Ryland Barton

State Capitol Bureau Reporter

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. 

Always looking to put a face to big issues, Ryland's reporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. 

Ryland has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Kyeland Jackson

Republican Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles is calling on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to set a firm “reopening” date for the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demand comes as Republican-led states like Tennessee and Florida have almost entirely dropped pandemic-related restrictions and others have set dates when they will reopen further.

It also comes as the virus lingers, vaccination rates have dropped due to lack of demand, and public health experts say the United States won’t achieve herd immunity before this winter, if at all.

But Quarles argues people and businesses should be able to make their own decisions about how to stay safe during the pandemic.

Becca Schimmel

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won’t support President Joe Biden’s $4 trillion infrastructure package, expressing worries about overspending and the national debt.

And while McConnell says he’s in favor of some form of infrastructure plan, he’s adamantly against undoing any of the tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2017, which significantly added to the national debt.

During a news conference in Louisville on Monday, McConnell criticized the president’s plan to fund the plan by scaling back tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals.

“We’re not going to be revisiting the 2017 tax bill. We’re happy to look for traditional infrastructure ‘pay-fors,’ which means the users participate,” McConnell said.

Ryland Barton

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t think the year enslaved Africans were first brought to colonial America is one of the most important points in U.S. history.

McConnell made the comments Monday when asked why he sent a letter to the U.S. Education secretary, calling for the New York Times’ 1619 Project to not be included in school-related federal grant programs.

“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notions the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years,” McConnell said during a news conference in Louisville.

Sydney Boles

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized President Joe Biden’s proposals to expand infrastructure, boost renewable energy and fund pre-kindergarten, all of which he outlined in his first address to Congress on Wednesday.

During the speech, Kentucky’s senior Republican senator got a shout-out from the Democratic president for naming a cancer research bill after his late son, Beau Biden, but McConnell still panned the address as a “lengthy liberal daydream.”

On the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell accused Biden of “imposing a vision” on the country and not seeking out support from Republicans.

“The president talked about unity and togetherness while reading off a multi-trillion-dollar shopping list that was neither designed nor intended to earn bipartisan buy-in,” McConnell said.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

Kentuckians will have more time to get a Real ID, which will be necessary to board domestic flights and enter federal facilities like military bases.

The advanced drivers’ licenses were scheduled to be required on Oct. 1 of this year, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has now extended the deadline until May 3, 2023.

Gov. Andy Beshear said the extension will give the state’s licensing agencies time to catch up amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are rolling out a modern, efficient network of KYTC Driver Licensing Regional Offices to issue all Real ID-compliant licenses and identification cards. These offices have and continue to operate at limited capacity to meet social distancing and other ‘Healthy at Work’ requirements,” Beshear said.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky will continue to have six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives following the federal reapportionment process, which takes place after the census every 10 years.

Reapportionment is the process of dividing up the 435 seats in the U.S. House based on population. Kentucky has had six House districts since after the 1990 census, when it lost one seat during reapportionment.

Kentucky’s population increased only slightly since 2010—from about 4.4 million to 4.5 million people.

But the state’s growth still increased more than three neighboring states that will each lose one congressional seat—Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia.

Kyeland Jackson

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron says he doesn’t think systemic racism is a problem in the U.S., and accused President Joe Biden of aggravating racial tensions in the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict.

Cameron was responding to Biden’s statement that systemic racism is a “stain on the soul” of the country—comments made shortly after a Minnesota jury found Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd during an arrest last year.

Cameron, in a Sunday appearance on Fox News, accused Biden of throwing fuel on the fire.

“I don’t believe this country is systemically racist. What I believe is this country has always tried from the very beginning to become a more perfect union. And certainly, we’ve had our challenges throughout this nation’s history, and there’s no hiding from that,” Cameron said.

istockphoto

State Auditor Mike Harmon says at least 10 workers in the state unemployment office improperly filed for benefits last year and used their official positions to access their accounts.

The findings come after a series of reports this year of state employees wrongly filing for jobless benefits despite keeping full-time jobs with the state.

In the audit released Wednesday, Harmon said he couldn’t determine if employees actually made changes to their claims. He said he is referring the findings to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.

