Yarmuth: Inauguration Boycott Not Just Partisan Differences Tuesday, Jan 17 2017 

The lone Democrat in Kentucky’s Congressional delegation has announced he will not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities, joining a growing number of elected officials boycotting the event.

Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional district, said he declined the invitation because Trump has not acted in a presidential manner and has damaged the prestige of the office.

“From insulting and accusing the director of the CIA to getting up in the middle of the night and tweeting about Saturday Night Live to insulting an American hero like John Lewis, and attacking so many of the people and the categories of the people he is supposed to be leading, he has not acted in my opinion like a serious adult,” Yarmuth said during an interview on Tuesday.

Trump has been locked in a war of words with Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election in the wake of revelations that Russian-sponsored hacking may have played a role in Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton.

In a statement released Monday, Yarmuth said he wasn’t questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s election.

“As the transition of power is a hallmark that must be honored, this is not a decision I make lightly,” Yarmuth said. “It’s not my intent to protest the election results or to make a statement about policy.”

Yarmuth was re-elected to his 6th term in Congress representing the Democrat-heavy district that surrounds Louisville.

Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents the 4th Congressional district in Northern and Eastern Kentucky, took to Twitter to criticize Democrats planning to sit out of the ceremonies.

“Disappointed when Obama won his second term, but I attended his inauguration,” Massie wrote. “Also attended all SOTU speeches. Now it’s ur turn D’s.”

More than 30 members of Congress say they plan to boycott Trump’s inauguration.

State Bill Would Let Louisville Make Its Own Gun Laws Monday, Jan 16 2017 

A coalition of state lawmakers from Louisville is backing a bill that would give officials in Kentucky’s largest city the power to enact local gun control laws.

The push comes as the city reels from a record number of criminal homicides.

House Bill 101 would allow consolidated local governments to regulate firearms and ammunition to reduce gun violence. The bill was filed by Democratic state Rep. Daryl Owens of Louisville and is co-sponsored by five other Democrats, including former Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott.

If approved, the bill would only apply to Louisville.

Current state law prevents local entities from enacting gun control measures. Similar bills have been filed in past legislative sessions but have gained little support from rural lawmakers.

Owens told The Courier-Journal that the bill is necessary. As evidence, he pointed to the record number of homicides reported by Louisville Metro police last year. There was also a nearly 40 percent increase in shooting incidents in the city during 2016.

Some Metro Council members, along with Mayor Greg Fischer and police chief Steve Conrad, have been calling for such legislation.


Bevin Says He’s Working To Make Kentucky REAL ID Compliant Monday, Jan 16 2017 

Gov. Matt Bevin says he’s working with incoming President Donald Trump’s administration to come up with a way to bring Kentucky into compliance with stricter ID and driver’s license standards known as REAL ID.

Kentucky is one of eight states out of compliance with federal identification standards passed by Congress in 2004. The legislature approved a REAL ID bill last spring but Bevin vetoed it, citing widespread misunderstanding of the issue.

The REAL ID legislation was opposed by Tea Party groups and the ACLU of Kentucky, citing privacy concerns.

In a video released over the weekend, Bevin said he was working on a REAL ID bill that would allow “voluntary participation” in the stricter federal ID requirements.

“It will be done in a way where it is voluntary to those who would or would not participate in this particular new form of identification,” Bevin said.

“We’re going to ensure that we move forward and we don’t put anybody at a disadvantage one way or the other as it relates to this identification.”

Legislation vetoed by the governor last year also made it optional for people to participate in the new system when applying or renewing their driver’s licenses or ID cards.

Starting on Jan. 30, Kentuckians will be unable to get into military bases such as Fort Knox and Fort Campbell using their Kentucky-issued IDs, including driver’s licenses. And if the state doesn’t comply with federal REAL ID standards by January 2018, Kentuckians won’t be able to get on commercial flights without a passport.

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, a Republican from Elizabethtown, has filed a bill similar to the one vetoed by Bevin last year. The bill has not yet been given a hearing.

