State News in Brief

Democrats say Bevin’s college cuts are illegal

FRANKFORT (AP) — House Democrats say Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s mid-year budget cuts to colleges and universities are illegal.

Bevin ordered cuts of 4.5 percent for all public colleges and universities on Thursday. His move came as House and Senate leaders failed to reach an agreement on a two-year spending plan. The House and Senate did not include the 4.5 percent cuts in their respective versions of the budget.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said it is unlikely the legislature would sue the governor. But he said a university could or even Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.

Bevin said the cuts are necessary because the state’s public pension system is on the brink of insolvency. He said once Kentucky’s finances are in order, Kentucky will be able to spend more on higher education.


Ky. lawmakers pass bill for 1 marriage license form

FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers have given their final blessing to creating one marriage license form for gay and straight couples in an effort to defuse the state’s ongoing controversy over gay marriage.

The proposal is a response to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs.

Davis said she could not issue the licenses because they had her name on them.

The Republican-led Senate gave the bill its final passage Friday, sending it to Gov. Matt Bevin.

Under the final bill, a marriage license applicant would have the option of checking “bride,” ”groom” or “spouse” beside their name. The form would not have the clerk’s name on it.


Lawmakers pass bill to let some felons clear records

FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers have given final approval to legislation aimed at giving some nonviolent felons a second chance by letting them seek to have their criminal records erased.

The bill cleared the House on Friday and goes to Gov. Matt Bevin.

Bevin recently praised the bill and said he looked forward to signing it into law.

The proposal cleared its biggest hurdle by winning Senate passage this week.

The bill would apply to people convicted of some Class D felony offenses, allowing them to ask a court to clear their records. It would not apply to felons convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses.

The final version requires eligible offenders to wait five years once serving out their sentences, including parole, before requesting to have their criminal records expunged.

The legislation is House Bill 40.


Bill extending incentives to steel mill passes legislature

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers have agreed to extend and sweeten economic development incentives in hopes of rejuvenating idled operations at a northeastern Kentucky steel mill.

The state House wrapped up action Friday on the bill touted as a crucial economic development offer for the AK Steel mill in Ashland. The legislation now goes to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk.

The bill is a response to the steel mill temporarily idling its blast furnace — putting hundreds of people out of work — because of competition from imported steel.

The bill’s supporters, led by lawmakers from northeastern Kentucky, say they hope the state incentives will spur AK Steel executives to resume those operations.


Whitley Co. Schools sued over boy’s death

WILLIAMSBURG (AP) — The parents of a Whitley County Schools student who struck and killed by school bus have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district.

Media outlets report the lawsuit, filed by John Wesley and Jennifer Williams Chatham on March 22, says 10-year-old Jonathan Chatham was killed because of a bus operated in a “grossly negligent and reckless manner.”

The incident occurred March 23, 2015. A police report says the boy had “exited the bus, but not cleared the bus when it began to pull out.”

The lawsuit doesn’t seek a specific amount of damages. However, it asks for a trial by jury, damages in the form of medical expenses, pain and suffering and other fees.

Whitley Schools attorney Tim Crawford says the district has received the complaint and forwarded it to its insurance company.


Protesters sue Donald Trump, allege he “incited a riot”

LOUISVILLE (AP) — Three protesters who allege they were assaulted at a Donald Trump rally in Louisville last month filed a lawsuit against the presidential front runner, alleging he “incited a riot” by repeatedly shouting for his supporters to “get ‘em out.”

The demonstrators also named three Trump supporters as defendants, alleging they assaulted them, called them racial epithets and forcibly removed them from the Kentucky International Convention Center.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the protesters by Louisville lawyer Dan Canon details a history of violent episodes at Trump’s rallies and alleges that Trump “has decided to break with American tradition and the rule of law by inciting his supporters to physically attack protesters at his rallies and campaign appearances.”

The protesters also filed police reports. No one has been criminally charged.


Lawmaker denied access to Bevin’s news conference

FRANKFORT (AP) — A Kentucky lawmaker was denied access to a news conference where Gov. Matt Bevin and top human services officials talked about problems with the state’s new public benefits system.

Democratic Rep. Johnny Bell of Glasgow was turned away at the door Thursday when he tried to enter the state Capitol room where Bevin and others talked about the startup woes for the benefind system.

