- Associated Press - Thursday, January 16, 2014
Lawmakers start reviewing casino proposals

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Supporters of legalizing casino gambling in Kentucky started making their case to lawmakers Wednesday, touting expanded gambling as the best option to generate new revenues to meet the state’s funding needs.

The perennial issue received its first hearing of the 2014 General Assembly session when a House committee reviewed but didn’t vote on two gambling proposals.

One measure is a proposed constitutional amendment that would let Kentucky voters decide in the fall election whether they want to make casinos legal. A companion bill specifies how many casinos would be allowed, how the industry would be regulated and how the state’s share of revenue would be distributed.

Democratic Rep. Larry Clark of Louisville, the second-ranking House member, said the state’s ongoing budget problems offer a compelling reason to pursue casino gambling.

“We have to have a revenue source, and this is the best and easiest way to do it,” he said.

Clark’s companion bill would allow up to eight casinos statewide, including five run by racetracks.

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Beshear unveils plan to extend Mountain Parkway

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear revealed a $753.6 million plan Wednesday to widen and extend the Mountain Parkway, the main artery running through an Appalachian region suffering from the loss of coal jobs.

The proposal - to be part of the state highway plan Beshear will present to lawmakers - calls for a series of construction projects by 2020 that would upgrade the entire parkway into a four-lane highway. The parkway links the bluegrass region of central Kentucky to the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky.

“This is certainly a significant amount of money that we’ll be spending,” Beshear said. “But it’s an amount of money that we need to spend. Because it’s time to do this for eastern Kentucky.”

Tolls are expected to eventually be collected along the parkway to help finance the project, he said.

As part of the plan, the extended parkway would connect with the four-lane U.S. 23, creating a four-lane corridor all the way from Interstate 64 near Winchester to Pikeville in the heart of Applachia.

The proposal comes as eastern Kentucky is reeling from the loss of several thousand coal jobs. The coal industry and analysts point to several factors, including environmental regulations and a switch to natural gas.

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Judge weighing challenge to Ky. gay marriage ban

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge in Louisville is weighing the fate of Kentucky’s ban on same sex marriages as similar laws around the country have been overturned.

Two cases brought to try to force the state to recognize same sex marriages have been fully briefed and submitted to U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II. Among the filings were decisions by federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah striking down laws in those states.

While Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, isn’t bound by decisions in other federal districts and hasn’t indicated when he’ll rule, attorneys for the two couples seeking to have their marriages recognized are hoping the logic behind those rulings will come into play in their own cases.

“Realistically, all the other judges are looking to see what’s going on,” said Shannon Fauver, who represents two men seeking to have their marriage in Canada recognized in Kentucky. “It is a sea change that all the states are going this way.”

Judges in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah have all ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Gay marriages in Utah have been put on hold pending a decision from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the Kentucky cases, Gregory Bourke and Michael De Leon sued in July to force the state to recognize their marriage as legal. In August, Kimberly Franklin and Tamera Boyd filed to have their marriage recognized as well.

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Court reinstates Ky. ban on stores selling liquor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The prohibition on grocery stores, gas stations and other retailers selling wine and liquor is back.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday reinstated the 76-year-old ban, saying it serves a legitimate purpose and doesn’t violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The decision affects a variety of stores around Kentucky, including Kroger, Wal-Mart, Family Dollar and smaller grocery stores that are barred from having liquor on their shelves near staples such as bread, milk and meat.

Judge Deborah L. Cook wrote the state “indisputably maintains a legitimate interest” in reducing access to liquor and wine. Cook said the law doesn’t affect the “liberty interest” of any business.

“The state’s interest applies not only to the general public; minors, inexperienced and impressionable, require particular vigilance,” Cook wrote in an opinion joined by judges Jane Branstedder Stranch and James G. Carr. “And the state’s interest applies to abstinent citizens who, morally or practically objecting to alcohol exposure, wish to avoid retailers that sell such drinks.”

A Louisville convenience store, Maxwell’s Pic-Pac, and the Food with Wine Coalition challenged the ban in a 2011 lawsuit. They said the law treated them differently from package liquor stores simply because they sold food and other items. The ruling impacts only areas of Kentucky where sales of package wine and distilled spirits are currently permitted by law.

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