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.

J. Tyler Franklin

Republican state lawmakers plan to file an omnibus anti-abortion bill during the upcoming legislative session, making it harder for minors to get the procedure, creating more restrictions for abortion medication and setting requirements for disposing fetal tissue.

The bill will also include provision that would allow medical providers to refuse to perform procedures that “violate their conscience.”

Rep. Nancy Tate, a Republican from Brandenburg and a sponsor of the bill, said it will not include exceptions for women seeking abortions because of rape or incest.

“If there’s a human baby that’s created from that tragedy then the life of that human baby needs to be treated with dignity and respect as well,” Tate said.

The bill hasn’t been filed yet. Tate outlined the provisions in a legislative meeting on Wednesday.

J. Tyler Franklin

 Though Kentucky has no regular elections this year, voters in three legislative districts will participate in special elections in November, filling vacancies created by the deaths of two lawmakers and the resignation of another.

The elections will take place in House District 51 around Campbellsville, House District 89 around Berea and Senate District 22 around Nicholasville.

The outcome of the elections won’t determine who controls the statehouse, but all of the vacant districts have long been held by Republicans. So far, Democratic candidates have outraised their opponents with hopes of winning the seats this year.

Republicans have overwhelming control of both legislative chambers, with 29 out of 38 seats in the Senate and 73 out of 100 seats in the House (including vacancies).

Ryland Barton

Lawmakers say they want to do more to prevent child abuse in Kentucky after years of troubling reports ranking the state as one of the worst for child mistreatment.

The legislature’s Oversight and Investigations Committee met Thursday to discuss findings and recommendations from the state’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, which, as it does annually, released another report this year detailing substance abuse and mental health issues as leading drivers of child abuse in the state.

Melissa Currie, a doctor at Norton Children’s Hospital and a member of the panel, said since the panel’s inception 10 years ago, the state hasn’t seen a drop in abuse cases.

“No, absolutely not, we’re not seeing a huge drop in the numbers. And we’re seeing worse and worse cases,” Currie said.

Lisa Gillespie

So far two Democrats are running for Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District seat with long-time Rep. John Yarmuth announcing he won’t run for reelection next year.

State Rep. Attica Scott and state Sen. Morgan McGarvey are the only ones officially vying for the seat at this point, but Yarmuth’s retirement announcement could open the floodgates for more candidates to get into the race.

Scott was first. When she launched her campaign in July, it was a long shot primary challenge against Yarmuth, a well-known 16-year incumbent and powerful chair of the U.S. House Budget Committee.

After Yarmuth announced he wouldn’t run again Tuesday, Scott congratulated him on his retirement and said she was honored by people who supported her campaign early.

WFPL

Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Congress, John Yarmuth, won’t run for reelection next year after 16 years in office, creating a likely contentious primary battle for the Louisville-area district.

Yarmuth is the chair of the powerful House Budget Committee. The 73-year-old said Tuesday he wants to have “more control of my time in the years I have left.”

“The desire to have more control of my time in the years I have left has become a high priority. Candidly, I have found new and incomparable joy in spending time with my young grandson. And I would like to spend more of my golden years in Louisville,” Yarmuth said in a video posted to Twitter.

Yarmuth was first elected in 2006 after defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Anne Northup. He will step down in January 2023, at the end of his eighth term.

Kyeland Jackson

The U.S Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is allowed to defend a Kentucky abortion law that was struck down by a federal court.

The blocked law at the center of the case passed in 2018. It would ban a common abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation.”.

Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin defended the law until he lost reelection in 2019. The following year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that struck down the law and Gov. Andy Beshear declined to continue defending the case.

Cameron is asking the high court to let him intervene. During the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Matthew Kuhn argued Cameron’s office should be allowed to continue appealing the case.

J. Tyler Franklin

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers wants to require people accused of animal abuse to pay for housing and upkeep of their animals while their court cases are pending.

Republican Rep. Kim Banta, of Ft. Mitchell, and Democratic Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, of Lexington, are sponsoring a bill that would create the “cost of care” law in Kentucky. It would allow courts and shelters to sue owners of animals seized in cruelty cases to pay for care until cases are resolved.

During a legislative hearing last week, Banta said the measure is good for animals and taxpayers.

“When animals are seized, taxpayers and the agencies are picking up the cost of care while the animals are being housed and taken care of,” Banta said.

