Ryland Barton

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues, Ryland's reporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. 

Ryland has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.


  The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments over the state’s new pension law on Thursday, months after teachers and other government workers descended on Frankfort to protest changes to retirement benefits.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and a lawyer representing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s office argued over whether legislators violated the state constitution by rushing the bill to passage in a matter of hours this spring. Changes to retirement benefits in the pension bill mostly affect future state employees but also tweak benefits for some current workers.


Congressman Andy Barr was in Frankfort on Tuesday, touting his efforts in passing a bill that rolled back parts of the Dodd-Frank consumer protection act.

Dodd-Frank set up banking oversight in the wake of the 2008 financial disaster. 

Barr is a Republican who represents Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district. He says the measure made it harder for people in rural areas to get access to credit. 

“By reducing the number of community financial institutions, Dodd Frank regulations clogged the plumbing of our economy. Especially in rural and underserved communities,” 


  Tariffs took center stage at the annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast on Thursday as about 1,500 farmers and politicos gathered to hear speeches and watch a prize country ham get auctioned off for $2.8 million.

The annual event is an opportunity for Kentucky politicians to weigh in on issues specific to agriculture and also raises money for charity (the winning bid for this year’s ham broke the previous record of $2 million, set in 2014).

Kentucky Wired Project

The head of Kentucky’s statewide broadband initiative says the initial contract for the project put an “excessive amount of risk” on the state. The state has had to compensate private partners for years of delays. 

Portions of the Kentucky Wired public-private partnership were supposed to go live in the summer of 2016, but now officials say that it’s been delayed until early 2020. 

Phillip Brown is the executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority. He says that an “aggressive schedule” is to blame for cost overruns in the project. 

Kentucky’s bourbon association is worried that a drawn-out trade war could slow down growth of the state’s signature distilling industry.  The group is inviting distilling companies from around the world to discuss tariffs at a “whiskey summit” next week. 

Kentucky bourbon is in the crosshairs of retaliatory tariffs from the European Union, Mexico and Canada after President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from those countries. 

Wikimedia Commons

Starting this week, Kentucky’s 6 percent sales tax applies to a new set of services like automotive repairs, pet grooming and dry cleaning. The state legislature voted to make the tax increases to put more money towards public education and cut the state’s income tax for people and corporations.

Business affected by the tax hike say they’ve been unfairly targeted. 

This week in state politics, federal education officials came to Kentucky to talk about ways to make schools safer and Gov. Matt Bevin said it all comes down to kids’ cell phone use. One of the Republican lawmakers who helped make changes to the state pension system says they’ll pass the bill again if it’s struck down by the courts. And the state’s new education commissioner talked about the potential costs of taking over Louisville’s school system. 


A judge has struck down changes made to Kentucky’s pension systems earlier this year. The ruling states that lawmakers violated the state constitution by rushing the bill to passage in a matter of hours. 

The challenge is the latest in a series of legal disputes between Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. 

David Osborne and other lawmakers are considering a sports betting bill for Kentucky.Credit LRC.Ky.GOVEdit | Remove

This week in Kentucky politics, Gov. Matt Bevin said he’s partnering with a former Democratic congressman to help people navigate the state’s new Medicaid rules. We found out that lobbyists set a new spending record at the state legislature as lawmakers made changes to the tax code. Plus, a state-funded aluminum mill broke ground in northeastern Kentucky and  Bevin asked for a judge to recuse himself from the lawsuit over the new pension bill. 


Kentucky distillers, wineries and liquor retailers can now ship wine and spirits across state lines because of a new “bourbon without borders” law. 
The law allows visitors to Kentucky to ship up to 4.5 liters of spirits or 4 cases of wine back home—as long as their home state allows it. 
During a ceremonial bill signing on Friday, Gov. Matt Bevin said the new law will help build the state’s signature bourbon industry. 

Teachers in Kentucky flexed their newfound political clout in primary elections Tuesday after a series of massive protests at the state Capitol earlier this year.

High school math teacher Travis Brenda ousted one of the Kentucky legislature's top Republican leaders in a primary election. Brenda ran a campaign attacking state Rep. Jonathan Shell for his role in writing bills that weakened retirement benefits for state workers and overhauled Kentucky's tax code.


State lawmakers from Louisville agree that Jefferson County’s public school system needs to improve, but disagree along party lines over whether the state should intervene in the management of the district.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey said that state education officials haven’t shown that a takeover would solve any of the district’s problems. 

“There’s nothing suggested by the interim commissioner about how he’s going to fix that by taking away the voices of the people of Jefferson County from the process involved in governing their schools.” 


Louisville’s practice of busing students around the city to try and create more diverse schools is under fire again as Kentucky education officials consider whether to take over management of Jefferson County Public Schools.

Republican leaders of the Kentucky legislature have unveiled a surprise overhaul of the state’s tax code on one of the last days of this year’s legislative session. 

The proposal is moving quickly toward final passage in the legislature and would be the first major change to the state’s tax code in nearly two decades. 

