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.

KTRS Bailout Dead

Mar 10, 2015

A proposal to bail out Kentucky’s ailing teachers’ retirement fund with a $3.3 billion bond issue is dead in the General Assembly.

Senate President Robert Stivers stripped the bonding provision from the bill Tuesday, saying that more time is needed to study and fix the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System before more money is added. “There are systemic changes that need to be made in KTRS before we can make it actuarially sound and viable in perpetuity.”

Now the bill would set up a committee of lawmakers and hire an independent think tank to study KTRS’ predicament and potential solutions. The teacher’s pension system only has 53 percent of the money it needs to make future payouts to about 141,000 retired teachers.

Also unlikely to pass this session are the local option sales tax bill and a measure to allow more public/private partnerships.

And a bill that would require students to use the bathroom designated for the sex they were born with is a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled House. House Speaker Greg Stumbo says the measure hasn’t gained support in his chamber.

Lance Dennee / WKMS

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is urging motorists to stay off highways to allow emergency crews to clear snow and stalled vehicles. Heavy snowfall across the region led Beshear to declare a state of emergency for the second time in a month.

“A lot of these people have been working 12 hour shifts for two weeks now because of the first winter storm and now this one," Beshear said. "But, they’re doing a great job and we just ask people to be careful and be patient as we try to get the roads cleared."

Beshear said 85 National Guard troops from six armories have been activated to assist with the emergency response around the state.

The snowfall snarled traffic on Interstate 65 in central Kentucky and I-24 in western Kentucky. Dozens of motorists had to be rescued.

Thinkstock

The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would place more accountability requirements on counties that have jailers but no jails.

A recent review by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found that since the 1970s, 41 counties have closed their jails for budgetary or compliance reasons.

Though all of those counties have a jailer, which is a constitutional office in Kentucky, many of those jailers have little or no official duties but draw a full salary.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Danny Carroll of Paducah, would require jailers to submit quarterly reports on their job duties to fiscal courts, would require the courts to establish job requirements for county jailers and only make salary adjustments based on increases in the consumer price index.

The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill authorizing $132.5 million in bonding for a cancer research center at the University of Kentucky.  UK will raise an additional $132.5 million to fund the project.

This is the second piece of legislation passed by both chambers in the 2015 General Assembly.

Bill sponsor Representative Alice Forgy Kerr said the cancer research center will help create a healthier Kentucky.

“The life expectancy of our states is lower than that of citizens in other states and we know that that is unacceptable and we have to do something about that," stated Kerr.

Governor Steve Beshear has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

Kentucky LRC

This is the last full week of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session—and just one major piece of legislation has passed both the House and Senate.

Some in Frankfort have high hopes that a few bills will become law in the session’s waning days, including a bill meant to address Kentucky’s growing heroin problem and a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to fund local projects with a temporary sales tax.

At the end of day 21 of a likely 28 day session, here’s where some of the big bills stood:

Heroin

The House and Senate have each passed their own bills that seek to combat Kentucky’s growing heroin problem. Both proposals set aside money for addiction treatment, increase penalties for traffickers and make an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone more available.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky is one step closer to providing victims of dating violence with the same protections that married victims have.

A Senate committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow people to file an interpersonal protective order against an abusive dating partner. The bill has passed the House and now heads to the full Senate.

Kentucky is the only state that doesn’t offer civil protection to victims of dating violence. Currently only couples who are married, share a child or cohabitate can file protective orders against their partners.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat, said the bill can solve problems quickly without entering the criminal justice system.

“More than half of those who enter this system, the violence stops with a civil protected order,” Tilley said. “In other words, criminal sanctions aren’t necessary. Sometimes the victim doesn’t want to go through the criminal justice process.”

Major telephone companies could scale back land line service to residents in Kentucky's 15 largest markets in the state under a bill that passed the state Senate on Monday. At least two dozen other states have already deregulated their landline telephone services, the beginning of the end for the more than 100 year old technology that's being pushed out by cell phones and high-speed internet access.

The Senate vote Monday was 30-3. The so-called AT&T deregulation bill had previously won House approval. Gov. Steve Beshear has said he would sign it into law.

Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky House unanimously passed two bills to combat sex trafficking and child pornography in the state.

One bill would prevent those charged with having sex with a child prostitute from claiming they thought the child was over 18. Democratic Representative Sannie Overly says the bill goes along with legislation working its way through the U.S. Congress that amends federal trafficking statutes in the same way.

“It is essentially ‘buyer beware’ and you don’t get to claim later that you didn’t know how old the victim was," Overly said.

