Editorials

 

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- Word from Bird

The Good Folks of Lennox Valley

Library Notes






September 28, 2017

Your local newspaper: The real deal

By JIM ZACHARY

While no one should ever say “I know it’s real because I saw it on the internet,” everyone should be able to say, “I know it’s real. I read it in the newspaper.”

Real newspapers reporting real news have never been more important or more valuable to readers and communities.

Next week, newspapers across the nation recognize National Newspaper Week and the theme — Real Newspapers…Real News — points to the importance of accurate reporting, watchdog journalism, strong editorials, comprehensive public notices and a free, open public forum that can be easily accessed by readers in more ways than ever before.

In print, on digital sites, via laptop, desktop and mobile devices, through SMS or social media, newspapers across the nation continue to be the leading source of reliable information in all the communities they serve.

In a world of fake news spread on social media and attacks on the media from people in power, it is important for the public to know the difference between legitimate reporting by credible sources and all the noise posing as “the media.”

Here are some of the reasons your local newspaper is the most trustworthy source for news and information:
— Newspaper newsrooms are staffed with real people — people you know — reporters, photographers, editors — gathering the news, conducting interviews, covering meetings, attending events, writing, editing, fact-checking and making sure every day you can trust what you read.

— Newspapers rely on recognizable sources. Quotes in the articles you read are attributed to real people and can be easily verified.

— Newspapers work hard to stay away from single source reporting, giving readers context and balance.

— Newspaper websites have legitimate URLs ending in .com or .org extensions, listing contact information, the names of staff members and the media organization’s leadership team on the website.

— Newspapers correct mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes at times, but there is a big difference between an error and intentionally and knowingly publishing a false report because of some political or social agenda. Spurious websites, blogs and social media do not correct errors. They thrive on them.

In the United States newspapers have a long and important legacy of holding the powerful accountable, defending the First Amendment and advocating for government transparency.

Democracy is protected when the newspaper provides checks and balances as the Fourth Estate of government from city hall to the courthouse to the statehouse to the White House.

Newspapers are committed to the neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and coverage areas they serve.

Straightforward news reporting and thought-provoking commentary give a voice to the voiceless and empower the powerless. Newspapers hold government accountable because at our very core we believe that government belongs to the governed and not to the governing.

Don’t be embarrassed because you shared some sensational, agenda-driven report on social media only to find out it is totally fake. Get your news where real news has always been found: Your local newspaper, the real deal.

Jim Zachary, CNHI Regional Editor for Georgia and Florida newspapers, is the president and chairman of the Red & Black Publishing Co., serving the University of Georgia, director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, open government trainer and member of the board of directors of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and a member of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications Board of Trust.

 

September 21, 2017

The year of taxes

Isn’t it ironic: the citizens vote down a nickel tax, but the Fiscal Court takes no action on a new 3.95-cent tax?
Thursday night the McCreary County Extension District enacted a 3.95-cent per $100 of value tax on real estate and motor vehicles, and the public had little to no say in the matter.

The tax was reportedly passed in February, but the general public only learned about it last week.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens is a non-voting member of the Extension Board and was apparently aware of the plans to impose the tax when it was voted on in February. County Attorney Conley Chaney stated in Fiscal Court last week that he was asked about the board’s legal authority to enact the tax that same month.
The newspaper did receive notice of the meeting, and an agenda was attached, but it did not specifically mention the possibility of adding a tax, just election of Board members and discussion of budgets.

The county’s General Fund Budget for the current fiscal year did not have the typical allotment of $40,000 for the extension service as it has had for the past several years. The new tax imposed will garner $191,000 for the Extension District.

So, on the surface, it seems like this tax was passed in secret, and some members of the Fiscal Court had to know it was coming. The unpleasant altercation at the Fiscal Court meeting last week diverted discussion from what should have been getting answers about the tax. Instead, personal attacks and allegations prevented the real questions from being answered.

All this was being planned while County officials were contemplating imposing an insurance tax (which saw citizens show up to protest in front of the courthouse), an Occupational Tax increase and enacting a business license ordinance, which really is an additional $20 a year tax on businesses.
So, in a time of financial troubles for the county’s citizens and government – three new taxes were passed this year alone.

And it could just as easily been four.
The McCreary County School District attempted to impose a nickel tax this year, which was resoundingly voted down by citizens.

The School District had to announce their plans ahead of time, letting the public know that the tax was potentially coming. We all know how that ended for the school tax.