The bill establishes a flat income tax rate of 5 percent—currently Kentuckians are taxed at rates ranging from 2 percent to 6 percent, depending on income. 

Gov. Matt Bevin says it’s too early to say what he thinks of President Donald Trump’s proposal to institute tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum even though the policy could have a big impact on Kentucky. 

The tariff could benefit Kentucky aluminum manufacturers like Braidy Industries—the company that Bevin helped attract to the state with a package of economic incentives—and Century Aluminum, which announced it would hire 300 new workers in Hancock County if the tariff went into effect. 


Vice President Mike Pence was in Versailles today to promote the Republican tax cut that passed out of Congress late last year. 

He also voiced support for President Donald Trump’s proposal to impose tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum. 

“Whether it be renegotiating NAFTA or protecting our steel and aluminum industries, president Trump will always put American workers, American farmers and American companies first.” 


A bill raising the cap on how much package beer can be bought from Kentucky microbreweries is nearing final passage from the state legislature. Capitol reporter Ryland Barton has more.               

The bill would allow customers to take home up to 31 gallons of beer from microbreweries— that’s the equivalent of two kegs. Currently the limit is two dozen 12-ounce beers, or, a little over two gallons. 
Adam Watson, co-owner of Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville, says the measure would help boost sales out of his brewery and beyond. 

State Capitols Online

This week at the state legislature, a new bill overhauling the public pension system was finally filed and it’s a lot different from the proposal made by Gov. Matt Bevin last fall. But, it still reduces benefits to many current and most future state employees while promising massive infusions of cash into the pension systems. 
Bevin’s plan to overhaul the pension system would have moved most future and some current state employees onto 401k-style retirement plans. 

The Kentucky House Natural Resources Committee has advanced a controversial bill that would scale back Kentucky’s solar net metering program, an effort to compensate households with solar panels for putting energy back on the power grid. 

State law requires power companies to compensate those households with credits that can be used on future power bills. 

But under House Bill 227, the value of those credits would be reduced from the retail price of power to the wholesale price—a reduction of about two-thirds. 


Gov. Matt Bevin has announced a new website for Kentuckians to find help for drug addiction and search for treatment centers. 

FindHelpNowKY.org has a search engine that allows users to find treatment centers based on location, facility type and type of treatment needed. 

 Bevin has launched an advertising campaign geared towards spreading awareness about the website and opioid addiction. 

Three lawmakers have been added to a committee considering a controversial bill that would scale back incentives for homes with solar panels. Capitol reporter Ryland Barton says the move might help extend the life of the bill, which has been controversial. 

The net metering bill has been on the agenda of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee twice, but hasn’t gotten a vote—possibly signaling there aren’t enough votes for it yet. 


State lawmakers are once again considering a bill that would scale back how much homeowners with solar panels get reimbursed for putting energy back into the electrical grid, although  the legislation has stalled for the time-being. 


Leaders of Kentucky’s two largest universities warned lawmakers that Gov. Bevin’s proposed spending cuts would eliminate crucial programs and scholarships that benefit Kentuckians and attract businesses to the state. 

Bevin has proposed cutting most state spending by 6.25 percent and eliminating 70 programs—many of which are in higher education. 


Kentucky Lawmakers attended a mandatory sexual harassment prevention session today (Wed), a day after the House speaker announced he wouldn’t resign his seat amid a harassment scandal.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, said lawmakers took the training session more seriously than in previous years. 

“Maybe less laughter in the room.” 


Lawmakers return to Frankfort this week for the 2018 General Assembly and are slated to make changes to the state’s pension systems, craft a new two-year budget and consider a variety of other legislation.

This will be the first time in Kentucky history that a budget will be written by a Republican-led legislature and governor. 

On WHAS Radio’s Terry Meiners Show, Bevin said major cuts are likely across state government. 

Ryland Barton

Friends and family of State Rep. Dan Johnson gathered for his funeral on the outskirts of Louisville on Monday. Johnson killed himself last week, days after accusations were published that he sexually assaulted a minor.  

The front lawn of the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville’s Fern Creek neighborhood became a parking lot Monday to accommodate hundreds of Johnson’s mourners, many of whom rode in on motorcycles. 
Johnson was the preacher at Heart of Fire, which has an orange sign out front proclaiming bikers are welcome. Next to it, another sign still carries the title of Johnson’s last planned sermon: “Satan Accuses God Says You’re Not Guilty.” 


In the lawsuit filed Monday in Franklin Circuit Court, Communications Director Daisy Olivo claims she suffered workplace retribution after expressing concerns about Hoover’s relationship. 


The removal of an honorific plaque from a statue of Jefferson Davis in the state Capitol has been delayed as officials review whether they have the authority to do so.

In response to public outcry over the statue of the Confederacy’s only president, the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted earlier this year to remove the plaque that labels Davis as “patriot — hero — statesman.”

State Curator Leslie Nigels says lawyers in Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration are reviewing legislation that authorized the statue’s creation in 1931.

The new chair of Kentucky’s Democratic Party is banking on voters pushing back against Republicans’ near-total control of state government and congressional offices.