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

The Kentucky legislature won’t meet this week due to a series of winter storm events across the state.

Lawmakers are at the halfway point during this year’s 30 working-day session and the closure means they have to adjust the official meeting calendar.

Legislators will return for the session’s 15th working day on Monday. The deadline to file bills will now be Tuesday, Feb. 21 and the legislature will be in session on some days previously designated as “drafting days.”

The legislature is still required to adjourn by March 30, per the state constitution.

Sydney Boles

A Republican-sponsored bill in the Kentucky legislature would require the governor to replace a departing U.S. senator with someone from the same political party.

The proposal is supported by Kentucky’s 78-year-old U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and comes as state lawmakers continue to try and chip away at Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s powers.

Senate Bill 228 would be a big change from how Kentucky governors currently fill senate vacancies — picking whomever they want.

Instead, the governor would have to pick a replacement from a list of three nominees selected by the state party of the departing senator.

NPR

  Both of Kentucky’s U.S. senators voted to acquit Donald Trump on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell capped off his vote with a winding explanation of why the former president should be blamed for the insurrection, but shouldn’t be convicted for it.

“President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day, no question about it,” McConnell said during a speech on the Senate floor.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”

Ryland Barton

A legislative committee dismissed a petition to impeach Republican state Rep. Robert Goforth, who was indicted for allegedly strangling and threatening to kill his wife last year. 

The Kentucky House of Representatives Impeachment Committee is still reviewing petitions against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

But on Thursday night, the panel heard testimony from two law professors who argued state law doesn’t allow for the impeachment of legislators.

Paul Salamanca, a law professor at the University of Kentucky, said it was a matter of constitutionality.

Churchill Downs

The Kentucky House of Representatives has voted to re-legalize historical horse racing, a slot-machine-style of gambling that was struck down by the state Supreme Court last year.

The horse industry rallied around Senate Bill 120, saying parlors filled with the slot-like machines have buoyed racetracks and revenue has trickled down to trainers, breeders and farms.

Rep. Matthew Koch, a Republican from Paris, said historical horse racing, or HHR, has been a shot in the arm for the industry.

“HHR has allowed our industry to expand and grow our purses by 102% in ten years,” Koch said. “That’s helping the little guys. That’s going to the guys like my family that have been in this for generations.”

screenshot from KET

Republican state lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul are rallying around a yet-to-be-revealed bill that would make changes to Kentucky’s election laws, though it’s unclear what exactly the bill would do.

Rep. Jennifer Decker, a Republican from Waddy and the bill’s sponsor, said Thursday she won’t unveil the contents of the bill to the public or Democratic lawmakers until the day before the bill receives its first vote.

Decker said she has received input from county clerks, the State Board of Elections and current and former GOP officials.

“We combined our list and we’re paring it down in an attempt to include only those ideas that would help advance the goal of enhancing the integrity and trust in our election system,” Decker said.

Creative Commons

The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would raise the bar for what counts as felony theft in the state.

Under current law, stealing anything worth more than $500 in Kentucky can be charged as a Class D felony, meaning it is punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years, a fine and revocation of civil rights.

Anyone in Kentucky who has been convicted of a felony in Kentucky is stripped of their right to vote, hold office and own a gun for life.

But under House Bill 126, the felony theft threshold would rise to $1,000.

J. Tyler Franklin

A state Senate committee has passed a bill that would create a commission to study racial disparities in Kentucky.

The effort comes in response to the police killing of Breonna Taylor and months of racial justice protests in Louisville, though lawmakers still haven’t considered proposals like a ban on no-knock warrants or civilian review boards supported by many in the movement.

Sen. David Givens, a Republican from Greensburg, says the legislature needs to study racial disparities more before passing new policies.

“We don’t have a data collection point that takes that and turns it into information. The data’s there,” Givens said. “This commission would turn it into information to help us guide policy.”

John Boyle

 As Kentucky continues to vaccinate only first responders, teachers and people most vulnerable to the virus, some state lawmakers are pushing for Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration to move child care workers to the front of the line.

