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AUGUST 6, 2015

 

By: Senator Chris Girdler (R- Somerset) and Senator Damon Thayer (R- Georgetown)

In an effort to preserve prosperity enjoyed by Kentucky’s tourism industry and our overall economy, we plan to again file a similar version of Senate Bill (SB) 129 for the 2016 Legislative Session. SB 129 is a measure that would prevent schools from starting earlier than the first Monday closest to August 26, granting local control to school boards should they choose to start classes before Labor Day.

If passed, SB 129 will have a tremendous impact on Kentucky’s tourism and agriculture industries without affecting the quality of education for our students.

The success and availability of our state’s water recreation, theme parks, golf courses and other summertime attractions are vital in improving the quality of life for families and also help support tax revenues that ultimately provide funding for our schools.

In Somerset, one can witness a drastic difference at our water parks, Lake Cumberland marinas, visitor’s centers and car shows when school starts back in early August. Somerset’s multi-million dollar water park shuts down August 3 because the majority of its employees and many of its visitors go back to school.  Why should we turn away out-of-state tourists from a water park in August when the outdoor thermometer still reads 90 degrees?

Georgetown has a city-owned water park that started closing on weekdays August 5 because of school being back in session. Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville also is forced to cut hours beginning the second week of August; it closes on weekdays or significantly cuts hours from August 12 through Labor Day because of classes starting.

According to a 2008 Tennessee study, it was estimated that if summer was extended through Labor Day, an additional $189 million would be generated in tourist spending. Iowa loses an estimated $314 million in revenue during the three weeks that the state's schools are in session before Labor Day according to a2015 report prepared by the Travel Federation of Iowa.

The travel industry is not alone in benefitting from this legislation; we believe it will aid agriculture in Kentucky as well. One of the initial reasons for dismissing students on summer vacation was to allow children to work on family farms. When the majority of a family’s workers return to school, the farm is forced to struggle through the thick of harvest season.

Additionally, prolonging the start of classes will improve energy efficiency at schools and improve the safety and quality of life for our students. Utility costs caused by overtaxing of equipment in trying to cool down the large facilities in August would decrease.  The bill also would allow some students to avoid riding up to three hours a day on a school bus in August heat with no air conditioning as evidenced in our state’s third largest county of Pulaski.

Our legislation is designed to still allow local school boards the flexibility to determine their schedules; the bill simply prohibits schools from starting classes before the Monday closest to August 26.  The bill also allows for waivers for districts missing large amounts of days due to inclement weather.

Many teachers have informed us that fall breaks cause a major hindrance to students.  Teachers have said that students “check out” early before these three- and four-day breaks, forcing the educators to re-teach earlier lessons and thus disrupting the learning process.

This bill would come at no cost to taxpayers and will have no affect on the quality of our children’s education. Our bill will generate more funding for local and state budgets and the economy. If we want to make an impact on tourism and help Kentucky's economic development efforts, we think this is a real solution.

We strongly believe that Kentucky needs statewide continuity with our school calendar and hope to make some serious strides in improving tourism and economic development through this legislation, while saving our summers starting in 2016.

 

Note:  Senator Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) represents the 15th District encompassing Boyle, Lincoln and Pulaski counties. Senator Girdler currently chairs the Senate’s Tourism Development Committee as well as the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and is Vice-Chair of the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, Agriculture Committee, Banking and Insurance Committee, and the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.  In addition, he is Chairman of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee. 

Note:  Senator Thayer represents the 17th Senate District which includes southern Kenton County, as well as all of Grant and Scott Counties.  He is Senate Majority Floor Leader, as well as a member of the Agriculture Committee, the Committee on Committees, the Legislative Research Commission, the Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, the Rules Committee, and the State and Local Government Committee.

AUGUST 5, 2015

Kentuckians See Health and Job Opportunities in Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan presents Kentucky with a significant challenge but also a real opportunity to move the state toward a vibrant clean energy economy.

That’s the analysis – and hope – offered by citizens from several Kentucky communities after digging through the heated political rhetoric that followed Monday’s announcement by President Obama to look at what the plans means for Kentucky.

