GLASGOW – U.S. Sen. Rand Paul addressed Monday the recent controversy stemming from his objection to a congressional effort to fast-track an extension of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Speaking at a ribbon-cutting for a newly built Amneal Pharmaceuticals facility in Glasgow, the Bowling Green Republican said his opposition stemmed from the House-passed bill’s roughly 70-year time frame and uncertain cost.
“If it’s important to help continue to pay for the illnesses of first responders, why don’t we take it from an area of the budget where we’re wasting money, like in Afghanistan?” he asked.
Paul said it is “right of the country” to set up the fund and use it to help 9/11 first responders, but he wants to make corresponding cuts elsewhere to fund it without borrowing money.
“If we just keep adding on, basically we’re borrowing money from China to pay even for something that’s good and worthy. I think it’s just not right to borrow money from China to pay for something,” he said.
On Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., requested the Senate approve by unanimous consent the bill, which calls for extending the funding until 2092.
“So this would be the first time in my memory that we would authorize spending for ... 70, 80 years without a dollar limit, so my colleague, (U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah), is asking for a dollar limit and I’m asking that we take the money from a place elsewhere in the budget to pay for it,” Paul said Monday.
Paul’s opposition to the unanimous-consent request slowed the progress of the bill but did not sink it. It passed the Senate in an overwhelming 97-2 vote Tuesday afternoon – Paul and Lee were the only no votes after their proposed amendments to the bill were soundly rejected.
"While I support our heroic first responders, I can't in good conscience vote for legislation which to my dismay remains unfunded," Paul wrote in a tweet issued immediately after the Senate vote. "We have a nearly trillion dollar deficit and $22 trillion in debt. Spending is out of control."
Paul’s opposition attracted a great deal of criticism, including from TV personality Jon Stewart, who has long advocated for 9/11 first responders and who previously chastised Congress for not acting to extend the fund sooner.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” said in an interview last week on Fox News. “And pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling.”
Paul responded Monday to Stewart’s comments.
“I think Jon Stewart does a disservice to the country by, you know, marketing in hyperbole and ad hominem attacks,” he said.
The $7.4 billion fund is depleting quickly and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent, according to The Associated Press.
Moments before the ribbon-cutting, Rob Stewart, president and CEO of Amneal Pharmaceuticals, announced the new distribution center was the generic drug company’s third in Glasgow and has so far created 33 jobs in the community.
Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale said he is thrilled the company decided to expand in Glasgow, adding that most of its employees live in the county.
“We’re going to continue to support Amneal in any way we can, so I think there’s going to be more things to come,” he said.
FRANKFORT – Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s pension-relief proposal cleared the Republican-run state House by a slim margin Monday, surviving a crucial showdown as lawmakers continued a special legislative session convened by the GOP governor.
The 52-46 vote capped a three-hour debate, sending the legislation to the Republican-dominated Senate, where a potential final vote is expected Wednesday. It’s the latest attempt by Bevin and lawmakers to shore up one of the country’s worst-funded public pension systems.
In a tweet sent out as the House debated the bill, Bevin praised House Republicans for “solid work” on the pension legislation. Nine GOP House members later voted against the measure, which House leaders said needed 51 votes to pass because it carries an emergency clause – allowing a measure to take effect immediately upon becoming law.
The bill – reflecting Bevin’s plan – aims to deliver relief for regional universities and quasi-governmental entities strapped by surging pension costs. Among those affected are social safety-net agencies including public health departments, community mental health centers and domestic violence shelters.
“There are no good choices is the dilemma that we and these agencies find themselves in,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. James Tipton, said during the debate. “We are trying to carve a path forward that will allow them to remain viable and, in many cases, to remain open.”
House Democrats warned the bill is likely to draw a court challenge, claiming it runs afoul of “inviolable contract” language guaranteeing workers the pension benefits they were promised when hired.
The bill’s opponents warned that some affected employees could end up with significantly less in retirement benefits if they’re moved into less generous 401(k) plans with no guarantee of an employer match.
