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

A Democratic state lawmaker has filed a bill to require public middle and high schools to teach the history of racism in the country.

Louisville Rep. Attica Scott’s bill would require schools to teach about a list of subjects including the slave trade, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, residential segregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Scott says a group of students asked her to carry the bill.

“I definitely feel like schools are addressing some of these issues differently than other schools. But this is a more robust dig and dive into the history of racism of the combination of racial prejudice plus power and how it impacts people’s lives,” Scott said.

Scott’s proposal comes after a handful of Republican lawmakers proposed measures that would purportedly ban critical race theory in Kentucky schools.

TJ Samson Community Hospital

Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes have been struggling with staffing shortages as COVID-19 continues to surge through the state.

Health care leaders hoped state lawmakers would set aside funds to attract and retain workers during last week’s special legislative session dealing with the pandemic, but legislators said the initiative didn’t fit within Gov. Andy Beshear’s agenda for the session.

Instead, lawmakers passed a measure allowing paramedics to work in hospitals and setting aside $69.2 million in federal relief money for testing supplies, vaccination campaigns and monoclonal antibody treatment.

Jim Musser, vice president for policy and government relations with the Kentucky Hospital Association, said the special session produced some helpful policies, but they didn’t go far enough.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Republican-led legislature wrapped up the special session called by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday night.

Shortly before midnight, lawmakers overrode two line-item vetoes Beshear issued of SB 1, which nullifies the school statewide mask mandate, and SB 2, which blocks the governor from creating other statewide mask requirements.

Beshear also signed two measures–SB 3 setting aside $69.2 million in federal coronavirus relief money to fight the pandemic and SB 5, which takes $410 million out of the rainy day fund to incentivize major companies to invest in the state.

Beshear called the special session after the legislature passed several laws limiting the governor’s emergency powers earlier this year. The state Supreme Court ordered those laws into effect after they were initially blocked.

J. Tyler Franklin

During a special legislative session called by Gov. Andy Beshear, Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill to use more than $69 million in federal coronavirus relief money to respond to the pandemic.

Republican-led committees in the state House and Senate passed identical bills that give Beshear’s administration the authority to spend the funds to help schools, hospitals and nursing homes weather COVID-19.

Rep. Jason Petrie, a Republican from Elkton, said the administration will have the ability to decide how much and what to spend the funds on.

“There is wide discretion given to the administration of being able to nimbly adapt the funds where the need is,” Petrie said.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill that would take $410 million from the state’s rainy day fund to attract major companies that plan to invest at least $2 billion in the state.

The initiative is supported by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration, and identical versions of the bill unanimously passed out of Republican-led legislative committees on Wednesday.

The measure specifically mentions a vacant site in Hardin County that the state acquired in 2002 in a failed attempt to attract a Hyundai car plant to Kentucky. Hyundai ended up building a factory in Alabama.

But supporters of the bill won’t confirm what companies are interested in taking advantage of the incentive, or where they plan to build.

Stephanie Wolf

Kentucky lawmakers extended the state of emergency related to the coronavirus and several other emergency orders issued by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear during the first day of a special legislative session to deal with the pandemic.

They also advanced bills that would ban lockdowns at nursing homes and get rid of the statewide school mask mandate.

Beshear called the special session after the Republican-led legislature passed several measures limiting his emergency powers earlier this year. The state Supreme Court recently ordered those laws into effect after they had initially been blocked.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said the legislature had taken control of the state’s emergency response.

“For 18 months, the governor said he and only he had the authority, either by constitution or statute, and I think he was proven to be very wrong,” Stivers said. “There’s only one group that makes the law.”

LRC Public Information

Republican lawmakers are gearing up for a possible special legislative session on coronavirus after a court hobbled Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers during the pandemic.

Only Beshear has the power to call lawmakers in for a special session. Both the governor and Republican leaders of the legislature say they are negotiating when to call the session and what policies to propose, including whether to renew the official state of emergency for the pandemic.

During a legislative meeting on Wednesday, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron told lawmakers they “hold the keys” for the state’s emergency response.

“I hope that you all can come to agreement in terms of the governor’s office in terms of how ultimately you will handle additional measures to take in confronting COVID-19,” Cameron said.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky lawmakers are working with Gov. Andy Beshear to come up with a possible agenda for a special legislative session on coronavirus.

