Tuesday, June 21, 2011
EKB Capsule News...Kentucky...6-22-'11
- Tuesday, Governor Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency in Bell, Breathitt, Knott, Knox, Lee and Perry, six counties hit by flooding on Monday. Among other things, the declaration authorizes mobilization of Kentucky National Guard troops and equipment to help in flood-damaged areas. The designation also is necessary if the state is to seek a presidential disaster declaration. If granted, the declaration would bring federal assistance to deal with the damage in the counties. Jerry Rains, Area 9 manager for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, says officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, could begin work to confirm damage in Knox County on Wednesday. FEMA officials are set to begin tallying damage in Bell County Thursday. Bell, Knox and Perry counties appeared to suffer the worst of the damage from Monday's flooding. Officials in Knott, Breathitt and Lee counties say most of the damage there was to roads, bridges and culverts.
- Flooding in Knox County Monday washed some houses and mobile homes off their foundations. High water swept 55 year old Donnie Joe Pate from the mobile home he shared with his mother at Kayjay around 4:00 A.M. Monday, carried him about three-quarters of a mile down the creek, where his body lodged against a bridge. A resident spotted Pate's body Monday after the floodwater started to recede, but it took several hours to confirm his identity. Pate's mother, Wilma Ruth Pate Hamilton, 79, was injured when the roiling creek picked up the mobile home and smashed it against a bridge. Rescuers pulled her from debris, and she was recovering at a hospital in Knox County Tuesday.
- Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine is trying to decide whether jurors in the murder trial of former state lawmaker Steve Nunn should get to see documents found in the car authorities say Nunn was driving just before his arrest. The writings include a handwritten document that sets forth a version of events and trial preparation regarding a February 2009 assault charge against Nunn and a typewritten letter to Diana Ross, the mother of Amanda Ross. The letter, which begins "Dear Diana," alleges relationships between Amanda Ross, who at one time was engaged to Nunn, and other people besides Nunn. Another handwritten document found in the car contains a definition and description of narcissism. In a hearing Tuesday, prosecutors argued against allowing jurors to see the writings. Defense attorneys argued for allowing the documents to be presented during the trial, saying they reflect Nunn's state of mind at the time Amanda Ross was shot to death on September 11, 2009, outside her home in Lexington. Nunn, the son of former Kentucky Governor Louie B. Nunn, is scheduled to go on trial August 1st. Several hundred potential jurors are expected to be considered before a jury panel of 14 is selected to hear the case. Nunn could face a death sentence if convicted.
- Tuesday, a prosecutor in Hardin County was in court to ask a judge to drop the charges against Brent Burke without prejudice, but court was adjourned for the day without the judge reaching a decision. Burke was accused of killing his estranged wife, Tracy Burke, and her former mother-in-law, Karen Comer, in 2007. Despite four trials, prosecutors were never able to convict Burke. Two of those trials ended with a hung jury, and the other two never made it to the jury.
- State safety officials are investigating a rainwater diversion system at Bell County Coal’s Jellico No. 1 Mine near Middlesboro where flooding trapped miners Pernell Witherspoon, Doug Warren and Russell Asher underground for 14 hours Monday. Tracy Stumbo, a chief investigator for the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, says Jellico likely complied with regulations, but investigators will review the engineering plans and conduct visual inspections to determine what changes are needed. In a press conference Tuesday morning, Governor Steve Beshear said it’s too early to know if regulatory changes are needed to prevent a similar incident in the future.
- Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear sent a letter Monday to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking for a waiver that would allow the state to use a different method to measure whether students are making adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Beshear is asking that Kentucky be allowed to use a statewide accountability system that's still under development. If approved, it would give Kentucky more of a say in determining whether schools make enough academic progress each year. Beshear says he believes federal law should set high expectations for education goals but grant power and judgment to states and districts with regard to the means of achieving those goals. Just over half of the state's 1,158 schools met all academic goals required by No Child Left Behind last year. That's a decrease from 60 percent in 2009.
- More than 130 Kentucky high schools have enrolled in a free service called StudentTracker that allows them to follow their graduates’ progress. With StudentTracker, schools can determine if former students attend college, where they enroll and if they earn degrees. The service is offered at no cost to schools through funding by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, but schools must enroll individually to access StudentTracker. For an application or for more information, call (800) 928-7495.
- With new laws beginning next month, insurance premiums for Kentuckians with pre-existing conditions are expected to fall. As part of President Obama’s health-care law, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will lower premiums and relax eligibility for some people with pre-existing conditions, ranging from low blood pressure to cancer. Kentucky will have the fifth largest decrease in premiums, with payment for a standard policy going from $377 a month to $226 a month. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services looked at data and has found that premiums will fall as much as 40%.
- State Police say after losing Drug Enforcement Agency dollars earlier this year, Kentucky has been chosen as one of 5 states that will continue to receive funding for meth lab cleanup. Last year, Kentucky law enforcement seized 1,080 meth labs across the state, the third highest number in the country. After police bust a meth lab, a costly cleanup process follows, which is vital to ensuring the surrounding areas are inhabitable. The DEA has always funded meth lab disposal, and when they announced there was no more money for meth lab disposal, communities were left to find ways to pay for the clean-up. In recent weeks, however, the DEA has restored funding to five states for meth lab clean-up, including Kentucky.
- Bob Farmer, the Democratic nominee for Kentucky agriculture commissioner, apologized Tuesday for jokes he made about eastern Kentucky during a comedy performance several years ago. The Republican Party demanded that Farmer apologize. Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said without the apology, the Democratic Party would lose credibility. Farmer's Republican opponent, state Representative Jamie Comer of Tompkinsville, posted a video clip in which Farmer jokes that eastern Kentucky is a place where "cars are on blocks and houses are on wheels" and said people in the region don't trust him because he has shoes on and has all his teeth. Farmer said he didn't want to offend anyone. He said he has done the comedy routine for nearly 25 years and no one has ever complained. Farmer is the spokesman for the Farmers' Almanac and frequently travels the country giving speeches and doing comedy routines.
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