89.3 WFPL http://wfpl.org Louisville's NPR® News Station Mon, 25 May 2015 11:00:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.6 Kentucky Republicans’ ‘Unity Rally’ Packed With Intrigue http://wfpl.org/kentucky-republicans-unity-rally-packed-intrigue/ http://wfpl.org/kentucky-republicans-unity-rally-packed-intrigue/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 11:00:38 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37097 Republican candidates for governor are scheduled to attend a “unity rally” Saturday in Lexington intended to show solidarity with the party, and to mend wounds caused by the contentious—and not yet settled—gubernatorial primary race. But the rally has several potential … Read Story

]]> Republican candidates for governor are scheduled to attend a “unity rally” Saturday in Lexington intended to show solidarity with the party, and to mend wounds caused by the contentious—and not yet settled—gubernatorial primary race.

But the rally has several potential points of tension, Kentucky political observers say.

Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, plus most of Kentucky’s Republican congressional delegation, requested the candidates attend the rally in order to “unite around our nominees and work towards victory next fall.”

But depending on how gubernatorial candidate Jamie Comer decides to handle the results of a recanvass of votes that he requested, the unity rally may not be as friendly as Republicans leaders hoped.

Agriculture Commissioner Comer lost the race to Louisville businessman Matt Bevin by just 83 votes last week.

In the recanvass, election officials from around the state will review the totals from voting machines to check whether there are any discrepancies from last week’s vote.  Recanvasses typically don’t yield many votes—the last, which occurred in 2010, yielded only one additional vote.

(A recanvass will also take-place in the race for agriculture commissioner—Rep. Richard Heath lost that race to Rep. Ryan Quarles by 1,427 votes.)

The question on Republicans’ minds is whether Comer will then request a full-fledged recount of votes.  That process involves a review of individual ballots across the state, completed by a judge in the Franklin Circuit Court.

Unlike the recanvass, a recount is costly and could take weeks to complete.  Comer, who’d pick up the tab for the recount, must request it by Friday—the day before the rally.

University of Kentucky political science Professor Steve Voss said that a recount of votes could make the scheduled rally more tense.

Related Story

Bevin supporters gathered in Louisville.Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Trade Lead In Indecisive Primary Night

[/related_story]“If there’s a recount called right before the unity rally, the smiles may be a little more forced, the handshakes a little tighter,” Voss said.

Voss said he doesn’t believe state Republicans won’t let a recount divide them, because it’s too important to focus their attention on defeating Democratic candidate Jack Conway in the fall.

“Ultimately, it’s not good for somebody’s political career to defect from their party and it would take something pretty extreme to see them do that,” Voss said.

Voss thinks it is likely that Comer will seek a recount, and that Bevin could even seek one as well if things go in Comer’s direction after the recanvass.

“This is just so close. It’s within a reasonable margin of error on the election returns.”

But Al Cross, Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Affairs at the University of Kentucky, said he doubts that Comer will pursue a recount.

In an effort to move on from the primary, Republicans may discourage Comer from seeking a recount, he said. Also, after an already costly campaign, Comer might have trouble raising money to pay for it.

“There might be so much pressure in the party to go ahead and get this general election campaign going,” Cross said

Further complicating the rally is a touchy history between likely candidate Bevin and McConnell.

In 2014, Bevin launched a Tea Party-backed challenge for McConnell’s Senate seat, losing by 35 percentage points. During that campaign, Bevin and McConnell traded barbs: Bevin accused McConnell of being too moderate and tried to turn the Kentucky Republican base against the longtime senator.

McConnell in turn accused Bevin of taking a bailout to rebuild his bell company in Connecticut and of erroneously claiming he attended MIT.

After the Senate race, Bevin declined to endorse McConnell, who went on to become the Senate majority leader.

“One of the real questions here is how much advice Bevin is going to be willing to take from McConnell given the bad blood they had between each other,” Cross said.  “Bevin’s kind of thin-skinned. McConnell is not. McConnell is just business, it’s the way you play ball. Bevin is much less experienced at that.”

McConnell has indicated that he will endorse Bevin if he receives the nomination.

Cross said McConnell’s desire for a Republican governor in Kentucky will motivate him to support Bevin’s candidacy despite their history. He also suggested that McConnell may have known that Bevin was the most viable of the candidates even before the primary.

“McConnell and his people may have not activated the super PAC to go after Bevin even though they knew he was coming through the middle, because they looked at the bad blood between Heiner and Comer and they thought that, like him or not, Bevin might be the best guy to unify the party around,” Comer said.

Last week, Kentucky Republican Party Treasurer Cathy Bell said the rally will still take place because the party has made a financial commitment to the Lexington Marriott.

]]> http://wfpl.org/kentucky-republicans-unity-rally-packed-intrigue/feed/ 0 Federal Judge Says Colorado Coal Mine Permit Must Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Could This Affect Kentucky? http://wfpl.org/federal-judge-says-colorado-coal-mine-permit-must-consider-greenhouse-gas-emissions-affect-kentucky/ http://wfpl.org/federal-judge-says-colorado-coal-mine-permit-must-consider-greenhouse-gas-emissions-affect-kentucky/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 12:57:49 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37095 A federal judge in Colorado has ruled the federal government should have taken the indirect environmental effects of expanding the Colowyo and Trapper coal mines into account before issuing a permit. These “indirect effects” include the environmental toll of burning … Read Story

]]> A federal judge in Colorado has ruled the federal government should have taken the indirect environmental effects of expanding the Colowyo and Trapper coal mines into account before issuing a permit. These “indirect effects” include the environmental toll of burning the coal in power plants. But because of differences in the way western and eastern coal mines are regulated, it’s hard to say what effect, if any, this ruling could have on Appalachian mines.

In the west, most of the coal is on federal lands. So as part of the permitting process, coal companies have to get approval from the Office of Surface Mining and the Secretary of the Interior. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the federal government is required to analyze the environmental impacts of mining.

But NEPA only applies to the federal government, not to states, and Kentucky has been delegated the authority to manage the commonwealth’s coal mining by the federal government.

“To say it’s apples to oranges, it’s not even that,” said Jeremy Nichols of Wild Earth Guardians, the environmental group that sued OSM over its decision to grant the permits to the Colowyo and Trapper mines. “It’s like apples to carrots. The state permitting processes are very different. And even though there’s some environmental accountability in place, it’s not as explicit as it is under the federal law.”

Up until now, examination of the environmental impact of a coal mine has focused on the mine’s immediate physical footprint. But in the court decision earlier this month, Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that OSM was required to expand its view and take into account the environmental impact of burning the coal, too.

“Both the Colowyo and Trapper EAs estimate the increase in coal production resulting from the proposed lease expansions on each mine. If OSM can predict how much coal will be produced, it can likewise attempt to predict the environmental effects of its combustion. Just because it does not possess perfect foresight as to the timing or rate of combustion or as to the state of future emissions technology does not mean that it can ignore the effects completely,” he wrote.

Nichols said his group was happy with the ruling. OSM hasn’t decided if it will appeal the decision yet; either way,  Nichols said it’s hard to say whether it could have any implications in coal mining areas (like Kentucky) where states issue the permits.

“Even though that came to a head in our case in relation to this federal approval, it does seem it might put the onus on the Office of Surface Mining to take into account those impacts as it oversees the way states throughout the country regulate coal mines,” Nichols said.