Even though Republican lawmakers worked to restrict Beshear’s powers earlier this year, the party’s leaders in the legislature say they want to preserve some public health policies put in place by the Democratic governor, though they aren’t saying which ones yet.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said several legislators are currently reviewing a list of pandemic priorities sent over by the governor.

“We will develop those plans over the next several days. I would expect that as the governor said, when we are ready, he would call us in to take action,” Osborne said.

screenshot

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and leaders of the Republican-led legislature are negotiating exactly how to dissolve a court ruling that blocked new laws limiting the governor’s powers.

The development means Kentucky’s state of emergency related to the coronavirus will remain in effect until Beshear and Republican lawmakers tell Franklin Circuit Court how they’d like to move forward.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last weekend that the lower court incorrectly blocked the laws earlier this year, which include a measure restricting Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature. The high court ordered Franklin Circuit Court to dissolve its injunction.

But during a status conference on Thursday, lawyers for Beshear and GOP Senate President Robert Stivers asked for 10 days to come up with an agreed plan before the court vacates the ruling.

J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear is considering calling a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of new laws limiting his emergency powers last weekend.

A lower court had blocked those laws from going into effect earlier this year, including a measure restricting Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature.

But once Franklin Circuit Court lifts its block on the new laws, most of Beshear’s orders will expire, including the official state of emergency declared by the governor in March 2020. It’s unclear when Franklin Circuit will do that, but a hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday morning.

That has Beshear and some lawmakers worried Kentucky will lose millions of dollars in federal funding and other resources tied to the emergency declaration.

LRC Public Information

Former Republican state Rep. Jonathan Shell has announced he will run to be Kentucky’s next agriculture commissioner in 2023.

Shell is 33 years old and was the youngest person elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012. He was tasked with recruiting Republican candidates ahead of the party’s historic takeover of the House in 2016 and became the chamber’s majority floor leader, a powerful leadership position.

In a statement, Shell said he wants to “defend agriculture and conservative Kentucky values on every front.”

“This will be an aggressive campaign built on homegrown values I’ve learned on the family farm. I’m pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-growth and pro-farmer, and I live these values every day,” Shell said.

Stephanie Wolf

The Kentucky Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a lower court shouldn’t have blocked new laws that limit Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers during the pandemic. The order is not an overall ruling on their constitutionality, though.

Beshear filed a lawsuit in February after the state legislature passed several measures limiting his emergency powers, including a bill restricting the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature, and one allowing businesses and schools to ignore state emergency regulations as long as they follow CDC guidelines.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments over the case earlier this summer.

The decision means Beshear’s challenge to those laws will go back to Franklin Circuit Court, with an order for the lower court to no longer block the laws from going into effect. The court had put a temporary injunction on the laws.

LRC Public Information

Former Democratic state Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville died Friday morning after a battle with COVID-19.

Known for his colorful suits and blazers, Yonts was an attorney who represented House District 15, including Muhlenberg County and part of Hopkins County from 1997 to 2016.

Yonts had been in critical condition and in the ICU for two weeks and had recently been placed on a ventilator, according to a Facebook post from his daughter Ellen Yonts Suetholz.

“It has taken a toll on him and the hospital did everything possible to prevent this from happening but as he remains critical, it was the only option,” she wrote.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky nursing home administrators are worried that a new federal mandate for their employees to get vaccinated will lead to a worker shortage.

President Joe Biden announced plans on Wednesday to withhold Medicaid and Medicare funding from nursing homes that don’t require their employees to get the shot.

Betsy Johnson, president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, said nursing home industry leaders strongly support their workers getting vaccinated, but many employees don’t want to.

“Our health care workers are human beings too. They are influenced by things they see on social media, family members, misinformation, political debates about COVID-19,” Johnson said.

LRC Public Information

A Republican state lawmaker has filed a bill that would ban businesses from requiring employees to get vaccinated or asking about employees’ vaccination status.

The proposal comes as some Kentucky businesses are doing just that—at least 11 major hospitals and health care providers in the state are requiring workers to get the vaccine as the coronavirus continues to surge.

The bill, filed by Marion Republican Rep. Lynn Bechler, would expand Kentucky’s civil rights code, forbidding employers from requiring proof of vaccination in order to work or apply for a job.

It also bans businesses from limiting or classifying employees based on their vaccination status.

Lawmakers will consider the bill when they return for the next legislative session in January.

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