Bell says his constituents would be disappointed that he wasn’t able to hear what the governor had to say. He calls it contradictory to deny him access to Bevin’s press conference when the Republican governor also talks about state leaders working together.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto later apologized for “any misunderstanding” and said Bell was not singled out. She says the event was for credentialed reporters.


Auto supplier to build plant in Bardstown, creating 216 jobs

FRANKFORT (AP) — An auto supplier is planning to build a $110 million plant in central Kentucky that’s expected to create 216 full-time jobs.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s office said Thursday that Thai Summit America Corp. plans to begin construction in May on a 220,000-square-foot facility in the Nelson County Industrial Park at Bardstown.

Once the first phase of construction is completed at the end of 2016, the factory will begin delivering stamped and welded aluminum assemblies to the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville.

To encourage the investment, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority preliminarily approved the company for tax incentives up to $5 million through the Kentucky Business Investment program. It also was approved for up to $1 million in tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act.


Former prison nurse sentenced for taking money for tobacco

LEXINGTON (AP) — A former prison nurse in Kentucky has been sentenced to a year behind bars for smuggling tobacco into the prison in exchange for payments from inmates.

The U.S. attorney’s office says U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves sentenced 47-year-old Michael Hardin on Wednesday for bribery of a public official. Hardin must also serve three years of supervised release and perform community service. He has repaid the money he received.

Hardin was a registered nurse at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington.

A plea agreement in the case says that from July 2014 to August 2015, Hardin smuggled tobacco into the prison for inmates, who paid him more than $22,000. The inmates sent money to Hardin through relatives and friends.

Prisoners in federal facilities aren’t allowed items such as tobacco.


Judge tosses Kentucky’s ban on corporate campaign donations

FRANKFORT (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky cannot bar a corporation from contributing to political campaigns while no such restrictions apply to other organizations such as labor unions.

The ruling stems from the heated battle over “right-to-work” legislation in the state: the labor unions that oppose those measures are allowed to make political donations, while a non-profit corporation that promotes them is not.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove ruled on Thursday that Kentucky Registry of Election Finance officials cannot enforce the state’s constitutional prohibition on corporate contributions, finding the disparate treatment of corporations and unincorporated organizations violates the Constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Florida-based company Protect My Check, which advocates for “right-to-work” laws. The company argued that unions are allowed to make contributions to push their side of the political issue, but they were forbidden from responding in kind. Other entities are allowed to give up to $1,000 to candidates and $2,500 to parties.

Right-to-work legislation had been a polarizing issue in Kentucky’s General Assembly. The Republican-led Senate has backed such bills but they have died in the Democratic-run House.

The Goldwater Institute heralded the ruling as a victory for bringing equity to the democratic process.

“Businesses and their owners have every right to express their political beliefs and support candidates_just as labor unions do,” Jim Manley, a senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute, wrote in a statement. “Laws like this unfairly put a thumb on the scales by letting one side make contributions that the other side can’t.”

Five other states have similar bans on corporate contributions.

The judge denied the Goldwater Institute’s argument that corporate political contributions are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

Emily Dennis, who represented the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, declined to comment on the ruling and said the state is still reviewing the order and weighing its options.


Berea’s Spoonbread Festival cancelled

BEREA (AP) — The Berea City Council has voted to not hold the Spoonbread Festival this year.

Media outlets report this year’s Spoonbread Festival, previously scheduled for September 16-18, would have been its 20th anniversary.

The Berea Chamber of Commerce cited safety concerns after recent protests over the confederate flag. City leaders wanted the flag banned at the festival, but the chamber says it couldn’t do that without a new ordinance from the city.

The chamber also says the city demanded vendors at the festival get a business license.

“Mayor Connelly’s desire to ban the Confederate flag, add restrictions to the agreement and tie this agreement to the use of city property has placed the chamber in a compromising position. We are a nonpartisan business entity that cannot take sides on issues such as the Confederate flag,” Chamber President Jennifer Napier said in a statement.

Some Berea businesses fear they will lose thousands of dollars from the loss of the three-day festival celebrating a cornmeal-based dish. Last year the festival attracted 60,000 people.

Gary McCormick is general manager of Boone Tavern, a hotel and restaurant well known for its spoonbread. He estimates Boone Tavern could lose as much as $15,000 from the loss of the festival.

“I feel really disappointed,” he said. “Economically is one thing. I just disappointed our community couldn’t work this out.”

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