News Around the State

Bill to overhaul Ky.’s child welfare system advances

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a bill that overhauls the state’s struggling child welfare system.

House Bill 1 would impose timelines on the state and the court system in an effort to shorten the length of time children in state custody are in limbo. It would also direct state officials to automatically begin the process of terminating parental rights for any mother who gives birth to a drug-dependent baby and refuses to enter a drug rehabilitation program.

Kentucky has more than 8,600 children in state custody. Officials say that number has risen sharply in recent years because of the opioid crisis.

The bill now heads to the state Senate. It passed the House 94-1, with Democrat Attica Scott casting the lone “no” vote.

AG warns proposed pension overhaul wouldn’t hold up in court

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s attorney general says a public pension overhaul proposed by Republican lawmakers would not withstand court challenges likely to follow if the measure becomes law.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear weighed in on one of the legislative session’s defining issues shortly before a Senate committee was scheduled to review the pension bill.

In a letter to lawmakers, Beshear said Wednesday that the bill would break the inviolable contract between the state and its public employees.

Beshear says that contract would be broken because the bill would reduce or alter guaranteed benefits. For teachers, he says it would reduce cost-of-living adjustments and cap use of sick time. For some other public employees, he says it would unlawfully change how retirement is calculated.

Beshear warned the measure would draw numerous lawsuits if enacted. And he predicts the state would lose in court.

Chief justice won’t remove Ky. school shooting judge

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s chief justice has denied a motion from prosecutors seeking to remove a judge from a high-profile school shooting case.

Marshall County Circuit Judge James Jameson has courted controversy since the Jan. 23 deadly shooting at Marshall County High School. Local media companies have complained in court filings that Jameson is keeping the public out of adult court proceedings for the 15-year-old charged in the shooting, Gabriel Parker.

The county prosecutor, Mark Blankenship, argued in a motion that Jameson acted before the case was in his court by appointing a public defender for Parker. Jameson acknowledged being approached by an attorney on the day of the shooting seeking to represent Parker.

Chief Justice John D. Minton ruled Wednesday that he doesn’t see a “disqualifying circumstance” to remove Jameson from the case.

Bill advances to create tip line for ethics complaints

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill to create a tip line for legislative branch employees to report complaints of harassment or other misconduct.

The bill was introduced amid an ethics investigation of ex-House Speaker Jeff Hoover and three other lawmakers for their involvement in a secret sexual harassment settlement.

The measure that cleared a House committee on Thursday would require the Legislative Ethics Commission to create the tip line. It could be used to lodge complaints of fraud, theft, sexual harassment, discrimination or other misconduct.

Supporters say it would create an expedited process to review misconduct allegations. Tips could still be forwarded to a more formal process that can result in a public hearing with witnesses to determine whether ethical standards were violated.

The legislation is House Bill 9.

Ky. Democrat who won in Trump district takes office

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky Democrat elected to a state House seat in a district Republican President Donald Trump won with 72 percent of the vote has been sworn in to office.

Linda Belcher has replaced former GOP Rep. Dan Johnson, who killed himself last year after facing sexual-assault allegations. Belcher defeated Republican Rebecca Johnson, Dan Johnson’s widow, with 68 percent of the vote in last week’s special election.

Belcher was sworn in Tuesday by Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. She will serve the final year of Johnson’s term. Belcher and Johnson both have filed for a full, two-year term and could meet in November.

In another special election, Republican Robert Goforth defeated Democrat Kelly Smith on Tuesday and will replace former GOP Rep. Marie Rader, who resigned in December because of health reasons.

Parents charged in death of adult son with Down syndrome

WINCHESTER, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky couple has been charged with murder in the death, by neglect, of their adult son with Down syndrome.

Clark County Coroner Robert Gayheart tells news outlets that malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia were contributing factors leading to 20-year-old Logan Christy’s December death. His parents, 65-year-old Patsy Christy and 61-year-old Albert Christy, were arrested Monday.

Investigators say the parents received state assistance until their child turned 18, and they could have kept applying for benefits. Gayheart says there’s no evidence that Logan Christy received medical care after that.

An autopsy revealed that there was no food in the son’s stomach. Patsy Christy told deputies she had fed him 13 minutes before he collapsed.

It’s unclear if the couple has lawyers.

Winchester, the county seat, is 27 miles east of Lexington.

New commissioner of Ky. Dept. of Natural Resources appointed

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The secretary of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet has appointed a commissioner for the Department for Natural Resources.

Secretary Charles Snavely announced the appointment of former coal mining executive John D. Small this week.

Small was serving as deputy commissioner in the Department of Natural Resources. His appointment is effective Thursday. Before working in government, Small, a native of Inez in Martin County, spent nearly four decades in management positions in the coal industry. He retired in 2015 from Excel Mining, a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners.

Small replaces former commissioner Allen Luttrell, who resigned in January for personal reasons.

Snavely appointed of George L. Seay, Jr. as deputy commissioner of the department.

Crews stabilize 1800s covered bridge damaged by flooding

FLEMINGSBURG, Ky. (AP) — Transportation officials say they have finished work to temporarily stabilize a 19th century bridge in northeastern Kentucky that was damaged by flooding last year.

A statement from the Kentucky Department of Highways on Wednesday said crews inserted steel beams through Dover Covered Bridge in Mason County and tied them to the structure and the ground. The agency says the project is aimed at protecting the bridge from structural failures until a long-term restoration plan can be developed.

The bridge, which dates back to 1835, was damaged by record-level flooding along Lee Creek. The waters tore away two 12,000-pound (5,440-kilogram) steel support beams. The bridge has been closed ever since.

It originally opened as a toll bridge and was renovated in 1926 and 1966. The steel support beams were added in the 1980s.

Skunk joining lineup at Salato Wildlife Center in Frankfort

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A new animal is joining the Salato Wildlife Education Center in Frankfort — a striped skunk.

The center reopens Thursday, featuring exhibits of the state’s fish and native wildlife.

The skunk will join the collection of animals that can’t be released back into the wild but are trained at the center for educational programs. Conservation educator Tiffany Laracuente says the center is hoping to clear up some of the myths that some people believe about skunks.

The center said in a news release that skunks are an important part of the ecosystem and keep rodent and insect populations in check.

The skunk won’t be on permanent exhibit until later in the year. Visitors can call the center to see when the skunk will be available for viewing before that time.

Bevin makes 2 appointments to University of Louisville board

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has appointed two new members to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. The selections come at a crucial time as the school searches for a new campus president.

The governor’s office said Wednesday that Bevin has appointed Mary R. Nixon of Louisville and James Michael Rogers of Prospect as UofL trustees.

Nixon is a retired finance executive at fast-food giant Yum Brands Inc.

Rogers is a retired Hilliard Lyons chief operating officer and executive vice president.

The governor’s office says both will serve terms expiring in early 2024.

The appointments come as UofL trustees are searching for a replacement for former campus President James Ramsey, who resigned after a series of scandals.

Greg Postel is serving as the university’s interim president.