Saturday, February 12, 2011
EKB Capsule News...Kentucky...2-13-'11
- Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has ruled to allow four environmental groups to intervene in a court settlement between the Energy and Environment Cabinet and Kentucky's two largest surface-mine coal producers. Frasure Creek Mining and International Coal Group agreed in December to pay $660,000 for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act. Shepherd wrote in his Friday opinion that the Cabinet had admitted ignoring the violations for years, and the citizens who discovered the violations had a right to be heard. The violations were brought to light by an investigation the environmental groups made, and officials from those groups were not satisfied with the settlement, saying the companies could have been fined $103 million. Shepherd ordered attorneys for the coal companies, the state and the environmentalists to conduct a three-month mediation period and set a hearing date for June 14th.
- One-fourth of Kentucky's nearly 21,000 prison inmates are serving time for drug offenses. The state is spending $460 million this year on its Corrections Department. Lawmakers on Friday filed a bill to cut the state's prison and jail populations and save an estimated $42 million a year, although much of that would be reinvested in addiction treatment and community supervision. The bill would, among other things, reduce penalties on some drug crimes. Governor Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, issued statements praising the bill's supporters for their hard work but stopped short of a full endorsement. House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, its sponsor, says the legislation is perhaps the most far-reaching proposal the General Assembly has considered for the criminal justice system in at least a generation, if not two.
- Kentucky State Police say nearly $44,000 worth of possibly stolen property from a jobsite in Henderson County, Tennessee was recovered Thursday at a construction site along Kentucky Route 7 in Elliott County. Among the recovered property is a 2007 Ford F-550 truck and two Ditch Witches. The property is owned by Saunders Cable Inc. of Cheney, Washington.
- Kentucky may start funding colleges differently. The Council on Postsecondary Education has approved a plan that could change the way the state’s public colleges receive funding. The panel recently approved a five-year strategic plan that would subsidize colleges based not only on how many students enroll, but on how many graduate. If the change materializes, it could benefit colleges that are underfunded by the state. The five-year plan also calls for funding to reward colleges that enroll more low-income and minority students. A CPE report says only half of the students who enroll in a public four-year college in Kentucky graduate within six years, and fewer than one-quarter who enroll at community colleges receive an associate's degree within three years. The council will write specific number targets for each of the commonwealth's colleges this spring.
- Friday, the state Senate voted 24-13 to pass a controversial bill that would end guaranteed pensions for new state and local government employees, in hopes of resolving the public pension funds' growing liability. SB 2 would close the current Kentucky Retirement Systems to new state and local government employees on June 30, 2012. The Republican-controlled Senate sent the bill to the Democratic-led House, where leaders said they don't expect to address the pension issue this legislative session, which is scheduled to end on March 22nd. Lawmakers passed some pension reforms in 2008 requiring new state employees to work longer and contribute more to their pensions. Senate President David Williams said the 2008 reforms fell short, while last year alone, the state government retirement plans added more than $1 billion in unfunded liability, and the local government plans added $796 million.
- Through Feb. 6, preliminary statistics indicate that forty-nine people have lost their lives on Kentucky roadways during 2011. This is eighteen less fatalities than reported for the same time period in 2010. There were forty-three motor vehicle fatalities and twenty-seven of those victims were not wearing seat belts. Six of those crashes involved a commercial motor vehicle. Six crashes involved pedestrians. A total of eight fatalities have resulted from crashes involving the suspected use of alcohol.
- Governor Steve Beshear announced a legislative package aimed to better protect adults and seniors from abuse and exploitation. Gov. Beshear and legislative leaders spoke about the “Safeguarding our Seniors” initiative at the capitol.“Last year, my administration took essential steps in improving protection for seniors facing neglect and abuse”, said Gov. Beshear. “This legislation further strengthens safety standards and will make a significant difference in the lives of Kentucky’s elderly citizens and the people who care for them.” In September 2010, Gov. Beshear directed the immediate implementation of recommendations from a Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) report investigating nursing home neglect and abuse. Recommendations included improving the state’s investigative response, enhancing agency coordination, and promoting safety, quality and transparency.
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