News in Brief

Published 1:14 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2018

US coal mining deaths surge in 2017 after hitting record low

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Coal mining deaths surged in the U.S. in 2017, one year after they hit a record low.

The nation’s coal mines recorded 15 deaths last year, including eight in West Virginia. Kentucky had two deaths, and there were one each in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In 2016 there were eight U.S. coal mine deaths.

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West Virginia has led the nation in coal mining deaths in six of the past eight years. That includes 2010, when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.

Retired coal company executive David Zatezalo of Wheeling was appointed in September by President Donald Trump as the new chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

GOP leaders say pensions, budget to overshadow session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kentucky Senate say the 2018 legislative session will be overshadowed by work on the next state budget and proposed fixes to public pension systems.

Senate President Robert Stivers says he hopes a pension overhaul is presented “as soon as possible,” but he didn’t offer a timetable as lawmakers convened this year’s session Tuesday.

Stivers says there will be “ample opportunity” for the public to review and comment on proposed legislation to repair one of the country’s worst-funded public pension systems.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says lawmakers are awaiting an actuarial analysis on how much the proposals would cost taxpayers.

Gov. Matt Bevin wanted to convene a special legislative session last year to vote on his proposed pension overhaul, but his plan drew opposition from state workers.

House speaker who resigned over harassment claim reconsiders

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s House speaker, who said he would resign his leadership position after acknowledging he settled a sexual harassment claim with a female legislative staffer, now says he’s reconsidering that decision.

Jeff Hoover announced his resignation in November, saying at the time that it was “effective immediately.” But his resignation is not official until he submits it to the House of Representatives.

The House convened Tuesday, but Hoover did not resign. In a statement, Hoover said he has asked House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to preside over the House “until further notice.”

Hoover said Tuesday that several lawmakers have asked him to reconsider his resignation. Hoover has denied committing sexual harassment, but acknowledged sending inappropriate but consensual text messages to a woman who worked for the House Republican Caucus.

Rescued hiker fell off cliff, spent New Year’s in cold

BEREA, Ky. (AP) — A woman who authorities say fell off a cliff while hiking in below-freezing temperatures in Kentucky has been rescued.

News outlets report hikers on The Pinnacles trail found the woman and contacted the Berea Fire Department about 7:45 a.m. Monday. The woman told the hikers she had fallen off a cliff while hiking about 6 p.m. Sunday.

One of the hikers, Jacob Pierce, said he thought she slipped around 50 feet (15 meters) while climbing a rock.

Berea Fire Battalion Chief Doug Sandlin said he initially thought the call was a hoax since he didn’t think anyone would be hiking in the cold. Temperatures in Berea registered at minus 6 degrees with the wind chill factored in while she was in the snow.

The woman’s name and condition have not been released.

KY Dept. of Insurance says $15M returned to consumers in ‘17

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Department of Insurance’s Consumer Protection Division says it returned more than $15 million to Kentucky consumers in 2017.

About $10.5 million of that came as restitution to consumers from companies that didn’t comply with the state’s insurance code.

In 2017, the Consumer Protection Division received approximately 5,100 complaints and responded to over 13,000 calls on issues related to health, life, auto, homeowners, and commercial insurance.

The department says $600,000 was also returned to Kentucky’s General Fund as a result of civil penalties and regulatory settlements with insurance companies.

Man killed loading road salt at Kentucky facility identified

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A coroner’s office has identified a Kentucky worker who was killed while loading road salt into a maintenance facility.

The Jefferson County coroner’s office tells media outlets that 52-year-old Trent Haines of Louisville died from blunt force injuries last Wednesday. The death has been ruled an accident.

Louisville Public Works spokesman Harold Adams said Haines and another worker were loading salt on a dome conveyor at a road maintenance facility when they got caught up in a machine.

Louisville police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said the second worker’s injuries were not expected to be life-threatening.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.

Larger VA clinic to open near Fort Campbell

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A larger medical clinic for veterans is opening in Tennessee in January.

The Leaf-Chronicle reports Tennessee Valley Healthcare System says in a statement that it will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 10 for the Clarksville Community Based Outpatient Clinic. The clinic is projected to serve 4,000 veterans in the area, including some who are currently traveling to Nashville or into Kentucky for care.

Tennessee Valley Healthcare System Director Jennifer Vedral-Baron said demand is growing for VA health care in the area, which is near the sprawling Fort Campbell Army post.