Yonts will head state’s Civil War commission

State Rep. Brent Yonts has been elected chairman of the commission that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Kentucky’s role in the Civil War.

Gov. Steve Beshear named the Greenville Democrat to a four-year term on the 25-member Kentucky Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission last winter at the request of House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

Yonts was elected chairman of the commission Tuesday by the membership.  

The group will recommend ways to commemorate Kentucky’s Civil War events, educate people about Kentucky’s role in the war and encourage community participation in activities that increase understanding of the war, according to a news release.

Yonts recently completed an appointment to the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which was responsible for coordinating a two-year celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday on Feb. 12, 2009.

Kentucky’s state workers will be furloughed six days

Kentucky plans to furlough state workers for a total of six days in the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2011.

Here’s the announcement from Frankfort.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (July 9, 2010) – Kentucky Personnel Cabinet Secretary Nikki Jackson today presented a regulation to the State Personnel Board as the state prepares to furlough state government workers a total of six days in Fiscal Year 2011, as authorized by the 2010-12 biennial budget passed by the General Assembly. 

 “In order to achieve the savings required by the budget passed by the General Assembly, legislators authorized the administration to implement a furlough plan for state employees,” said Sec. Jackson.  “Today we are presenting an outline of the plan to the State Personnel Board – a plan that has been developed with an eye toward minimizing impact to state employees and the disruption of delivery of state services to Kentucky citizens.”

 Combination of closure of state offices and non-designated furlough days

The six days include three common days during which state offices will be closed that are adjacent to existing state holiday weekends – Friday, September 3, 2010 (Labor Day weekend) ; Friday, November 12, 2010 (Veterans Day weekend); and Friday, May 27, 2011 (Memorial Day weekend). The closure of state offices for the three common days will serve to increase operational savings by decreasing energy and other operational costs.  In addition, employees will be furloughed for one day in each of the months of October, March and June.  Agencies will schedule employees to be off work in a manner that minimizes the impact to the public, and will be submitting plans to the Secretary of the Personnel Cabinet to describe how they will implement the furlough days that are non-designated.  Several state agencies that operate 24-hour/7 day-a-week facilities, including mental health and correctional facilities and law enforcement functions, may submit plans requesting additional flexibility on how to implement the furloughs.

 Furloughs will achieve savings and prevent many layoffs

As a key component to solving a $1.5 billion shortfall, the 2010-12 biennial budget passed by the General Assembly requires that the state achieve $131 million in expenditure reductions in FY 11 and $169 million in FY 12, on top of 3.5 percent cuts and 4.5 percent cuts for most state agencies, respectively.  The six days outlined today by Sec. Jackson will achieve a savings of approximately $24 million for the first year of the biennium.  Sec. Jackson also noted that, based on an average fulltime salary of $58,066 including fringe benefits, the six-day furlough plan will prevent 413 state employees from being laid off. 

 Both non-merit and merit system employees are included in the plan 

Both non-merit employees and merit system employees, full-time and part-time, including the Governor and all cabinet secretaries, regardless of salary, will be furloughed the same number of days, as will contract workers.  In addition to furloughing non-merit system employees, the administration will reduce the number of non-merit system employees in order to achieve further savings; decisions about non-merit system employee reductions are still under discussion.  The Governor, all cabinet secretaries and members of the Governor’s senior staff have already taken and continue to take voluntary 10 percent pay reductions as part of cost-savings measures in balancing the budget.

 Other states have furloughed workers

Facing a global recession, many states have furloughed or proposed to furlough state employees:

 California has furloughed employees 46 days since February 2009;

  • Hawaii has proposed furloughing employees 42 days; and
  • Maine and Washington are also furloughing employees.

 Communications sent to state employees and cabinet secretaries

Email communications were sent to both state employees as well as executive branch cabinet secretaries to inform them of the plan.  State employees who have further questions about the implementation of the plan can visit http://personnel.ky.gov/furlough to find frequently asked questions and answers, and are encouraged to speak with their agency’s human resources administrator. 

 Next steps

Following the filing of the administrative regulation, Cabinets will propose implementation plans to Secretary Jackson.  The Personnel Cabinet will then issue suggestions to state agencies for the implementation of the plans.

Raccoons in your attic? Snakes in your walls?

Raccoons having babies in your attic?

Snakes in your walls?