Bevin Nominates 10 To U of L Board After Latest Overhaul Monday, Jan 16 2017 

Gov. Matt Bevin has selected 10 people to serve on the newly reconstructed University of Louisville Board of Trustees after the legislature abolished the previous board and created a new one earlier this year.

The move comes after the school’s accreditation was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as a result of Bevin’s unilateral overhaul of the board last summer.

Bevin announced by video Friday evening that he had chosen 10 trustees to serve on the new board.

“There is going to be the ability to transition as properly as possible in the days and weeks ahead,” Bevin said.

Bevin said names of the new possible trustees would be announced Tuesday. Trustees would have to be confirmed by the state Senate.

U of L’s accreditation agency took issue with Bevin’s overhaul of the trustee board last summer, deeming it “undue political influence.” They also said the governor’s apparent involvement in negotiating former U of L President James Ramsey’s resignation was a violation of the accrediting agency’s standards.

The legislature stepped in earlier this month, approving a bill that overhauled the board once again in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Faculty and student advocates have argued that the latest reorganization does nothing to resolve the school’s accreditation issues.

The Postsecondary Nominating Committee met Friday to come up with a short list of 30 people for the board. Bevin whittled the list down to finalists later in the day.

“I thank those who have worked so quickly, the nominating committee that worked so diligently to expedite this process,” Bevin said.

Cubans In Louisville Worry About Obama Policy Change Saturday, Jan 14 2017 

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it is removing a special provision that allowed Cuban immigrants to stay in the country once they arrive on U.S. soil.

Casually known as “wet foot, dry foot,” the policy has been in place since 1995, and was rumored to be in danger as the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba normalizes.

I reported on Louisville’s Cuban community in November, and today I reached out to some local Cubans for their reaction.

Listen to the story in the audio player above.

Freelance reporter Luis de Leon contributed to this story. 

Kentucky Politics Distilled: Lawmakers Take A Break Saturday, Jan 14 2017 

State lawmakers were on a break this week after approving a handful of major conservative polices over last weekend.

Effects of the new abortion restrictions, union regulations and an overhaul of University of Louisville’s trustee board began to take shape. Plus, Gov. Matt Bevin released an investigation alleging corruption in previous Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

Capitol reporter Ryland Barton has more in this week’s edition of Kentucky Politics Distilled.

Keep up with our coverage of the 2017 session here.

Conflicts, Media And The First 100 Days: A Conversation With A Trump Supporter Friday, Jan 13 2017 

When election night waned into the early morning hours last November, Jeffrey Klusmeier joined a few dozen Trump supporters at a Fern Creek bar to cheer on their candidate.

He’s the chairman of the local group Young Professionals for Trump.

And he’s been paying close attention to Trump as Inauguration Day approaches — to the controversy surrounding Trump’s perceived conflicts of interest, to the news outlets being attacked by the president-elect and to the people he’s lining up to fill powerful cabinet positions.

We checked in with Klusmeier to get his thoughts on these issues and get an idea of what he’ll be watching for in Trump’s first 100 days as president.

Click the player above to hear our conversation.

Fort Knox To Stop Accepting Kentucky Licenses For Entry Friday, Jan 13 2017 

Kentucky residents soon may need a passport to enter Fort Knox.

The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown reports Kentucky licenses and state-issued IDs don’t meet minimum security standards established by the 2005 Real ID Act.

Fort Knox issued a statement saying that beginning Jan. 30, the post will no longer accept a license from Kentucky and eight other non-compliant states. Most people entering the post regularly won’t be affected, as an approved U.S. military ID is an acceptable alternative.

State Rep. Jim DuPlessis is co-sponsor of House Bill 77, which would make Kentucky licenses in compliance with Real ID. The bill will not be up for consideration before Fort Knox changes its admission policy, so DuPlessis recommends frequent visitors to obtain an installation entry pass before changes go into effect.