]]> http://wfpl.org/federal-judge-says-colorado-coal-mine-permit-must-consider-greenhouse-gas-emissions-affect-kentucky/feed/ 0 Here Are Recommendations From the Louisville Metro Police Staffing Study http://wfpl.org/recommendations-louisville-metro-police-staffing-study/ http://wfpl.org/recommendations-louisville-metro-police-staffing-study/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 13:03:27 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37134 Louisville Metro Police on Friday afternoon released the findings of a year-long study to determine if the department had enough officers. The 50 page study, by Alexander Weiss Consulting, found the department is “adequately staffed.” See the entire report here. … Read Story

]]> Louisville Metro Police on Friday afternoon released the findings of a year-long study to determine if the department had enough officers.

The 50 page study, by Alexander Weiss Consulting, found the department is “adequately staffed.”

See the entire report here.

However, the near $68,000 study deemed “there are areas in which their performance can be enhanced.”

Researchers outlined six recommendations they believe will lead to improvements within Louisville’s police department.

Here they are.

LMPD should adopt a workload-based method for deploying patrol personnel

A workload-based approach to assigning patrol personnel requires police officials to “systematically analyze and determine staffing needs based upon actual workload demand,” the report states.

With this approach, future staffing needs can be determined based on current activity, according to the report.

However, the report states there are negative ramifications of a workload-based approach.

For example, officers “may not have an incentive to be efficient in their response to calls or even to engage in activities that reduce call” if they know staff decisions are based upon calls for service and the time required to respond to them, according to the report.

Also, unplanned events, severe emergencies or concurrent calls can lead to a shortage of officers in a workload-based staffing approach, the study said.

During the study period, from Nov. 1, 2013 to Oct. 31, 2014, Louisville Metro Police responded to nearly 577,500 calls for service. That breaks down to roughly 66 calls for service every hour.

Here is a chart showing the number of calls for service in each division.

lmpd staffing 1Alexander Weiss Consulting

 

lmpd staffing 2Alexander Weiss Consulting

 

And, “unfortunately,” there is no accepted standard method for conducting a workload-based method, the study said

LMPD should abandon its use of both the 10-hour work schedule and the hybrid work schedule.

The study found that the department’s 10-hour schedule and hybrid work schedule “do not meet organizational needs.”

Researchers said the department’s scheduling method is unnecessarily complex and isn’t aligned with the workload.

The study said an eight-hour shift, compared to a 10-hour shift, would allow about 20 percent more officers to be considered on duty without actually adding officers to a shift. This, the report said, is due to shift overlap.

Louisville’s “hybrid” shift schedule is meant to create more officers on duty at specified times—like Friday and Saturday evenings, the report said.

But researchers concluded that the extra staff can seem reasonable, it also too random on other days of the week.

“In our view, the hybrid schedule, while it may be popular, does not seem to work well for deployment,” the report states.

And researchers admit adopting a new work schedule “will be a complex undertaking.”

They suggest requiring officers to work six eight-hour days with two off-days or move to 12-hour shifts.

The report found staffing seven officers on 12-hour shifts “is equivalent to staffing 10 eight-hour officers.”

Twelve-hour shifts have been adopted by hundreds of police departments across the country, but they are not without disadvantages, the report states. On a 12-hour shift program, it’s difficult to find time for training, officers work longer weeks and are, generally, more fatigued.

LMPD should minimize the use of on-duty personnel for special details such as runs, walks and other similar events.

The study reports LMPD officers exhibited “near unanimous concern” regarding the amount of on-duty police utilized during special events like Thunder Over Louisville and the Kentucky Derby.

The main concern with assigning on-duty police to cover special events in the city boils down to one thing: cost.

Here’s a chart showing how many hours police worked during special events in Louisville.

lmpd staffing 4

The 72,704 total police hours dedicated to patrolling these special events came with more than 32,000 hours of overtime, the study said.

The report presents two arguments. One, the cost is modest, totaling just four percent of the entire department’s on-duty time. The other, it represents four percent of police resources being taken away from serving their primary mission.

“Irrespective of one’s point of view, the department still needs to consider alternative approaches to how these events are handled,” the reports said. “There is almost universal belief that the practice is disruptive.”

LMPD should adopt the verified response model for burglar alarms.

During the year-long study period, police responded to nearly 28,000 burglar alarms—spending more than 13,000 hours doing so.

More than half of those alarms were false, the study said.

lmpd staffing 5

LMPD in early 2013 implemented a False Alarm Reducation Unit, which is responsbile for the oversight of the false alarm ordinance.

The staffing study found “more could be done to reduce police response to false alarms.”

LMPD should, whenever possible, assign non-sworn staff in positions that do not require police authority.

There are currently 1,237 sworn Louisville Metro Police officers and 294 non-sworn officers, the study said.

Using sworn officers to conduct duties non-sworn officers are capable of is a waste of money and training, the study said.

For example, two sworn detective are currently assigned to the LMPD property room.

The study states it is not unusual for property rooms to be staffed by civilian employees.

“We recommend that non-sworn personnel staff the property room function,” the researchers concluded.

The study outlines that a sworn officer should be assigned to a position only “if it requires the powers, skills and abilities of a police officer,” like the authority to make arrests.

LMPD should adopt a more strategic approach to criminal investigation.

The LMPD robbery unit in 2013 investigated just 14 percent of robberies. Division detectives investigated the remainder, the study found.

“It is difficult to understand the justification for this significant allocation of resources to a rather small fraction of cases,” the researchers concluded.

They recommend some investigative units be decentralized, but the decision to do so “should be based on what makes sense from an operational and organizational perspective.”

For example, the researchers question the “scope” of assignments assigned to homicide and robbery detectives, both of which operate in a decentralized unit.

The homicide unit had two vacancies during the study period, according to the report. And researchers recommend cross-training detectives from related squads, such as the missing persons unit, to help alleviate the workload in the homicide unit.

Determining best practices for organizing investigative units, however, has perplexed police departments for decades, researchers stressed.

A recent study done by researchers at Michigan State University concluded that the criminal investigation process has remained relatively unchanged in the face of the many paradigm shifts in the profession of policing over the past 30 years.”

Other Notes

Researches concluded that Louisville Metro Police is “a very professional organization and staff, one that is highly respected by the community.”

The researchers said a series of community conversations hosted in effort to gauge community expectations had an attendance rate of about 12 people per police division. The eight focus groups were held on March 12 and March 13.

In the study researchers stated that “overall, it was apparent that citizens actually really like and trust the police department” and “there was no evidence of strong tensions between citizens and police.”

Related Story

20140909_091859Community Complaints Against Louisville Metro Police Decline Sharply

The issues the citizens did bring up during the focus groups include communication and engagement. Researchers suggest LMPD work to improve communication between the department and the residents.

Several citizens expressed concern about a lack of feedback following a citizen call. Some said the problem they called police about still persists and they consider the call they made was ignored.

Researchers recommended that police follow up with citizens who provide information to police.

They also suggested the public information office within the department work more closely with news media to get word out about programs and inner workings of the police department.

“There may be many programs and initiatives that LMPD are doing to engage citizens,” the study said. “But no one may know about them because of insufficient publicity.”

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad said the department’s “goal” is to make a decision on each of the recommendations “in the near future.”

 

]]> http://wfpl.org/recommendations-louisville-metro-police-staffing-study/feed/ 0 Strange Fruit: Portland Poetry Series to Feature LGBTQ Poets in June http://wfpl.org/strange-fruit-portland-poetry-series-feature-lgbtq-poets-june/ http://wfpl.org/strange-fruit-portland-poetry-series-feature-lgbtq-poets-june/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 11:00:12 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37129 The Portland Poetry Series will focus on LGBTQ poets at their June event, in honor of Pride Month. Co-producer Eli Keel joins us this week, along with poet and writer Adriena Dame, who will read at the event. The series … Read Story

]]>

The Portland Poetry Series will focus on LGBTQ poets at their June event, in honor of Pride Month. Co-producer Eli Keel joins us this week, along with poet and writer Adriena Dame, who will read at the event. The series happens in the Tim Faulkner Gallery, once a month, and has been going strong since last December.

