Lawmaker Wants Porn Blockers On All Computers Sold In Kentucky Saturday, Dec 9 2017 

A state lawmaker who made racist Facebook posts during his campaign last year wants to require all devices sold in Kentucky that can access the internet to have pornography blockers installed on them.

Rep. Dan Johnson, a Republican from Mt. Washington, has proposed requiring all internet-enabled devices to have “filters for obscenity, child pornography, revenge pornography, and prostitution.”

The bill would also create a deactivation process whereby the filters could be removed for a $20 fee. Money generated from removing filters would go to the crime victims compensation fund or human trafficking compensation fund.

Johnson, a preacher, was elected to his Bullitt County seat in 2016. He was disavowed by the Kentucky Republican Party during his campaign after posting racist pictures and comments to his Facebook page, but ended up defeating incumbent Democratic Rep. Linda Belcher by fewer than 200 votes.

Johnson posted images portraying President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as monkeys, a cartoon car running over Black Lives Matter protesters and calling for states to “ban” Islam. He eventually removed the posts.

The Republican Party of Kentucky called for Johnson to suspend his campaign at the time, though after the election, then-House speaker Jeff Hoover said that Johnson would be “welcome in our caucus.”

Earlier this year, Johnson filed a bill to totally ban abortions in the state by making it a felony to perform the procedure.

He’s also filed another piece of legislation requiring public universities to create freedom of speech policies.

That bill would require state higher education institutions to create protections for speech and ideas considered to be “offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrongheaded.”

Johnson did not return requests for comment made on Friday.

Louisville Defends Immigration Ordinance To Feds After Funding Threat Friday, Dec 8 2017 

Louisville officials defended the city’s new immigration ordinance in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Friday that called concerns about federal law violations inaccurate and out of context.

The letter from Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell was a response to Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson’s demand last month that Louisville prove its new ordinance doesn’t make it a “sanctuary city.”

Hanson said his office is “concerned” a recent ordinance will jeopardize the city’s eligibility to continue receiving a federal grant for police equipment.

The DOJ sent similar letters last month to 28 other jurisdictions across the country questioning whether local laws conflict with federal law Section 1373, which mandates local governments communicate with and provide information to federal agencies.

O’Connell noted that segments of Louisville’s ordinance quoted by the U.S. Department of Justice were selective and lacked context.

“Because our very ordinance states that Louisville will comply with the sharing directives contained in that federal section, it is perplexing that Louisville is singled out for scrutiny in light of Mr. Sessions’ directives to the contrary,” O’Connell said.

The Louisville city council passed an ordinance in October that says public safety officials can only assist federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents with a warrant signed by a judge, or if ICE “articulates a reasonable suspicion of a risk of violence” or when there is a clear danger to the public.” Other Metro employees are required to only ask about immigration status if they’re specifically required to do so by law or to assess eligibility for a program.

The change followed a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting article in September that revealed ICE agents had asked Louisville Metro Police Department officers to serve local warrants, make traffic stops and knock on the doors of non-violent offenders wanted for immigration offenses.

The ordinance also prevents the city’s Department of Corrections from entering into a 287(g) agreement — a federal program that deputizes local police or sheriff’s deputies to enforce immigration laws.

“Louisville has no intention of preventing or prohibiting the sharing of information as is required under the statute,” O’Connell said.

Read the letter here.

Kate Howard can be reached at khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.

GOP Lawmakers Crafting New Pension Bill; Shift To 401(k)s Remains Friday, Dec 8 2017 

A leader of Kentucky’s state senate says a “watered down” version of Gov. Matt Bevin’s pension proposal is being drafted but it would still shift future workers onto 401(k)-type retirement plans.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said he hopes the bill is revealed to the public before Christmas so it can be reviewed in advance of lawmakers’ return for the legislative session that begins on Jan. 2.

“It doesn’t go as far as I would like it to, but it has many of the changes that were suggested by the public sector,” Thayer said. “It still makes changes in current pensions that are outside the inviolable contract.”

Bevin still says he wants to call a special legislative session for lawmakers to consider changes to the pension systems sometime before the end of the year.

But a special session is increasingly unlikely. Earlier this week, a majority of Republican House members signed off on a letter discouraging Bevin from calling a special session.

Thayer said the new proposal isn’t finished or scored and there is little time for the legislature to “have a session of any meaningful impact” by the end of the year.