The other bill would increase funding for a task force which investigates crimes against children on the internet.

If either bill succeeds, this would be the third year that Kentucky has passed a human trafficking law.

Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spent the most cash lobbying in the General Assembly in the month of January.

According to the Legislative Ethics Commission groups spent nearly $1.8 million that month.

The Kentucky Chamber dropped more than $30,000 trying to influence legislators on matters like public-private-partnerships, the local-option sales tax and charter schools.

Another notable big-spender in January was the tobacco company Altria, which also spent the most on lobbying the legislature last year at $323,000.

The Kentucky Hospital Association helped cap the top three spots. That group has been lobbying for the implementation of medical review panels and the smoking ban.

A record-high 677 businesses and organizations are currently registered to lobby the Kentucky General Assembly.

Kentucky’s Judicial Nominating Commission has nominated three candidates to replace former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott.

Will T. Scott resigned in January to enter the Republican race for governor. He has represented the 7th Supreme Court District, which covers much Eastern Kentucky since 2004.

The candidates are all Eastern Kentucky attorneys: David Allen Barber from Prestonsburg, Roger Donald Riggs from Mount Sterling and Janet Stumbo from Van Lear.

Barber is an advisor for House Speaker Greg Stumbo and a former Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge. Riggs was a judge in the Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims, which deals with worker’s compensation claims in the state. Janet Stumbo has been a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge for the last seven years. She held the 7th District seat from 1993 to 2004, until she was defeated by Will T. Scott.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has 60 days to appoint one of the nominees to the seat.

The Kentucky House has passed a bill that would allow the state to engage in public-private-partnerships, or P3s on major projects.

The bill passed 84-13 without an amendment that would have prohibited using a P3 to finance a toll bridge connecting Covington and Cincinnati.

A similarly amended bill was vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear last year.

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Leslie Combs, said P3s are necessary because the state is running out of money.

A Kentucky Senate committee has begun debating a House-passed bill addressing Kentucky’s heroin abuse problem.

One point of contention between the House and Senate proposal is a provision that would allow local health districts to set up needle exchange program.

Senator Wil Schroder said that would make it harder for law enforcement to identify drug paraphernalia.

But Van Ingram, the Executive Director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, argued that needle exchanges are an important first point of contact between addicts and those who can help them.

“It starts to get a public health connection with someone who has checked out of the public health system," said Ingram.  "And say: ‘Here’s your clean needles, I noticed you’ve got an abscess on your arm, I can help you with that.  If you’re concerned about Hepatitis C, we can get you tested.'"

The House and Senate are also at odds over how to prosecute heroin traffickers.

Kentucky LRC

With support from an unlikely partnership of industry and environmental advocates, a Kentucky House committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—for natural gas.

The fracking process extracts natural gas by drilling deep into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale formations up sometimes over two miles underground.

The House proposal would impose several regulations on the fracking industry, including water quality testing near injection sites, disclosure of the chemicals that are injected underground and a requirement that companies protect or reclaim land around injection sites.

“It’s not only good for the oil and gas industry but it’s good for environmental protection purposes as well,” said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook who sponsored the bill.

Tom FitzGerald, director of environmental group the Kentucky Resources Council, said there are “arguments to be made” that fracking has more negative than positive impacts, But he nonetheless supported the bill, saying it would regulate fracking’s inevitable growth in the state.

Flickr/Creative Commons

MillerCoors has joined the so-called “beer battle” between Anheuser-Busch and craft brewers in the Kentucky General Assembly.

Craft brewers and local beer distributors support a bill that would forbid out-of-state brewers from owning beer distributors in the state. Breweries that make fewer than 25,000 barrels of beer per year are not allowed to own their own distributors under Kentucky law.

In a letter sent earlier this month to Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the bill, MillerCoors Vice President Timothy Scully threw his support behind the proposal. Scully wrote that the bill would create a level playing field for brewers doing business in Kentucky.

“This fair and equitable proposal ensures that all brewers can continue to enjoy open and fair competition when selling beer through an independent distribution system,” Scully wrote.

All eyes are on Kentucky’s state senators to see if they’ll move on the House’s proposed statewide smoking ban.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has said he doesn’t see support for the bill in the upper chamber.

“If there is, and individuals want to vote on it and can get committee votes and want to get it to the floor it will move in the normal and ordinary course,” Stivers said.

Supporters had initially hoped the bill would be assigned to the Health and Welfare committee, chaired by bill sponsor Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville. However the legislation was assigned to the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, signaling there might be a tough road ahead for the smoking ban.

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