“The requirements for Kentucky in the Clean Power Plan are ambitious, but necessary. The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity to build a new energy economy here that is strong, healthy and good for all people, while addressing climate change,” said Dana Beasley Brown of Bowling Green and chairperson of the grassroots group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “Kentucky can do this. Now we need the leaders who will step up to the challenge and seize this opportunity.”

The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants (currently power plants can release as much carbon pollution as they want). The plan sets flexible and achievable standards for states to incrementally reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

The plan calls for a 41 percent reduction in carbon pollution for Kentucky.

“The goal of a 41 percent reduction in carbon pollution in Kentucky is a welcome challenge, one Kentuckians are ready to meet,” said Beasley Brown.

Kentucky is one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution because the state relies heavily on the burning of coal to generate electricity.

States are given a variety of options and tools for meeting their respective goals. Those may include all low-carbon electricity generation technologies, including renewables such as solar, wind and hydroelectric. The plan also includes incentives to encourage energy efficiency investments in low-income communities.

“This Plan is something that can be of great benefit to Kentuckians – if we make that choice,” added Beasley Brown. “Recent studies show that right here in Kentucky even modest increases in renewable energy and energy efficiency can create tens of thousands of new jobs, see savings of 8-10 percent on our electric bills and boost Kentucky’s economy by billions of dollars.”

States have until September 2016 to submit their initial plan, though they may receive extensions of up to two years. By the year 2022 they must begin implementing their plans with pollution reductions phased in on a gradual “glide path” to 2030.

President Obama and administration officials emphasized the health benefits that will be realized by reducing air pollution, including a dramatic 90 percent reduction in asthma attacks by 2030. Those benefits were important for many Kentuckians reacting to Monday’s announcement.

“As we deploy renewable energy and energy efficiency programs to reduce carbon pollution, we also will reduce other pollutants that harm our health,” pointed out Beasley Brown. “This is our opportunity to improve our poor air quality that today causes hundreds of premature deaths each year and costs us millions of dollars in healthcare costs.

“As the mother of two beautiful children, I want to leave them the best Kentucky possible.”

Those hopes were echoed by retired coal miner Carl Shoupe of Harlan County.

“I’m a third generation coal miner and I’ve been working hard along with other folks throughout eastern Kentucky to build a new economy that doesn’t sacrifice our health. We can use the opportunity of this Clean Power Plan to not only create a future with a stable climate and cleaner air for our children to breathe,” said Shoupe, “but to bring energy savings programs like ours here to low-income communities all across the state.”

Shoupe also recognized that all the angry rhetoric against Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not change the reality that coal employment has been decreasing for decades, and the nation and the world are shifting to cleaner energy sources.

“We here in Kentucky are proud of stepping up in the past to the challenge of meeting our nation’s energy needs,” Shoupe said. “People in Harlan County have accepted the fact that the coal jobs are not coming back. We’re ready to move forward, and this Clean Power Plan gives us a challenge and an opportunity to do it again through renewable energy and energy savings – ways that are good for all people.”

Shoupe has some firsthand experience in working to get that done.

"Here in Benham, we have our own electric utility and we have already started moving forward with programs to help our residents save energy and save money and we hope to be generating our own power in sustainable ways over the coming years."

Tom Sexton finds a similar reality in neighboring Letcher County.

"The hardworking folks that make their living in coal in my community know the same reality as me: the eastern Kentucky economy desperately needs both diversification, and a shot in the arm,” said Sexton, a former Whitesburg City Council member. “The Clean Power Plan can be opportunity for both, with its potential to create new industries at home, in sectors like clean, renewable energy production and energy efficiency – so hopefully more of our own can make a living here."

Carl Shoupe
606-909-0130
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Date: 08-04-2015

Ky. voters split on fate of county clerks who refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses 

By John Cheves
Lexington Herald-Leader

 

A majority of Kentucky voters disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, although voters are evenly split over the fate of county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses because of religious objections to the landmark ruling.

In the latest Bluegrass Poll, 38 percent said county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses should be removed from office, 36 percent said clerks should be allowed to refuse, and 16 percent said the power to issue marriage licenses should be transferred to a state agency. An additional 9 percent weren't sure.