If the citizens of McCreary County had notice of the plans for a tax, perhaps they would have acted to convince the Board to drop their plans, or even possibly lower the tax rate. The Fiscal Court potentially could have taken action to prevent it.

Taxes are never popular.
But when McCreary Countians are struggling to pay bills, as much as any quasi-government agency, they should have a say before any new tax is added to their already large burden.

Voters have the right to know how their tax dollars are spent. Voters should also have the assurance that the court is acting responsibly when stewarding their hard earned dollars for the benefit of the county.

September 14, 2017

Guest Commentary - Jim Paxton, The Paducah Sun

No easy outs exist for pension mess

Flight instructors are known to tell their students that if one is making adjustments on an airplane’s controls and things start to go really wrong, it’s a good idea to undo whatever it was you just did.

That in some ways is the philosophy of a consultant’s report on how to address Kentucky’s $33 billion-plus pension crisis. Unfortunately the plans covering teachers and other state workers have been spiraling down so long that pieces have already come off the airplane.

That fairly describes what has happened with annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs). Lawmakers implemented the yearly increases for pensioners a couple of decades ago when the state’s retirement plans were fully funded. That plus an expansion of other benefits was the beginning of the end for the funds. Lawmakers provided no mechanism to pay for these perks when they enacted them or in subsequent years.

A couple of weeks ago the consulting firm hired by the state to study the problem recommended rescinding 16 years of COLAs already granted to retirees and freezing future pension payments at the reduced levels. Such a move would affect some 165,000 current state pensioners. Their reaction has been what anyone would expect.

But that proposal seems politically DOA with state lawmakers. Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover sought to reassure retirees last week, saying it is “highly unlikely” the Legislature will enact that recommendation.

We question whether it could legally be done anyway. We’re not pension law experts but there is a provision in the Kentucky Constitution that generally prevents the state from welshing on pension obligations. The best the state may be able to do is cut its losses going forward. That could mean unpopular changes for current state workers.

Many people working in the private sector experienced pension upheavals about the same time the state’s program was beginning to unravel. Traditional pensions have largely been replaced in the private sector these days by 401(k) plans.

Kentucky lawmakers didn’t take the cue however, even as pension liabilities piled up.

Now the magnitude of what has been done -- or more accurately not been done -- has become apparent to state workers and taxpayers alike. A couple of articles in the Sun last week illustrate the point.

In one state Budget Director John Chilton said if the present pension model is not changed and taxes are not raised it will require a 34 percent budget cut across most of state government to finance the pensions.

In a second article Chilton said municipalities and local school systems will have to raise their pension contributions by up to 60 percent next year and keep them there to rescue the funds covering their employees. By way of illustration it would mean the annual pension bill to the Fayette County Schools would jump $5.2 million from the current $10.3 million contribution. Statewide local governments and schools would have to pony up an extra $346 million next year and forever forward.

That won’t happen of course, because local entities can’t come up with it. What is likely to happen instead is that state and local taxes will go up, funding for education and other government services will be reduced, and pension benefits for current and future state workers will be radically altered.

Every ox will be gored in the end. It is an amazing monument to lying politicians of the past. We can only hope future generations will learn something from it.

September 7, 2017

Guest Commentary - Senator Max Wise

Bringing about a flurry of facts and a storm of misconceptions, Kentucky’s pension crisis has become one of the most dominating news stories in recent months. One thing is for certain: if our state pensions are not addressed in the very near future, we will face huge cuts in state funding. Education, Medicaid, and other government services would likely be affected—a risk our state is not in a position to take.

So how did we get to this point? In the early 2000’s Kentucky’s pensions were in a healthy condition. While there was not one single cause for the pensions’ downhill slide, factors such as faulty assumptions led to underfunding which continued throughout the decade. The lack of proper funding over this amount of time eventually led to the critical state of our pensions today. The General Assembly took steps toward reforming the Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems (KERS) and the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) in 2013, but the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS) was not included in those measures and the problem continued to grow.

This is not a partisan issue. In 2016 the General Assembly—Republicans and Democrats—made a commitment to address the issue. This started with a dedication of $1.2 billion annually to help with the shortfalls in KERS and KTRS as well as establishing a permanent pension fund. We also hired a third party organization, the PFM Group, to investigate the state of our pension systems.

On Monday, August 28, the PFM Group gave its final presentation to the General Assembly’s Public Pension Oversight Board, offering its recommendations on how to best address the problem. I, along with my colleagues in the General Assembly and Governor Bevin, will take PFM Group’s recommendations and craft a plan that will be implemented in a special session.

