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GOP lawmakers: Push to legalize casinos would fail in Senate

FRANKFORT – Looking to pull the plug on one of Democrat Andy Beshear’s major campaign themes, two top Republican lawmakers said Thursday that any effort to legalize casino gambling in Kentucky would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

The statement reflected a policy reversal for Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, who once sponsored a ballot proposal to legalize casino gambling.

Beshear views casino gambling as a long-overdue way to generate more than $500 million in yearly tax revenue. He proposes using the money to support Kentucky’s underfunded public pension systems. That money now flows to other states where Kentuckians gamble at casinos, he said.

In a joint statement, Thayer and state Senate President Robert Stivers said casino-related revenue estimates are “drastically overstated.” They said any measure to legalize casinos would be “unequivocally off the table” in the GOP-dominated Senate.

“We want to be abundantly clear, there is absolutely no chance any such effort would pass the Senate in an upcoming session,” they said. “Any bill proposing casino gambling would be dead on arrival.”

Their statement comes less than three weeks before what’s shaping up as a close Nov. 5 election pitting Beshear against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Beshear’s campaign responded that the state needs to generate new revenue to meet its pension obligations and touted casinos as a way to accomplish that.

“Andy will work across the aisle to get this done, regardless of the political rhetoric that gets thrown out during the final days of a political campaign,” Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers said.

The Senate’s top-ranking Democrat, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, said there’s bipartisan support for expanded gambling.

“The reality is, we’re flushing this money down the drain to neighboring states to fix their roads and schools and to fund their pensions,” he said. “There’s a reason these casinos are built right along our border.”

Thayer pushed for legalizing casino gambling when Beshear’s father was governor. In 2012, Thayer sponsored a proposal to put a casino amendment on the ballot. That measure failed, as did other casino proposals during Steve Beshear’s two terms as governor.

Like his son, Steve Beshear made legalizing casino gambling a key part of his run for governor. Steve Beshear preceded Bevin in office.

In a phone interview Thursday, Thayer said he changed his position on casino gambling in recent years.

His previous support was based on generating new revenue to make Kentucky’s horse tracks more competitive by increasing race purses, he said. Since then, racetracks have tapped into so-called Instant Racing as a revenue source. The slot-style machines allow people to bet on past horse races, showing video of condensed races. It’s become a successful business model for tracks, he said.

As for casino gambling, Thayer said: “I just feel like the ship has sailed.”

The casino issue is one of many issues separating Kentucky’s bitter rivals for governor.

At a recent debate, Bevin referred to casino gambling as “fool’s gold” and said Beshear’s push doesn’t account for societal costs. The way to increase tax revenue, Bevin said, is to boost job creation. Beshear claims his plan calls for expanding gambling in a “responsible manner” that includes dealing with gambling addiction.

Thayer said he supports legalizing sports betting in Kentucky. Supporters are expected to push the proposal again in 2020 after a sports betting bill died during this year’s legislative session. An analysis of this year’s proposal estimated the venture would bring in at least $20 million a year in new taxes.

Meanwhile, the resistance to Beshear’s casino plan underscores the challenges the Democrat would face in dealing with a GOP-dominated legislature if he’s elected. But Bevin has at times had his differences with lawmakers on key issues as well. Last year, the legislature overrode Bevin’s vetoes of a two-year state spending plan and a tax measure to help pay for increases in public education spending.

Program to aid homeless searching for new home
 Don Sergent  / 

Room in the Inn, a coalition of about two dozen Bowling Green-area churches that provides shelter and food to the city’s homeless population during the winter months, now finds itself without a home.

The nonprofit organization, which started under the umbrella of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of South Central Kentucky six years ago, was operating out of the Grace Place building on East 11th Avenue that is affiliated with State Street United Methodist Church before structural issues led to that site’s closing.

“Right now, we don’t have a structure,” said Doug Depp, site supervisor for Room in the Inn. “We’re looking, and we have feelers out, trying to come up with something.”

Time is running out for the nonprofit to find another site like the Grace Place building that was a gathering space where those needing shelter would congregate before being bused to a host church each evening. Room in the Inn is scheduled to provide shelter and meals from Nov. 15 through March 15.

“This is something we hadn’t planned for, so it’s a scramble,” said Sharli Rogers, Room in the Inn coordinator. “The very first season we didn’t have a place. We did registration at the public library or met people outdoors. Now we have grown so much that we really need that place.”

Rogers said she is looking at possible sites downtown but hasn’t found a spot yet.

“There are some commercial properties open in the downtown area, but the property owners are fearful when they’re told that homeless people will be coming in,” she said. “It’s hard to get past that perception.”

A headquarters building like Grace Place is needed, Rogers said, because of the nonprofit’s growth. Room in the Inn served 127 people last year and provided 2,300 bed nights.

Unlike the first year, when host churches were normally asked to provide space to accommodate a dozen or so people and serve them an evening meal and breakfast, churches were often asked to house 30 or more people last year.

“Each year we grow some more,” Rogers said. “We keep needing more space.”

Even with more than 20 churches on board to provide food, shelter or transportation, Rogers is looking for more congregations to help either through donations or through volunteering to be a host site.

“We always need more beds,” she said. “We used 66 percent more beds last year than the previous year. We know there will be nights when we’ll have to turn people away. On some nights we will have two churches serve as hosts. We piece it together and try to make it work.”