Of the handful of Kentucky county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses, none have been removed from office, although one — Kim Davis of Rowan County — is being sued in U.S. District Court by some of her constituents. Judge David Bunning is expected to issue a decision in that case in coming weeks.

Respondents, based on their based on age, geography and political ideology, were sharply divided on what should happen to rogue county clerks.

■ Only one in four of those younger than 35 thought clerks should be allowed to refuse to issue marriage licenses, compared to 40 percent of those 65 and older.

■ A slim majority of registered voters in Louisville thought clerks who don't issue marriage licenses should be removed from office. The opposite was true in Eastern Kentucky, where a slim majority said clerks should be allowed to refuse.

■ Among backers of Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin, 54 percent supported allowing clerks to refuse. Among supporters of Democratic nominee Jack Conway, 60 percent said clerks who refuse should be removed from office.

Conway, the state's attorney general, has said he's open to finding an "alternative avenue" for county clerks who have refused to issue marriage licenses. Bevin has said the state should stop issuing marriage licenses altogether. Short of that, Bevin said, lawmakers should take steps to protect clerks who don't want to issue marriage licenses.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of registered voters told the Bluegrass Poll they disagreed with the court's June 26 decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges to extend marital rights to same-sex couples. Thirty-eight percent said they agreed with the decision, and 10 percent said they were not sure.

Those numbers are little changed from Bluegrass Polls taken before the court's decision. In March, the poll found 57 percent of registered voters opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Last July, the poll showed 50 percent opposing same-sex marriage.

However, Kentucky's opposition to gay marriage seems to be softening over time. In 2004, 75 percent of state voters approved a now-defunct state constitutional amendment to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.

The latest Bluegrass Poll showed that support for gay marriage is highest among the young, those who have college educations, those who earn larger incomes and those who live in cities, while the strongest opposition comes from older and rural voters, and those with less education and income.

In a related question, 34 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for Bevin because he disagrees with the Supreme Court's ruling, and 34 percent said they ere more likely to vote for Conway because he agrees with it. However, the pro-Bevin respondents were older, on average, and older registered voters tend to show up on Election Day in the greatest numbers.

Overall, the poll found that 76 percent of Bevin's supporters disagreed with the Supreme Court's ruling and 59 percent of Conway's supporters agreed with it.

The statewide poll — conducted by SurveyUSA for the Herald-Leader, The Courier-Journal, WKYT-TV and WHAS-TV — asked 863 registered voters their opinions from July 22 through 28. This section of the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Shifting attitudes and demographics suggest that opponents of same-sex marriage "are on the losing side of history," said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based human rights group.

"The trajectory has been clear and quick in the decrease of opposition and the rise of support," Hartman said. "In 20 years, when the younger generation has become the older generation, there will be very little debate left. People will think, 'Oh, my lord, why were we even having this conversation in 2015?' It's the same way we feel about interracial marriage after the Supreme Court legalized that."

But critics of the marriage decision compare Obergefell to a different Supreme Court ruling: Roe vs. Wade in 1973, which ended the state-by-state debate over abortion by legalizing it nationwide. Unlike interracial marriage, the abortion battle continues today.

In April, during oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases, Chief Justice John Roberts warned against judicial intervention into disputes over social values, saying that "closing of debate can close minds ... and have consequences on how this new institution is accepted."

"I think that those sentiments were very wise, and there could easily be that backlash underway in some quarters," said Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Family Foundation of Kentucky. "By the way, I'm not encouraging that backlash. We're just trying to make sure the Obergefell decision does not encroach upon anyone's sincerely held beliefs."

In follow-up interviews, some poll respondents said gay marriage in recent years started to appear inevitable and not as threatening as it once did.

"It's just — look, life goes on, so you gotta be fair to people," said Charles Key, 72, a retiree in Shepherdsville. "Out in Hollywood, you've got men turning into women on television, so what's the difference? It's gonna happen; it's not hurting us any. Move on."

Those who oppose the court's decision said Kentucky should not surrender its traditional values just because more liberal states have chosen to.

Glen Smith of Pineville said he's ordinarily a loyal Democrat, but he's not sure he will vote for Conway this fall. Smith said he's troubled that Conway accepts same-sex marriage and, as attorney general, refused to represent Kentucky in its appeals to defend its gay marriage ban.