“We took the time to consider public sector input and incorporated some of their suggestions into a new bill,” Thayer said. “And because we took that time, now we’re basically running out of time. “I’m a big advocate of a special session, I have been all along. I wish we could’ve gotten it done by now.”

In October, Bevin and leaders of the state House and Senate unveiled a proposal that would phase out Kentucky’s use of a defined benefit pension system for most state workers.

Under the plan, most future and some current state workers would be moved onto 401(k)-type plans in which the state would match employees’ retirement contributions but wouldn’t make monthly payments after retirement.

Current employees would have their conventional pension benefits capped after 27 years of service and moved into 401(k)s going forward.

The proposal would also require employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to the retiree health plan, suspend retired teachers’ cost of living adjustments for five years and halt pension benefits for retirees who return to public service full-time.

Thayer wouldn’t provide many details about what’s in the new proposal that’s being hashed out between Bevin and Republican leaders of the legislature.

Republican lawmakers have apparently backed off some provisions affecting current retirees and employees — including the 3 percent fee for retiree health and suspension of cost of living adjustments.

But Thayer said moving future employees onto 401(k)-type plans — technically called 401(a)s — is a “cornerstone” of the plan.

“It’s critical that if we’re going to get this state back on a sustainable pension path that all new employees after July 1 go on a 401(a),” Thayer said.

New Bills Target Statehouse Harassment, Former Speaker Hoover Wednesday, Dec 6 2017 

As a sexual harassment scandal continues to unfurl in the state legislature, two Republican lawmakers have filed a bill that would create a tip line to report wrongdoing and another wants to remove the accused former House Speaker from office.

Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, a Republican from Jamestown, stepped down from his leadership position last month amid revelations that he and three other Republican lawmakers secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint made by a staffer.

Hoover admitted to exchanging inappropriate text messages with the woman but denied sexually harassing her.

Rep. Wesley Morgan, a Republican from Richmond, has filed a bill to remove Hoover from elected office, citing “disorderly behavior punishable by expulsion under Section 39 of the Kentucky Constitution.”

And GOP Reps. Ken Fleming, of Louisville, and Kim Moser, of Taylor Mill, have filed a bill that would create a tip line to report complaints against members of the legislature.

“In the wake of an ongoing investigation of a sexual harassment complaint in the Kentucky Legislature and a groundswell of complaints around the country, the need for a process to report complaints to an independent party is crystal clear,” Fleming said in a statement.

The tip line would be administered by the Legislative Ethics Commission, which would review complaints within two hours of receiving them on the 24-hour tip line.

The commission would then have 24 hours to notify accused officials and 30 days to give a status update on the complaint to the head of the administrative arm of the legislature, the Legislative Research Commission.

Earlier this week, an employee of Hoover’s office filed a lawsuit alleging she faced retaliation for reporting an inappropriate relationship between the former speaker and staffer who accused him of harassment.

The lawsuit also alleges that Hoover, and GOP Reps. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Michael Meredith of Oakland, and Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, used funds from “prominent campaign donors” to settle the complaint.

Meanwhile Gov. Matt Bevin has repeatedly called for Hoover and the other lawmakers to resign. On WLAP’s Leland Conway show, Bevin called the scandal a “stain on who we are as a commonwealth.”

Fugitive Fraudster Eric Conn Captured In Honduras Monday, Dec 4 2017 

Eric Conn, a notorious Kentucky fraudster on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” List, has been picked up by authorities in Honduras, according to local officials.

The Honduras public magistrate’s office said that Conn was captured by police Monday as he came out of a restaurant in the coastal city of La Ceiba, according to the Associated Press. The office stated Conn is expected to be transferred to the U.S. on Tuesday.

Two Honduran newspapers, El Pais and El Heraldo, published photos of Conn with local police officers after his capture.

The FBI office in Kentucky declined to confirm Conn’s arrest.

The fugitive Social Security lawyer from Eastern Kentucky pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government out of $550 million in lifetime benefits. Conn was under house arrest awaiting sentencing when he skipped town in June.

His escape garnered widespread attention and earned him a spot on the FBI’s list of most sought fugitives. But there have been bread crumbs for the feds to follow.

Eric Conn, in a New Mexico Walmart, according to the FBI.

Not long after he disappeared, Conn, or someone acting as him, emailed the Lexington Herald-Leader and a local lawyer claiming that he had fled overseas to a country without an extradition treaty. In July, the FBI released photographs of Conn in New Mexico.

