News in Brief


Vatican: Pope’s encounter with Davis not a form of support

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Friday distanced Pope Francis from Kim Davis, the focal point in the gay marriage debate in the U.S., saying she was one of dozens of people the pope greeted as he left Washington and that their encounter “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”

After days of confusion, the Vatican issued a statement Friday with its version of Francis’ Sept. 24 encounter with Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis met with “several dozen” people at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington just before leaving for New York.

Lombardi said such meetings are normal on any Vatican trip and are due to the pope’s “kindness and availability.” He said Francis really had only one “audience” in Washington: with one of his former students and his family.

“Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything,” Davis told ABC.

The Vatican statement made clear the pope intended no such validation.

However, Davis’ lawyer, Mat Staver, told The Associated Press that the Vatican initiated the meeting as an affirmation of her right to be conscientious objector.

Staver disputed a Vatican spokesman’s claims that the pope only met Davis in a “farewell lineup” or receiving line. He said the couple was in a separate room with Francis and Vatican security and personnel and that no member of the general public was present, to keep the meeting secret. He said the Vatican official who arranged the meeting insisted that it not be made public until after Francis had left the U.S., and gave him the “green light” to make it public after Francis was back in Rome.

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Hearings set on proposed rule on machine mine sensors

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Public hearings are set this month on a proposed federal rule to require coal mine operators to equip coal hauling machines and scoops with sensors intended to curb fatalities and injuries in underground mines.

The sensors automatically shut down equipment when people get too close.

Public hearings on the proposed rule will be held Oct. 6 in Denver, Oct. 8 in Birmingham, Alabama, Oct. 19 in Beaver, West Virginia, and Oct. 29 in Indianapolis. Coal hauling machines include shuttle and ram cars and continuous haulage systems.

Federal mine regulators say sensors could have prevented 42 fatalities on mobile machines from 1984 through 2014.

A federal rule effective earlier this year requires underground operators to have sensors on continuous mining machines. It is being phased in over the next three years.

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TVA prepares for possible heavy rains

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority says it is taking proactive measures to prepare for possible heavy rains from Hurricane Joaquin, which is churning in the Atlantic and moving toward the United States.

The TVA said in a statement that even if the storm doesn’t directly hit the region, it could have a significant impact due to runoff from expected heavy rains. Some forecast models predict several inches of rain on the eastern side of TVA’s territory by Sunday.

The nation’s largest public utility said reservoir levels are being lowered to provide room for the extra water.

TVA supplies power to about 9 million people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

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Former Kentucky State Police trooper enters guilty plea

LOUISVILLE (AP) — A former state trooper who was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl has entered a guilty plea to lesser charges.

Media report that Stratford Young originally was charged with rape and sodomy, but pleaded guilty on Thursday to three counts of unlawful transaction with a minor. The prosecutor is recommending a sentence of two years.

An indictment said the allegations stem from alleged encounters in 2013.

Final sentencing was set for November.

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Feds, states, others oppose Patriot Coal reorganization plan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Patriot Coal’s latest reorganization plan is drawing opposition from the federal government, regulators in four states, creditors and others ahead of a bankruptcy court hearing on whether it should be approved.

Opponents say in motions filed this week that the plan is not feasible and contains provisions that violate bankruptcy law. A hearing on the plan is set for Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy in Richmond, Virginia.

Several environmental groups, the federal government and regulators in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia questioned how the company’s obligations, including the multi-million-dollar cost of cleaning up mine pollution, would be fulfilled once a substantial amount of its assets are sold to Blackhawk Mining. They also said provisions that would release future owners or operators from obligations, liabilities and causes of action are overly broad and violate bankruptcy law.

The Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund is looking to acquire Patriot’s other mines and mining permits for purposes of water quality improvement and reclamation. If the acquisition is not consummated, these assets would be bought by a liquidating trustee and transferred to a trust, according to the plan.

Neither Patriot, the Virginia nonprofit nor the trust would have enough resources to meet the company’s obligations to “clean up the mess left behind by Patriot’s coal-mining operations, obligations that neither entity can simply shuck in connection with the proposed transactions or otherwise,” the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said in its motion.

