- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Hemp gets boost in federal spending bill

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Michael Lewis felt some anxiety when he stepped forward as one of Kentucky’s first farmers to test the potential of hemp production, but some recent action by Congress has helped set his mind at ease.

The latest federal farm bill allows states to designate hemp projects for research and development. And now, the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and sent to President Barack Obama would prohibit federal drug officials from interfering with those projects.

Lewis said Tuesday he sees the latest hemp provision as a way to further legitimize a crop with a multitude of uses. The non-intoxicating plant has been banned for decades due to its family ties to marijuana.

“My name and my reputation are tied up in this,” Lewis said. “It’s a huge peace of mind to know that we’re OK. We thought we should be all along, but now this sort of confirms that. … It’s definitely going to give me an hour or two of extra sleep at night.”

Growing hemp without a federal permit was banned in 1970 due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of efforts to revive the crop, prized for oils, seeds and fiber.


Report: Kentucky’s prevailing wage law increases costs

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A new study says Kentucky’s public school districts pay workers up to 51 percent more for construction projects because of the state’s prevailing wage law, but a divided panel of lawmakers refused to adopt the report during a contentious meeting Tuesday that could set the tone for the upcoming legislative session.

The Legislative Research Commission compared the labor costs of 12 public school projects with comparable projects in the private sector. They found that Kentucky’s prevailing wage law caused the districts to pay construction workers about $11.37 more per hour than they would have gotten for a similar job in the private sector. The study also concluded the state government paid construction workers about $8 per hour more than they would have been paid in the private sector.

Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is president of a concrete company that has worked on prevailing wage projects, praised the report as “good as anything I’ve ever seen.” But Democrats said the report was flawed because of its small sample size and because it only examined labor costs and did not determine if the prevailing wage law increased the total cost of construction projects.

The prevailing wage law means Kentucky state officials decide how much money state and local governments pay construction workers for publicly funded projects. The goal is to pay workers a wage that reflects the prevailing wage of the local community. State officials set the wages for 86 of Kentucky’s 120 counties by collecting wage information from local contractors in each county. The other 36 counties, mostly the urban ones, use the federal prevailing wage.

The reason Kentucky’s prevailing wage is so much higher than the private wage is because it overemphasizes union wages, according to Mike Clark, the Legislative Research Commission’s chief economist. Clark said union contractors are the only ones who submit their wage data because they usually are the only ones who bid on public projects.

“Contractors that do not bid on public construction projects have no incentive to participate,” Clark said.


Coal miner killed on job in western Kentucky

WAVERLY, Ky. (AP) - State officials say a coal miner has died after being struck by a coal-hauling car at an underground mine in western Kentucky.

The Kentucky Division of Mine Safety has identified the miner as 34-year-old Eli Eldridge of Sturgis.

It was just the second mining fatality in the state this year.

Eldridge was hit by a ram car, a long flat motorized car that hauls coal to the feeder. The accident occurred Tuesday at the Patriot Coal Company Highland No. 9 mine near Waverly around 11 a.m. CST.

The first Kentucky fatality occurred Oct. 8 at a surface mine in Bell County.


State officer kills mountain lion in Bourbon Co.

PARIS, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky Fish and Wildlife official shot and killed a mountain lion after a concerned caller spotted it in northern Bourbon County.

A spokesman for the agency says officials hope to determine whether the lion was a captive animal that got loose, or a free-ranging wild lion.

The Lexington Herald-Leader (https://bit.ly/1yWkEzthttps://bit.ly/1yWkEzt ) reports an officer went to the area on Monday afternoon after a woman reported seeing the animal in a tree.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Marraccini says the lion roaming free was a public safety issue.

Marraccini says the state agency periodically gets reports of people seeing mountain lions, but he doubted that Kentucky has a population of the animals.

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