The increase in number of homeless isn’t the only growth that Room in the Inn has experienced. Using the Grace Place building, Rogers had expanded the nonprofit’s programming to provide help with finding employment and counseling.

“We had a partnership with LifeSkills two days a week last year,” Rogers said. “They would come to us and the homeless people could meet with a therapist and get more stabilized.”

Grace Place was a central location where Room in the Inn clients could borrow clothing to wear to interviews and get other services.

“We had a warming space in the morning and some storage space so they didn’t have to carry everything they own,” Rogers said. “It’s an important anchor to have that central spot.”

Even without a home base, Rogers said the homeless ministry will continue come Nov. 15.

“We will start the season on time, no matter what,” she said. “But I don’t know if we will be able to offer the case management services that are important in getting those people stabilized and into permanent housing.”

– More information about Room in the Inn can be found at the room intheinnbg.org website.

Logan man gets life sentence for home invasion, admits guilt in forgery cases
 Justin Story  / 

RUSSELLVILLE – A Logan County man convicted for his role in a home invasion was sentenced Thursday to life in prison.

Stacey Joe Carter, 51, of Russellville, was sentenced by Acting Logan Circuit Judge Jill Clark in accordance with the recommendation of a jury, which found Carter guilty this month of first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, tampering with physical evidence, convicted felon in possession of a handgun and third-degree criminal mischief.

The jury also convicted Carter of being a first-degree persistent felony offender, enhancing the penalty he could receive on the other charges, and recommended a life sentence.

Carter was accused of kicking open the back door of the Russellville home of Shelva Walker on July 1, 2017, and holding her at gunpoint while he stole jewelry she was wearing at the time and took other jewelry from the home.

Walker drove to the Russellville Police Department to report the crimes after Carter left, telling police that she recognized Carter’s voice and his facial features despite his face being partially concealed.

The stolen items included a 3-carat diamond ring, a wedding band and three gold bracelets.

Carter had previously performed yard work and other odd jobs for Walker and borrowed money from her on numerous occasions, according to court records.

Carter’s attorney, Jason Pfiel of the state Department of Public Advocacy, requested a 25-year sentence, which Clark denied.

“I believe (the life sentence) is justified in this case due to the defendant’s background, the nature of this crime and the gun involved,” Clark said.

Carter, who has multiple prior convictions for burglary and theft dating back to 1989, along with multiple parole violations, was also ordered to pay $6,500 in restitution.

In addition to the home invasion case, Carter pleaded guilty in three other cases charging him with a total of 17 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, 17 counts of second-degree forgery and 14 counts of theft by deception (less than $500).

A Logan County grand jury returned the indictments against Carter in 2017.

Carter admitted writing and cashing checks he had taken from checkbooks of three acquaintances.

He was ordered to pay a total of $2,307 in restitution and given a one-year sentence in each of those three cases.

After 5-star rating system's debut, WCPS looks ahead
 Aaron Mudd  / 

Warren County Public Schools is moving ahead after the launch of a new 5-star school rating system this month, with its board of education meeting Thursday to review next steps.

During the board’s regular monthly meeting, District Assessment Coordinator Cindy Beals offered an overview of the district’s 2018-19 state assessment results.

The new accountability system, which assigns schools an overall star rating based on several factors, prevents schools from earning top marks if they have significant academic achievement gaps between student groups.

“We did have a couple of our middle schools that dropped from a 5-star (rating) to a 4-star because of significant gaps,” Beals said. “It’s definitely something we’re looking at.”

Drakes Creek Middle School and South Warren Middle School were docked one star because of their achievement gaps for English-learner students and students with disabilities. South Warren High School also saw its overall star rating reduced to 4 stars because of achievement gaps.

Only 4-star and 5-star schools have their ratings reduced for achievement gaps and the gaps must be statistically significant to be counted under the system.

Each school’s star rating – along with the performance factors that inform a school’s star rating and a host of other data – is available online at kyschoolreportcard.com.

Beals was joined by J’Nora Anderson, the district’s academic improvement coach, who outlined steps the district is taking to improve. That includes assembling “standards-focused teams” that review relevant state standards.

“These teams are teacher leaders from each of the schools,” Anderson said. “They’re coming out and they are meeting with our literacy and math coaches, and they are spending a day going through the reading and math standards. Those were revised last year and this year is an implementation year for those.”

Anderson said effort includes multiple sessions to align instruction and district common assessments with those revised state standards.

The district is also training its staff to be “culturally responsive” and to ensure that all students can access a school’s curriculum regardless of their academic needs.

School leaders recently gathered at the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative to dig into their school’s assessment data and ways to improve.

“Starting tomorrow, we’re going to be meeting with each school leadership team individually to work with them on their school improvement plan to make sure that it is very intentional and focused on what they need to do in their particular school,” Anderson said.

WCPS Superintendent Rob Clayton described his district’s results as a “snapshot” of what the district is doing to improve performance for all students. The district has more English learner students than it’s ever had in its history, he said, and educators are constantly battling to level the playing field for all of the district’s students.

“That being said, we know that until we reach every student, until every student is proficient in reading and math … we know that the work is still ahead of us,” Clayton said.

Stacey Joe Carter