- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 14, 2015
New federal rule seeks to reduce machine-related coal deaths

PRINCETON, Ind. (AP) - A federal rule issued Tuesday requires all U.S. mines to use sensors that can halt digging machines if miners get too close, a move aimed at preventing workers from being crushed to death.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor Joe Main visited an underground coal mine Tuesday in southern Indiana to see a demonstration of the safety technology, which is called a proximity detector. The detectors are already in use at the Alliance Resource Partners Gibson North mine that hosted Main’s visit.

Federal mine safety officials say machinery-related deaths are preventable. Main’s agency, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the most common cause of the 40 deaths at all the nation’s mines last year involved powered hauling and mining machinery, including 10 at coal mines.

“Over the next few years we should have it fully implemented, so down the road, we should be able to eliminate these crushing deaths and injuries,” Main said.

An Associated Press reporter was invited to travel underground Tuesday with Main, federal officials and representatives from Alliance, which operates the massive mine. The trip was a rare glimpse at the inner workings of an underground operation. During a demonstration about 2 miles underground, a hulking continuous mining machine shut off immediately as a miner with a sensor approached.

The 60-ton continuous mining machine uses teeth mounted on a spinning drum to cut into the coal seam. Since its introduction in the middle of the last century, it and other digging machines have revolutionized underground coal mining by increasing efficiency and eliminating the need for explosives. It can be operated by one person who stands near the machine, but that worker can be in danger of being crushed in the cramped quarters of a mine.

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Paul, Booker will continue push for sentencing reform

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A pair of unlikely allies in the U.S. Senate said they will continue to push the new Republican majority to allow juveniles charged with nonviolent crimes to expunge their criminal records.

Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey said they disagree on most things, but told a forum at Sullivan University on Tuesday their partnership is proof that the country is ready to reform what has become an inadvertently racist criminal justice system.

“There definitely is a bipartisan sort of coming together, right and left. And people say, ‘Well, how does the religious right respond to this?’ I can take this message to any church in America,” Paul told the forum in Louisville via video conference from Washington. “In fact if anything, Christian audiences are coming more and more to believe that we have gone too far.”

Paul has spent the last year reaching out to minority voters as he prepares for a possible run for president in 2016. His ideas have included restoring the voting rights of some convicted felons, banning mandatory minimum sentences and eliminating the sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine. But his work last year with Booker, who rose to national prominence as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, could help make Paul more appealing to minority voters.

“I feel very fortunate to be in the United States Senate at a time when Sen. Rand Paul is serving because his leadership along with mine and others is going to make a big change,” Booker said. “There is a powerful zeitgeist moving through the country right now when I can have, in the last month, conversations with Newt Gingrich, conversations with Grover Norquist and even conversations with people working with the Koch brothers who all have the same passions that I have on this issue.”

Paul and Booker introduced the Redeem Act last year, an acronym for the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act. The bill would allow juveniles charged with nonviolent crimes to expunge their criminal records. Most companies ask prospective employees if they have ever been convicted of a felony and many won’t hire those who have, citing liability issues.

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Scott opens race for governor by backing expanded gambling

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott kicked off his campaign for governor on Tuesday by selecting a former rural sheriff as his running mate and endorsing expanded gambling as a way to raise money to meet Kentucky’s public pension obligations.

Scott, a Republican, introduced former four-term Menifee County Sheriff Rodney Coffey as his lieutenant gubernatorial candidate.

His choice matches two eastern Kentuckians on the same ticket, but Scott downplayed the lack of geographical balance. He said his ideas will appeal to voters and touted Coffey’s statewide experience as a former president of the Kentucky Sheriff’s Association.

“This may not be your typical run for governor,” Coffey said. “But I tell you what you do have here today: You have two men who love the Lord, who love Kentucky and know firsthand what the suffering is that’s going on across the state and are willing to do something about it.”

Scott, a Pike County native, said he supports amending Kentucky’s constitution to legalize casino-style gambling as a way to generate big sums of money to deal with the state’s ongoing problems in meeting its pension obligations. Scott estimated that license fees for five casinos would generate $125 million in the first year, and that casino-style gambling would produce as much as $250 million in state revenues per year.

The proposal would earmark most of the money to pay down the state’s unfunded pension liabilities, Scott said. Racetracks would be in line to get four of the licenses, which would boost the state’s horse racing industry, Scott said. He stopped short of saying where the fifth license would go.

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Ky. judge grants divorce to same-sex couple

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky judge has granted a divorce to a same-sex couple - even though the state does not recognize gay marriage.

Kentucky law says that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are void in the state, and any rights granted by virtue of the marriage, or its termination, are unenforceable in Kentucky courts. But in his recent ruling in Louisville, Judge Joseph O’Reilly said that denying same-sex couples the right to divorce would run counter to constitutional protections.

“The Bill of Rights of the Kentucky Constitution recognizes and provides that all persons are equal,” wrote O’Reilly, a Jefferson County Family Court judge. “That includes same-sex couples. … To permit legally married heterosexual couples to dissolve their marriages and deny legally married same-sex couples the right to dissolve their marriages constitutes the grant of separate privileges to legally married heterosexual couples in violation of the Bill of Rights of the Kentucky Constitution.”

Both attorneys in the case said they believe the judge’s action was a first in the state, and said their clients were satisfied with the outcome. It was first reported by The Courier-Journal.

“I’m thrilled that Judge O’Reilly had the courage to do what he did,” said Louis Waterman, who represented Alysha Romero in the divorce from Rebecca Romero. The ruling will not face an appeal because the only parties who could have sought one were the Romeros, Waterman said.

O’Reilly’s ruling can be cited by other judges hearing similar cases across Kentucky, but those judges are not bound to his ruling, he said. O’Reilly did not seek re-election and retired at the end of the year, the Louisville newspaper reported.

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