Local News Politics

Failure of Paul Amendment Clears Way for Patriot Act Renewal

Kentucky’s senior Senator Mitch McConnell won a legislative victory over his colleague Rand Paul today.

Senator Paul had proposed an amendment to a measure extending the Patriot Act for four years. The amendments delayed action on the legislation, which was likely Paul’s goal. He says the Patriot Act, which was passed in response to the 9/11 attacks, is far-reaching to the point of being unconstitutional.

“Because we changed the standard of the 4th Amendment from probable cause to relevance. So if they want to look at your records, they just have to say it’s relevant. They don’t have to say you’re a terrorist. They don’t have to say you’re a foreigner. They don’t have to say you’re conspiring with anyone. They just have to say they have some interest in your library records.”

But Senator McConnell, under pressure from the White House, was able to organize a bipartisan group of Senators to vote down Paul’s amendment and close debate. That paves the way for the Patriot Act to be extended for another four years.

Kentucky Public Radio’s Dan Conti contributed to this report.

Local News Politics

Drug Czar Says Kasper Isn’t Enough to Fight Drug Abuse

by Dan Conti, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky’s system for tracking prescription drug sales is “forward leaning” but it’s not enough to curb abuse. That’s according to U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Speaking to the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, Kerlikowske said the system, known as KASPER, and similar initiatives in other states work well, but they need to work together.

“During our four day trip to eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, we learned that doctors had to access multiple systems: those in Ohio, those in West Virginia, those in Kentucky. When it came to checking on patients and making sure they weren’t over prescribing for patients who were, in fact, seeing other physicians,” he said.

Kerlikowske says an electronic monitoring system that includes data from every state would better prevent doctor shopping, where patients cross state lines and obtain prescription drugs from multiple doctors.

Local News Politics

Paul Lobbying for Exemption to Pay Expenses for Medical Practice

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is seeking an exemption to conflict-of-interest rules.

Paul is an ophthalmologist and he’s been performing eye surgeries for free at his Bowling Green practice since taking office. Senate rules prohibit members from being paid for other employment, but Paul is asking his colleagues to allow him to bill patients only to cover surgery expenses such as insurance. Paul continues to perform surgeries so he can keep his skills sharp.

The House has granted such exemptions in the past, but the Senate has not. Paul tells Politico that he has obtained support for his efforts from one member of the Senate Ethics Committee, but has not yet approached the panel’s chair, California Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Local News Politics

State Senate Reconvenes

As expected, the Kentucky Senate reconvened the special session on Medicaid. But not much has happened yet.

Senate President David Williams gaveled the session to order, and 27 members recorded their presence. A couple of resolutions were read, and then Senate Republicans went behind closed doors to caucus, where they remain.

Democratic Senatir Walter Blevins is still trying to figure out why the Senate’s even meeting.

“It’s a waste of time. I’d rather be home working, trying to make a living and trying to work on the problems of the people I represent. Today, we’re not going to be doing anything. It’s just all political theater,” he says. “It’s just all politics.”

The House officially went home March 24th and did not return for what the Senate is calling a veto override day. But no vetoes can be overridden, because overrides require majority votes in both chambers.

Local News Politics

McConnell Reaches Out to Tea Party

In a speech on the Senate floor today, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell  of Kentucky will praise and welcome a group of Tea Party protesters rallying on Capitol Hill.

Politico has a preview of the speech, which comes after Senate President Harry Reid blamed the Tea Party from blocking compromises in congress.

“In my view, the tea party has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the most important issues of the day,” McConnell, of Kentucky, will say, according to prepared remarks. “It’s helped focus the debate. It’s provided a forum for Americans who felt left out of the process to have a voice and make a difference. And it’s already leading to good results.”

Local News Politics

Senate Medicaid Plan Clears Committee

The Republican-controlled Senate’s plan for balancing Kentucky’s Medicaid budget has cleared the chamber’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

Senate Republicans still want across-the-board cuts to state agencies, including education, to balance Medicaid. But most of the education cuts wouldn’t come until January 31, 2012. And if Governor Beshear attains 82 percent of his projected savings from Medicaid managed care before then, the legislature could rescind the cuts.

“If we do see those savings, I think you’ll see the legislature move to restore those funds. I don’t think we ever questioned it. I’m shocked that anybody would question whether the legislature would move to restore those funds,” says Senate budget chairman Bob Leeper.

Leeper says the plan also halts any further furloughs of state employees, and across-the-board cuts would also apply to the Judicial and Legislative branches of government. The bill, which cleared the budget committee 13-5, now moves to the Senate floor.

Environment Local News Politics

McConnell Seeks to Stop EPA From Further Regulating Carbon Emissions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has filed an amendment to a small business bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new regulations on carbon emissions.

McConnell calls such regulations “a back-door national energy tax,” and says they would lead to higher prices for gasoline, groceries, electricity and natural gas.

Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky has filed similar legislation in the House.

Carbon is a common pollutant and is linked to climate change. For more on the science of carbon emissions, watch this video from NPR and Robert Krulwich.

Additional information provided by the Associated Press

Local News Politics

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.

Local News Politics

Rand Paul Talks Budgets, Government on Daily Show

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul continued his book tour this week, appearing on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The 15-minute interview (in three parts—1,2,3) covers current issues and the philosophical differences on government between Stewart and Paul. The second part, specifically, deals with the cause and effects of the recession, and whether budget crises federally and in the states are the result of government overspending or the economic slump.

Local News Politics

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.