While there’s always a strong LGBTQ presence at the event, this time will be more intentional than incidental, Keel said. “We decided for Pride Month we wanted to really focus in on that, and not have it just be a thing that happened as we reached out to the poets that we know and love.”

We asked Adriena Dame whether her intersecting identities influence her work. She said that coming out changed her writing in ways she didn’t expect.

“I thought, OK well that just means that people will know that I’m queer,” she remembers. But suddenly her poems and stories were populated with lesbians, bisexual, and transgender characters. “They became all of those other dynamics of an entire population that I sort of neglected in my writing, prior to coming out.”

Keel said the series wants to shake up old ideas of how poetry readings are structured, and even who poets are. (“They’re not just old white guys,” he says).

This installment of the Portland Poetry Series is at 7:30 p.m. on June 8, and will have three or four open mic slots in addition to the featured readers—so get there when the doors open at 7 if you want to put your name in the hat. The event is free.

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about the biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas, and try to imagine how the media coverage would have been different had black urban gangs opened fire on each other in a public place.

The bikers involved were largely white and middle aged, with the oldest being in his mid-60s. “Where are the headlines for that?” Jai wonders. “Where are the people asking what’s wrong with middle-aged and elderly white America, that y’all need to ride around on motorcycles and shoot each other with AK-47s?”

We also talk about what Emmett Till (and his mother Mamie) meant to America and the Civil Rights movement. Till’s murder will be the subject of a movie that’s currently in development. Chaz Ebert will produce the film, which is based on the book “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America.”

And R.I.P. “dancery.” This week, Mary J. Blige revealed that the lyrics to her beloved dance floor masterpiece “Family Affair” might not be what we thought!

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/znlFu_lemsU” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

(Photos: Rachel Firkins, Sarah Watkins)

]]> http://wfpl.org/strange-fruit-portland-poetry-series-feature-lgbtq-poets-june/feed/ 0 Kentucky State Sen. Brandon Smith Acquitted of DUI, Guilty of Speeding http://wfpl.org/kentucky-state-sen-brandon-smith-acquitted-dui-guilty-speeding/ http://wfpl.org/kentucky-state-sen-brandon-smith-acquitted-dui-guilty-speeding/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 20:08:35 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37107 Republican state Sen. Brandon Smith has been acquitted of driving under the influence of alcohol. A Franklin County jury took 10 minutes to acquit the Hazard Republican on Friday following a day-long trial. They did convict him of speeding and … Read Story

]]> Republican state Sen. Brandon Smith has been acquitted of driving under the influence of alcohol.

A Franklin County jury took 10 minutes to acquit the Hazard Republican on Friday following a day-long trial. They did convict him of speeding and fined him $40.

Smith was arrested Jan. 6, the first day of the 2015 legislative session. A state trooper testified Smith smelled of alcohol and that he failed two field sobriety tests. Smith refused to take a breath test.

Smith’s defense attorneys played security camera footage from the jail, showing the jury Smith walked without assistance. A convenience store clerk testified that Smith did not appear intoxicated earlier that night.

Smith’s attorneys argued earlier this year the charges should be dropped because the state constitution says lawmakers cannot be arrested while the legislature is in session. They later withdrew that request.

]]> http://wfpl.org/kentucky-state-sen-brandon-smith-acquitted-dui-guilty-speeding/feed/ 0 Kentucky Appeals Court Rules Natural Gas Liquids Pipelines Can’t Use Eminent Domain http://wfpl.org/kentucky-court-appeals-rules-natural-gas-liquids-pipelines-cant-use-eminent-domain/ http://wfpl.org/kentucky-court-appeals-rules-natural-gas-liquids-pipelines-cant-use-eminent-domain/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:58:09 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37104 The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision that a natural gas liquids pipeline would not have the right of eminent domain in the commonwealth. The unanimous decision means that only utilities regulated by the Public … Read Story

]]> The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision that a natural gas liquids pipeline would not have the right of eminent domain in the commonwealth. The unanimous decision means that only utilities regulated by the Public Service Commission can invoke eminent domain in Kentucky.

The case was filed back in December 2013, when pipeline company Williams began work in Kentucky to lay 500 miles of pipe across the state. The Bluegrass Pipeline would hook up with existing pipeline in other states, and was designed to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) from drilling operations in the Northeast to processing plants on the Gulf of Mexico. NGLs are byproducts of natural gas drilling; they’re hydrocarbons like propane, ethane and butane, and are used in manufacturing materials like plastics.

Related Story

Pipeline for Natural Gas Liquids Could Cross Kentucky; Here's What You Need to Know

A grassroots resistance to the Bluegrass Pipeline grew, and many landowners expressed concerns about the pipeline crossing their property. Williams said publicly the company believed it had the power of eminent domain, but other legal experts in the commonwealth disagreed. Kentucky law on the subject was unclear.

Now, the Court of Appeals decision has cleared up the commonwealth’s eminent domain law. As Judge Janet Stumbo wrote in the unanimous opinion:

“We believe that the legislature only intended to delegate the state’s power of eminent domain to those pipeline companies that are, or will be, regulated by the PSC. In addition, the NGLs in Bluegrass’s pipeline are being transported to a facility in the Gulf of Mexico. If these NGLs are not reaching Kentucky consumers, then Bluegrass and its pipeline cannot be said to be in the public service of Kentucky. We therefore affirm the circuit court’s judgment that Bluegrass does not possess the ability to condemn property through eminent domain.”

Related Story

Tennessee Gas PipelineProposed Conversion of Gas Pipeline to Carry Natural Gas Liquids Through Kentucky Raises Questions, Concerns

The Bluegrass Pipeline has since been put on hold, but this decision could affect other potential NGL pipeline projects. Kinder Morgan is exploring converting part of the existing Tennessee Gas Pipeline—which runs through 18 Kentucky counties—to carry NGLs, and this decision means the company couldn’t use eminent domain to acquire any additional land.

]]> http://wfpl.org/kentucky-court-appeals-rules-natural-gas-liquids-pipelines-cant-use-eminent-domain/feed/ 0 How a Preservation Grant Will Retell Kentucky’s LGBT History http://wfpl.org/preservation-grant-will-retell-kentuckys-lgbt-history/ http://wfpl.org/preservation-grant-will-retell-kentuckys-lgbt-history/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:37:10 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37075 Standing outside the Henry Clay building in downtown Louisville, a small group of people on Thursday celebrated a big day for LGBT history. Members of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, along with local and state preservationists, said they were excited because the Kentucky … Read Story

]]> Standing outside the Henry Clay building in downtown Louisville, a small group of people on Thursday celebrated a big day for LGBT history.

Members of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, along with local and state preservationists, said they were excited because the Kentucky Heritage Council had been awarded a $25,000 grant from the National Park Service that could lead to significant changes in the recognized history of buildings such as the Henry Clay and Whiskey Row.

The small, yet competitive, grant aims to highlight the history of “under-represented communities,” said Craig Potts, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council.

Thirteen state preservation offices were awarded these grants, and only two of the states will focus on LGBT history. New York is the other state.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” he added.

The grant funds will enable Kentucky preservationists and historians to delve into the history of places on the National Register of Historic Places and uncover “an LGBT connection that most people don’t know,” Potts said.

He said Kentucky has the fourth-highest number of National Historic listings in the country.