Check out this news release from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources:

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky is blessed with a diversity of wildlife – some 74 species of mammals, 380 species of birds, and 112 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Many of the state’s outdoor enthusiasts encourage wildlife on their property and spend countless hours and considerable sums of money, to get close to nature and its wild creatures.

But, when a family of raccoons takes up residence in the attic, or an opossum spends more time in your garage than the family car does, it doesn’t take long for these uninvited guests to become a nuisance.

That’s when it’s time to call the local Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator.

“They are permitted to take and transport wildlife causing damage or threatening public health and safety,” said Chad Soard, a wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “At the present time, we have 106 licensed Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators in Kentucky.”

Operators are typically small business owners — men and women working in Kentucky cities, suburbs and rural areas. Operators charge fees to remove nuisance wildlife and operators they work year-round, often outside legal hunting and trapping seasons.

Based on the annual reports submitted by operators, the raccoon is the number one nuisance wildlife species based on the annual reports. A majority of the raccoons captured live in the state’s three largest metropolitan areas – Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky.

“During the 2008-09 license year operators captured 4,723 raccoons, 3,016 squirrels, 1,854 opossums and 878 skunks,” said Soard. Other nuisance wildlife species that operators encountered included bats, woodchucks, coyotes, muskrats, beavers, chipmunks, birds, foxes, snakes, river otters, turtles, rabbits, mink and bobcats.

Robert Chilton, who operates Wildlife Animal Control in Henry County, said problems with nuisance wildlife change with the seasons.

“In January and February, when skunks are breeding, the females are seeking out dens, and that’s when you get problems with them digging under porches,” said Chilton. “The males are fighting over females and they do a lot of spraying.”

In May, there can be a spike in calls when raccoons begin to bear their young, and decide to set up a home in somebody’s attic. “They walk on the roof and find a way to get in from under the eve,” said Chilton. “Squirrels will do that too. They like to go through air vents.”

The telltale sign that something is living in the attic is when homeowners hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet running across attic joists.

In mid-summer, snakes can become a nuisance when they shed their skins. “They want to get away, where there isn’t any activity. They are vulnerable when they molt,” said Chilton. That’s why snakes try to come inside garages and out buildings and sometimes crawl between walls in houses.

With the onset of cold weather, squirrels seek out warmth in attics. Squirrels have a bad habit of actually working their way downstairs into houses. “They follow the light and gnaw their way through gaps in the plywood, where a pipe goes through a wall, the ceiling or into a closet,” said Chilton. 

While many homeowners ask that the animal taken from their property unharmed, Soard said relocating nuisance wildlife is not always the best option. “The primary threat is the spread of disease to new populations,” he said. “Also, relocated animals often die soon after release due to natural mortality factors — starvation from not being able to find food, or injury from fights with animals they encounter, when attempting to establish a new territory.”

By law, injured or diseased wildlife must be euthanized.

Nuisance wildlife control operators are permitted to deal with native wildlife under state jurisdiction, but they can’t capture and transport federally-protected species unless they get a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Federally protected species include song birds, birds of prey (such as hawks and owls) and migratory waterfowl.

Resident Canada geese only migrate during periods of severe cold and snow and are a problem in urban areas, where they live around lakes in city parks, golf courses, and suburban neighborhoods. Goose droppings create a mess on sidewalks and driveways, and at times the big birds can be aggressive.

The name and telephone number of Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators, and the counties in which they work, are posted on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov.

 

If fireworks shoot or explode, they’re illegal

Still thinking about buying fireworks?

You might be interested in this news release from the Kentucky State Fire Marshal’s office.

 “The Kentucky State Fire Marshal’s office has uncovered attempts by those selling fireworks to skirt state laws in order to sell otherwise illegal fireworks.

“William Swope, Jr., Kentucky’s state fire marshal, says his office has been given waivers that some sellers are handing to customers who wish to buy illegal fireworks. The waiver, to be signed by the customer, states the customer “is admitting that you will not set off, use or detonate these fireworks in the state of Kentucky, but rather that you will transport these fireworks outside of the state of Kentucky for lawful retail sale or use in another state.”

“Anyone purchasing illegal fireworks, signing these waivers and knowingly disregarding Kentucky laws by re-selling or detonating the fireworks in Kentucky is committing fraud,” said Swope. “By inducing the consumer to purchase and use the fireworks illegally, the seller is also committing fraud.”