In October, the U.S. Department of Justice charged an alleged co-conspirator. Curtis Lee Wyatt allegedly bought Conn a car, tested security protocols at the U.S.-Mexico border so Conn would know what to expect and helped him escape from house arrest.

The pair allegedly spent a year on the plan — twice as long as Conn managed to remain on the run.

Lawsuit Alleges Retribution Over Hoover Sexual Harassment Scandal Monday, Dec 4 2017 

An employee for statehouse Republicans is alleging she faced retaliation for blowing the whistle on an inappropriate relationship between former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and a subordinate.

In the lawsuit filed today in Franklin Circuit Court, communications director Daisy Olivo claims she suffered workplace retribution and loss of her job duties after expressing concerns to the Legislative Research Commission about Hoover’s relationship and the workplace environment that followed the revelation.

Hoover resigned his position last month, after Courier Journal reported he had sent inappropriate text messages to a female staffer. The lawsuit filed today alleges the relationship went beyond text messages, and Hoover and the subordinate were engaged in a sexual relationship. It says Hoover’s chief of staff, Ginger Wills, wanted to fire the subordinate — a move Olivo disagreed with because the relationship was consensual.

The lawsuit alleges once the female staffer returned to work after a military leave, she complained about a hostile work environment in Hoover’s office. This led to the sexual harassment settlement reported last month.

The settlement was paid for with private funds from “prominent campaign donors,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit is filed against the Legislative Research Commission, and seeks a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees.

Requests to Hoover’s office, Wills, Olivo and Republican House leadership for comment were not immediately returned Monday morning.

In a statement sent through his lawyer Monday afternoon, Hoover denied the allegations.

“I have never engaged in sexual contact of any kind with any staff member during my 21 years in Frankfort. Never,” he wrote. “I will no longer sit back and let untrue, false, defamatory statements be made against me and others, regardless of the position of the person making them. During the course of the recent investigation by the law firm Middleton Reutlinger, 40 people were interviewed. The only staff person who refused to cooperate has now filed suit making untrue, false statements. This no coincidence [sic]. Also, the law firm report issued last week confirmed that no settlement funds came directly or indirectly from political donors or lobbyists.”

Read the lawsuit:

This story has been updated to include Hoover’s response.

 

Pool Narrows For Metro Council Seat Vacated By Dan Johnson Monday, Dec 4 2017 

There are 16 people still in the running for the Metro Council seat vacated by Dan Johnson last month.

They will go before Metro Council at a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 11, to be interviewed by council members. Council must choose a replacement for Johnson, who was removed in November following three allegations of sexual harassment, before a Dec. 17 deadline. The body plans to select and swear in Johnson’s replacement at the Dec. 14 council meeting, which is the last one of the year.

Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the council’s majority caucus, said the interview process is a simple one.

“They’ll explain to the council why they want to be the councilperson for District 21,” he told WFPL in November. “I’m sure several council people will ask them questions about what their goals and objectives are and then.”

Four applicants from the original pool were eliminated due to questions about their residency in District 21, Metro Council said in a news release on Monday. Another application that came through the mail — from 70-year-old John Witt, who said he unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2006 and 2014 — was also approved by the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office on Monday.

Vince Jarboe owns a State Farm agency in District 21 and is president of the nonprofit economic development group Southwest Dream Team. Jarboe said he would like to see a younger person in tune with technology and what millennials want in the seat. Such a person could draw young people and different kinds of businesses to the district, he said.

“I think that they could give a lot of the other Metro Council members a different way to look at things, some things that they might not be thinking of,” Jarboe said. “That’s why the reason I think a younger person could maybe interject some new ideas, and the other Metro Council members can listen to voices they may or may not be listening to now.”

Johnson, despite some troubles, did great things for District 21, Jarboe said. Character is an important consideration for the next council person, who should care about their community, listen to constituents and work hard for them, said Jarboe.

This post has been updated.

Kentucky GOP Rejects Governor’s Call For Resignations Saturday, Dec 2 2017 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Republican governor asked his party on Saturday to call for the resignation of four GOP lawmakers who signed a secret sexual harassment settlement, but party leaders rejected it in a move the governor said “speaks to the fact that we’ve got real problems.”

The Republican Party of Kentucky’s Central Committee held its regular meeting on Saturday. Party Chairman Mac Brown introduced a resolution that condemned “proven sexual harassment in any form committed by any public servant in the state of Kentucky.”

