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Local News Politics

Payday Loan Opponent Says Prospect of Federal Regulation Won’t Deter Local Efforts

The newly-formed federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has the power to regulate payday loans. But a Kentucky lawmaker who has repeatedly attempted to cap payday loans says the feud in Congress over the bureau doesn’t make him confident that any progress will be made.

State Senator Gerald Neal, D-33, has spent years trying to cap the annual interest for payday loans at 36 percent. That’s something the protection bureau could theoretically do…if it had a director. Currently, a Republican-led effort in the U.S. Senate has kept the president’s appointment to the bureau unconfirmed.

Neal says the gridlock makes him question whether payday loan regulation will happen or if it will stay in place. He plans to continue his efforts on the state level unless the situation in Washington changes. He adds that any federal regulation that falls short of a 36 percent cap won’t be enough.

“Anything that’s permissible, that’s not in conflict with the federal-state pre-emption type issues, I would be supportive of. I think we have to get control of this situation,” he says.

Lenders have spent significant money lobbying in state capitals and in Washington. A report from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington say the payday loan industry spent more than $4 million lobbying Congress last year.

“Money influences the process, there’s no question about that,” says Neal. “At the very least, it puts the arguments of those individuals who gain access to that process in a position to have their voice heard very loudly. Those people exploited by the process are heard less.”

Neal and others say payday loans are costly to the point of being predatory. Lenders counter that the loans are meant to be short-term and therefore shouldn’t be judged by annual interest rates.

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Local News Politics

Balanced Budget Amendment Resolution Unlikely to Lead to Federal Action

The Kentucky Senate passed a resolution Tuesday calling for a constitutional convention on a balanced federal budget amendment. The vote was strictly along party lines, with one exception.

If Congress refuses to act on a constitutional amendment favored by the states, the states can force a constitutional convention. It’s never happened before, but U.S. Senator Rand Paul says it’s time, because Congress refuses to approve a balanced budget amendment.

“If we do nothing with spending, within a decade entitlements and interest occupy the whole budget. Think about that. The whole budget! No money for defense. No money for roads. No money for education. No money for anything if we don’t reform the system,” he says.

After listening to Senator Paul’s comments on the Senate floor, 22 Republicans joined the call for a constitutional convention. But Republican Senator Julie Denton joined the chamber’s 15 Democrats in opposing the resolution.

“I do have some concerns, as to what this could mutate into,” she said. “Congress now has the ability to limit its spending and it has chosen not to and I do have concerns about where this would go.  It’s going to pass anyway, but I doubt that it’ll pass in the House.  So I don’t know that it much matters, but I vote no.”

Two-thirds of the states pass similar resolutions to force congress to act. To date, at least 22 states have done so, but each state’s resolution is worded differently.

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Local News Politics

Senate Committee Approves Resolution Asking for Convention on Balanced Budget Amendment

A resolution urging Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider a balanced budget amendment has cleared a Kentucky Senate committee.

The Senate State and Local Government committee, at the urging of U.S. Senator Rand Paul, voted 7-3 for the resolution.

“If we continue upon this path of spending, within a decade, the entire budget will be consumed by entitlements and interest,” Paul told the committee. “That means no money for roads. No money for education. No money for national defense. Entitlements and interest will consume the entire budget if we do nothing. We are on a path to fiscal ruin.”

In order to force Congress to act, two-thirds of the nation’s state legislatures would need to pass similar resolutions. A Senate floor vote on the resolution is expected later today, after Senator Paul addresses the chamber.

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Environment Local News Politics

Kentucky Lawmakers Supporting “Unenforceable” Anti-EPA Bill

The Associated Press is reporting that lawmakers in Kentucky are threatening to declare the commonwealth a “Sanctuary state,” placing it out of the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republican Senator Brandon Smith, who chairs the Energy and Environment Committee, says environmental regulation is hurting Kentucky, and he’s proposed legislation that would block the EPA from enforcing regulations in Kentucky.

But the bill is unenforceable, and Smith says it’s meant to send a message to President Barack Obama.

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Local News Politics

Williams And Rand Discuss Schools, Immigration At Forum

Some of the bills passed by the Kentucky Senate during the opening week of the General Assembly may not move forward in the House. One leading Democrat says several of the GOP’s top pieces of legislation are either nearly dead or unlikely to pass a full vote.

