News briefs from around Kentucky at 1:58 a.m. EST

Saturday, March 1, 2014

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Judge grants 21-day delay on same-sex marriages

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky has until March 20 to implement an order granting legal recognition to same-sex couples married in other states or countries, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ordered the 21-day delay after concluding that officials need time to study his findings and implement policies and procedures.

“The public interest is twofold: that the Constitution be upheld; and that changes in the law be implemented consistently without undue confusion,” Heyburn wrote in a three-page order. “Confusion could result from state or local officials being unaware of their precise responsibilities. However, the implementation of the order without confusion is possible with reasonable effort.”

The delay came one day after Heyburn issued an order making final his Feb. 12 opinion that Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages violated the Constitution’s equal-protection clause because it treated “gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

The ruling arose from a lawsuit filed by two couples who were married in other states or countries over the past 10 years. The couples sought to force the state to recognize their unions as legal. Heyburn’s ruling does not require the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; that is the subject of a separate, but related lawsuit. Heyburn expects to rule on that issue by summer.

Unless a higher court steps in and stops enforcement of the ruling, the state will have to allow same-sex couples married outside the state to change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of a married couple in Kentucky.


Bill seeks to restrict cellphones in school zones

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky House took aim at distracted motorists Friday, passing a bill that would stiffen fines for texting while driving and restrict on-the-road cellphone use in school and construction zones.

The road safety bill cleared the House on a 62-32 vote and now goes to the Senate.

“What I really want to do here … is save lives and reduce injuries on our roads and make them safer,” said Rep. Terry Mills, the bill’s lead sponsor. “We all know that distracted driving is a problem.”

Mills, D-Lebanon, said distracted driving is a frequent contributor to fatal wrecks in Kentucky as motorists tap on their mobile devices while cruising highways.

In 2012, more than 53,600 crashes in the state were due to distracted driving, resulting in more than 14,700 injuries and 174 fatalities, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety.

The bill would double the fines for texting while behind the wheel. The fines would increase from $25 to $50 for a first offense and from $50 to $100 for subsequent violations.

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