“Not one of those has a direct documented association with the LGBT community,” he said.

The grant will likely change that, at least at some historic places—like the Henry Clay on Third Street and Whiskey Row along Main Street in downtown Louisville.

The Downtowner, a building on Whiskey Row, is known as one of the first gathering places in Louisville for residents in the LGBT community, Preservation Louisville executive director Marianne Zickuhr said on a 2014 episode of Strange Fruit.

The Henry Clay has ties to the LGBT community dating back to the 1940s, said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign.

Beaux Arts Bar Henry Clay Image 1947 The University of Louisville Photographic Archives

1947 Photograph of the Beaux Arts at the Henry Clay

Zickuhr said she was unaware of the grant opportunity until she met with a colleague in San Francisco, a city which is a national leader in LGBT history preservation.

Hartman said historians, preservationists and scholars will gather oral histories of historic places and examine archived arrest records to determine which Kentucky places on the national historic register have historic ties to the LGBT community.

Potts said scholars will also explore the William-Nichols Collection at the University of Louisville. It is the the third largest collection of LGBT related materials in the country.

If a history is identified and substantiated, then LGBT-specific amendments to the official historical context of the locations will be submitted to the state historic review board for approval, then on to Washington, D.C., for final approval by the National Park Service, Potts said.

Related Story

1024px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies1Louisville Wants More LGBT Tourism, But City Has Some Hurdles

The initiative to identify historically significant places in the LGBT community will be statewide, Hartman said. He expects much of the history to be in Louisville and Lexington, but said some work is already being done to gather details on LGBT history in eastern Kentucky, too.

Hartman said the grant allows an important part of Kentucky history to be saved. It also will provide a “blueprint to preserve the history we are making today.”

“It’s easy to get lost in the historic moments we are living in,” he said, adding LGBT history is “constantly being made in Kentucky” through the passing of anti-discrimination ordinances and local plaintiffs taking their case for same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We need to remember this history well, and preserve it, in the midst of everything we are doing,” he said. “This is a big step.”

]]> http://wfpl.org/preservation-grant-will-retell-kentuckys-lgbt-history/feed/ 0 Louisville Native Wendy Whelan Moves Beyond Ballet http://wfpl.org/louisville-native-wendy-whelan-moves-beyond-ballet/ http://wfpl.org/louisville-native-wendy-whelan-moves-beyond-ballet/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 17:53:23 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37076 Louisville native Wendy Whelan has nearly every professional accolade possible for a ballet dancer. But now that she’s retired from the acclaimed New York City Ballet after 30 years, Whelan is seeking to expand beyond ballet. This weekend, Whelan brings … Read Story

]]> Louisville native Wendy Whelan has nearly every professional accolade possible for a ballet dancer.

But now that she’s retired from the acclaimed New York City Ballet after 30 years, Whelan is seeking to expand beyond ballet.

This weekend, Whelan brings her first post-ballet production to her hometown with “Restless Creature,” an evening of four duets that features Whelan paired with four different dancers, each of whom served as the choreographer for their duet with her.

She’s trading her pointe shoes for bare feet, and looking to find different ways of moving after so many years in the strict discipline of ballet.

“The movement is not necessarily ballet-based, but because I’m doing it and I’ve been such a longtime established ballet dancer, I’ll have a little bit of a ballet feel, but I’m really trying to explore new sides of myself as a performing artist, and therefore trying to get away from ballet, to tap new sources of movement within myself,” Whelan said.

Listen to the Full Interview

Her partners in “Restless Creature” are dancer/choreographers Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo. The piece had its world premiere at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in August 2013, and the dancers have been touring with this show for the last three months.

Whelan left the New York City Ballet last year. Whelan said she was nervous about her departure, but it was the right decision at the right time.

“I had a fantastic time at the New York City Ballet,” Whelan said. “And I couldn’t have asked for more. And I left at exactly the right moment, and I’ve gone on to explore in exactly the way I want to.”

Bringing the show to Louisville is “like Christmas,” Whelan said.

“I’m so excited, and I have so many friends and family that are going to be there. They’ve never seen me do anything but ballet, so I’m excited to show them what I’m up to now,” she said.

“Restless Creature” will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday night at the Brown Theatre. Here’s more information.

]]> http://wfpl.org/louisville-native-wendy-whelan-moves-beyond-ballet/feed/ 0 Looming Trade Deficit May Cloud Kentucky’s Sunny Economy http://wfpl.org/despite-kentuckys-sunny-economy-trade-deficit-looms/ http://wfpl.org/despite-kentuckys-sunny-economy-trade-deficit-looms/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 13:00:01 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37063 This week Kentucky boasted a handful of economic achievements. Kentucky’s manufacturing sector added 1,100 jobs in April (4,700 since last year), GM announced a $439 million expansion of its Corvette factory in Bowling Green, and Kentucky’s exports were reported to … Read Story

]]> This week Kentucky boasted a handful of economic achievements.

Kentucky’s manufacturing sector added 1,100 jobs in April (4,700 since last year), GM announced a $439 million expansion of its Corvette factory in Bowling Green, and Kentucky’s exports were reported to be up 11 percent in 2015.

Plus, the unemployment rate fell to 5 percent—the lowest it’s been in 15 years.

But State Office of Employment and Training Economist Manoj Shanker warns that a continued strong dollar could squelch demand for Kentucky goods.

“So what’s helped us really, the reason we’re doing all these exports is because energy costs are low, which means the cost of making goods is lower in Kentucky and in the U.S–but what hurts us is that the dollar is strong, so it’s more difficult to export,” Shanker said.

While Kentucky and the U.S.’ economy have rallied admirably since the Great Recession, much of the rest of the world is still struggling to catch up.

Countries that haven’t made strong recoveries can’t afford to buy as many of our goods. Because their currencies aren’t as strong as the dollar, they’re able to export their goods at a much lower price than U.S. manufacturers can.

This phenomenon has led to a trade deficit in the United States—we import more than we export—which has grown to $51.4 billion according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

The trade deficit isn’t simply caused by other countries not being able to afford U.S. goods, said Jason Bailey, the executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economy Policy.

He said countries such as China and Japan artificially weaken their currencies by buying up dollar-dominated financial assets.

“Because it changes currency values it makes the dollar more expensive that makes any good that is produced by a Kentucky manufacturer more expensive in the whether they’re selling in Europe, Asia or wherever,” Bailey said.

Bailey said Kentucky is especially vulnerable to the trade deficit because the state has the eighth-largest share of factory jobs compared to total employment. Expensive workers, materials and facilities could lead manufacturers to outsource.

“It makes it cheaper for employers to just move off shore,” Bailey said. “And that’s the big thing we’ve seen happen over the last 15 years is that we’ve seen these manufacturers relocate to China, which is one of these countries that engages in currency manipulation, because then the cost of production in China becomes that much cheaper than it is in the U.S.”

The U.S. Senate is currently considering legislation that would create an international system to crack down on countries that manipulate their currencies.

]]> http://wfpl.org/despite-kentuckys-sunny-economy-trade-deficit-looms/feed/ 0 West End Poetry Opera Takes On Issues Through Art http://wfpl.org/west-end-poetry-opera-takes-issues-art/ http://wfpl.org/west-end-poetry-opera-takes-issues-art/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 11:00:02 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37025 Domestic violence, religion, interactions with police, relationships between parents and children – these are just some of the issues that will be tackled Friday in Louisville through poetry, music, dance and spoken word. A group of young artists from Louisville’s West … Read Story

]]> Domestic violence, religion, interactions with police, relationships between parents and children – these are just some of the issues that will be tackled Friday in Louisville through poetry, music, dance and spoken word.

