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City Officials Hear From First Lady, Hope to Save Community Development Block Grants

Several Louisville officials are in Washington this week for the National League of Cities conference, and at least one member of the city’s delegation is hoping to convince federal officials to rethink a proposed budget cut.

The conference attendees heard today Tuesday from First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama promoted her Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity. Louisville Metro Councilman David Tandy says some of the First Lady’s suggestions, such as encouraging healthy eating and exercise, can be implemented locally at no cost. But others take money.

“When you’re talking about the re-striping of streets so that you have dedicated bike lanes or to make the necessary repairs that you’d have on various equipment that’s around the city or, for that matter, making sure community centers are open, that requires funds,” he says.

Tandy says money for those programs, and to bring fresh produce to urban food deserts, can come from the federal government through community development block grants. But those funds could soon be scarce. The U.S. House has proposed cutting the grants by more than 60%.

“That’s a big hit,” says Tandy. “So when you start talking about reducing funding, you’re taking it away from places that have proven positive results,” he says.

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Federal Legislation to Expedite EPA Decisions Mirrors Governor’s Stance

Legislation that would force the EPA to make faster decisions about mining permits has been introduced in the U.S. House.

Congressman Hal Rogers filed the bill, which is similar to legislation introduced by Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul in their chamber. The lawmakers say the EPA takes too long to approve or deny mining permits, and the delays may be an indirect method of rejecting permits.

Dick Brown with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet says Rogers, Paul, McConnell and Governor Steve Beshear share a common frustration with the EPA.

“The legislation does not advocate approval or disapproval of the permits, but rather mandates that a timely and final decision be made about those permits, and this is consistent with Kentucky’s executive branch position,” he says.

Many of the delayed permits are for so-called mountaintop removal projects, which opponents say are detrimental to the environment, and leave mountain waterways clogged and polluted.

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Indiana House GOP Approves Fines for Boycotting Democrats

Republicans in the Indiana House have approved $250-a-day fines against boycotting Democratic legislators.

Most House Democrats skipped Thursday morning’s floor session, extending their stay at an Urbana, Illinois hotel into an 11th day. The boycott is blocking action on labor and education bills the Democrats oppose by denying the House quorum.

House Speaker Brian Bosma says Democratic leader Patrick Bauer has told him the boycotting members will not return Friday. Bosma says he will hold off on formall censuring them as he had discussed earlier.

The fines will begin Monday. Such charges have been threatened in previous House walkouts, but have been waived when the minority party returns.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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Bill to Expand and Elect Public Service Commission Revised, Now Calls for Study

A Senate bill aimed at expanding the Kentucky Public Service Commission to seven members, elected by the people, has been altered in House committee. The bill now calls for creation of a legislative task force to study the issue and make recommendations for next year.

That’s fine, says Representative Keith Hall of Phelps, the bill’s House sponsor.

“The makeup currently is three senators and three house members, to be chaired by the Energy Committee, which I chair the House side, Brandon Smith chairs the Senate side. And we’ll make that more all-inclusive – maybe add more members, more consumer groups, business. They’re all welcome to the table,” he says.

The bill now moves to the House floor. Right now, the PSC is comprised of three members, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Public service commissions in at least 13 states are elected by the people.

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Crossroads Ads to Target Chandler

Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler is among a dozen Democrats being targeted in a series of radio ads from the conservative-aligned Crossroads GPS organization. The ads criticize the representatives for voting against a Republican-backed bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, largely through major spending cuts. The spots also praise Republicans for supporting the legislation.

The Washington Post has more on what the ads say about the next year for Chandler.

The ads, which provide an early window into both parties’ most vulnerable members heading into 2012, are the second major buy Crossroads has laid down this year.

The early spending suggests that Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads plan on continuing their active presence in House and Senate elections — not to mention the presidential race — in 2012.

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Anti-Bullying Bill Passes House Committee

from Kentucky Public Radio’s Stu Johnson

Legislation designed to better protect gay students from bullies has cleared a committee in the Kentucky House.

Three gay students testified about their experiences with bullying before the committee vote today Tuesday. Among them was Bradley Kaufman, who went to high school in Casey county.

“Many of my teachers had probably never met someone who is LGBT before so they don’t know what to do with it it’s not stated that they have to protect those students,” he said.

Several committee members expressed concern about bullying but indicated current law should address the issue. Sponsor Mary Lou Marzian says the legislation gives school officials power they don’t currently have to better deal with bullies who target gay students.

The bill now goes on to the full House.

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School Bus Ad Bill Passes House

School buses in Kentucky may soon sport advertising signs on their side exteriors.

The Kentucky House, with little debate, voted 61-35 to allow ads that don’t mention politics, cigarettes or alcohol. Lebanon Representative Terry Mills—the bill’s primary sponsor—says the ads could not appear on the inside, front or rear of school buses.

“Obviously, the revenue from advertising would not solve all of the funding problems in education, but in times such as these, all revenue helps,” he says.

Mills says several states already allow school bus ads, and Ohio, New Jersey and Utah are considering similar legislation. He says such ads have already raised one million dollars this academic year for the Dallas, Texas, school system. The bill now moves to the Senate.

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House Passes Bill That Requires Contractors To Verify Workers’ Immigration Status

The Kentucky House has approved an immigration enforcement bill offered by Representative Mike Cherry of Princeton. It requires employers contracting with public agencies to verify the immigration status of their workers.

“An agency furthermore shall cancel a contract if the contractor or subcontractor fails to maintain registration and participation in E-Verify during the term of the contract,” says Cherry. “Prior to receiving the final contract payment, a contractor and subcontractor shall submit a sworn affidavit they did not knowingly hire unauthorized alien employees.”

The bill flew through the House 90-6, with little debate. The six opponents were Democratic Reps. Johnny Bell, Tom Burch, Kelly Flood, Jim Gooch, Mary Lou Marzian and Jim Wayne.

“I have serious reservations about the E-Verification process,” says Marzian. “If there is a problem, or a false report that someone’s undocumented, then they will have to hire an attorney and possibly face a lot of really detrimental procedures.”

A Senate bill that puts the onus on law enforcement to verify the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens remains in a House committee.

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House Passes Ignition Lock Bill

Legislation requiring ignition interlock devices on the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers has won the unanimous support of the Kentucky House. Vehicles equipped with the devices won’t crank for drivers with illegally high blood-alcohol levels.

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Dennis Keene of Wilder, says the measure builds on national research.

“It trains DUI offenders to drive sober and it trains them to drive with the interlock device early, instead of getting in the habit of driving on a suspended license,” he says.

Similar legislation unanimously passed the House last year, only to die in the Senate. The House also approved legislation that puts the onus on employers to verify the immigration status of their employees. A Senate bill putting the verification onus on law enforcement remains in House committee.

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Bill Raising Dropout Age Moves To House Floor

Legislation raising Kentucky’s drop out age from 16 to 18 by 2016 has cleared another legislative hurdle.

Last week, the bill won House Education Committee approval. Now, it has the House budget committee’s blessing. Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says any new costs associated with the bill will easily be covered in coming years.

“The overwhelming savings of this bill over the long-term, and the taxes that you will recoup from high school graduates versus high school dropouts – the social costs, the incarceration costs, the Medicaid costs – they’re just enormous,” he says.

The committee also approved Governor Steve Beshear’s plan for balancing the state’s Medicaid budget and sent both measures to the House floor.