What happens if we keep kicking the can down the road? The only path forward would be to cut funding in other areas of state government. Kindergarten-12 public education would bear the brunt of the force, creating larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and a lower-quality education for our students. Higher education would also feel the cuts and make college less affordable. Medicaid, public safety, and infrastructure would also suffer in this unfortunate scenario.

But there are ways to avoid that situation. There is a path forward that allows us to balance our legal and moral obligation to our retirees while reforming the broken systems. Our priority is ensuring our retirees have a secure retirement that will provide for them in the years to come without taking away from other priority state programs. Addressing this crisis will not be an easy task, but I will continue to work alongside my colleagues in the General Assembly to ensure we find a solution that provides for our retirees while being responsible stewards for taxpayer dollars.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

August 31, 2017

Guest Commentary - by Governor Matt Bevin, Senate President
Robert Stivers, and House Speaker Jeff Hoover

Saving Kentucky’s Retirement Systems

FRANKFORT – Kentucky’s pension systems are in critical condition. While certain state retirement plans are arguably in “better shape” than others are, every system is severely underfunded and rapidly spiraling downward towards a single outcome: no more money to pay Kentucky’s retirees.

Understandably, retirees and those nearing retirement are concerned. Over the past 10 years, Kentucky’s pension systems have lost more than $7 billion in value. If we keep with the current pace, the only way Kentucky will be able to fund these systems will be through massive cuts to important programs, hurting education, health care, public safety and infrastructure.

Without significant fundamental changes, our retirement systems will become bankrupt. Change will not be easy, but it is necessary. Our state’s credit rating has been repeatedly downgraded in recent months and years as a result of our unfunded pension liability. We must stop kicking the can of financial responsibility down the road. We must solve this problem—there is no other option.

In order to fully understand the severity of this crisis, we hired an independent pension consultant firm to analyze each of our pension systems. At this time, we have received three reports from this independent group, all of which are currently under review by elected leaders in Frankfort. Going forward, these reports will help inform our difficult decisions as we prepare for a special session. Some of the recommendations will likely be adopted and others will likely not be adopted.

Our consultants discovered the biggest cause of the shortfall was erroneous actuarial assumptions made by past members of the boards of these systems, which led to significant underfunding. Sadly, it seems past assumptions were often manipulated by the prior pension boards in order to minimize the “cost” of pensions to the state budget. Unreasonably high investment expectations were made and funding was based on false payroll numbers. The result was to provide a false sense of security and justify smaller than necessary contributions to the pension plans. This was a morally negligent and irresponsible thing to do.

We refuse to hide the problem by understating liabilities, as others have been eager to do. Going forward, we must require all of our state pension systems to use a funding method that cannot be so easily manipulated by politically appointed board members. This change alone will ensure a much higher funding level is provided to meet the legal and moral obligations we owe to our retired teachers and public servants.

We must also make certain that retired teachers and other public employees are not negatively affected by any required pension changes. Those who count on their retirement today should be able to count on that same retirement tomorrow. We intend to meet the legal obligations we have to each retiree.

Likewise, any changes made to our pension systems will not negatively influence the plans of those nearing retirement. The General Assembly will not pass any legislation with an emergency clause, which would make any changes immediately effective. Rather, public servants and teachers eligible for retirement will receive adequate time to understand and review any options they may have. Additionally, it is not our intention to strip away any accrued benefits from current public servants or teachers.

We are fully committed to solving this very important challenge by making thoughtful, but necessary, changes. We refuse to allow continued manipulation of these plans for the benefit of a few well-connected individuals at the expense of taxpayers, hard-working teachers and other public servants. For those now retired, for those still working and for those yet to come, we are determined to save the Kentucky retirement systems.

We will not kick the can down the road. We were elected to fix this problem and we will. The fiscal abuse of Kentucky’s retirement systems is over.

 

August 24, 2017

Guest Commentary - By Matthew Paxton IV, publisher of The News-Gazette, Lexington, VA and President of the National Newspaper Association

Slow Mail Costs Money

Most people get mail every day, Monday through Saturday. But what happens when the mail comes later than we expect?

We found out a few years ago, when the Postmaster General had to take away overnight First-Class and Periodicals mail from most of the nation. That caused a problem for a lot of consumers and businesses. Now, we may be facing a new slowdown, if something isn’t done by Congress very soon.