For thousands working at those agencies, “the retirement security they have long counted on will no longer be there” if the bill becomes law, said Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham.
Democrats offered proposed amendments to alter the measure, but House Speaker David Osborne ruled the proposals out of order.
Graham warned that passage of the governor’s proposal would “set off a painful chain of events.” Leaders of those agencies, he said, will have to decide “whether to directly hurt the very people who make these agencies the success that they are, or they will have to decide what services they will have to cut to the bone, and that’s if they are somehow lucky enough to keep their doors open.”
After the House vote, Osborne dismissed attacks against the bill as “fear-mongering.”
Bevin’s plan allows the agencies to stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost; leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments; or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years. It extends a freeze on pension costs at the lower rate for another year for the regional universities and quasi-public agencies.
A Democratic alternative defeated in committee proposed a long-term freeze of retirement payments paid by the agencies along with redirecting tens of millions in retiree health insurance payments to pension liabilities for five years. The retiree health insurance fund would be paid back over time through higher annual payments to it. Supporters said it wouldn’t affect retirees’ health care benefits or premiums.
The governor rolled out his proposal more than two months ago as a replacement for a similar measure Bevin vetoed in April after the legislature had ended its regular session. The governor spent weeks building support for his plan and those efforts paid off Monday – barely.
Bevin called lawmakers back for the special session that began last Friday. A special legislative session costs taxpayers about $66,000 per day.
The governor has been wrangling with the politically sensitive pension issue as he seeks reelection. He’s being challenged by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in November.
Beshear has said Bevin’s proclamation calling lawmakers into session included restrictive language creating “a clear danger” that anything passed would draw a court challenge. After the House vote, Beshear said the proclamation was used to block lawmakers from presenting amendments during the debate.
Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said Beshear was looking “for any excuse” to continue his “politically motivated” legal fights with Bevin.
“If the General Assembly felt constrained by the governor’s proclamation, they are an independent body and could choose to gavel out without passing legislation,” she said in a statement.
Instead, the House passed the governor’s proposal, she said.
The legislation is House Bill 1.
A woman accused of shooting her boyfriend and illegally drawing on his funds has rejected a plea offer and will stand trial in October.
Candy Ann Moss, 52, of Smiths Grove, is accused in two separate indictments of first-degree assault, tampering with physical evidence, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and fraudulent use of a credit/debit card (less than $500 within a six-month period).
Moss is accused of shooting and wounding Steve A. Flynn, 64, on Nov. 28 at their College Street residence in Smiths Grove.
An indictment returned last month accuses Moss of possessing three forged checks drawn on Flynn’s account totaling $4,000 on Nov. 26-27 and using a card belonging to Flynn on Nov. 29, the day Kentucky State Police responded to their home after being notified of the shooting.
At a pretrial conference Monday in Warren Circuit Court, Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim Geoghegan said Moss has rejected an offer calling for her to serve a 16-year prison sentence.
Moss’ attorney, Diana Werkman of the Department of Public Advocacy, made a counteroffer that would enable Moss to plead guilty but mentally ill, but Geoghegan said in court she was unwilling to accept that offer due to Moss having no documented mental issues regarding the events of this case.
Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson set a jury trial for Oct. 23, setting aside three days to hold the trial.
Moss has remained in custody since her arrest in November in connection to the shooting.
According to prior court testimony, Flynn suffered wounds to the lower left part of his chest, his left hand and near the left side of his neck from two shots fired from a handgun.
Moss told KSP that she “went crazy” and shot Flynn after an ongoing argument over her adjusting the thermostat in the house, according to an arrest citation.
During a search of the residence, police recovered a .38-caliber revolver from under the dresser in the master bedroom and two spent projectiles from a Bible bag in a separate bedroom.
Flynn was transported to an area hospital and later flown to a trauma center for treatment of his injuries.
Moss described Flynn as a controlling, verbally abusive person in their relationship, according to prior court testimony.
After two months of odor-free days, gasoline washed through Lost River Cave and a nearby sinkhole following an inch of rain last week.
