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Date: 03-18-2015

Despite about $1.8 million spent on Kentucky lobbying in January, lobbyist organizations haven’t run out of steam on pending legislation for the remaining two days of the 2015 legislative session. 

According to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, 554 lobbyists and 685 of their employers are registered as of March compared to 677 in January. 

One of those organizations, Americans for Prosperity Kentucky, hopes to stop the passage of Sen. Ernie Harris’s, R-Prospect, Senate Bill 29 that would freeze the gas tax. 

According to representatives of the organization, they have mobilized activists across the state to stop what they call raising the gas tax on Kentucky families. 

Harris’s bill would set the gas tax floor at the current rate of 27.6 cents per gallon based off of the last assessed price when gas averaged $2.35 per gallon. 

But according to Julia Crigler, state director of Americans for Prosperity Kentucky, it isn’t a freeze at all. 

“It’s being called a freeze, but it will increase the amount people pay at the pump,” Crigler said. “It’s disappointing that lawmakers are eager to exploit Kentucky families receiving relief from falling gas prices. We don’t need to raise gas taxes, we need legislators to responsibly budget.”

Oppose Uber, Lyft

The organization is also against Rep. Jeff Greer’s, D-Brandenburg, House Bill 207 that would affect the expansion in Kentucky of companies such as Uber Kentucky and Lyft that provide commercial taxi services within their networks through Smartphone apps. 

Both bills have not made it out of Senate committees. 

Rep. Rick Rand’s, D-Bedford, House Bill 340 would expand film tax incentives in the state. The bill has been approved by both chambers, but hasn’t been signed into law yet by Gov. Steve Beshear. The organization opposes it and still considers it a priority as the bill according to them creates a preferred industry, harms other businesses and siphons money from other places. 

One of the top lobbying spenders in January is Altria Client Services whose parent group owns Phillip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, John Middelton’s Black & Mild cigar company and Nu Mark that sells e-vapor products. 

Altria Client Services spent $27, 544 in January. 

David Sutton, spokesperson for Altria Client Services, said the company had at least two bills of concern in the session that haven’t moved.

A bill that would have put a tax increase on smokeless tobacco products hasn’t moved. The bill would affect companies like Skoal and Copenhagen with a 19.5-cents tax to a 51 cents tax increase on 1.5 oz containers of their products and a 40 percent tax increase on e-vapor or electronic cigarette products. 

Sutton said the group also lobbied against Rep. Susan Westrom’s public smoking ban bill that hasn’t been heard since the bill was put in Sen. Albert Robinson’s, R-London, Senate Standing Committee of Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. 

“We were not lobbying against the public place smoking ban provisions,” Sutton said. “But against the language that would prevent vapor products (like e-cigarettes) being used in public places.”

Top spenders

Top spending employers in January also included: 

• Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, $32,235;

• Kentucky Hospital Association, $25,975;

• Brown-Forman Corp. $24,000; and

• Ascential Care Partners, LLC, $20,000

The 2014 session broke previous lobbying spending year records with $18.4 million spent over the entire year, a 34 percent increase in the last 10 years. In 2004, lobbying costs, according to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, was $12.1 million.

By Brad Bowman
The State Journal

Date: 03-18-2015

Ashley Judd defends Dick Vitale kiss

Actress and avid Wildcats fan Ashley Judd shook up social media Tuesday when she said she would file charges against those who sent her obscene and threatening messages about one of her tweets during Sunday's SEC Tournament championship game, in which Kentucky defeated Arkansas.

Judd, whose movie Insurgent — a sequel to the 2014 movie Divergent — opens this week, told NBC News that she would press charges against those who posted violent and degrading tweets in response to her tweet saying the Razorbacks were playing dirty.

On Judd's Twitter feed, the actress and UK graduate called her comment about Arkansas' play "a stout opinion."

The original tweet does not appear on Judd's current Twitter feed. But it was widely reported Sunday as this: "@ArkRazorbacks dirty play can kiss my team's free throw making a— ... Bloodied 3 players so far."

Judd, 46, could not be reached for comment; tweets to her account @AshleyJudd were not returned. It could not be determined if she filed charges or in what jurisdiction she filed them.

"Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for what they write," Judd told NBC.

On NBC, she described the threats as: "That many people, that explicit, that overt."

While Judd was receiving admiring comments — and a new round of insults — in various Internet forums for taking on the cause of social media bullying and threats, the question remains: How likely is it that the comments she received could result in successful prosecution?

