Saturday, March 30, 2013

Rollins sees bill to raise dropout age finally become law, looks toward hearing for his bill to abolish death penalty

By Megan Smiddie
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

In the legislative session that ended Tuesday night, Rep. Carl Rollins of Midway proposed a bill to abolish Kentucky’s death penalty, which went nowhere, but he passed or helped pass several other bills, including one to raise the school dropout age to 18.

Rollins, left, said it was his first time to sponsor the death-penalty measure, but “A bill like this is introduced every year.” The Democrat said he does not see it as politically risky.

“I don’t care,” he said in an interview. “It’s one of those things that I can defend on three different levels and most likely better than any of my opponents. . . . It’s not fair, it costs too much and it’s just not good law.”

According to Rollins, the death penalty costs $1 million to $2 million more than a life sentence, and people on death row are mostly poor and cannot afford good attorneys. “They make mistakes,” he said. “The University of Illinois recently found people on death row to be innocent, and prosecutors don’t make equitable decisions.”

Rollins, who attends Midway Christian Church, said his religion also played a role in his decision to take on the death penalty, but his motive was broader than that. “It goes against the basic moral beliefs of society,” he said.

The bill had seven co-sponsors: five liberal Democrats, mainly from Louisville, and Republicans Julie Adams of Louisville David Floyd of Bardstown. It was House Bill 48.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, never posted the bill for the committee to consider, but Rollins said Tilley told him that it would get a hearing during the interim between the 2013 and 2014 sessions. The interim committees’ primary purpose is to provide a discussion of issues relevant to the future of the state.

Rollins said no one approached him to propose the bill, but once he did, many people told him they wanted to support it. “I’ve had a few disturbing emails,” he said, “but most people I talk to want to support it.”

However, a poll taken for The Courier-Journal in January found that 67 percent of Kentucky adults support the death penalty and only 26 percent oppose it. This month, only 30 percent of people in a self-selecting survey by the newspaper said Kentucky will ever drop the death penalty. The other 69 percent said capital punishment will never be abolished because “support for the death penalty is too strong,” as the survey put it.

After five years of trying, Rollins saw another major bill he supported get passed into law. It will eventually keep Kentucky students enrolled in school until age 18.

Gov. Steve Beshear signs the dropout bill. From left are Rollins; Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg; former Sen. David Karem, D-Louisville; Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris; Jane Beshear; Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg; Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, chairman of the Senate Education Committee; Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, majority floor leader; House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg; Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro; and House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville.
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, school districts will be able to increase their dropout age to 18, and if it is raised in 55 percent of the districts, it will be required statewide. The current dropout age, 16 with parents’ consent, was established in 1920.

Rollins, chairman of the House Education Committee, said it is too important a decision for young students to make. “People need as much education as they can get,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, chief sponsor of the House version of the bill, agrees. “It is disappointing to see parents let our kids drop out so easily.” Greer said  the bill was personal to him because his father was a high-school dropout: “He was a fine man, but I think what he regretted most was not getting a high school diploma.”

Greer said statistics show that high school dropouts are more likely to turn to crime and end up in jail. Rollins said Kentucky’s dropout rate is better than it has been in the past, at 23 to 24 percent, but that it is still too high. He said that his goal for the bill is to continue to lower that rate.

Greer said the bill had many big supporters including the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. It was also a priority for Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane Beshear.

Rollins was the prime sponsor of several bills that easily passed the House but died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Among them were measures to require background checks and fingerprinting of employees of long-term care facilities, and encourage schools to use strategic placement of food in cafeterias to promote healthy food choices by students.

He was among 15 co-sponsors of a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights of felons (except those guilty of treason, intentional killing, sex crimes or bribery) after serving out their sentences, probation or parole. The bill passed the House 75-25 but went nowhere in the Senate.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Water offer to be made April 16; mayor says city will get independent evaluation of system's worth

By Nini Edwards
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The people of Midway will have a chance to hear an offer from Kentucky American Water Co. for the city’s water and sewer system on April 16, the council was told Monday night.

The dilemma between borrowing money to fix the systems or selling one or both has been drawn out for two years. The estimate for full repair of the water system is $8.4 million.

The council discussed having a third party evaluate the system.

“It would be wise to have a third party maybe look at . . . what the actual water and sewer system is worth,” Council Member Bruce Southworth said.

Mayor Tom Bozarth replied, “Well, I think we can do that when we get an offer; we can get somebody else to evaluate our system.”

Southworth tried to interject, but Bozarth continued: “That is just business sense that you (get a third opinion). I mean, you don’t take an offer without getting one.”

“That’s what I mean, I just did know if we have discussed it,” Southworth said.

