Former Gov. Beshear releases 2015 income tax returns

(AP) — Former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has released tax returns from his final year in office.

Beshear and his wife earned more than $351,000 in 2015. About $135,500 came from salary. The rest came from investments, rental income and Social Security and retirement benefits.

The Beshears paid more than $65,000 in taxes and received a refund of more than $8,800. They gave more than $8,000 to charity.

Beshear noted he has released 10 years of his individual tax returns dating back to his first campaign for governor. He criticized Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for not releasing his tax returns.

Bevin says he discloses what he must under state law. He has said his taxes are private and not anyone's business.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Judge lets 3 Democratic lawmakers join lawsuit against Bevin

(AP) — A state judge has ruled three Democratic state lawmakers can join a lawsuit seeking to stop Gov. Matt Bevin from cutting spending on state colleges and universities.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has cut state spending by nearly $18 million for colleges and universities this year. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued him, arguing he does not have the authority to cut the budget without the approval of the state legislature.

Democratic state Reps. Jim Wayne, Darryl Owens and Mary Lou Marzian asked to join the lawsuit. Bevin's attorneys argued they should not be allowed to join because they do not have legal standing to sue. Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate wrote the lawmakers have standing to enforce their rights and duties as elected officials.

Regulators approve tuition caps for colleges, universities

(AP) — State regulators have approved maximum tuition increases of about $500 a year for students at Kentucky's colleges and universities.

The Council on Postsecondary Education approved tuition increases of up to $547 per student per year for the University of Kentucky and $527 per student per year for the University of Louisville.

The universities of Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Murray State and Kentucky State can raise tuition a maximum of $432 per student per year.

The 16 institutions in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System can raise tuition by $9 per credit hour.

The increases come after an intense legislative session where Republican Gov. Matt Bevin cut state spending on colleges and universities by more than $40 million during his first year in office.

While other states vote, Sanders to rally in West Virginia

(AP) — With primary elections taking place in other states, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is heading to West Virginia for a rally.

The U.S. senator from Vermont will speak in Huntington on Tuesday evening at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

At stake Tuesday are 384 delegates in primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

His Democratic competition, Hillary Clinton, can't win enough delegates Tuesday to knock Sanders out officially. But she can erase any lingering doubts that she will soon be the nominee.

West Virginia's primary election is May 10.

West Virginia AG transfers $10M for anti-drug efforts

(AP) — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says he's transferring $10 million from his office's consumer protection fund to the state's general fund for substance abuse treatment efforts and to reduce a backlog of state police crime lab drug tests.

Morrisey announced the transfer Tuesday.

Morrisey says in a news release that it marks the fifth time that his office has voluntarily returned money to the general fund totaling $33.5 million. Last month he returned $5 million.

Morrisey says eliminating addiction to heroin and prescription drugs "demands a financial commitment."

West Virginia had the nation's highest death rates from drug overdoses in 2014.

Republicans call for special session on rights restoration

(AP) — Republican leaders of the Virginia General Assembly are calling on Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to convene a special legislative session to discuss the governor's recent restoration of voting and other civil rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons.

House Speaker William J. Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. sent a letter to McAuliffe Tuesday requesting a special session.

The GOP leaders said McAuliffe's actions last week to restore certain civil rights to convicted felons was a "matter of great consequence" to Virginians that deserves a thorough debate.

McAuliffe issued a sweeping order last week restoring the rights of 206,000 felons to vote, saying the move would help undo Virginia's long history of trying to suppress the black vote.

Murray Energy continues fight against EPA's emissions rules

(AP) — One of the nation's largest coal companies is challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final ruling that the agency's 2014 mercury and air toxics standards will stay in place even after a new consideration of costs.

Murray Energy filed a brief with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday, challenging the EPA's supplemental finding that was submitted earlier in the day.

The EPA submitted the supplemental finding nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the regulation could stay in place as the EPA conducted a cost-benefit analysis. Still, the high court found the EPA failed to take costs into account when the agency first decided to regulate the toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants.