A group of young artists from Louisville’s West End bring their stories to the Kentucky Center during the West End Poetry Opera.

About 15 artists between the ages of 18 and 26 will take the stage to tell stories of their lives and the things that concern them. The project is a production of Roots and Wings, a community organization that brings together several groups working for social change.

Stacy Bailey-Ndaiye, one of the show’s co-directors, said the audience will be getting more than just a performance.

“They’re going to hear the authentic voice of young adults here in the city, talking about issues related to the West End but it’s definitely more broad than that – I mean, it’s the West End Poetry Opera – and so we’re telling the story of African-Americans, and it really is a call to action,” Bailey-Ndaiye said.

This performance is a continuation of the work begun last October with the Smoketown Poetry Opera, which was performed outdoors across the street from the Sheppard Square housing development in Smoketown.

Theo Edmonds, Bailey-Ndaiye’s co-director, hopes that this performance’s location at the Kentucky Center brings out people from all over the city.

“I suspect that the audience will be one of the most interesting cross-sections from the city of Louisville that you’ve ever seen gathered in one place,” said Edmonds.

All of the material is original, created by the artists who perform it. Brandon Harrison, a 26-year-old poet and spoken word artist who goes by “B-Shatter” onstage, said art is an ideal way to engage the younger generation in serious issues.

“We pay more attention to the artistic outlets than we do the news, or traditional school methods,” Harrison said. “Being an artistic person, it is then my job to still educate and then bring about those issues in a way that I know my generation will listen to it.”

One of Harrison’s pieces is a poem called “Dear Officer,” which imagines asking a police officer some very pointed questions about his line of work.

Do you remember drawing inside the lines of your future profession? Furthermore, did you ever think that you’d be standing outside those lines, dear officer?
I’m asking, if you’re standing from beyond the innocence you stole, just how many vacation days does one receive if the powder from your casings enters the shell of a black soul, check the tags on the black toes, who are afraid of us realizing we’re diamonds, how much does it pay to snuff out black coals, burn down black homes, how big is the bonus for sending black boys to black holes, dear officer.

Listen to Harrison Perform ‘Dear Officer’

In addition to the public performance, there is a strong component of professional development to the project. The performers and crew are learning job skills that the organizers hope will help them in their professional lives. Although this particular project is focused on the West End, Edmonds said the intention is to build something that brings the city together.

Because we look at all the attention that’s been given to West Louisville, there is a clarion call right now to integrate social and economic justice into our urban planning policies, and so we believe that this project is coming along at a very important moment for our city, and hopefully will have the intended impact, which is to be a bridge builder to a better future for all of us,” Edmonds said.

The performance at the Bomhard Theatre is sold out, but the entire show will be streamed live on a video screen in the lobby of the Kentucky Center, and will also be streamed on YouTube.

(Image via Kertis Creative)

This story has been changed to reflect that Harrison performed “Dear Officer.”

]]> http://wfpl.org/west-end-poetry-opera-takes-issues-art/feed/ 0 Lower Kentucky Unemployment Rates Should Lead to Wage Increases, Economist Says http://wfpl.org/lower-kentucky-unemployment-rates-lead-wage-increases-economist-says/ http://wfpl.org/lower-kentucky-unemployment-rates-lead-wage-increases-economist-says/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 01:32:13 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37040 Kentucky’s unemployment rate has dropped once again–from 5.2 percent in March to 5 percent in April. That’s down from 7 percent in April of 2014. Manoj Shanker, an economist with the state Office of Employment and Training, said the lower … Read Story

]]> Kentucky’s unemployment rate has dropped once again–from 5.2 percent in March to 5 percent in April.

That’s down from 7 percent in April of 2014.

Manoj Shanker, an economist with the state Office of Employment and Training, said the lower unemployment rate should lead to acceleration in wage rates.

“When the market tightens, the same jobs that are paying say $8 or $9 an hour–in order to get more workers they’re going to be paying a little higher. And when they pay a little higher, then more workers enter the market,” Shanker said.

According to Shanker, wages have increased by about 2 percent since April 2014.

The largest employment sector in the state is transportation and utilities, which has gained about 6,200 positions since April 2014. Transportation and utilities jobs account for one-fifth of nonfarm employment in Kentucky.

The healthcare sector, which has grown in response to the expansion of Medicaid services in the state, added 1,600 jobs in April–that adds up to 5,000 jobs from a year ago. Healthcare accounts for about 15 percent of all nonfarm employment in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s manufacturing sector has also steadily grown, adding 1,100 jobs in April and 4,700 jobs since April 2014.

Kentucky’s civilian labor force increased by 3,590 during April. Shanker said those who worked off the grid or stopped looking for work altogether are starting to reenter the market.

“When jobs increase and wages go up, people sitting on the sidelines thinking, ‘Should we get back to look for jobs or not?’ enter the labor force,” Shanker said.

The state’s labor force has been on the decline in recent years as baby boomers have reached retirement age

The number of people employed in Kentucky increased by 4,984 in April and the number of unemployed decreased by 1,394.

The national unemployment rate is 5.4 percent. Kentucky has been below the national unemployment rate for nine months.

]]> http://wfpl.org/lower-kentucky-unemployment-rates-lead-wage-increases-economist-says/feed/ 0 Preservation Louisville’s Top 10 List of Most Endangered Places http://wfpl.org/preservation-louisvilles-top-10-list-endangered-places/ http://wfpl.org/preservation-louisvilles-top-10-list-endangered-places/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 01:27:12 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37053 Louisville preservationists on Thursday released their annual list of endangered places in and around the city. The highlighted properties are what non-profit group Preservation Louisville considered to be the most at risk of being demolished or wrecked beyond repair. Preservation Louisville … Read Story

]]> Louisville preservationists on Thursday released their annual list of endangered places in and around the city.

Related Story

Louisville Preservation Advocates to Release Annual List of Endangered Places

The highlighted properties are what non-profit group Preservation Louisville considered to be the most at risk of being demolished or wrecked beyond repair.

Preservation Louisville works to protect the architectural heritage of the community and is asking for donations to help fund the much-needed preservation work on the listed properties, which include vacant and abandoned homes, old corner store fronts and historic churches.

Here is the entire list as shown on Preservation Louisville’s website:

Vacant & Abandoned Properties

Historic Educational Buildings

Mid-Century Modern Structures

The Roscoe Goose House

roscoe_goose_web

The Ouerbacker House

Corner Store Fronts

Historic Sacred Spaces

The Peter C. Doerhoefer House

doerhoefer_webJacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Historic Old Clarksville Site

The Old Water Company Block Historic Buildings 

The group also published their annual preservation “successes” list of properties which have been renovated successfully.

Here is that list:

Crescent Hill Gate House – Louisville Water Co.
Crescent Gill Gate House

Falls City Lofts
Falls City Lofts

Hilltop Theater Building
Hilltop Theater

Family Health Center – East Broadway

Family Health Center - East Broadway

1366 S. 3rd St.

1366 S. 3rd St.

Wolf Pen Branch Mill
Wolf Pen Branch Mill 2

Holy Grale/Gralehaus
Gralehaus

Embassy Suites
Embassy Suites

Indatus
Indatus

231 N. 19th St.
231 N. 19th St.

]]> http://wfpl.org/preservation-louisvilles-top-10-list-endangered-places/feed/ 0 Expansion Coming to Bowling Green Corvette Plant http://wfpl.org/expansion-coming-bowling-green-corvette-plant/ http://wfpl.org/expansion-coming-bowling-green-corvette-plant/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:08:40 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37049 A major expansion is in the works at the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant. General Motors announced Thursday a $439 million investment for facility upgrades, including a new paint shop. Construction will begin this summer and take about two years to … Read Story

]]>

Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen (left) and Corvette Assembly Plant Manager Jeff LamarcheLisa Autry | wfpl.org

Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen (left) and Corvette Assembly Plant Manager Jeff Lamarche

A major expansion is in the works at the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant.