Who needs the mail, some people ask? We have the Internet now. But a lot happens in the mail, and a lot goes wrong when it is late. To begin with, mail is the backbone for about $1.3 trillion in jobs, products and services. And then there is the personal impact.

People send in their credit card payments at the last minute when cash is tight. The payment reaches the credit card company late, and credit scores take a beating. That causes loans for cars and houses to get more expensive.

Many people count on the mail for medicines. A missed dosage can mean a trip to the hospital.

Small businesses count on the day’s mail to bring in cash from customers. A few days’ delay can mean a trip to the bank for a loan. Loans cost money, and put pressure on the business to raise prices.

Some things just can’t be emailed. It is hard to send your grandkid’s birthday card overnight by the Internet. Some farm supply houses use the mail to deliver small animals quickly. They certainly can’t zap them across broadband, or allow them to die in a post office waiting for a mail truck. And then there are legal documents that have to arrive by certified mail. Also, I have to mention late newspapers, where sales coupons are missed and public event announcements arrive after the event.

Newspapers like this one that rely on the mail for delivery to readers took it on the chin the past few years, with disappointed readers canceling their subscriptions.

We are at another crunch point. The US Postal Service has a $57 billion deficiency on its balance sheet, most of it caused by Congress. Fixing it may require the Postmaster General to close more post offices and mail sorting plants, eliminate mail-hauling truck routes and ground the airmail. The mail would be slowed down even further.
USPS last received a major overhaul by Congress in 2006. The next year, Steve Jobs appeared on a stage with a new gadget called an iPhone. Since then, Congress and the Postmaster General have been grappling with the tough problem of collecting enough postage for a system that must reach ever more mailing addresses in America, but with less mail—though still important mail—to pay for the service. So far, Congress has done nothing but tinker.

This is nothing new. Since the birth of the nation, Congress bogged down many times in finding resources for this essential economic backbone—one of the few government services actually in the Constitution! Usually a slow Congress results in slower mail.

The choices are tough, and Congress is never good at tough choices. Businesses that buy postage cannot afford big increases and will simply find alternatives if the rates are jacked up too much. Consumers cannot afford to pay more for slower mail. USPS wants to protect jobs for its workers.

Of course, USPS is not supported by tax dollars, but by postage. And no tax-payer money should be needed unless Congress lets the system deteriorate further. There is a better choice.

A bill was sent to House Ways and Means Committee last March by the House committee responsible for overseeing the US Postal Service. The bill, HR 756, is now sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and three Democrats: Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland; Gerald Connolly of Virginia; and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts. All are experts on postal matters. That this group, who agree on little else, could come up with a solution says a lot about this bill.

The legislation would require about 77,000 retired postal workers who draw benefits from a federal benefits health fund to use Medicare instead. Medicare taxes were already paid for these workers. The Medicare fund owes these retirees their benefits anyway. It is just that this group has chosen a different benefit for themselves, which they were allowed to do. Now it is time for them to follow the practice of most private sector workers and draw their earned benefits from Medicare instead.

Commercial mailers would have to accept a small postage increase to pay most of the new cost to Medicare. But the benefits to the federal budget and to USPS would be substantial. Overall, the federal deficit would be $6 billion less if the bill passed.

And the US Postal Service would save about $30 billion over 10 years. The rest of its red ink would have to erased through new efficiencies, and many steps have already been taken to find those, without creating slower mail. All that needs to happen is for House Speaker Paul Ryan to put the bill up for a successful vote before it is too late.

If you are concerned about losing more mail service, particularly in rural America, the way to protect it is to contact your Representative and ask for a big push for HR 756 in September. www.house.gov will take you to a message page for your Member of Congress.

August 17, 2017

Guest Commentary - Jordan Harris Executive Director Pegasus Institute

It’s Time to End Kentucky’s Progressive Income Tax

Putting it kindly, for the last four decades Kentucky’s economic growth has been pathetic. Since 1977, our growth is 30% below national average, ranking us 44th in the United States.

Many of our neighbors have done better. For example, our Southern neighbor Tennessee has grown more than national average in the same time period, increasing at 102.5% to national average, or 21st fastest in the country.

Several factors contribute to this stark difference, but none are more obvious, or more relevant, than the way our state levies taxes.

Kentucky receives a majority of its tax revenue by taxing production, a practice that began several centuries ago. Our state income tax and corporate taxes date back to The Great Depression, having first been put in place during the administration of Happy Chandler in 1936. In the many decades since, the tax code has become increasingly complex and carved up with billions of dollars in loopholes.