For more coverage on this story, check out the links below:

Kentucky Residents May Soon Need More Than a Driver’s License to Get Into Some Federal Buildings

Kentucky Officials Seek Extension On REAL ID Implementation

Deadline Passes With No REAL ID Extension

Trump’s Cabinet Picks Break With Him On At Least 10 Major Issues Friday, Jan 13 2017 

The first of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees headed to Capitol Hill this week to begin their Senate confirmations. And while there were some tense moments and stumbles, overall his Cabinet picks were well-received, and most should get quick confirmations as soon as Trump is sworn-in next week.

But the major theme that emerged in committee hearings was that some of the president-elect’s top would-be advisers revealed some major policy breaks with the future president on issues Trump championed and views he expressed on the campaign trail — from Russian hacking, torture, a Muslim ban and registry, mosque surveillance, NATO, the Iran nuclear deal, even infrastructure, deportations and that border wall.

It demonstrates the potential constraints the president-elect could run into if he seeks to implement some of the more provocative aspects of what he campaigned on. But it also raises questions of just how much Trump actually meant what he said when he campaigned and about the breadth of discussions he has had with his Cabinet picks on critical policy points. That lack of cohesion could lead to friction in the near future and potential difficulty governing — if the nominees carry their beliefs forward in their roles in the administration.

The views, tempered or opposite of Trump’s, could also be a reflection of just how difficult it would be otherwise for a nominee to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, espousing the kinds of boastful campaign opinions the president-elect has expressed.

Because there were so many, here’s a quick recap, all in one place, of this past week’s hearings:

Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions

The Alabama senator had the most exhaustive confirmation hearing of the week, stretching into two days. NPR’s Meg Anderson had a recap:

“Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Sessions’ appointment. Perhaps as a result, they focused primarily on fleshing out what Sessions’ relationship would be with the president as attorney general and reminded him of the importance of an independent Justice Department. Sessions spent a lot of the day reassuring his colleagues that he would follow the law, first and foremost, and expressing his disagreements with some of the president-elect’s more extreme proposals.”

Sessions said he opposed bringing back waterboarding as an extreme interrogation technique, and he also said that he opposed other Trump campaign proposals of banning Muslims from coming into the U.S. amid terrorism concerns and also said he opposed any type of registry of Muslims either.

“And I think we should avoid surveillance of religious institutions unless there’s a basis to believe that dangerous or threatening illegal activity could be carried on there,” he added.

Sessions’ record on race was a key focus, 30 years after his hopes of a federal judgeship were scuttled by the same committee over allegations he had used racist language as a U.S. Attorney. Sessions denied those allegations, reiterating that, “I did not harbor the kind of animosities and race-based discrimination ideas I was accused of. I did not.”

But that didn’t stop some of Sessions’ colleagues from taking an unprecedented step in testifying against his confirmation. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow senator during a confirmation hearing, said Sessions’ record “indicates that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts toward bringing justice to the justice system.”

And Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a venerated civil-rights leader who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., told the Judiciary Committee that, “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Sen. Sessions’ calls for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.”

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson

The former Exxon Mobil CEO’s confirmation hearing was the roughest of the week. He faced grilling from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over his close ties with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, along with questions about lobbying and deal-making during his four decades with the oil giant.

Tillerson faced particularly aggressive questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a former Trump primary opponent. Rubio pushed the would-be chief diplomat on whether or not he would label Putin as a war criminal, while Tillerson dodged. He also pressed Tillerson on his views on human-rights violations in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, and Rubio was flabbergasted when Tillerson said he’d need more information to make such pronouncements despite widely available documentation of atrocities in both countries. Rubio hasn’t said yet whether he will support Tillerson’s nomination, which could be a major complication for his confirmation.

Tillerson was also tripped up over his tenure at Exxon Mobil and whether or not the country had lobbied against Russian sanctions. He initially said he had no knowledge that the company had ever “directly lobbied,” to which even a supportive Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., interjected that Tillerson had even called him about the sanctions at the time. Tillerson also claimed he didn’t recall whether Exxon Mobil had done business with Iran, Syria and Sudan during his tenure.

