- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015
Beshear sets agenda for final year in office

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear used his last State of the Commonwealth address to push an ambitious agenda to ban smoking statewide, require more children to ride in booster seats and to shield some heroin users from minor drug charges while they are seeking medical help.

Beshear has presided over some of the state’s most challenging economic times in recent memory, overseeing more than $1.6 billion in state budget cuts and an unemployment rate that came close to 11 percent. But the two-term governor took advantage of a string of recent economic successes - surging exports, record business investment and a 6 percent unemployment rate - to portray Kentucky as a state on the move in an election year where Democrats are trying to retain their decades of dominance in the governor’s office.

“Kentucky is back, and we’re back with a vengeance,” Beshear declared to rousing applause in a statewide televised speech before a joint session of the state legislature. “Folks, our vision is working.”

That vision has garnered national attention for Beshear’s decision to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Medicaid expansion attracted an additional 500,000 people to sign up for the government-funded health insurance. That was much more than state officials had anticipated, to the alarm of Republican lawmakers who worried how the state can pay for it in 2017 when the bill comes due.

But Beshear teased the lawmakers with some early results of a study he commissioned to analyze the economic effects of the expansion. Promising to release the full results in the next few weeks, Beshear said hospital Medicaid revenues have jumped $450 million while the state has added more than 5,000 new health-services jobs over the past year.

“You can argue the politics, but you can’t argue the results,” Beshear said.

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Senate panel OKs bill to combat heroin use

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Legislation aimed at tackling Kentucky’s growing heroin problem through more treatment for addicts and tougher punishment for peddlers picked up momentum Wednesday on its fast-track trip in the Senate.

The measure won bipartisan backing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard from a woman who said her sister who died from a heroin overdose would have benefited from the bill’s treatment provisions.

Senate President Robert Stivers later said the bill is expected to come up for a vote in the full Senate as early as Thursday, the third day of this year’s legislative session.

The measure would funnel millions of dollars into treatment programs at county jails and community mental health centers to try to free heroin users from addiction.

Jessica Tomlin said her sister, Tabatha Roland, would have benefited from jail-based treatment while she was incarcerated on drug-related charges. Tomlin’s sister died of a heroin overdose at age 24.

“You know what my sister learned in jail? She learned where to get more drugs. … That’s what she learned in jail instead of how to be sober,” Tomlin told the committee in her tearful appearance.

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Illinois town bids farewell to victim of Kentucky crash

NASHVILLE, Ill. (AP) - A teenager killed along with three relatives in a Kentucky plane crash that her 7-year-old cousin survived was eulogized Wednesday as a vibrant, arts-loving girl who embraced her diversity of friends.

The service for 14-year-old Sierra Wilder in their southern Illinois hometown of Nashville came two days before private funerals for the other victims of the Jan. 2 crash - Nashville furniture store owner Marty Gutzler, 48, wife Kim Gutzler, 46, and their 9-year-old daughter, fourth-grader Piper.

With Wilder’s family and friends packing two parlors of the funeral home, the Rev. Danny Donato eulogized the teenager as an initially “quite shy” child who blossomed into an extrovert with an eclectic mix of friends, an infectious smile and a passion for selfies.

“Rarely did you not see her smiling, or not giggling with her friends,” Donato said, standing near Wilder’s closed casket and collages of photos of her.

“Sierra’s death was untimely and tragic. I can’t even pretend to imagine what’s going on in your minds or hearts,” he added. “We are cut to the very deepest parts of our soul. How could God let this happen? These are questions with few, if any, answers.”

Many mourners dabbed away tears, notably when a friend of Wilder’s, Emily Detering, began crying and couldn’t finish singing a guitar-accompanied song in tribute to her friend.

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Kentucky lawmaker charged with DUI

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky lawmaker has been charged with driving under the influence after being stopped by a state police officer on Tuesday, the opening day of the legislative session.

Kentucky State Police Sgt. Michael Webb says Republican Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard was stopped by the state trooper for speeding at about 9 p.m. EST Tuesday.

Webb said Wednesday after making contact with Smith, the trooper suspected the senator had been drinking and arrested him on a DUI charge.

He said the senator cooperated with the trooper.

The Courier-Journal reported that according to a citation filed with Franklin County Circuit Court, Smith blew a .088 in a portable breath test. A person is presumed to be drunk when the alcohol to blood ratio is at .08 and above. The citation indicated that Smith later refused a request to take a follow-up breath test.


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