"I would think that would be no different than how you deal with a phone call or harassing letter," said Louisville attorney Jon Fleischaker, who has practiced First Amendment law for 40 years. "It's communication."

If there is a death threat on Twitter, Fleischaker said, "You can take action, if you can find out who it is."

But Judd's potential case also raises other issues, he said, like whether such comments could be construed as a credible threat against Judd's safety or instead were uttered in the heat of the moment by outraged fans after Judd accused a team of playing dirty.

"You've got to look at the particular language, whether in context it was taken as a real threat or a commentary on her commentary," Fleischaker said. "... She put herself out there. ... She can't claim reasonably not to (expect) a response on that."

But if the Twitter flame war is interpreted instead as "just words in the midst of a heated basketball game that means much to some and not to others," Fleischaker said, comments that include name-calling might be interpreted as hyperbole on both sides.

Judd also could file a civil suit against her Twitter attackers, Fleischaker said. While she might not be successful, he said, "it could cause the other person problems."

A photo of Judd being kissed by ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale also flared up on social media Sunday, many interpreting the kiss as unwelcome by Judd. On NBC, Judd said that the photo was misinterpreted and that Vitale was "like an uncle to me."

Judd offered one example on her Twitter feed of the abusive tweets. A tweet from a Twitter user identified as Leeroy_Max called Judd several names and suggested she perform a sexual act on UK men's coach John Calipari, whom he also insulted.

Judd retweeted the insult as an example of the attitude with which she was confronted. On Tuesday, Leeroy_Max was no longer listed as a Twitter user.

Judd said on the Today show Tuesday morning that she could have phrased her concerns over Arkansas' play in a more moderate tone.

Bullying and threatening messages received over social media are a concern because many users do not post under their real names, instead concocting elaborate anonymous online profiles.

The Twitter Help Center online allows users to report users who are causing them concern. It asks Twitter users to put the information into categories such as "offensive," "harassment" and "specific violent threats involving physical safety or well-being."

Twitter told NBC that it had tripled the size of the team responding to abuse reports from users.

By Cheryl Truman
Lexington Herald-Leader

March 12, 2015

By Glenn Mollette

I've never smoked pot. Not once, nada...zero. I guess I must be missing out on something but I'm not sure what.

My wife and I were in Seattle a year or so ago. We were there to visit my son. The city was having their first hemp festival. We saw a number of people walking the streets of Seattle who seemed like they were in a coma. They were in a happy coma but nevertheless they were in some kind of daze.

Since I haven't partaken of marijuana there is a lot I cannot say about the new legalized drug of choice - well, sort of legalized. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and DC have their own point of view about how far people can go with pot.

I don't particularly like aspirin, Tylenol or taking cold medicine. I don't enjoy going to the doctor. Neither do I enjoy watching people suffer in their final days leading up to death. I have been at the bedside of many suffering people in my lifetime. I am in favor of terminally ill people having sufficient pain relieving drugs. Hospice is well known for their administration of pain relievers. They can give you massive doses of opiate pain medicine. Thus, you are practically dead before you actually die. I don't like that either but you never know how you are going to feel on your deathbed.

Sadly a number of people in America have become medicine seekers - primarily pain medicine seekers. Living on pain medication doesn't seem like much of a life to me. Walking around in a state of numbness with a little euphoria is not appealing. However, if you are suffering from a painful terminal illness then your attitude changes. It's funny how our attitudes change about a lot of stuff in life when we are the ones hurting.

I know there are a lot of drug addicts in America. Some of these addicts are sitting in church pews on Sundays. Their bathroom cabinets are lined with pills prescribed by medical doctors who have licenses to practice legalized drug trafficking.

We need to move on and legalize medical and industrial cannabis in this country.

Stories abound of people with diseases, from glaucoma to multiple sclerosis, who testify about the benefits of marijuana.

Alcohol, cigarettes and gambling have been a central part of this nation for a long time. Americans suffer a lot of problems from all three. Abuse of any substance or thing will eventually bring about harm to our lives - even pizza. Pizza? Pizza is addictive. The long-term results of a life on pizza are obesity, diabetes and etc.

Any kind of medical marijuana should be used at home or in a regulated area. Like alcohol, keep it away from drivers. Tax it enough to help fund the state Medicaid programs. People will find a way to abuse it and make themselves sick. There will be health costs to our society from abuse. Let states that are economically suffering, grow and sell it for industrial and medical uses. Start some factories and make some clothes from the growth of cannabis. Start some stores and sell the clothes, textiles, paint, fuel, paper, rope and many other products that cannabis would make. This would mean jobs and cash flow.