General Motors announced Thursday a $439 million investment for facility upgrades, including a new paint shop. Construction will begin this summer and take about two years to complete.

Plant Manager Jeff Lamarche said the investment shows GM’s commitment to the Bowling Green facility.

“It’s really clear that GM is not just committing for years ahead, but committing to the community, the plant, and the men and women here in Bowling Green,” Lamarche told WKU Public Radio. “It’s basically recognition for the great job everybody’s done.”

The new paint shop will be 450,000 square feet, almost half the size of the current assembly plant. The expansion is not expected to create any additional jobs.

Thursday’s announcement follows nearly $135 million invested in the plant over the last four years for the new seventh generation Corvette and the Performance Build Center.

Last month, GM announced it would invest $5.4 billion in its U.S. facilities over the next three years.

]]> http://wfpl.org/expansion-coming-bowling-green-corvette-plant/feed/ 0 Preservationists Get 30 Days to Save Old Louisville Water Co. Building http://wfpl.org/preservationists-get-30-days-save-old-louisville-water-co-building/ http://wfpl.org/preservationists-get-30-days-save-old-louisville-water-co-building/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 18:22:09 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37014 Preservationists have 30 days to develop a plan to save all or part of the old water company building near Third Street and Muhammad Ali Blvd in downtown Louisville, city officials said on Thursday. The two-story building, which housed the … Read Story

]]> Preservationists have 30 days to develop a plan to save all or part of the old water company building near Third Street and Muhammad Ali Blvd in downtown Louisville, city officials said on Thursday.

The two-story building, which housed the Louisville Water Co. from 1910 to 1998, is one of two historic structures remaining on the block slated for the major Omni Hotel development in the coming years.

On Thursday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer outlined three options for preserving the old water company building. Preservationists can move the entire old water company building to another location, relocate the building’s portico, facade and 25-feet side walls, or move just the building’s portico to public land.

He said the city will provide about $1 million for the preservation effort.

The Odd Fellows Hall will not be part of the Omni Hotel development and will be demolished.

Two other structures once located on the block, the Morrissey Garage and Falls City Theater Co. building, were demolished earlier this year and crews continue to remove the final remnants of the century-old buildings.

Following the demolition of those two buildings, Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of Preservation Louisville, said she had hope the old water company building and Odd Fellows Hall (which also remains on the block) could be incorporated into the near $300-million Omni Hotel development.

What's left of the Morrissey Garage and Falls City Theater Company buildings.Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

What’s left of the Morrissey Garage and Falls City Theater Company buildings.

But Fischer said full building incorporation for the old water company building alone would cost perhaps $6 million.

That is not feasible, he said.

Moving the building is feasible, said Craig Potts, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the state’s historic preservation officer.

But the cost of doing so would surpass the $1 million allocation the city plans to spend, he said.

Potts said the “preliminary estimate” of moving the building is roughly $816,000. That, basically, includes removing the building from its current foundation and putting it on a truck, he said. It does not include the “unknown costs” of the actual transportation—such as removing stop lights, directing traffic and replacing the building at another prepared site.

Another factor preservationists must consider over  the next 30 days  is where they could potentially move the building, Potts said.

Moving the building in its entirety will be limited to a six-block radius, Fischer said. The transport will not be able to go through underpasses or beneath skywalks, he added.

“There is not a specific city site within the six block area that is a clear option,” Potts said.

Preservationists will seek out a downtown landowner willing to voluntarily provide the plot of land necessary to relocate the building to, Potts said.

“We haven’t thought about the idea of purchasing land,” he said. “Land in downtown Louisville is very, very expensive.”

He said the Old Water Company building “has a lot of value and potential” and could “be very helpful to a site that’s underutilized,” like a parking lot.

The Jefferson County PVA assessed the near one acre-parcel of land the building currently sits on to be valued at just more than $2 million.

If a landowner volunteers a plot of land for the building, they would be given the building at not cost, Potts said. They would, however, be required to prepare the lot for the building, which means clearing the lot and laying a foundation.

“Whoever accepts the building, it’s going to take a lot of money to adaptively reuse it,” he said.

Historic preservation tax credits, which can credit up to 20 percent of the rehabilitation costs, will likely not be available for the preservation of the old water company building, Potts said.

The reason, he said, is that to qualify for preservation tax credits a building must be on the National Register of Historic Places. The old water company building is eligible for listing, but not formally listed. Also, once the building is moved, it likely would no longer be eligible for listing on the National Register, Potts added.

“That impacts the historic context for the site,” he said.

Related Story

Preservationists To Turn Louisville Into 3-Year 'Living Laboratory'

Over the next 30 days Potts will work with local preservationists and city officials to develop “a very clear” plan regarding where the building will go and how the extra costs will be covered.

“We have to have a willing property owner,” he stressed. “There is definitely some work to be done.”

The block on which the building currently is must be cleared and ready for the Omni Development by Jan. 1, Fischer said.

If no donors come forward within the 30-day window for developing a plan to move the building, then, he said, city officials will look to move the smaller portions of the building to public land.

“Something will happen,” he said. “Minimally, the city will be moving the portico somewhere. The other opportunity, obviously, relates to the facade and side walls.”

Those options, Fischer said, are “relatively easy” and will cost in the “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Moving the building, on the other hand, will be “tricky.”

]]> http://wfpl.org/preservationists-get-30-days-save-old-louisville-water-co-building/feed/ 0 The Kickback, Fraud and Drug-Switch Claims That Ail a Louisville Pharmacy Company http://wfpl.org/the-kickback-fraud-and-drug-switch-claims-that-ail-a-louisville-pharmacy-company/ http://wfpl.org/the-kickback-fraud-and-drug-switch-claims-that-ail-a-louisville-pharmacy-company/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 16:16:43 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=37019 Editor’s note: Shortly before publication, a legal case involving PharMerica settled in Wisconsin federal court. This article has been updated to reflect the latest settlement. Like no other place, American nursing homes house people with age-weakened bodies, multiple ailments and, … Read Story

]]> Editor’s note: Shortly before publication, a legal case involving PharMerica settled in Wisconsin federal court. This article has been updated to reflect the latest settlement.

Like no other place, American nursing homes house people with age-weakened bodies, multiple ailments and, often, severe mental impairment. Many are overmedicated. Many have no visitors. A third of them will die within a year of admission.

From the pharmaceutical industry’s perspective, that makes nursing homes fertile ground to sell more drugs.

The drug maker Abbott Laboratories knew that. It paid millions of dollars in “rebates” to get pharmacy companies to pump up prescriptions of an anti-seizure drug to agitated dementia patients in nursing homes, a use not approved by the Food & Drug Administration. Medicaid payments for the drug, Depakote, went on to top $7 billion. Thanks to a whistleblower lawsuit, the Justice Department caught on. Abbott pleaded guilty in 2012 to a criminal charge, settled civil kickback and fraud claims and paid $1.5 billion in fines.

The drug giant Amgen Inc. also saw a bonanza in the nursing home channel. Flashing financial incentives, it enlisted the same pharmacy companies to promote its Aranesp anemia drug for uses beyond its FDA approval. Again alerted by a whistleblower suit, the Justice Department stepped in. Amgen pleaded guilty to the crime of drug misbranding, settled civil kickback and fraud charges and paid a total of $762 million in fines.