Kate Howard

Staff with Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, arguing that he should have the right to defend an abortion law that has been struck down by lower courts.

At issue is a 2018 law passed by the Republican-led legislature that would have banned the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure—most commonly used for people seeking to end pregnancies in the second trimester.

A federal court struck it down in 2019, saying it would have created a “substantial obstacle” for Kentuckians seeking abortions.

Then-Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, appealed the ruling to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the court upheld the decision in 2020 and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear declined to take the case any further.

Wikimedia Commons

A pared-down medical marijuana bill will be introduced during Kentucky’s next legislative session with hopes of gaining support among conservative lawmakers who have blocked it in the past.

The state House passed a measure in 2020 that would have allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis for several medical conditions and created a regulatory system to grow and sell it, but it was never taken up in the Senate.

The new version doesn’t allow people to grow their own plants. And like the older version of the bill, it doesn’t allow people to smoke marijuana—only legalizing products like edibles and oils.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville and sponsor of the measure, said the bill isn’t for the recreational use of marijuana; it’s only for people with serious medical conditions.

Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting archive

The former chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party will be sent to federal prison on November 30th.

A jury convicted Jerry Lundergan in 2019 for funneling more than $200,000 in illegal contributions to his daughter Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and conspiring to cover up the activity.

Grimes lost the race to incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell by more than 15 percentage points. She was serving as Kentucky’s secretary of state at the time and was not implicated in the scheme.

Lundergan was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $150,000 in 2020. He appealed the conviction and was allowed to remain free while doing so, but the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request.

J. Tyler Franklin

School counselors in Kentucky say students are struggling with an increase in depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a legislative hearing on Tuesday, counselors told lawmakers that it’s not unusual for young people to struggle with mental illness, but the frequency and intensity of symptoms increased over the last year and a half.

Marsha Duncan, a counselor at Larue County High School, said students and staff struggled with the dangers of the pandemic.

“I’ve never seen so many students fearful to be in the school setting and it makes my heart hurt to see fear on students’ faces,” Duncan said.

Churchill Downs

Kentucky lawmakers are mulling whether to increase the tax rate on “historical horse racing,” the slot machine-like form of gambling that bases results on already-run races.

Though historical racing machines have been allowed to operate in the state for more than a decade, the legislature didn’t officially sanction them earlier this year after years of legal challenges.

Debate over the issue has been acrimonious and divided Republicans in the state legislature in 2021, with some conservatives opposing gambling on religious grounds.

The bill finally passed the GOP-led statehouse with the help of Democrats (only 36 Republicans in the 100-member House voted in favor of it), many of whom called for the industry to be taxed at a higher rate to bring in more money for the state’s ailing coffers.

Ryan Van Velzer

A new poll shows a drop in the number of unvaccinated Kentuckians who say they’re unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky conducted the poll of 512 people between Aug. 4 and Sept. 4 showing that 20% of respondents said they would “probably” or “definitely” not get the vaccine. That’s down from 29% of people surveyed in March.

Ben Chandler, the president of the nonprofit and a former congressman, said the decrease shows people are taking the virus more seriously as it surges again.

“I really think personally that the delta variant has more to do with changing people’s minds than anything else,” Chandler said.

screenshot

Lawyers argued over Kentucky’s new $25 million tax credit scholarship program for private schools during a court hearing on Thursday.

The new law allows individuals and corporations to get tax credits for donating to “education opportunity accounts,” which can be used to pay for private school tuition and other education expenses.

The Council for Better Education sued to block parts of the measure, arguing it unconstitutionally uses public funds to prop up non-public schools.

Eric Harrington, a lawyer for the nonprofit education group, argued that the measure goes against framers of the state constitution.

Duke Energy

Advocates are urging Kentucky to develop solar energy projects on farms and abandoned coal mines as the state considers expanding its renewable energy portfolio.

Developers have been planning and building large-scale solar projects around the state—some more successfully than others—as the technology becomes more affordable and pressure increases to develop renewable energy.

During a joint hearing of the legislature’s Natural Resources and Agriculture committees on Wednesday, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman said the state has the land and energy markets necessary for solar.

“There’s a corporate demand for renewable electricity. Economic development and that corporate demand will continue to be primary movers toward encouraging solar development in Kentucky,” Goodman said.

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