I don't plan on taking up pot smoking. I don't really plan on using morphine or oxycodone either. Most people don't because they never anticipate being in that much pain. Life changes and scenarios change. Our government and all of us should look at the entire scenario and employ common sense.

Dr. Glenn Mollette is a syndicated American columnist and author of American Issues, Every American Has An Opinion and ten other books. He is read in all 50 states. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of any other group, organization or this publication.

Like his facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GlennMollette

Date: 03-16-2015

Kentucky New Era

This is Sunshine Week, a national observance that encourages citizens, government employees, elected representatives and journalists to protect everyone’s right to know what public agencies are doing at every level — from the smallest town council all the way up to the White House, Congress and the Pentagon.

Consider those emails that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conveniently shielded from public scrutiny by using a personal email account and a private computer server for government business. That’s why Sunshine Week and what it represents — the inseparable link between democracy and transparency — matter. Consider the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of Hopkinsville City Council, which includes a request to approve $1.2 million in contracts for a downtown streetscape improvement project that uses federal grant money. It's already available for anyone to see on the city’s website with a list of the contracts that council members will be asked to award, and that’s also why Sunshine Week matters.

In Kentucky, we rely on the state’s open meetings and open records law to ensure the public can see, hear and read most of what city, county and state agencies do on our behalf. Protecting those laws is crucial. We’re proud to say that a former New Era publisher — the late Robert C. Carter — was influential in the adoption of the state sunshine laws when he was president of the Kentucky Press Association in the early 1970s. Today the press association provides a legal hotline that this newspaper and others use frequently to ensure that print media have timely advice on how we can use the sunshine laws to report stories that keep the public informed — often when government employees don’t want to release information or open meetings to public scrutiny.

Newspaper journalists are typically the most vocal advocates for state sunshine laws and the federal Freedom of Information Act, but it is important during this special week to encourage everyday folks to use the laws. You have that right, and there are resources available through the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General to help you learn how the laws apply to specific questions you might have. A publication titled “Your Right to Know” guides citizens through the laws and provides instructions on how to file an open records request or submit a complaint if you believe an agency has violated the open meetings law. There is a companion publication for Kentucky’s local and state elected officials titled “Your Duty Under the Law.”

Only under specification exemptions outlined in the sunshine laws may government officials deny your access to records and meetings.

There are many public officials who recognize the importance of transparency in their work. It’s not easy working under public scrutiny, so we applaud those elected officials and agency employees who work hard to abide by Kentucky’s sunshine laws.

Others who have the privilege of doing the public’s business do not always recognize or respect what the law says they must do to remain transparent. It’s up to the news media and citizens to insist that they do.

March 10, 2015 

 

Annual gathering looks to help people save money and boost the local economy

Learning about ways to save and earn money through small-scale farming, energy efficiency and renewables will be the focus of the sixth Growing Appalachia Conference to be held March 21 in Prestonsburg.

The day-long conference will provide information and skills for healthier living and greater self-sufficiency. A variety of workshops will be offered in three tracks: Home Gardening and Production Methods, which are geared towards folks that are working at the home/small garden scale; Small Farms and Business, which are for folks who are looking to scale up – or already have – from their home/small garden, or to start a small business; and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which are energy related. 

“Growing Appalachia is an exciting opportunity for anyone interested in getting more out of their garden and also folks who may be thinking about expanding into farming or a new business,” said Bev May, one of the conference planners.  

One of the many new workshops being offered this year is Beginning Beekeeping, which is being led by Steve Buckley from the Floyd County Beekeepers Association. This workshop is ideal for anyone who has ever considered keeping bees because it will cover the basics: where to find bees and supplies, maintaining a healthy hive, and harvesting honey.

This year will feature a keynote address from Bill Best of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center of Berea, where he will talk about the history of seed saving in the mountains, share his vision for the region, and the role quality heirloom fruits and vegetables can play in making mountain agriculture sustainable. 

“Each year I've gotten lots of useful garden tips, learned strategies for saving energy and been encouraged to see how many new small farms and creative businesses are starting up right here at home,” added May, who is attending for the sixth year.

Growing Appalachia is sponsored by the Big Sandy Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth with Community Farm Alliance, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Grow Appalachia, the Floyd County Farmers Market, and HF Farms. Nearly 200 people attended last year.

It will take place on Saturday, March 21 from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the Jenny Wiley Convention Center. The conference is free, but a $10 donation is requested. Pre-registration is appreciated so that there will be enough food for lunch.

Register online at www.kftc.org/growing or by calling 606-263-4982.