Those two deals brought the government hammer down on the companies that hatched the sales-boosting schemes. But what happened to the folks on the receiving end of the payoffs — the two pharmacy companies accused of pocketing the money and switching nursing home patients to different drugs?

The defendant remaining in both civil cases is called PharMerica Corp., of Jeffersontown, outside Louisville. PharMerica has no retail stores, but is the second-biggest operator of nursing home pharmacies in the country. It has about 6,000 employees in 45 states, about 200 at its headquarters in a forested office park off Blankenbaker Parkway. With $1.9 billion in revenue last year, it is the 10th-biggest publicly traded company in Kentucky, according to rankings by The Lane Report.

PharMerica was formed by a merger in 2007. Before that it existed as the institutional pharmacy divisions of Kindred Healthcare, a Louisville company, and AmerisourceBergen of Chesterbrook, Pa. It hired Gregory Weishar (pronounced WISH-er) as chief executive in 2007. He has run the company ever since.

PharMerica's headquarters in the 1900 block of Campus Lane in Jeffersontown.

PharMerica’s headquarters in the 1900 block of Campus Lane in Jeffersontown.

Companies like PharMerica, and its larger competitor Cincinnati-based Omnicare Inc., occupy a strategic place in the flow of drugs to nursing home patients. Acting on behalf of the homes, they buy drugs from the pharmaceutical companies in bulk, often repack them in foil packs, or “bingo cards,” and dispense them under the supervision of employees known as consultant pharmacists. PharMerica says it has a 15 percent share of the U.S. market. It calls its performance “industry-leading.”

“PharMerica provides the right medication at the right time,” states the company’s website.

But does it? The Abbott Labs and Amgen lawsuits assert otherwise. The civil suits accuse PharMerica of giving certain drugs to nursing home patients in return for drug company kickbacks, not because they were the “right medication.” The suits were filed by drug company insiders who claim to have knowledge of payoffs disguised as “rebates” or “discounts.” PharMerica denies the claims.

Paying kickbacks appear to be standard practice in the pharmaceutical industry. The Justice Department doesn’t keep count, but kickbacks are a common theme in the many Medicare and Medicaid cases involving aggressive new-drug rollouts and off-label switcheroos.

Five additional closed cases raise further questions about PharMerica’s priorities. Since 2005, it has agreed to pay $40 million in fines to settle federal complaints. Last week, the Justice Department said PharMerica will pay $31.5 million to settle allegations that it dispensed addictive painkillers to nursing home patients without prescriptions, then falsely billed Medicare.

In that case, three PharMerica pharmacists in Wisconsin and Florida civilly accused the company of regularly dispensing painkillers, such as fentanyl patches, to nursing home patients without prescriptions from 2007 through 2009. The Justice Department took over the case in 2013, and as part of the settlement, PharMerica agreed to a five-year “corporate integrity agreement,” a probation-like deal that places burdensome compliance obligations on corporate fraudsters.

In earlier settlements, three of its Virginia pharmacies were accused in two civil suits of giving painkillers to nursing home patients without prescriptions on 1,233 occasions. Separately, it was accused of billing the Tennessee Medicaid program for more drugs than it actually dispensed. And, again in Virginia, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Inspector General accused PharMerica of paying an exorbitant amount for a newborn pharmacy in return for the lucrative meds business of the pharmacy owner’s 25 nursing homes.

The last case was deemed so flagrant that the IG sought to ban PharMerica from federal healthcare programs for 10 years. It settled, in 2005, for a $6 million fine and a five-year corporate integrity agreement.

Sources: Court documentRyan Smith/KyCIR

Sources: Court documents

PharMerica declined to make any of its executives available for an interview with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. It cited the ongoing court cases, but also would not take questions about its business practices or its corporate culture.

“PharMerica is committed to outstanding compliance and the highest standards of ethical conduct, and we are diligent in ensuring that we comply with all applicable law and regulation,” the company said in a statement.

Patrick Burns, co-director of Taxpayers Against Fraud, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., had no reservations talking about PharMerica.

Burns said the pipeline from pharmaceutical companies to nursing homes is flush with monetary incentives to promote certain drugs and to sell more of them. Ultimately, he said, drug sales greased by kickbacks at the expense of nursing home residents, Medicare and Medicaid amount to profiteering.

“That’s the perversion of the system,” Burns said. “At the end of the day, our oldest, sickest and poorest become cash cows.”

Reuben Guttman, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents Amgen whistleblower Frank Kurnik in his suit against Amgen, PharMerica and Omnicare, said drug companies pay kickbacks because it expedites business.

“I assume they could have done what they did by sending out the ground troops and going (nursing) home to home to home, but it was a lot easier for them to pay kickbacks to PharMerica, and PharMerica solicits kickbacks because that’s one of the ways they make money,” Guttman said. “They bonus people up and down the food chain who participate in the scheme.”

PharMerica’s involvement in the Abbott Labs-Depakote affair was rooted in a 1997 deal in which it agreed to a “therapeutic interchange program to convert prescriptions from non-Abbott drugs to Abbott drugs,” according to the initial whistleblower suit filed by former Abbott manager Thomas Spetter Jr. in 2007. Although Depakote was FDA-approved to treat seizures and bipolar mania and prevent migraines, Spetter’s suit claimed that Abbott ghost-wrote medical articles and paid medical “opinion leaders” touting Depakote’s effectiveness in treating agitation and aggression in dementia patients.

PharMerica and Omnicare helped the cause, Spetter alleged in his suit, by pitching Depakote to nursing homes and doctors through “lunch ‘n learns,” “round tables” and speaker programs. He said the pharmacy companies did “chart reviews” of nursing home patients’ drug histories to find opportunities to persuade doctors to “convert” those patients to Depakote products. He cited two occasions when PharMerica hosted dinner events, in Hawaii and California, where doctors spoke about alternative, non-FDA-approved uses of Depakote.

The government joined the case and reached a $1.5 billion out-of-court settlement with Abbott in May 2012. Of the $239 million that Abbott agreed to pay for defrauding state Medicaid programs, about $3 million went to Kentucky. PharMerica, too, is settling, according to a Dec. 4 court filing by the government. No settlement terms were disclosed, only that non-monetary issues need to be resolved by federal agencies and the states.

Pharmerica

The role PharMerica and Omnicare played as middlemen between drug companies and nursing homes was similarly depicted in the lawsuit filed by whistleblower Frank Kurnik in 2011. Kurnik was Amgen’s director of long-term and home-health care. He left the company on his own in 2013.

Amgen wanted to sell more of its anemia drug Aranesp, but Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit brand was in the way. Amgen, according to Kurnik’s suit, unleashed its marketing staff and, from 2002 to 2007, promoted Aranesp beyond its FDA approval for kidney-related anemia.

Kurnik claimed Amgen agreed to pay rebates — kickbacks, he called them — to PharMerica at rates based on the amount of Aranesp it bought. To make sure that key PharMerica decision-makers were “induced” to champion the expanded use of Aranesp, Kurnik claimed in court documents, Amgen treated them to “perks” tailored to their desires.

Two of those PharMerica employees sat on PharMerica’s Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee, which oversaw its list of approved drugs, also known as its formulary. To curry the favor a former senior vice president and chief clinical officer, Amgen allegedly lavished her with dinner outings, typically with steak and lobster.

Another P&T Committee member “who stood to gain from kickbacks” was PharMerica’s former vice president of clinical program development and the person in charge of therapeutic interchanges, Kurnik claimed in court filings. He was paid to speak at Amgen sales meetings and was treated to golf outings paid for by Amgen, Kurnik stated.