Residents encouraged to send thank-you notes to teachers

(AP) — Virginia officials want residents to show their gratitude for the teachers in their communities.

The state has launched a "Thank a Teacher" campaign ahead of Teacher Appreciation Week asking residents to send thank-you notes to K-12 teachers until May 6. The campaign has been organized by the Virginia Lottery, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia PTA to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, which is May 2-6.

Residents can get postcard notes through their participating PTA chapters or send digital thank-you notes online at . There will also be thank-you note writing stations at select Virginia Lottery retailers.

US Rep. Hal Rogers pulls funding for Lake Cumberland study

(AP) — U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers has pulled funding for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer study of Lake Cumberland.

According to reports, Rogers inserted a provision into a $37.4 billion spending bill his committee approved last week that would cut funding for the project.

The move comes as the corps looks to bring municipalities and others using Lake Cumberland's water supply in line with federal law, which requires those drawing the water to pay for storage and the cost of operating and maintaining dams.

Other corps-managed reservoirs already collect those fees, but those using Lake Cumberland have gotten water for free since the completion of Wolf Creek Dam in 1951.

Corps of Engineers Nashville District project manager Loren McDonald said the corps needs another $200,000 to finish the study.

Outside money in West Virginia high court race nears $500K

(AP) — Almost a half-million dollars in outside interest group money is influencing West Virginia's five-way Supreme Court race through advertising.

Disclosures with the secretary of state show the Republican State Leadership Committee bought $269,200 in ads against Bill Wooton and Darrell McGraw, both former Democratic elected officials.

For the first time, the race is nonpartisan and will be decided during the May 10 primary.

Incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin, who was elected as a Republican in 2004 in a flurry of outside spending, called on the GOP group to withdraw the ads. Beth Walker has much of the GOP establishment's support.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce bought $169,400 in ads supporting Walker. The West Virginia Business & Industry Council's PAC bought $54,600 in ads backing her.

Wayne King, a Democrat, is also running.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Inmate escapes from Kentucky River Regional Jail

(AP) — Hazard police are searching for an inmate who escaped from the Kentucky River Regional Jail.

Media outlets report that 27-year-old Samantha Campbell escaped Sunday morning from the jail. Campbell had been jailed for escaping home incarceration.

Hazard Police Department spokesman Ronnie Burke says Campbell was taking out the trash when she ran to a nearby parking lot and got into a silver Pontiac G6 with a black front bumper. Campbell was last seen in the Lost Creek area in the silver Pontiac G6.

She was wearing white shorts and a white short.

Hazard police ask anyone with information to call (606) 436-2222.

Early voting for West Virginia primary starts Wednesday

(AP) — West Virginia voters can begin heading to the polls this week to cast votes ahead of the May 10 primary election.

Early voting begins Wednesday and runs through May 7. Polls will be open on Saturdays.

According to the Secretary of State's website, there are 1.22 million registered voters in the state, with 47 percent registered as Democrats, about 30 percent registered as Republicans and 20 percent with no party affiliation.

Over 1,000 West Virginians will lose food stamps benefits

(AP) — Officials say more than 1,000 West Virginians will lose their food stamp benefits starting next month.

The State Department of Health and Human Resources announced last year that it would reinstate a requirement calling on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to meet a monthly work or training requirement of 20 hours per week or lose benefits.

The changes took effect in January.

DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler says an "outreach campaign" was started in October to contact the approximately 7,000 people at risk for losing their benefits.
Adler says on April 15, there were 1,566 cases closed, meaning those individuals will not receive SNAP benefits in May.

She says those individuals may contact their local DHHR before April 30 to have their case reviewed.

Beshear seeks investigation of Bevin as feud escalates

(AP) — Kentucky's Democratic attorney general has asked the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to investigate whether the Republican governor has used campaign contribution records as grounds for firing state workers.