Harmon, a Republican, said the report shows Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration mishandled the system during the pandemic.

Thinkstock

The Kentucky Supreme Court will decide whether local jails are allowed to bill people for incarceration costs, even if they are later cleared of wrongdoing.

The High Court heard arguments Wednesday over a case involving a Winchester man arrested in 2014 on child pornography charges that were eventually dropped because police found no evidence.

After his arrest, David Jones couldn’t afford to pay a $15,000 bond and spent 14 months in the Clark County Jail, racking up more than $4,000 in jail fees while prosecutors pursued the case.

Jones filed a lawsuit against the county over the tab. During a hearing on Wednesday, Jones’ attorney Gregory Belzley argued that automatically charging inmates for jail costs goes against the presumption of innocence.

Kyeland Jackson

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says he expects a smooth transition as he takes over an agriculture agency previously housed in Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s office. The agency manages millions of dollars in grants and loans intended to help farmers and businesses every year.

The GOP-led legislature moved the Office of Agriculture Policy out of Beshear’s administration and into Quarles’ Department of Agriculture during this year’s lawmaking session—one of several measures shifting duties out of the governor’s office and into state offices currently controlled by Republicans.

During a legislative meeting on Tuesday, Quarles said he’s still “kicking the tires and checking the oil” of the office and looking for ways to improve operations during the transition period.

J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear is challenging a new law that shifts control over the State Fair Board from his office to Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

House Bill 518, which became law last month, removes the Democratic governor’s power to appoint the chair of the fair board and gives Quarles power to appoint nine of the 14 voting members on the board.

It’s one of several measures passed by the GOP-led legislature this year shifting the governor’s powers to state offices currently controlled by Republicans.

Beshear argues that the law violates the state constitution by giving appointing authority to Quarles, who he says “does not have the supreme executive powers of the Commonwealth, and does not have the constitutional duty to ensure the laws are faithfully executed.”

screenshot from 2020 RNC

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is suing the federal government for not allowing states to use coronavirus relief money to lower taxes.

Cameron jointly filed the lawsuit on Tuesday with Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, arguing that the law “unconstitutionally usurps the authority of each state’s legislature to enact beneficial tax policies.”

In a statement, Cameron wrote that President Joe Biden’s administration was holding federal relief funds hostage.

“Kentuckians expect state tax policies to be set by the men and women they elect to represent them in the General Assembly, and not as a result of an edict from the Federal Government,” Cameron wrote.

Stephanie Wolf

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear praised the Republican-led legislature for funding broadband, water and school construction projects with Kentucky’s share of the federal coronavirus relief package, saying it would create jobs and boost the state’s economy.

Lawmakers set aside $1.3 billion of stimulus money during this year’s legislative session—nearly half the total amount Kentucky state government will get from the federal package.

Beshear estimated the effort would create about 14,500 jobs and that legislators were off to a “good start.”

“It’s one of the first times we’ve been able to work together that closely, and I think it’s going to be good for everybody,” Beshear said.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers reshaped state government during this year’s legislative session, limiting Gov. Andy Beshear’s powers while shifting authority to the legislature and state offices currently controlled by Republicans.

Republicans began the session by curbing Beshear’s powers during the pandemic—laws the governor is challenging in court. This effort continued throughout the session, with new measures chipping away at the governor’s authority outside the state of emergency.

Lawmakers voted to give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron power to enforce abortion regulations, oversight normally reserved for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

They gave Republican state Treasurer Allison Ball authority to cancel state contracts, instead of the finance secretary.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers revived a bill limiting no-knock warrants on the last day of the legislative session.

Senate Bill 4 falls short of what people protesting the death of Breonna Taylor have been calling for — a total ban on no-knocks. Taylor was shot and killed last March during a middle-of-the-night raid authorized by a no-knock warrant. Police officers were attempting to conduct a search related to a broader narcotics raid.

Rep. John Blanton, a Republican from Salyersville who helped write the final version of the bill, said it’s a compromise that will make people safer.

“Nobody got everything they wanted, but everybody got a little something. But I don’t feel like we changed the purpose for what we’re trying to do here,” said Blanton, a former state trooper.

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