- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014
Speaker: Ky. House likely to accept higher ed cuts

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky House members working on the next state budget have been unable to find money to restore cuts to higher education that the governor proposed, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Friday.

In January, as part of his two-year state spending plan, the Gov. Steve Beshear included a proposed a 2.5 percent cut in operating funds for universities and community and technical colleges in the first year of the budget cycle.

As House members have worked on their version of the budget, they have “desperately tried to find a way to restore that money,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters. “Unfortunately, there’s not funds available, as best we can tell.”

“Money is very tight in this budget,” he added.

The proposed spending cuts would be the latest endured by Kentucky’s public higher education system. If they go through, colleges and universities will have lost 17 percent of their funding since 2008.

The full House is expected to vote on the budget next week, after it emerges from the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. That panel has been reviewing Beshear’s spending proposals for weeks.


Stivers: Senate action on minimum wage possible

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Friday there’s a “real possibility” the Republican-led Senate will pass some form of a minimum wage bill, breathing new life into a measure that’s a top priority of his Democratic counterpart in the House.

Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters that senators are working on the House-passed measure but he didn’t provide details about possible changes.

“We still have some ideas, still have to vet it,” Stivers said.

Asked about the bill’s chances, he replied: “I think there’s a real possibility that something will pass as it relates to the minimum wage in the Senate.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, later said he was encouraged by the development as the General Assembly session heads toward the closing stretch. The 60-day session is two-thirds complete.

“That’s too important of an issue to those folks who toil in those minimum wage jobs, I think, to play politics with it,” Stumbo said.


McConnell has ‘listening session’ on heroin issue

FLORENCE, Ky. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell discussed Kentucky’s growing heroin problem at a meeting with community leaders Friday in Florence.

McConnell’s “heroin listening session” included a panel with northern Kentucky leaders in areas such as law enforcement, education and health care.

“I don’t have to persuade anyone in this room how devastating heroin addiction and abuse is to our commonwealth,” McConnell said. “The state police crime labs jumped up from processing 451 samples of heroin in 2011 to 2,382 in just the first nine months of 2013. That’s an increase of over 400 percent in just two years.”

Included in the panel was state Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, who has introduced legislation this year in the Kentucky General Assembly to address the problem.

“Talking about this issue accomplishes part of what we’re trying to do with the bill, which is to get this information out,” Stine said. “As evidenced by the people in this room, it’s going to take a multilevel approach. It’s going to take partnership between law enforcement, education and treatment.”

Stine said she has been working closely with officials and community members in southern Ohio in her efforts to build a bill that would include what she called a three-pronged approach to slowing heroin addiction.


Report: Kentucky hits mine inspection goals

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A new federal report says state regulators were able to complete all required inspections of surface mines in the recent fiscal year, an improvement on the previous year’s 88 percent rate.

The report from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement says a sharp downturn in eastern Kentucky’s coal production helped inspectors hit the mark.

In 2012-13, more than 23,000 inspections were performed at nearly 1,800 sites, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported (https://bit.ly/1fLEvwT).

Kentucky had traditionally met the required frequency on more than 98 percent of sites, but it slipped to 83 percent in the 2008-09 fiscal year. The report says that’s because several inspectors retired and budget shortfalls prevented filling the slots. The inspection rate in subsequent years remained below 90 percent until the most recent year.

“The credit for this accomplishment goes to our hard working and dedicated inspection and support staff who overcame numerous challenges, including reduced staffing, to achieve this goal,” said Steve Hohmann, commissioner of the Department for Natural Resources.

The report said the downturn in regional coal production also helped the state increase its inspection frequency.

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