The request is the latest escalation in the feud between Attorney General Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin.

Bevin took office in December and replaced Beshear's father, two-term Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beshear's letter to the commission requesting an investigation came days after Bevin announced he would hire a private law firm to investigate whether the former governor violated procurement laws and coerced state workers to donate to campaigns. Andy Beshear's letter asked the ethics commission to take over that investigation.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the administration would welcome a parallel investigation. She did not respond directly to Andy Beshear's allegations.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Jobless rates rise in 65 Kentucky counties

(AP) — State officials say unemployment rates increased in 65 of Kentucky's 120 counties between March 2015 and March 2016.

The Kentucky Office of Employment Training said Thursday that jobless rates fell in 37 counties and remained the same in 18 others.

Woodford County recorded the state's lowest jobless rate at 3.6 percent.

It was followed by Oldham County at 4 percent; Fayette County at 4.1 percent; Shelby County at 4.2 percent; and Scott County at 4.3 percent.

Magoffin County recorded the state's highest unemployment rate at 20.1 percent.

It was followed by Leslie County at 13.9 percent; Harlan County at 13.3 percent; Letcher County at 12.7 percent; and Floyd and Wolfe counties at 12.6 percent each.

Students to plant trees at mining site to observe Arbor Day

(AP) — Students at some eastern Kentucky schools will plant trees at a mine site next week in observance of Arbor Day.

A statement from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet says students from Millard, Elkhorn City, Dorton and Shelby Valley will plant hardwood seedlings on mined lands on April 26. The event will take place at a Premier Elkhorn Coal Company surface mine operation in Pike County.

The statement says the event is a collaboration among entities including Premier Elkhorn, the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, the American Chestnut Foundation and the state Division of Forestry.

West Virginia's bond rating dropped a notch in coal freefall

(AP) — Standard & Poor's has dropped West Virginia's bond rating amid the coal industry's downturn.

The agency announced the drop Thursday from AA to AA-minus, calling the rating's outlook stable.

Standard & Poor's credit analyst Nora Wittstruck said the downgrade stems from weakness in the energy sector, and particularly, coal. The agency views the challenge as long-term, not cyclical.

Standard & Poor's praised West Virginia's Rainy Day Fund and demonstrated willingness and ability to tackle large-scale financial challenges, including unfunded pension liabilities.

Amid falling coal and natural gas revenues, West Virginia still hasn't passed a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are negotiating tax hikes, cuts and use of reserves.

Tomblin called the rating downgrade disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.

Federal money available for coal communities

(AP) — More than 200 people have attended a workshop in eastern Kentucky to learn about how to apply for portions of $65 million in federal funding to help revive economically depressed coal counties.

As coal mines continue to close across Appalachia, the race is on to figure out a viable way to replace them. This year, President Barack Obama's administration has made more than $65 million in federal money available for projects to help coal counties from Pennsylvania through the Carolinas.

The application period for the program, dubbed the Power Initiative, began last month. Officials say the response has been strong.

Gregg Hewins attended Friday's workshop to learn how to apply for funding for agricultural projects. He says places like Knott County have the opportunity to increase farming with the closure of so many coal mines.

Some Kentucky food stamp recipients losing benefits on May 1

(AP) — The state says about 9,000 people living in eight Kentucky counties will lose their food stamps in about a week for not complying with federal work and training requirements.

Kentucky and dozens of other states received a statewide waiver from 2008 to 2015 from the federal requirements. The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services says as the economy recovers, the waiver no longer will cover recipients in eight Kentucky counties: Bullitt, Hardin, Jefferson, Fayette, Daviess, Henderson, McCracken and Warren.

The state's other 112 counties remain eligible for the waiver.

The requirement taking effect May 1 applies to able-bodied adults without dependents. 