Amgen entered its guilty plea to drug misbranding and agreed to pay $762 million in December 2012. Fourteen months later, co-defendant Omnicare — the nation’s biggest supplier of drugs to nursing homes — itself paid $4.2 million to settle kickback and Medicaid fraud charges with the Justice Department. That left PharMerica as the sole remaining defendant in the case.

AARP, which represents 38 million Americans 50 and older, denounces the practice of financially induced drug-switching.

“Such behavior is particularly troubling when the prescription drugs in question are being used in a manner that is inconsistent with the product labeling,” said Leigh Purvis, director of health services research at AARP’s Public Policy Institute. Prescribing should be based on what is clinically appropriate for a given patient, not financial incentives.”

Burns, of Taxpayers Against Fraud, said the spoils of such kickback schemes trickle down to the managers of the companies that engage in them.

“They hold on to their jobs first of all, because they met their sales quotas. They got bonuses, maybe they got stock options, because they exceeded their sales quotas,” he said. “So everybody at the end of the year is walking away with a bigger pay package because they oversold, overmedicated, took kickbacks or delivered kickbacks.”

Weishar has fared well as the chief shot-caller of an enterprise accused of being in the middle of four drug kickback schemes now being contested in federal courts. In his eight years as CEO, he has received $33.6 million in total compensation, or an average of $4.2 million a year.

Jan Scherrer, vice president of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, a non-profit advocacy group in Lexington, said CEOs of companies involved in the kickback schemes should be held personally accountable.

Jan Scherrer of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform

Jan Scherrer, of Lexington, the vice president of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform

“I don’t understand why the CEOs of these companies aren’t being prosecuted. Why aren’t they being put in jail?” she said. “These are not victimless crimes. There are people in these nursing homes who are dying because they are being given these drugs.”

“It’s the same players — PharMerica and Omnicare,” Scherrer continued. “They keep doing this over and over and over, and all they get is a fine. And for them that fine is nothing more than the cost of doing business.”

Omnicare was a Kentucky company before before moving its headquarters from Covington to Cincinnati in 2012. It serves as a roadmap of what might lie ahead for PharMerica for its alleged use of kickbacks as a business tactic.

Between 2006 and 2014, Omnicare paid more than $275 million to settle civil allegations that it defrauded Medicare and Medicaid through systematic kickback programs. Three times — in 2006, 2007 and 2009 — it signed corporate integrity agreements with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The pacts required Omnicare to establish a code of conduct, hire a chief compliance officer and pay for an annual compliance audit by an outside company.

But with six months left in its 2009 agreement, Omnicare found itself back on the feds’ carpet. In June 2014 it agreed to pay $124 million to settle civil allegations that it committed fraud by paying kickbacks to nursing homes, in the form of below-cost drug pricing, in return for their business. (PharMerica is still a defendant in the case.) Although a “material breach” of the corporate integrity agreement constituted grounds for banning Omnicare from federal health care programs, no such ban occurred.

Larry Goldberg, a former HHS assistant inspector general, said the lack of harsher action points to the government’s dilemma of being a tough watchdog.

“Often, particularly with pharmaceutical companies, although the company will engage in kickbacks and off-label marketing with respect to a certain drug or drugs, it may manufacture many others that are of significant benefit to consumers, and which may not be available elsewhere,” said Goldberg, now a partner at ADA One, a disabilities law consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md. “This is a constant tension as the government attempts to determine the most appropriate resolution in any particular case.”

States can exercise their own law enforcement options, generally on the civil, not criminal side. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office has participated in four kickback cases involving Omnicare and obtained $1.6 million in restitution for the state. It has not, however, joined any of the three kickback cases pending against PharMerica. The Abbott Labs case, said spokesman Leland Hulbert, isn’t ripe for state intervention. In the two other cases, including the Amgen case, both the government and all other states chose not to intervene.

Gregory S. Weishar

Gregory S. Weishar

Eight current and former PharMerica executives, including Weishar, and Weishar’s wife Hollis altogether donated $6,200 to the election campaign of Gov. Steve Beshear between 2009 and 2011, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. State records show no money from PharMerica employees going to Conway. A Conway spokesman said the attorney general has not received any instruction or guidance from Beshear’s office as to pursuing claims against PharMerica. Beshear’s office said it has no records reflecting any such communication.

States have further remedies in dealing with rogue pharmacies and pharmacists. State boards of pharmacies can suspend or revoke licenses. They can assess fines.

But settlements of federal lawsuits, where companies typically pay large fines without admitting to allegations, don’t appear to trigger state disciplinary actions. For example, in Virginia, where PharMerica paid $1.2 million in fines in early 2014 for dispensing painkillers without prescriptions at three locations, the company has yet to be sanctioned publicly by the state Board of Pharmacy.

In Kentucky, disciplinary actions in other states can escape notice altogether. Mike Burleson, the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy’s executive director, said he was not aware that Omnicare paid $4.2 million last year to settle claims that it accepted Amgen money in exchange for switching nursing home patients to Aranesp.

“Unless it came across our desk, I don’t know that we would have necessarily seen that,” he said. “I can’t remember that case.”

Burleson said no formal notice is given when Kentucky-licensed entities are involved in enforcement actions elsewhere. Now that he knows about the Omnicare settlements, he said he will see if the Kentucky Pharmacy Board needs to consider disciplinary actions.

Drugs

Nursing home residents rely on prescription drugs.

For the state board to punish a licensee for taking bribes to switch patients’ drugs, Burleson said, it would have to establish that the acts took place in Kentucky.

“If a company is just doing it in Texas and the region around it, probably Kentucky would not look at that necessarily unless it would have affected drugs shipped into Kentucky and we could show proof of it being changed without approval or something of that nature,” he said.

Karl Williams, a professor of pharmacy law and ethics at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., said state pharmacy boards should be disturbed by kickback-fueled drug-switching by the corporate pharmacies they license.

“I think you have an ethical responsibility to seek the best care for your patient, and if what you’re doing is based on monetary gain, then it’s a misguided thing,” said Williams, who writes about pharmacy law for the Journal of Pharmacy Practice. “It’s the very basis for the anti-kickback law, but it’s rooted in an ethical obligation going back to Hippocrates.”

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed a new rule requiring that long-term care centers obtain their patients’ medications from an independent pharmacist, not a drug distributor. CMS dropped the idea and encouraged nursing homes to follow voluntary guidelines to prevent “inappropriate prescribing.”

PharMerica has guidelines of its own to keep its employees on the straight and narrow. Its “code of business conduct and ethics” makes it “essential” that all employees, including executives, abide by a “high standard of ethics” and transact business with “honesty and integrity to make the right decisions and take the correct actions.” Accepting steak and lobster dinners is OK if the donor or a representative joins in, according to that code. Golf outings and gifts worth more than $250 require written approval from CEO Weishar.

And if Weishar violates the company code? Enforcement falls to the audit committee of the PharMerica board of directors. Weishar, too, is a member of the board — the same board that thought enough of him to give him a three-year contract extension last year.

Burns, of Taxpayers Against Fraud, says corporations that engage in corrupt practices pay lip service to ethical guidelines.

“There are things you can do to promote integrity in a company,” he said. “They’re not actually interested in stopping fraud.”

Reporter James McNair can be reached at jmcnair@kycir.org and (502) 814-6543.

This story was reported by Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

]]> http://wfpl.org/the-kickback-fraud-and-drug-switch-claims-that-ail-a-louisville-pharmacy-company/feed/ 0