“That’s just a part of the process,” Bozarth replied.

The council asked County Emergency Services Director Keith Slugantz why the local tornado sirens did not sounds during the recent statewide drill. He said he did not activate them because the weather was “rainy and nasty” and he did not want residents to think that a tornado was approaching. He said the sirens would perform the same way regardless of the weather.

Among other business, Keith Clark, owner of the Grey Goose restaurant, told the council that he is seeking a zoning change to start a silent an auction house at 232 N. Gratz St., now in an industrial zone. He said he would return to the council in two weeks to answer questions about rezoning the property.

Clark said in an interview that he believes his auction house will benefit Midway and bring more traffic than his restaurant does.

“This is going to be a daytime deal and probably be open during the week days,” Clark said. “Anything we sell there is a revenue resource: There is sales tax that goes to the state, there is local option taxes and there is inventory.”

Clark said he plans to have an auction every 90 days, starting April 16.

The business of the council meeting began with a request from fundraisers for the American Cancer Society that the council donate to or sponsor Relay for Life, a 12-hour overnight walk to raise awareness and funding for people with cancer.

This year’s goal is to reach $78,000 and have 30 teams participating.

Bozarth did not dismiss the idea of donating, but said the council rarely makes donations.
“It is just about the budget,” he said. “People put requests in and we have never had the budget for them.”

The council discussed putting a link on its website where people could donate or learn how to participate.

Bozarth asked how much of the money stays in Woodford County. Fundraiser Meredith Moody said money will not go to cancer research in the county, but could help by going to a lodge in Lexington where people with cancer can stay.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Excursion train will run to Versailles, not Midway

By Nini Edwards
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway's track will remain single.
The highly anticipated idea of an excursion train running from Lexington to Midway has stopped in its tracks.

The plans have changed for the excursion train to run to Versailles rather Midway.

Originally, RJ Corman Railroad Group and CSX Corp. wanted to add a sidetrack to the existing track running through downtown Midway. The new track could have provided a place for a dinner train that would run from Lexington, bringing more business and people to the town.

The Midway Messenger first reported a disagreement between CSX and Corman in December 2011. At the time, Corman Group Chairman Fred Mudge said the issues were minor and he expected the project to be completed in 2012. 

The idea fell through with CSX last fall, according to Noel Rush, vice president of strategic planning and development for Corman.

“We have shifted our planning to an excursion train from Lexington to Versailles in a track that we own,” Rush said. “Between Lexington and Versailles would be just as desirable as Lexington and Midway.”

CSX owns the track running from Lexington to Louisville, through Midway.

“Corman leases the line [from CSX] so they do not have ownership,” Mayor Tom Bozarth said. “They weren’t going to allow them to use this line to haul passengers on it because it is a freight line.”

Rush said he believes the Versailles excursion is planned to be operational sometime this summer.

Rush declined to comment on possible liability issues on the project between Corman and CSX.

“This has happened because our company and CSX have issues over the operating lease agreement that have yet to be resolved,” he said.

A long glass building was built behind Rupp Arena in Lexington to board and unload passengers for excursion trains. The building still stands idle today, but nNow it will be for passengers going to Versailles.

Bozarth remained positive about the train not coming to Midway.

“Everybody was kind of excited about it,” he said. “But it is not going to happen. This means we do not have to tear down any walls and do a lot of things we were going to have to do before.”

Groundbreaking for The Homeplace at Midway set for April 9, after 15-year campaign

By Courtney Kincaid
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Having met the monetary requirements after a 15-year community effort, the Homeplace at Midway project will break ground at 2 p.m. April 9.

Local fundraising recently reached a little over $2.2 million, said Dr. Keith Knapp, president and chief executive officer of Louisville-based Christian Care Communities. “We have raised enough money to build and have reached the threshold that was needed to move forward with the federal loan,” Knapp said. Knapp emphasized that local-fundraising will never truly be completed and the goal is to try to duplicate the amount recently raised, within a year.

Artist's conception of The Homeplace at Midway(Christian Care Communities)

The Nursing Home Task Force recently celebrated with sparkling grape juice when notified their local-fundraising had been completed. “Community support has been strong, outstanding and fabulous,” said City Council Member Sharon Turner, a member of the task force.

The campaign to bring a nursing home to Midway began 15 years ago. “The inspiration essentially was wanting people to be able to stay in Midway,” said Helen Rentch, a member of the task force. The idea started back a number of years ago when nursing-home beds were in very short supply and folks from Midway were having to go pretty far away to find nursing home care. We were distressed that people who have been here their whole life had to leave at the end and be so far away among strangers.”