Bob Bennett, Patriot’s chief executive officer, has said the company believes the assets sale to Blackhawk is in the best interest of the company, its employees and stakeholders.

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Plea deal in $8.7M Ohio embezzlement case

CINCINNATI (AP) — A federal court filing shows that a plea deal has been reached in the case of an accountant arrested along the Appalachian Trail, six years after he was accused of embezzling $8.7 million from his Cincinnati-based employer.

James Hammes, 53, of Lexington, Kentucky, had pleaded not guilty and was earlier scheduled for trial next week on 2009 wire fraud and money laundering charges. A notice of a plea agreement was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, and his trial has been canceled.

No details of the agreement, which is subject to court approval, were released. Hammes’ attorney didn’t immediately return calls.

The FBI said Hammes fled soon after being confronted about money missing from the Pepsi-Cola bottler he worked for. Authorities haven’t said what they think happened to the money or commented on his whereabouts the last six years.

Agents arrested him May 16 in tiny Damascus, Virginia, during the annual Trail Days festival. People there say Hammes had become a regular on the Georgia-to-Maine hiking trail, where he was known as the genial, bushy-bearded “Bismarck.”

Trail guidebook writer David Miller said Bismarck had a surprisingly high visibility on the popular trail. He showed up in photos in hikers’ journals and on social media. Miller said he sent him notes for his guidebook, on such information as whether a hotel was giving hikers special rates.

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Judge: State psychology board can’t regulate advice column

McLEAN, Va. (AP) — The state of Kentucky’s effort to censor a newspaper advice column because its author is not a state-licensed psychologist amounts to an unconstitutional restriction of free speech, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling issued late Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, resolves a two-year legal battle by parenting columnist John Rosemond, who frequently dispenses old-school advice and advocates a return to parenting styles of the ’50s.

The state’s Board of Examiners of Psychology had told Rosemond to stop identifying himself as a psychologist, and questioned his column’s occasional use of a question-and-answer format because it said that was akin to offering direct mental health services.

Rosemond, who is a licensed psychologist in his home state of North Carolina, sued with assistance from the Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice in federal court to stop the board from taking action against him.

The judge ruled that Rosemond’s First Amendment rights outweigh the state’s claim that people could potentially be harmed if Rosemond were allowed to offer parenting advice unchecked.

“Rosemond is entitled to express his views and the fact that he is not a Kentucky-licensed psychologist does not change that fact,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “All he did was write a column providing parenting advice to an audience of newspaper subscribers. To permit the state to halt this lawful expression would result in a harm far more concrete and damaging to society than the speculative harm which the state purportedly seeks to avoid.”

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Coal group to webcast Ky. candidate presentations

LEXINGTON (AP) — The Kentucky Coal Association says it will webcast presentations by Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and attorney general during the group’s annual meeting next week in Lexington.

Republican Matt Bevin and his Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, Jack Conway, will meet with the association’s membership on Thursday. Also appearing will be the Democrat Andy Beshear and Republican Whitney Westerfield, who are running for attorney general.

The coal group’s president, Bill Bissett, said in a statement Friday that it’s common for trade groups to meet privately with candidates for public office but that his organization decided to make the video available online to the public after receiving media requests.

The candidates’ presentations begin at 10:15 a.m. EDT. The group’s website is http://www.KentuckyCoal.com .

The general election is Nov. 3.

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Hotel association warns Louisville on nuisance rules

LOUISVILLE (AP) — Louisville Metro Council’s public safety committee has tabled a motion to change the city’s public nuisance law.

Local media outlets report that the committee’s decision Wednesday came after the Greater Louisville Hotel and Lodging Association told the committee that it opposes parts of the proposal to tighten regulations around troublesome hotels.

District 10 Councilman Steve Magre (D) wants to change a city law in order to make it tougher for hotels to stay open if it commits violations, including 10 or more people being arrested there in a 60-day period. The current law applies to places where law enforcement officers have criminally cited or arrested people on more than one occasion during a 12-month period.

The lodging association says jobs and revenue could be lost because of the proposed law.

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