On July 15, the total volatile organic compound levels briefly reached their highest point at two of the three sites that city and state officials have been monitoring since a presumed gasoline spill occurred nearly four months ago.
Total VOCs reached about 9 parts per million at the Lost River Cave entrance and about 400 ppm at a sinkhole near Nashville Road.
Lost River Cave closed tours as a precaution July 15, according to Executive Director Rho Lansden.
“We were really disappointed to have that experience reoccur,” Lansden said. “The state responded, the city responded. It seemed to be limited to that one day. The very next day everything was clear, and we resumed operations.”
Kevin Strohmeier, response coordinator for the Environmental Response Branch of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, examined the site last week.
Throughout the followup investigation, Strohmeier has theorized that some of the initial release of gasoline might have landed in various cracks and crevices in the cave system, and the subsequent rain events have slowly been washing away the residuals as the water moves through different passages of the limestone network.
Warren County received 1.1 inches of rain July 13 and a Lost River Cave employee observed the odor the following Monday morning, but the smell mostly dissipated within a few hours and the VOC levels dropped back to “almost nonexistent” levels by the next day.
The temporary rise in levels at the cave entrance, after two months of essentially no detections, surprised Strohmeier.
“It’s been one mystery after another. We have some patterns figured out and then it changes,” Strohmeier said.
But if there’s a silver lining, the baseline VOC levels continue to drop with every “flush.”
“So hopefully that’s a good sign,” Strohmeier said.
Strohmeier thinks he’ll be able to conclude monitoring after the total VOC level following a rain event doesn’t exceed 20 ppm.
With the rain Monday, Strohmeier will be watching out for any new activity Tuesday.
“If we’re lucky, we’re not going to smell anything tomorrow,” Strohmeier said Monday.
The third site the city has been monitoring, a nearby residence on Lost Circle, hasn’t experienced elevated VOC levels since April, Strohmeier said.
The incident has not slowed visitation levels at Lost River Cave since it reopened mid-May after about a six-week closure.
“July is typically our busiest month for tourism visitors,” Lansden said. “It’s always exciting when people are at the park and moving around.
“We’ve been excited to see people arriving here from all over the country to experience the cave boat tour.”
Otherwise, business has carried on per usual. Lost River Cave is hosting its annual “Get Down” fundraiser this Saturday to benefit the nonprofit’s nature education programs. The event is sold out.
Gasoline releases can contaminate soil, groundwater, surface water and indoor air. And low-level gasoline exposure can be dangerous – largely due to benzene, a known carcinogen, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists set a threshold limit value (level which workers can work for a lifetime without adverse effects) for benzene of 0.50 ppm for eight-hour exposure times and 2.5 ppm for 15-minute intervals – and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health set stricter levels of 0.1 ppm and 1 ppm, respectively.
But total gasoline vapors – essentially equivalent to total VOCs – have vastly different limits, as benzene would contribute a tiny portion of the vapors, Strohmeier said. ACGIH set limits of 300 ppm for gasoline vapor for an eight-hour shift and 500 ppm for 15-minute intervals. (With this scale, Lost River Cave never experienced levels of exposure considered harmful.)
Leaks at underground storage tanks are a common problem throughout the U.S. It’s expensive for gas stations to replace tanks, and it’s expensive to clean up releases.
Last fiscal year, Kentucky reported 109 new confirmed discharges from underground storage tanks, along with a backlog of 636 remaining cleanups, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report. Nationwide, there were 5,654 confirmed releases last fiscal year and 65,446 remaining cleanups.
Heavy gasoline spill events can be dangerous for the people, plants and animals exposed.
But even routine exposure to fresh, often painfully odorous gasoline at gas stations is dangerous.
In the past few years, more evidence from environmental health experts suggests the benzene exposure people experience at or near gas stations is worthy of concern. A 2018 Columbia University study published in Science of the Total Environment found an average gas station in the midwest was leaking seven gallons of liquid gasoline each day – and that people could be exposed to benzene more than 500 feet away from the source.