Gov. Matt Bevin tried to amend the resolution so it would also call for the resignation of any lawmaker who paid to settle a sexual harassment claim. Four Republican lawmakers settled such a claim in October. But Bevin’s amendment failed by a vote of 48-38.

“It was not a proud day for the Republican Party. It speaks to the fact that we’ve got real problems, including at the highest levels,” Bevin said in an interview after the vote. “There were plenty who actually believed even Republicans should not be allowed to sexually harass people, but there are many who think that’s OK as long as you are a Republican. That’s a problem.”

A news release from the Republican Party of Kentucky said the resolution that did pass “strongly” condemns sexual harassment. Party Executive Director Sarah Van Wallaghen said it “sends a strong message that the Republican Party of Kentucky will not condone inappropriate behavior, whether in the halls of the General Assembly or in the workplace of any ordinary Kentuckian.”

But Bevin said without calling for resignations, the resolution is “like being against cancer. … It kind of goes without saying.”

Republican state Rep. Bam Carney did not attend the meeting, but posted on his Twitter account that “today was a good day for democracy and the rule of law, while what appears to be a personal agenda going down to defeat.”

The vote and Bevin’s comments are evidence of the growing rift among Kentucky’s majority political party following the revelation that four Republicans secretly settled a sexual harassment claim outside of court with a former member of the House GOP Caucus’ staff.

The settlement included former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who resigned his leadership position last month but remains in the Legislature.

Hoover has denied sexual harassment but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages. Among the other lawmakers named in the settlement, Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge has publicly apologized. Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green has declined to comment, but told a Bowling Green TV station he has “done nothing to be ashamed of.” Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland has not commented.

Friday, acting House Speaker David Osborne asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to get a copy of the settlement and to find out whether any part of it was paid for by political donors or lobbyists.

Bevin said some who spoke against his amendment said the party should wait until the ethics commission can finish its investigation before asking for anyone to resign. But Bevin called that argument “an absolute facade,” saying the fact that lawmakers agreed to the settlement is all the evidence needed for them to resign.

“It is so black and white … I don’t even see where there is a question here,” Bevin said.
Bevin said he draws a distinction between the Kentucky lawmakers who paid money to secretly settle a sexual harassment claim and someone like Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has steadfastly denied allegations he molested or assaulted children. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have said they believe the women and Moore should drop out of the race.

“I don’t know what Roy Moore did. Roy Moore didn’t pay money to anybody to keep them quiet, Roy Moore has not admitted to doing anything,” Bevin said. “This is an apple and an orange. I’m talking about what’s going on in Kentucky’s Legislature.”

Hours After Vote, McConnell Defends Senate Tax Bill In Louisville Saturday, Dec 2 2017 

Less than 12 hours after the Republican-led Senate passed its version of tax overhaul legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was back in his hometown addressing the press.

McConnell held a brief press conference at the Galt House in Louisville Saturday afternoon, during which he rebuffed criticism that the bill favors the wealthy.

“It’s almost impossible to do any kind of tax reform in which the people who pay almost all of the taxes don’t get some benefit out of it,” McConnell said. “But in the Senate bill most of the rather wealthy people I’ve run into don’t think they’re getting anything. We did not get rid of the estate tax, we took the top rate down I think less than 1 percent.

“I haven’t run into anybody during this whole tax discussion who’s very successful who thinks they’re benefiting from it.”

The Senate bill is projected to add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. An estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation found that about $400 billion of that will be offset by economic growth.

The bill passed narrowly — 51 to 49 — in the early hours of Saturday morning. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker was the only Republican to oppose it, joining all 48 Senate Democrats.

Reactions from Kentucky Democrats were scathing on Saturday morning. U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth — the sole Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation — called the bill a “scam.”

“Early this morning, Senate Republicans abdicated any claim they had to being the party of fiscal responsibility,” Yarmuth wrote in a statement. “There is nothing remotely responsible about forcing through a closed-door, hastily conceived bill to give tax cuts to the already wealthy and multi-national corporations. There is nothing American or responsible about increasing our deficit by a trillion dollars, jeopardizing the future of Medicare and Medicaid, or forcing working families to pay more for healthcare, homeownership, and higher education.”

Kentucky Democratic Party chair Ben Self used the bill to call for voters to abandon Republicans in 2018.