Democratic Representative and House Appropriations Chair Rick Rand appeared opposite Senate President David Williams at the Louisville Forum Wednesday. Williams spoke favorably of several bills that have passed the Republican-led Senate, including the neighborhood schools bill and an Arizona-style immigration bill.

But Rand says the legislation won’t gain much support in the House, and aside from some updates to the budget, this legislative session could be one of impasse.

“It’s going to be, depending on how willing the Senate is to compromise on anything, obviously we’re not going to pass any of them like they are,” he says. “We’re just going to have to wait and see. We just got the bills last Friday.”

Rand says House members are reviewing several GOP bills from the Senate and considering whether to give them committee hearings and whether to modify them.

But Williams is standing by the legislation. He co-sponsored the neighborhood schools bill, which would give students priority enrollment at the schools closest to their homes and would allow charter schools to be established.

Opponents say it would dismantle the JCPS student assignment plan and failing schools in Louisville are already heavily attended by students who live nearby. But Williams says the district can’t help those schools, because officials are distracted by the assignment plan.

“The approach that they’re taking now is failing the children of Jefferson County,” he says. “They’re spending all this money to try to…It’s a charade! Now, diversity is a goal that is worthy, but you can get diversity with magnet schools and other approaches.”

Williams is one of two Republican candidates running for governor. Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim says Williams’s support of the bill is a political ploy.

“With any assignment plan, you’re never going to have 100% of the parents happy,” says McKim. “Just like any schedule you make for a school year, it interferes with someone’s wedding or someone’s vacation. You’ll never have everyone happy and I think those legitimate frustrations are being preyed upon by Senator Williams.”

The legislation has passed the Republican-led Senate, but House Democrats say it’s unlikely to move forward.

The full forum:

Audio MP3

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Local News Politics

Senate Budget Chief “Cautiously Optimistic” About Surplus

The chairman of Kentucky’s Senate Appropriations and Revenue committee is cautiously optimistic about news of a possible budget surplus.

State Budget Director Mary Lassiter says if revenue growth continues on its current course, the state could end the fiscal year with a budget surplus of $58 million. But Senate budget chief Bob Leeper says Lassiter’s report is preliminary and contains many warnings.

“Not all that money goes into the General Fund. Being coal severance money, some of that money goes back to the counties,” he says. “So, it’s a figure that’s accurate, but it’s also something that you have to take a lot of factors in. It’s not $58 million to go out and spend.”

The state has seen two consecutive quarters of General Fund revenue growth, and three straight quarters of Road Fund growth. General Fund growth in the first quarter of the current fiscal year was 4.4 percent. The rate required to meet the budget is 4.2 percent.

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Local News

Perry Clark wins KY Senate Seat for 37th District

Perry Clark has represented Louisville in both the state house and senate.  Louisville metro councilman and republican Doug Hawkins challenged Clark for the senate seat.  But Clark has finished the race with more than 56 percent of the vote, defeating Hawkins.

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Local News

19th Dis. State Senate Race Still Unclear

Votes are still being tallied in the race for the 19th district’s state senate seat (Jefferson County).  Incumbent State Senator Tim Shaughnessy has served since 1989.  Republican Bob Heleringer is trying to unseat him.  Heleringer served in the state House for many years but left office after a redistricting.  With a fraction of precincts reporting, Shaughnessy holds a strong lead.

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Local News

Councilman Fighting RFG Mandate

Louisville Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins’ latest legislation takes aim at high gas prices.

Hawkins says the requirement that Louisville use cleaner burning reformulated gasoline, or RFG, is driving prices up by as much as twenty five cents per gallon. He wants Governor Steve Beshear to opt out of the RFG program for Louisville that was imposed by the state in the 1990s as a way to meet federal air pollution guidelines.

Hawkins is proposing a resolution to that effect in the Metro Council and gathering signatures on petition to send to the governor.

If that happens, Hawkins says he’d be ready to find new ways for the city to meet federal emission guidelines.

“There are other options we’d have to put into place but I don’t think they’re as terrible or as draconian as having to pay extra for the reformulated gasoline,” he says.

Attorney General Jack Conway is currently investigating gas prices in Louisville, and he says RFG is only responsible for five to ten cents of the total cost of a gallon of gas.

Hawkins is running for state Senate in the fall election, but says the actions are not an effort to boost his candidacy.