“The waivers are being seen more frequently as the Fourth of July celebration weekend approaches. While most licensed fireworks vendors comply with the law, those that do not can be cited and fined.

 “To reinforce our earlier message regarding fireworks safety, the law permits only certain ‘Class C Safe and Sane’ fireworks. If a firework explodes or shoots in the air, it’s illegal,” added Swope. “Many communities will be hosting professional firework shows this weekend. Please take your family to see these displays rather than risk permanent injury to yourself or a loved one.”

Lobbying is a growing business

Lobbyists have spent more than $8.4 million in Frankfort during the first four months of 2010, the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission reports.

Here’s the article from the commission’s May newsletter, The Ethics Reporter:

Final spending reports for lobbying in the 2010 General Assembly show the amounts spent on lobbying in Kentucky have grown significantly over the last 12 years, much like lobbying activity in other states and in Washington, D.C.

 In Kentucky’s recently completed Regular Session, lobbyists and their employers spent $8.4 million communicating on legislation with legislators, top executive branch officials, and staff.  More than $7 million of that total was compensation paid to lobbyists by the businesses and organizations which employ them.

 Over $1.2 million of the total was spent on employer and lobbyist expenses such as phone banking, office expenses, and lobbyists’ travel to and from Frankfort.  About $148,000 was spent during the session on receptions, meals or events to which groups of legislators were invited. 

 The total for the first four months of 2010 already exceeds the $8.1 million that was spent on lobbying in the entire year of 1998.  That 1998 total was more than doubled two years ago when 2008 lobbying spending hit $16.9 million, and spending is on track to go even higher this year.

 There were 656 employers registered during the 2010 legislative session, and 667 lobbyists.  That’s an average of about five lobbyists per legislator.  By comparison, in the 1998 General Assembly, there were 480 employers and 531 lobbyists registered.

 Three years ago, The Center for Public Integrity gathered the total number of lobbyists in each state and divided it by the total number of legislators.  On average nationwide, there are five lobbyists for every state legislator.  In the states surrounding Kentucky, Illinois had 12 lobbyists per legislator, Indiana averaged four per legislator, Ohio had 10, West Virginia had three, Virginia had seven, Tennessee had three, and Missouri had five lobbyists per legislator.  

 As in Kentucky, total lobbying spending in Washington, D.C. has more than doubled in recent years, from $1.56 billion in 2000 to $3.49 billion in 2009, according to calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics, based on data from the U.S. Senate Office of Public Records.

 Likewise, the number of lobbyists registered to lobby Congress has increased from 10,403 in 1998 to 13,754 in 2009.  

Lobbying Spending for the 2010 General Assembly

A breakdown of the $8.4 million spent on lobbying in the 2010 General Assembly shows that businesses and organizations employing lobbyists spent almost $7.9 million of the total. 

 Additionally, lobbyists spent about $536,000, mostly on office expenses ($518,000), along with receptions, meals, and events to which groups of legislators were invited ($18,000).  Lobbyists reported no money spent on meals for individual legislators. 

  The organization that spent the most on lobbying in the session was the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), representing businesses which manufacture or market non-prescription, over-the-counter medicines. 

 CHPA registered to lobby on March 8, and spent over $311,000 in the last month of the session, including $303,000 on phone banking.  CHPA represents several companies which employ lobbyists in Kentucky, including GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, and Purdue Pharma, but CHPA was last registered to lobby in Kentucky in 2005.

  The second biggest spending employer in the 2010 session was Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco.  Altria employed 31 lobbyists and spent $170,000 lobbying on House Bill 296, which would have changed the excise tax on moist snuff and other tobacco products.  Included in Altria’s total is $27,000 spent on phone banking.  Altria’s 2010 spending was over two and one-half times more than the company spent in the 2008 General Assembly.

  The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spent over $105,000 on lobbying in the 2010 session, compared with $92,000 in the 2008 General Assembly.

  Other top-spending employers for 2010 include Kentucky Retail Federation ($83,900); Kentucky Education Association ($81,800); Kentucky Medical Association ($77,000); Wellpoint – Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($72,700); Kentucky Bankers Association ($72,300); Kentucky Hospital Association ($70,700); Kentucky Association of Health Plans, Inc. ($64,000); and University Health Care, Inc. ($61,700).