"I don't like that same-sex stuff," said Smith, 45. "I just ain't for it. I was raised a Christian. I hope they can fix it so where the clerks don't have to issue any marriage licenses to the gays who are wanting them."

AUGUST 4, 2015

Auditor Edelen Releases Recommendations to Improve Efficiency and Accountability in Kentucky’s Public School Districts

KDE Commissioner Holliday Encourages School Boards, Administrators to Review Auditor’s Report

FRANKFORT, Ky. (August 8, 2015) – Auditor Adam Edelen today released 75 recommendations to help school districts become more efficient and effective in their use of taxpayer dollars.

“We identified several significant issues in recent school district examinations across the Commonwealth,” State Auditor Adam Edelen said in his audit of schoolsThe recommendations are contained in a report that was developed based on findings during the Auditor’s office examinations of 21 school districts since 2012. Districts are not required to adopt all recommendations in the report; however, they are encouraged to review and identify recommendations that could be implemented in their districts to improve fiscal oversight, Auditor Edelen said.

“We identified several significant issues in recent school district examinations across the Commonwealth,” Auditor Edelen said. “Many of the lessons learned in those exams are contained in this report and should aid school boards, superintendents and district management in providing significant financial oversight and strong internal controls to maximize the fiscal operations of their districts.”

The report recommends ways to provide adequate financial oversight, prevent potential conflicts of interest, prevent wasteful spending and improve the protection of confidential student data. Further, the report recommends school boards establish budget and audit subcommittees to strengthen internal oversight.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday welcomed the Auditor’s recommendations.

“I hope this will result in a greater level of fiscal oversight and responsibility in our school districts,” Holliday said. “It is the duty of us all to be accountable and good stewards of taxpayers’ money, and to ensure our resources are focused on the needs of Kentucky students.”

The report also calls for boards to establish processes for district employees to submit concerns to the board about questionable activities, including the actions of the superintendent.

“No person should be at risk of losing his or her job for reporting a supervisors’ indiscretion. In each district there needs to be a clear policy in place that allows staff members to report their concerns,” Edelen said.  

The need to protect students’ personally identifiable information (PII) also is highlighted in the report, which recommends districts have acceptable computer, Internet, email, encryption and password policies in place and establish incident handling and data back-up procedures.

“As you can imagine, schools collect a substantial amount of data about our kids – from names to social security numbers, allergies and the people who are authorized to pick them up at the end of the day. This data needs to be protected, and our schools must take the necessary action to keep our kids’ information safe,” Auditor Edelen said.

The Auditor’s office has conducted several major school district examinations since 2012. The former superintendent of the Dayton Independent Schools is currently in federal prison after an Auditor’s exam found he received more than $200,000 in unauthorized payments and benefits. The former superintendent of Mason County Schools was indicted on charges related to findings of a special examination the Auditor’s office conducted there in 2012. He is expected to stand trial this fall.

Last year, the Auditor’s office released a special examination of the Jefferson County Public Schools. It was the largest review ever conducted by the Auditor’s office and contained more than 200 recommendations for improvements at the district.

“The recommendations in today’s report are a culmination of the lessons we’ve learned over the last three and a half years,” Auditor Edelen said. “I hope all our public school districts use this tool to identify ways to become more efficient and ultimately, deliver our kids the 21st century education they deserve.”

The report can be found on the auditor’s website.

Date: 07-31-2015

Federal officials want to stop public corruption in Kentucky

Kentucky Press News Service

The FBI said it wants to end public corruption in Kentucky and wants the state's citizens to help.

On Friday, the FBI and U.S. attorney launched a new program to help eliminate public corruption in the Bluegrass state. The campaign encourages individuals to get involved.

"Kentucky clearly has a problem and it is recognized not only by the people who conducted the study, but by the people standing in front of you today," Special Agent in Charge Howard Marshall said, according to the WDRB-TV website.

Marshall was talking about a recent Harvard study that concluded that Kentucky is one of the most corrupt states in the country, the station reported.

That's led to a billboard campaign to let citizens know that if they are aware of corrupt government practices they can contact reputable people who will look into their concerns.

Those billboards will go up immediately.