During a meeting of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Paducah Republican Sen. Danny Carroll said he doesn’t understand why K-12 teachers are eligible for the vaccine, but child care workers aren’t.

“Our child care workers have been working daily ever since the child care centers were allowed to reopen,” Carroll said.

“So we’re vaccinating people to sit at home when you have another group who is working with kids, who is working every day, who can’t get the vaccine.”

J. Tyler Franklin

A bill that would shield businesses and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits passed out of a Kentucky legislative committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 5 would protect businesses and other entities during the state of emergency from lawsuits unless they were grossly negligent or intentionally defied guidelines related to the pandemic.

Supporters argue the measure is needed to provide certainty for businesses reopening during the pandemic, but critics say it would undermine protections for consumers and workers.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Latonia and owner of a construction company, said businesses that have stayed open through the pandemic need more assurance they won’t be sued.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Republican committee reviewing impeachment petitions against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has dismissed two of the cases but is still asking the governor to respond to one of them.

The committee is also still reviewing petitions filed against Attorney General Daniel Cameron and state Rep. Robert Goforth, both Republicans.

Three grand jurors from the Breonna Taylor case filed a petition to impeach Cameron last month, alleging he misled the public about the case and misrepresented the grand jury’s actions.Six of Goforth’s constituents called for him to be removed following his indictment for allegedly assaulting and threatening to kill his wife last year.

Republican Rep. Jason Nemes is the chair of the committee, which the state House of Representatives formed after receiving the initial citizen petition calling for Beshear to be removed because of his role responding to the coronavirus pandemic in Kentucky.

ONA News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would prevent some teenagers from automatically being tried as adults in the court system passed out of a committee in the Kentucky legislature on Thursday.

Senate Bill 36, the so-called “juvenile justice bill,” would do away with the state’s automatic transfer law, which requires minors age 14 or older to be tried in adult court if they are charged with a crime involving a firearm.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield is a Republican from Crofton and has sponsored versions of the measure for the last three years, saying that automatic transfer policies contribute to the overrepresentation of young Black people in the justice system.

Westerfield says instead of automatically sending the cases to adult court, judges would have the discretion of what to do.

Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

A judge has temporarily blocked a new Kentucky law that allows businesses and schools to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic as long as they follow CDC guidelines.

The ruling comes a day after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear sued to block three laws passed by the Republican-led legislature curtailing his powers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The order from Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd only blocks parts of House Bill 1 that affect business and school openings. Other parts of the bill, including easing restrictions on long-term care visits and unemployment insurance taxes, remain in effect.

Shepherd wrote that he was concerned portions of House Bill 1 “could likely wreak havoc with public health.”

“Under the provisions of House Bill 1, it is likely that hundreds, or even thousands, of individual operating plans could be adopted, with no meaningful oversight or review, and with great variations as to the rules that would apply throughout the state,” Shepherd wrote.

Marty Osbourn, Kentucky Pediatric/Adult Research COO

A bill that would expand Kentuckians’ ability to opt out of mandatory vaccinations is advancing in the state legislature, though the measure has been scaled back to still require immunizations for children enrolled in school.

Senate Bill 8 would allow people to opt out if the state creates a requirement for everyone to get vaccinated during a pandemic, as long as they cite their “conscientiously-held beliefs.”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has not said he will require people to get vaccinated, and Kentucky is a long way from having enough vaccines for everybody who wants them.

Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green and sponsor of the bill, said he isn’t opposed to vaccines, but that he’s gotten pushback from constituents worried about being forced to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear is asking a court to block three new Kentucky laws that limit his emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The challenge was filed Tuesday night, shortly after the Republican-led state legislature voted overwhelmingly to override Beshear’s vetoes of the measures.

Unless a court steps in, the new laws will limit the length of Beshear’s emergency orders and allow businesses and schools to open during the pandemic, as long as they follow CDC guidelines.

In a statement, Beshear wrote that the legislature is limiting his ability to implement lifesaving public health measures.

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