- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SLADE, Ky. (AP) — Sitting at a state resort in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, officials highlighted the need for more money to market the area to tourists as a way to restart the community’s economy in the wake of thousands of job losses from the declining coal industry.

The recommendation is just one of hundreds of ideas listed in a 377-page report released Tuesday that had input from more than 2,500 people across 53 counties. The report is part of the Shaping our Appalachian Region, the high-profile effort from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers to figure out how to diversify the area’s economy after more than a century of depending on the coal industry.

“Tourism will be one of the linchpins to diversifying this economy in eastern Kentucky,” Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said.

Leaders touted the areas attractions, including mountains in the east, lakes in the south and country music scattered throughout. They bemoaned the lack of funds to promote the area, noting that leaders in the area don’t talk to each other.

“Virtually every county has one festival during the course of the year that nobody knows what it is,” said Phil Osborne, chairman of the group’s tourism, arts and heritage committee.

Bob Stewart, secretary of the state’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said Kentucky normally spends about $3 million each year to promote tourism - a sum he says neighboring states easily outspend every year. To make a difference, he said the state needs a marketing campaign of at least $10 million per year.

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Ban sought on children working on tobacco farms

WASHINGTON (AP) - Thirty-five House Democrats are urging the Obama administration to prohibit children from working on tobacco farms, citing concerns about ill health effects.

The lawmakers, led by Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., made their plea in a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

In 2012, the Labor Department withdrew a proposed rule that would have banned children under 16 from several kinds of agriculture work, including tobacco farms. In their letter, the lawmakers, all Democrats, urged a narrower ban that would deal solely with children on tobacco farms.

The letter doesn’t specify an age limit, but a spokesman for Cicilline said he and other lawmakers would prefer the ban apply to children under 18. Cicilline has a bill in Congress that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to ban kids under 18 from jobs where they have direct contact with tobacco plants or leaves.

The lawmakers cited a Human Rights Watch report issued in May which said nearly three-quarters of the children it interviewed reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms. Those symptoms are consistent with nicotine poisoning often called green tobacco sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants. The report was based on interviews with more than 140 children working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where a majority of the country’s tobacco is grown.

“Children working in tobacco are among the nation’s most vulnerable and we must do more to protect them,” wrote the lawmakers, who called the Human Rights Watch report “deeply troubling.”

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Hemp crop from detained seeds harvested in Ky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Some of the imported hemp seeds detained by U.S. customs officials in the spring turned into 10-foot-tall plants that were harvested Tuesday on a research plot in Kentucky, where marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin has gained a foothold as a potential cash crop.

A sickle bar mower pulled by a tractor made half a dozen swaths to cut the hemp patch at the University of Kentucky research farm. Farmers wanting to learn more about the crop were among the curious who posed for pictures while holding long, leafy stalks.

“There’s a great possibility that it could become a viable crop in Kentucky,” said UK agronomist David Williams, who helped oversee the research plot. “It’s not the most complicated plant to grow for farmers. I think they would pick up on it immediately with very little guidance.”

FROM CONFINEMENT TO FARM

Hemp’s reintroduction was delayed in the spring when hemp seeds imported from Italy were detained by U.S. customs officials in Louisville. The state’s Agriculture Department sued the federal government, and the seeds were released after federal drug officials approved a permit. Part of the once-detained shipment ended up being planted May 27 at the UK plot.

Half a dozen universities and about 12 farmers were involved in this year’s test plantings, on a total of about 15 acres on plots across the state.

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Judge orders Kentucky penitentiary to hold powwow

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge has ordered the Kentucky State Penitentiary to allow a group of death row inmates to hold an annual powwow with traditional foods after the prison chaplain tried to stop the ceremony.

U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell on Tuesday concluded that the inmates would suffer irreparable harm if they weren’t allowed to buy special foods for the ritual.

A prison chaplain last month postponed the powwow until October because a Native American volunteer who works with the condemned inmates wouldn’t be available on Friday, the ceremony’s scheduled date.

The inmates sought to purchase buffalo, corn pemmican and fry bread.

An appeals court reinstated a lawsuit in August saying the inmates should have the opportunity to show they have the right to conduct Native American religious ceremonies.

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