A tax code is particularly relevant for a state. On the national level, growth can be influenced by both tax policy and monetary policy, with many longstanding debates over which is more important. For a state it is clear. The tax structure is the number one way that a state can influence the direction of its economy.

The way our tax code has influenced the state is clear when you look at the data. Kentucky’s household income is 18%, or approximately $9,000 a year, below national average. As of May, only 60% of our working aged and able bodied citizens are participating in the labor force, putting us at 43rd in the United States.

It is clear that we need to structure our tax code to incentivize work and encourages economic growth. Instead of doing so, we have a system of progressive taxation, meaning that the more money someone earns the higher percentage they have to pay in to the state. For a state in an economic growth crisis, this is the polar opposite signal to send to the marketplace.

Right now, nearly every working family in Kentucky pays over 5% of their income to the state. Many pay 6% of their income to the state. Of the states that border Kentucky, only West Virginia has a higher top marginal income tax rate. Only two states in all of the South — Arkansas and South Carolina — have higher top marginal rates.

With a policy minded governor who is willing to make bold changes, and legislators that have already demonstrated a commitment to making the state more business friendly, Kentucky has a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape its economy.

On August 7th, Pegasus Institute, the public policy think-tank I serve as Executive Director of, released research on Kentucky’s economic growth and a plan for state tax reform that would help us reverse course. It is long past time to rebuild our antiquated tax system and develop a system for a new century.

It should eventually be Kentucky’s goal to eliminate its income tax entirely, but because it currently makes up 40% of state general fund revenue, this might take time. So, we’ve designed a plan to transition our system in the interim which we’ve dubbed the 3-3-6 plan. This lowers the income tax and corporate rate, while keeping the sales tax rate the same and broadening the base.

This plan gets rid of Kentucky’s Progressive Era graduated income tax system, moving instead to a flat rate for everyone of 3%. This cuts our top marginal income tax rate in half, putting nearly $1,000 back into the pocket of the average Kentucky family, immediately. This would give Kentucky one of the ten lowest state income taxes in the United States, and the second lowest if you exclude states that don’t levy personal income taxes.

We propose flattening the corporate tax rate too, giving businesses more money to hire workers and invest back into Kentucky’s economy. This would likewise give Kentucky one of the ten lowest rates in the Unites States, and lower than any of our neighboring states. The base of revenue would then be shifted to a broadened sales tax base by eliminating existing loopholes.

This strategy immediately gives Kentucky one of the most business friendly tax structures in the United States and sends a bold signal that Kentucky is open for business.

Our legislators have already made important steps this year to improve Kentucky’s economic climate. They should continue the momentum and make an important leap for the future of our Commonwealth.

August 10, 2017

The voters have spoken, “No new taxes.”

The vote totals in the Tuesday Nickel Tax election spoke volumes for the sentiment of county citizens. With an overwhelming “No”, the voters rejected the Nickel tax. Why was this tax rejected? It appears there is a wide gap in the education value the Board of Education thinks they are providing and the education value the public feels they are receiving.

Several citizens expressed concern about the spending priorities of the Board, noting cosmetic and athletic projects taking priority over leaking roofs. Not just locally, but on the state and federal levels, the public is increasingly fed up with getting little value from the tax dollars they provide. The vote Tuesday should be a wake-up call for all administrators, including our Fiscal Court.

Yes, the people of this county care very much about the education, safety and health of their children. The Board needs to figure out why the citizens voted down a 3 for 1 match. The Board of Education is entrusted by the public to ensure a quality education in a safe atmosphere for all children. Perhaps having leaking roofs without corrective actions sent the wrong message.

Voters, in the privacy of the voting booth, let their voice be heard. The message from the voters was clear; all officials, local, state and federal, should listen to their constituents and take better care of the taxpayers’ money they are entrusted to spend wisely.


Legislative Update - By Senator Max Wise

Kentucky families are busy as students get back into the routine of school and many after-school activities and sports. With each school year comes great opportunities and chances to achieve new levels of learning and great experience.

This is also a great time to brush up on basic back-to-school safety tips. There are quite a few precautions we can take to ensure the safety of our children, and the beginning of the school year is the best time to teach safety habits. The National Crime Prevention Council has great school safety tips to follow, such as:

• Talk to your child about their day, which can help you detect signs of bullying.
• Teach your child basic road safety rules, like walking on sidewalks and making sure the bus driver can see them before venturing around the bus.
• Educate your child on the dangers of talking to strangers and encourage them to stick with friends or siblings if a parent is not around.
• Help children memorize their parent’s or guardian’s phone number and address in case of an emergency.