Members from the task force originally believed a project supporting elder-care facilities could be built in a few years, but ran into various obstacles. Members learned there was a state moratorium on licensed nursing home beds. In time, the group obtained licensing. With the support from residents in the community to build a new and improved elder-care facility for the county, the task force has continued to dedicate time and effort to help make this dream a reality.

The Homeplace will use a Green House concept, the first to be built in Kentucky, so the approach to building such an innovative project has been challenging, Knapp said. The design has also been more expensive, but Knapp said the money is well worth it because the facility will change the face of elder care and improve the quality of life for those elders.

The Green House model is intended to deinstitutionalize long-term care by eliminating large nursing facilities and creating habilitative, social settings, according to the Green House Project. The concept emphasizes freedom and flexibility for elders and allows elderly residents to live in small subdivided houses, with nursing and health-care providers proving on-site care.

The Homeplace at Midway will be a five-building facility, which will include two skilled nursing cottages for 23 residents in need of short-term rehabilitation or long-term care; a 12-bed memory/personal-care cottage for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia; and a 12-bed assisted living cottage for residents who need periodic assistance with daily living activities. Future plans include the addition of an adult day-care program and independent living duplexes to complement the initial resident cottages.

The elder community will be built on 31 acres across from the campus of Midway College. “At least five to six land-sites were proposed for The Homeplace at Midway, but the area across from the college worked out best because it contained more land,” said Mayor Tom Bozarth. “The other sites didn’t work out because they didn’t have enough land for the project, and they just weren’t the right place.”

The facility has arranged for students in Midway College’s nursing program the opportunity to “learn and utilize the Green House model of care through clinical experience and servant-leadership projects,” said Dr. Barbara Kitchen, chair of the college's Nursing and Science Division. She said it's important that students receive this hands-on experience for an understanding of how to care for elders and also learn a new model of care. “We hope this gives students a more rounded experience and gives students a different perspective of the aging process and elder care,” Kitchen said.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Council to meet 1 hour early Mon. to learn Kindle

The Midway City Council will hold a special meeting at 4:30 p.m., Monday, March 18, for training on the new Kindle Fire computers it bought to ease reference and reduce use of paper. The regular council meeting will begin at 5:30. All council meetings are open to the public.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ky. American answers questions about water and sewer, but hasn't run numbers on buying systems

By Denny Densford
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway residents finally got to hear from Kentucky American Water Co. and discuss their opinions on the future of the water and sewage systems last night, but got no hard figures on how much the company would pay for each system.

After Kentucky American president Cheryl Norton, right, gave a presentation about the company, she and two employees joined Mayor Tom Bozarth, city water-sewer consultant Mark Roberts and members of the Midway water and sewer task force on the stage at Midway College to answer questions from the crowd of about 60.

“I think they had some good questions,” Bozarth said after the 80-minute meeting. “I think the people that really care are here.”

During her presentation before the question-and-answer period, Norton said the average Kentucky-American water bill is $32.75. She said that if Midway joined the system, all water users would continue to pay a single rate, but sewage costs would depend on the city’s obligations for that system.
Bozarth said Norton and her staff had asked for more time to present their analysis of what they would pay for each system and the effect that would have on rates, and Norton said she hopes to have that at the next meeting, in mid-April.

Council Member Grayson Vandegrift said after the meeting, “I’m not going to criticize them because they’re still figuring out the numbers. “But I want to hear the numbers, that’s the most important thing: A, what do you think our system is worth, and B, what do you think the average bill is going to look like if you purchase the system.”

Norton said Kentucky American could not guarantee that it would have the same priorities for water and sewer upgrades that the task force developed, and would need to do its own investigation.
“We have started looking at what we would do if we purchased the system,” she said. “Typically what we’ll do is we’ll develop a plan of replacement, whatever the most important capital needs are and we plan out for five years.”

Michael Ashton asked if current city water and/or sewer employees would be kept on. Norton did not give a firm answer, but said their experience would be useful and they would have to meet the minimum requirements of a drug test and a background check.

“The intent isn’t to come in and remove all the employees and replace them all,” Norton said. ”We really value the expertise that they bring to the table.”

Kentucky American recently took over city water and sewage in Owenton, and “We took everybody on,” Kentucky American operations superintendent Kevin Kruchinski said. “All the people that were [there] came over. Some have retired since, some have left.”

Bozarth said he had reached out to Owenton to get an impression of its transition. “We went and talked to the mayor,” he said. “He gave us some suggestions, but overall they were pleased with what service they got.”

Norton said that her interactions with Bozarth and the city council had been positive, and that she hoped to continue working with them.

Midway purchases its water from Kentucky American and owes it $173,881 for a water line extension into Midway Station, north of Interstate 64. Norton said that debt and city bonds for the sewer plants would be taken into consideration as part of an offer.