But Tillerson did express some differences with Trump on key issues. He began by sounding a more hawkish tone toward Russia, and said he believes intelligence reports that the country was involved in cyber attacks designed to influence he U.S. elections. He also said he opposed a potential ban on Muslims coming into the U.S. and any type of Muslim registry, either.

Tillerson also said he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Trump has loudly opposed and pledged to abandon.

Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis

Trump’s choice to lead the Pentagon also struck a very different tone from the president-elect on foreign policy, testifying Thursday that Russia was a major threat to the U.S.

“I’m all for engagement,” Mattis said, “but we also have to recognize reality in terms of what Russia is up to.”

And the retired four-star Marine Corps general also reiterated his strong support for NATO, an alliance Trump openly questioned and doubted on the campaign trail. Mattis said he believed Trump was “open” on the issue and understood his steadfast position.

“My view is that nations with allies thrive, and nations without allies don’t,” Mattis said, calling it “the most successful military alliance probably in modern world history, maybe ever.”

Mattis also expressed acceptance of the Iran nuclear deal and said he believed it was likely workable. Trump has been hotly criticized of the deal and has threatened to pull out of it.

Senate and House committees, along with the full Senate, also approved a waiver to allow Mattis to serve as Defense Secretary. He only retired in 2013, while current law requires seven years to serve in that position.

Homeland Security Secretary nominee John Kelly

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, also broke with Trump on several key points during his Tuesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

On Trump’s seminal campaign promise, to build a wall along the Mexican border, Kelly acknowledged that “a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job. It has to be a layered defense” of human patrols, drones and other sensors. On the administration’s deportation policies, Kelly also broke with Trump, saying that undocumented children who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would “probably not be at the top of the list” and that he would “keep an open mind.”

The former head of the U.S. Southern Command also repeatedly stressed working with other Latin American countries to better curtail drug and human trafficking.

Kelly also said he opposed reinstating waterboarding and also said he had “high confidence” in U.S. intelligence findings on Russian attacks on the elections.

And Kelly said he opposed any kind of surveillance on mosques or any creation of a Muslim database, testifying that, “I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to focus on something like religion as the only factor” when looking to prevent terrorism.

CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo

The Kansas GOP congressman Trump has chosen to lead the intelligence department also broke with the president-elect, opposing waterboarding as a form of torture.

In this hearing, in which the power was lost and the C-SPAN camera feed went down (just as they were talking about Russia), Pompeo also said he had confidence in the current U.S. intelligence program and said he agreed with their findings that Russia had tried to meddle in the elections, again putting him at odds with the man he would serve, NBC News reported:

“In his opening remarks, Pompeo took aim at Russia, saying that Moscow has ‘reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nothing to aid in the defeat of ISIS.’

“He later said, ‘It’s pretty clear about what took place here about Russia involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy.'”

Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee Ben Carson

In the former famed neurosurgeon’s confirmation, it was a question of whether Carson had enough experience dealing with housing issues to lead the agency. He got a warm reception though before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Thursday.

He told them that he wanted to oversee HUD because it’s not just “putting roofs over the heads of poor people, it has the ability to be so much more than that.” Carson said he wants to use his role to to take “a holistic approach” to help “develop our fellow human beings.”

NPR’s Brian Naylor reports Carson also “would not say that housing properties owned by Trump won’t benefit from HUD programs” in a tense exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

“Carson responded it would not be his intention ‘to do anything to benefit any American,’ quickly adding that anything the department does ‘is for all Americans.’ Carson said, ‘If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that’s working for millions of people, and it turns out that someone that you’re targeting is going to gain, you know, $10 from it, am I going to say ‘no’?’ Carson asked. ‘Logic and common sense probably would be the best way.’

