- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014
Kentucky coping with black lung backlog

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - As eastern Kentucky coal miners continue to lose their jobs as part of the declining industry, state officials have to deal with an unexpected problem: an increase in workers compensation claims.

Kentucky has a backlog of more than 1,000 coal miners who have filed workers compensation claims because of black lung disease. Department of Workers Claims Commissioner Dwight Lovan told lawmakers Thursday that as more coal miners are filing black lung claims as more of them are out of work.

Since Jan. 1 2012, eastern Kentucky has lost more than 7,000 direct coal mining jobs, according to the Kentucky Coal Association.

“It’s always been a phenomenon when a mine closed or people left the mines, that’s when (black lung claims) were filed,” Lovan said during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Labor and Industry.

He said the department has had more than 300 claims filed so far this year, and none has been processed. He said the department could have 500 new claims this year.

Part of the problem is a 2010 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that said the state’s method for evaluating black lung claims was unconstitutional. That forced the state to revert to its old system of relying on doctors at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. After years of not doing the evaluations, Lovan told lawmakers the universities have only three doctors between the two of them that can do them now.

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Presbyterian assembly: Gay marriage is Christian

DETROIT (AP) - The top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted by large margins Thursday to recognize same-sex marriage as Christian in the church constitution, adding language that marriage can be the union of “two people,” not just “a man and a woman.”

The amendment approved by the Presbyterian General Assembly requires approval from a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries, which will vote on the change over the next year. But in a separate policy change that takes effect at the end of this week’s meeting, delegates voted to allow ministers to preside at gay weddings in states where the unions are legal and local congregational leaders approve. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

The votes, during a national meeting in Detroit, were a sweeping victory for Presbyterian gay-rights advocates. The denomination in 2011 eliminated barriers to ordaining clergy with same-sex partners, but ministers were still barred from celebrating gay marriages and risked church penalties for doing so. Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a gay advocacy group, said the decisions Thursday were “an answer to many prayers.”

The Rev. Krystin Granberg of the New York Presbytery, where the state recognizes gay marriage, said she receives requests “all the time” from friends and parishioners to preside at their weddings.

“They want to be married in the church they love and they want me to do it,” Granberg said during the debate. “I want pastoral relief.”

But Bill Norton, of the Presbytery de Cristo, which covers parts of Arizona and New Mexico, urged the assembly to delay any changes. “We are laying hands on something that is holy, that God has given us, so we need to be sure any changes we make are in accord with God’s will revealed in Scripture,” Norton said.

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