“This tax bill is a clear indicator of Republican priorities: big, multinational corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent,” Self wrote. “This bill adds over $1 trillion to the national debt, paid for off the backs of Kentucky’s working families who are already struggling for relief. In 2018, we will use our voice in the voting booth to tell Congressional representatives that enough is enough.”

On Saturday morning, McConnell rejected criticism from Democrats that the bill was rushed through and contained significant last-minute changes that Democrats were not aware of. Some Senators, like Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, tweeted pictures of the bill marked up with illegible handwriting.

“Sure there were changes as we moved along. But the core of the bill, everybody was familiar with,” McConnell said. “All the Democrats were familiar with it, all the Republicans were familiar with it. And so the swan song last night, in the middle of the night that somehow they hadn’t had a chance to read it was ridiculous, because there were relatively minor changes to a core bill that everyone had had out for two weeks, and that they had participated in hearings and markups on.”

McConnell said he believes reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill will be relatively quick, and there’s a good chance it will be on President Trump’s desk before Christmas.

Senate Republicans Pass Massive Tax Overhaul Saturday, Dec 2 2017 

Updated at 1:49 a.m. ET

The Senate narrowly approved a $1.4 trillion tax overhaul early Saturday morning following a day of procedural delays and frustration.

The legislation, which would cut the top corporate tax rate to 20 percent and lower taxes for most individuals, narrowly passed in a vote of 51-49. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker was the only Republican to vote against the legislation, joining all 48 Democrats in opposing the sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax laws.

Passage of the tax bill is a significant victory for Republicans who have struggled to fulfill many key legislative promises.

The success followed a dramatic day as lawmakers anxiously awaited a final version of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters early in the day Friday that he believed that there were enough votes to pass the tax bill, but it took Republicans until late in the evening to make sure the bill conformed to strict Senate budget rules.

McConnell’s sudden certainty marked a dramatic shift after a number of Republicans on Thursday threatened to oppose the bill over fears that the steep tax cuts could add trillions to the deficit over time.

McConnell worked around the clock to satisfy their demands, and a number of high-profile holdouts on the legislation said they expected a new version of the bill would satisfy a wide range of GOP demands.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, once one of the firm holdouts because of concerns over the deficit, tweeted he would support the bill after getting assurances from the White House and Senate GOP leaders that they would work on legislation related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which President Trump ordered to be rescinded earlier this year.

 

Maine Republican Susan Collins also announced that she would vote yes after extracting several concessions. The new bill will include her request to allow taxpayers to write off up to $10,000 in property taxes paid to state and local governments.

Collins also says McConnell pledged to support legislation to fund subsidies to insurance companies to help defray costs for low-income consumers. The Trump administration stopped paying those cost-sharing reductions this year.

Leaders also expanded deductions for some small businesses that file their taxes on the individual side of the tax code to appease Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Montana Sen. Steve Daines, both former small business owners.

Johnson said those changes, in addition to a promise that he will have a say in the process of combining the House and Senate tax bills, won his support.

“What I expect is I will have a seat at the table,” Johnson said. “I’m not anticipating offering any amendments.”

To help pay for the pass-through cut, senators plan to increase the proposed tax rate on corporate profits that are earned overseas and brought back into the U.S. The new level in the Senate bill will match the level in the House bill passed before Thanksgiving.

Democrats spent hours objecting to the opaque process Friday as they waited for Republicans to finalize the bill. As the night dragged on, very few lawmakers had seen the legislative text, aside from sections that were being leaked or otherwise shared.

Early in the evening, Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz posted on Twitter to ask, “Does anyone know a Republican lobbyist so I can get my hands on a copy of this bill?”

Other Democrats complained that the hastily complied bill included amendments that were hand written into the margin of earlier versions of the tax overhaul.

The bill is projected to add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. The Joint Committee on Taxation reported on Thursday that the economic stimulus from the bill would only make up $400 billion of that.

That figure raised concerns with some Republicans, including Flake and Corker, who wanted the legislation to include a trigger mechanism that would force tax increases or spending cuts if the overhaul failed to grow the economy.

That idea was rejected Thursday after the Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that doing so would likely violate complex Senate budget rules. A number of other GOP lawmakers say they believe the JCT figure underestimates the positive impact of the tax bill.

“This bill will end up reducing the deficit, because there will be economic growth,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman contended. “I feel very good about the fiscal situation.”

Senators must now go into conference with House members next week to work out differences in the two bills. If they can come to an agreement, both chambers would have to pass the version worked out in conference before it could go to Trump to be signed into law.

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