“Trump’s family made its fortune in real estate, and it still owns some rental properties in New York. Trump has refused to divest his assets, and Warren, who tangled with Trump during the campaign, charged the president-elect is ‘hiding his family’s business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America.’

“In a later exchange, Carson said he would report to lawmakers on any dealings HUD has with properties owned by Trump or his family.”

Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao

The AP described Chao’s confirmation hearing as a “lovefest,” which was a pretty accurate characterization. Yes, the former Labor Secretary in the George W. Bush administration had already been confirmed before and has a long resume that makes her qualified for the position, but the fact that she’s the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t hurt, either.

NPR’s David Schaper reported that Chao talked about the “bold vision” Trump has to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure, but acknowledged that “the government doesn’t have the resources to do it all.”

What’s next?

Two planned confirmation hearings for this past week were postponed. Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos will now testify Tuesday amid concerns over an incomplete ethics review and financial disclosures. The Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions said the delay was “at the request of Senate leadership to accommodate Senate schedule.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, will also have his confirmation hearing Tuesday.

On Wednesday, a key hearing sure to garner lots of attention — Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, will have his confirmation hearing.

Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross also saw his confirmation hearing delayed, pushed to Wednesday, also amidst a paperwork delay.

And on Thursday, Rick Perry testifies to convince senators why he should lead one of the three agencies he said he wanted to eliminate during his 2012 presidential run, the Energy Department.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Kentucky Is The 27th ‘Right-To-Work’ State. Now What? Friday, Jan 13 2017 

Workers at unionized companies in Kentucky will be able to stop paying union dues or fees once contracts negotiated between their employers and unions expire.

The so-called “right-to-work” policy signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin last weekend forbids payment of dues as a condition to get or keep a job in Kentucky, though current collective bargaining agreements between unions and companies are still enforceable until they expire.

Bill Londrigan, president of Kentucky’s AFL-CIO, said the new law will have a negative impact on labor organizations and companies once some workers decide they don’t want to pay into the union anymore.

“There’s a negative impact on union financial capabilities and there’s also a negative impact on our solidarity in the workplace, which is a key component of us having a union,” Londrigan said.

Kentucky lawmakers quickly approved the right-to-work policy in the first week of the legislative session, the first time Republicans had held control of both legislative chambers and the governorship in state history.

Bevin made right-to-work a central plank of his 2015 race for office, and a legislative path for the policy emerged once Democrats lost control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in 95 years in November.

Union advocates have criticized the policy as special legislation targeting labor organizations. Londrigan said he’s not sure how many workers in unionized companies will decide to stop paying dues.

“There may be a certain number of folks that decide that — like across general society — that decide they don’t want to pay and still get the benefits, which is what they’re going to be entitled to,” Londrigan said.

Supporters Prepared to Defend Law in Court

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 about 11 percent of Kentucky’s workforce were members of unions, while 12.1 percent were represented.

The discrepancy is due to some workers paying a “fee” rather than full-blown union dues paid to participate in votes on labor contracts.

Under the new right-to-work law, workers won’t be required to pay those dues.

The Virginia-based Right To Work Foundation has offered free legal help to people who encounter resistance trying to not pay dues while working in a unionized company and defend Kentucky’s new law as a whole.

“We expect because we’ve seen it in other states that workers will face resistance from union officials when workers seek to exercise their new right-to-work protections,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation. “We also know that union officials frequently file lawsuits seeking to challenge right-to-work laws. And so we’re prepared to defend the laws in court.”

Semmens said he’s worried that unions will try to force unionized employees to pay dues even though they’re legally entitled not to.

Unions have had limited success challenging right-to-work laws in other states, most recently in Wisconsin and West Virginia.

In Wisconsin, a state trial court ruled that the law was unconstitutional seizure of union property since unions had to pay benefits of workers who don’t pay dues — the case is currently on appeal.

West Virginia passed a right-to-work law in 2016, but a court temporarily blocked it while a trial court considers a challenge to that policy. A ruling on that case is expected soon.

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