The federal government defines them as individuals between the ages of 18 and 49 who have no disabilities, no dependents and no other exemptions.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bevin agrees not to spend $18 million until lawsuit resolved

(AP) — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has agreed to not spend nearly $18 million in public money until after a judge decides whether he has the authority to spend it.

Bevin has cut spending for state colleges and universities by about $18 million for the final three months of the fiscal year. He wants to use the money to begin paying down the state's public pension debt, which is estimated at more than $30 billion.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Bevin, saying he did not have the authority to order the spending cuts. Both sides argued their case before Franklin Circuit Thomas Wingate on Thursday. Wingate said he wants to have another hearing in a few weeks before deciding the case. But he said he will order the money not to be spent until then.

Patty Dunaway appointed state highway engineer

(AP) — Kentucky's Transportation Cabinet says it has hired a woman to serve as state highway engineer for the second time in the cabinet's history.

Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas announced Patty Dunaway's appointment on Wednesday. Her appointment is effective May 1.

The state highway engineer oversees the Department of Highways.

Dunaway has had numerous roles during her 26-year career at the Transportation Cabinet, working in construction, design and planning. Since 2006, she has been chief district engineer for the District Four highway office in Elizabethtown.

Dunaway has been involved with various planning studies, including the Heartland Parkway and the U.S. 31W Safety Corridor. She was responsible for overseeing the Base Realignment and Closure highway projects at Fort Knox.

She received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Kentucky.

Mountain Parkway Expansion Progress Report Week beginning April 18, 2016

This periodic report includes information on work underway on the Mountain Parkway Expansion. Inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances could affect planned activities.

Magoffin County
Construction and clearing activities are continuing along a nearly 6-mile stretch of the Mountain Parkway to the west of Salyersville.

The Magoffin County Central Segment of the Mountain Parkway Expansion runs from just west of mile point 70 to just east of mile point 75 of the parkway.

The speed limit in the area has been reduced to 45 mph. Traffic on the parkway may be slowed or stopped periodically for the safety of workers and travelers.

Salyersville interchange
This week, crews have been driving piling for a new bridge over a creek for the modernized Salyersville interchange. After piles are set, the concrete pour will begin.

Traffic may be stopped occasionally for up to 5 minutes at a time as a safety precaution during blasting.

Excavation work also continues in preparation for additional construction, with a total of about 5 million yards of dirt to be moved. Excavation work is scheduled to be completed by spring 2017.

KY 30 interchange
Clearing and site work continues around the current KY 30 interchange near mile point 72. The project includes modernizing and improving the KY 30 interchange as well as realigning and widening about 2½ miles of roadway.

Drivers might be stopped 4-5 times daily for up to 15 minutes at a time because of blasting.

A temporary traffic signal remains near the interchange to allow construction trucks to safely cross the parkway to transport excavated materials to waste areas.

Gifford Road interchange
Since setting beams in early April, crews have moved on to decking the bridge that will carry westbound traffic on the Mountain Parkway over the Middle Fork of the Licking River.  The new bridge runs parallel to a bridge that was completed last year and now carries both lanes of the Mountain Parkway.

The new interchange will provide access to and from the Mountain Parkway and serve an industrial park planned just to the north of the parkway.

Crews have completed construction of a culvert under the old Mountain Parkway near the Gifford Road interchange and are preparing to backfill the area where westbound lanes will be added. They also are working on the storm sewer in the median for the westbound side.

West Virginians switch political parties in large numbers

(AP) — Many West Virginians have been switching which political party they are affiliated with.

The most people have switched from Democratic to Republican as the 2016 primaries have neared.

Data from the West Virginia Secretary of State's office shows that statewide, 7,706 people switched from Democrat to Republican and 1,507 people went from Republican to Democrat.

All numbers have increased compared to 2012 data. In Kanawha County, the number of voters switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party quintupled. In Putnam County and the state as a whole, it quadrupled.

There are three major, potential reasons for the increase in party changes — the ease of switching parties online, the state's transition to a Republican state and the rise of presidential candidate Donald Trump.