Monday, March 11, 2013

National Scenic Byway label for Old Frankfort Pike could bring more traffic but also more money for safety

By Denny Densford
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Residents along Old Frankfort Pike voiced concerns last week about serious safety issues that plague the road and what making it a National Scenic Byway might do to compound those problems.
“You’re asking for more people to come on the road who are going to drive. . . much slower than any posted speed limit, and I see that as a huge problem,” said Shelley Johnson, who lives along the road.

Members of the group seeking the byway designation said it could actually make the road safer, by justifying a lower speed limit and making safety improvement projects more likely.

“It’s not going to be 100 percent safe,” said Fayette County horse farmer Don Ball, a member of Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor Inc., which is seeking public opinion on its application for the designation. “But you can put signs up like ‘hidden entrance’ as well as lowering speed ratings and that will help a lot with what’s happening.”

Historic preservation consultant Chris Amos presided over the meeting. (Photos by Denny Densford)
The group held its second public meeting Wednesday at Midway College to hear from other residents and discuss issues and benefits of the designation and the federal funding that could come with it.

Chris Amos, historic preservation consultant for the group, focused on safety and traffic concerns and what impact designation would have on the 16.9-mile road, which is already a state scenic byway. She brought along Randy Turner and Phil Collins, two state Department of Highways engineers, to answer safety and traffic questions that were on the minds of the 15 people who showed up.

Johnson said she had major concerns about traffic on the road due to the growth of large horse farms in the area, and that being designated as a National Scenic Byway would only make it more dangerous. “I think inviting more traffic is worrisome,” she said.

Jessica Bollinger, another resident along the pike, said the combination of speedy cars and slow, bulky farm vehicles have already created issues along the route and she worried that more traffic would just compound them.

“People don’t need to go 55 miles per hour,” said Bollinger.  “A lot of these farms are transporting equipment around.”
These views were echoed through most of the meeting by other residents along the road, and most of their questions went to the two highway department employees.

Collins, a staff engineer with the department, said that while these concerns were valid, recognition as a National Scenic Byway would bring in more money for safety projects.

Ball, who lives along the road and said he has driven it since 1962, said he thought the designation would be good for the road and the local traffic on it.

He suggested a lower speed limit than the current 55 m.p.h. on most of the road, and Amos essentially agreed with the idea. “I think being consistent about the speed in this area is a good idea,” she said. The pike has two stretches with a 35 m.p.h. limit, at Faywood and Wallace Station.

Turner, a highway planning engineer, said, “There’s been a lot of talk about reducing the speed limit, and of course I’m one that’s in favor of that,” but added that any changes would take time, even with designation as a byway. He said any speed-limit changes would have to go through the state’s formal process.

Amos outlined what other changes might be made to the road, including moving ditches and culverts from roadsides to allow for wider shoulders.

But would these safety concerns go unheard if the road failed to obtain its National Scenic Byway designation?  Amos didn’t seem to think so.

She said the corridor management plan required for the designation has detailed information that would be useful in any event, and merely applying for designation would open the doors to future projects. 

She said the next project for the road would most likely be a detailed safety and transportation report that could lead to state-funded improvements.

“Before we even get to the point where we want to invite more people along the pike,” Amos said, “we want to make it as safe as we possibly can.” 

While the byway designation would bring with it 80 percent federal funding for projects, Amos said the application alone brings with it more justification for state funds to improve the road: “You do not have to be designated in order to then get into the opportunity area for funding to do projects to improve safety.”

Amos shows Shelley Johnson an aerial map of the road.
Amos’s presentation included maps and charts with detailed positions of all the accidents that had been reported along Old Frankfort Pike from 2000 to 2011.  Accidents caused by night driving, weather or aggressive behavior were not included, since such incidents would not be assumed to increase with the more casual traffic that National Scenic Byway designation would bring.

In addition to accidents, visibility along Old Frankfort Pike was also of concern to the crowd.  One individual in particular was worried that while the designation as a National Scenic Byway would increase tourist traffic, it would not make local residents slow down.

Amos said studies have found that drivers choose to take other roads after a byway designation due to the slower drivers that choose to explore scenic byways.

In addition to concerns about the road’s safety, Bollinger had concerns about the residents of the road and their voice in the matter. “How much of a consensus do you need from people?” she asked.

Though only 15 people attended the meeting, Amos said the group had contacted every resident along Old Frankfort Pike as well as government officials and she had not received any strong vocal opposition.

“Consensus building listens to who speaks,” Amos said.

The committee will continue gathering opinions and views as it builds the corridor management plan, said Amos.  The plan is scheduled to be completed in June 2013.