  Wellpoint-Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($40,100 in 2008) and the Ky. Association of Health Plans ($17,600 in 2008) significantly increased spending in the 2010 session compared with the last 60-day session.  The other top-spending groups spent similar amounts in both years.

  Of the 656 employers registered with the Ethics Commission for the 2010 General Assembly, 90 employers reported that they paid no compensation to any lobbyist during the 2010 session.  Among those which registered, but apparently did no lobbying in the session:  Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, Inc.; Communications Workers of America; DaVita, Inc., (one of the biggest spending employers in 2008 and 2009); Food With Wine Coalition; Kentuckians For Better Transportation; Kindred Healthcare, Inc.; Kentucky Oil & Gas Association; LifeLock, Inc.; Museum Plaza, LLC; Novartis Pharmaceuticals; Time Warner Cable; and United Mine Workers of America.

McConnell discusses Kentucky flooding

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office released this news Tuesday morning:

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday regarding the flooding in Kentucky:

“Last night Governor Beshear said he would seek a major disaster declaration from the President to help recover from the devastation wrought by a round of weekend storms and collateral flooding, and I’ll be sending a letter to the President today in support of Kentucky’s request for a major disaster declaration which would provide direct federal logistical support and cost sharing assistance to mitigate the effects of the flooding.

“Emergency declarations have been made in 48 counties throughout the commonwealth, and that number is likely to increase as recovery efforts continue. Tragically, four people have been confirmed dead as a result of flooding in Madison, Barren, Allen, and Lincoln counties. “My office has been in contact with the Governor’s office, and we’ll do all we can to assist him. It’s my understanding that Governor Beshear has spoken with the President about the situation and that FEMA is already working with state authorities in Kentucky to render assistance. “Our prayers are with the victims of the flooding in both the Commonwealth and in her sister state of Tennessee and our gratitude goes out to the first-responders and emergency personnel rendering aid to the impacted communities.”

Healthcare lobbyists dominate Frankfort spending

This just in from the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission:

“Lobbying spending for the first three months of the 2010 General Assembly was dominated by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), which didn’t register to lobby until March.  CHPA represents manufacturers and distributors of non-prescription, over-the-counter medicines.

“CHPA spent $307,377 in March, more than twice as much as the next highest spending employer spent in the entire first quarter of 2010.  CHPA spent $303,377 on phone banking, and paid its lobbyist $4,000 in compensation.  CHPA includes several businesses which employ lobbyists in Kentucky, including Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, and Purdue Pharma.

“CHPA engaged a lobbyist on March 8, and began lobbying on two bills (House Bill 497 and Senate Bill 211) designed to tighten restrictions on the purchase and possession of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, substances which are used in a wide variety of non-prescription, over-the-counter medicines, and which can be used illegally to produce methamphetamine. 

“HB 497 would have required a prescription to obtain pseudoephedrine (such as Sudafed), ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine (used as a nasal decongestant and for weight control), and established new criminal penalties for trafficking in any of the substances.  SB 211 would have reduced the amounts of the three substances which could be legally purchased or possessed, and restricted convicted methamphetamine offenders from purchasing medicine containing the substances. 

“The Kentucky Pharmacists Association said SB 211 would be an “effective measure in cutting down the amount of pseudoephedrine used by criminals to produce meth.”  The Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police said HB 497 would reduce the number of methamphetamine labs by limiting the availability of substances used to make methamphetamine.  Neither bill was enacted.

“The second highest spending employer for the first quarter of 2010 was Altria Client Services, representing several companies including Philip Morris USA and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company.  Altria spent $145,187 during the period, compared to $47,882 for the same period in the 2008 General Assembly.

“The next highest spending employers in the first quarter were the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce ($82,310) and the Kentucky Retail Federation ($78,758).  The Chamber’s spending was up from $71,514 in 2008, and the Retail Federation was down slightly from $79,637 in 2008.

“Other top spenders during the first three months of 2010 include the Kentucky Education Association ($76,064); Wellpoint-Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($69,581); Kentucky Hospital Association ($63,745); Kentucky Medical Association ($60,810); Kentucky Association of Health Plans ($60,408); Kentucky Bankers Association ($54,240); Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation ($53,357); Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives ($51,752); University Health Care ($45,247); and Kentucky League of Cities ($42,877).”