The Kentucky General Assembly has also taken steps to help Kentucky’s children. In 1998 the General Assembly passed House Bill 330 establishing the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS). The mission of this organization is to create a safe and secure learning environment so children have the best possible opportunities for long-term success.

More recently, I was proud to be a part of efforts in last year’s Kentucky General Assembly to stop bullying in schools. Senate Bill 228 of 2016 defines bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated.” We in the General Assembly will continue such efforts to protect our children, and I hope all of you will continue to offer us input about the steps we can take to keep our schools safe.

I am excited for all of our students to begin this new school year, and from one educator to another, I want to thank our devoted teachers. In the 2015-2016 school year Kentucky had over 655,000 public school students and over 42,000 public school teachers. Those numbers are incredible and do not even capture those who participate in private and other schooling. It truly takes a special person to dedicate his or her life to preparing Kentucky’s future, and our educators deserve praise for their commitment to our children.

I hope students, teachers, and parents have a wonderful and safe 2017-2018 school year.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

 

August 3, 2017

Guest Commentary - The Kentucky Standard

Isaiah House is saving lives, growing to meet needs

Isaiah House is the largest faith-based or “Christ-centered” drug treatment and rehab program in Kentucky and serves the entire state.

The mission of the program is “to provide the best possible addiction treatment care” for clients and their families. Isaiah House is not just a religious mission. It is a state-licensed alcohol and other drug entity and a state-licensed behavioral health service organization. It is also one of the few treatment centers in the state to achieve national accreditation by the Kentucky Joint Commission.

The idea is to get clients clean and sober, get them a job, an education, a driver’s license and $2,000 to $7,000 saved up to re-enter the world and start out on their own.

The organization’s Facebook page, and the rest of the internet, are overflowing with testimonies from individuals who credit the treatment they received there — and the program’s religious focus — for saving their lives and transforming them from addicts to flourishing, beneficial members of society.

As with any growing program, there were bumps along the way, but the current program is housed and thriving in Willisburg in Washington County.

But, as addiction has tightened its grip on so many and the opioid crisis has continued to spread, so has the work done by Isaiah House. And they don’t plan to stop growing.

Isaiah House is in the process of purchasing the Golden Leaf Center, formerly the Chaplin School. The plan is to transform the building into two licensed and accredited short-term residential treatment centers.

Mark LaPalme, founder and CEO of Isaiah House and a former addict, also wants to eventually buy Howard’s Metal Sales to provide jobs for the clients — in addition to the businesses and nonprofits that already provide employment for men in the program.

The new facilities would reduce the organization’s waiting list, which has grown to as many as 100 men.

“People are dying on that waiting list,” according to LaPalme. And that’s easy to believe given the sobering rise in overdoses and drug-related fatalities reported in the region in the last few years.

There is a huge need for affordable addiction treatment in Kentucky. Isaiah House accepts Kentucky Medicaid plans, commercial insurance and vouchers. And in addition to having some clients who are self-paid, there is also a program that allows others to donate to sponsor recovery for others.

According to LaPalme, 67 percent of Isaiah House clients are clean and sober after five years. Nationally, he said, 70 percent of drug addicts “re-offend,” but 78 percent of Isaiah House clients don’t. The holistic approach and the spiritual elements of the program are likely the reasons for those successes.

One of the best parts of the Isaiah House plan to expand, second to the increased availability of treatment, is that the Chaplin community is embracing the new facilities with open arms. Residents aren’t put out at having these men in their midst, rather, they’re finding ways to accept them and to make them feel at home.

That is vital to recovery. Addicts are, in most cases, very much in need of acceptance. They’re used to feeling like outsiders. But feeling like they have a purpose and like they belong can be just as important to overcoming addiction as medical treatment and steady employment. Emotional wellbeing is as crucial as physical wellbeing when someone is trying to overcome dependency and move forward from a damaging past.

As Isaiah House continues its mission and to expand, we should all be grateful for the opportunities that will be provided for recovery and the dedication of the facility and the staff it employs.

Whether some of us like to believe it or not, addiction is real. It is claiming lives every day. Some of them are strangers, but they could be any one of us. They could be any one of our friends, any one of our family members. And knowing there are options to help the people we love, or whom any family loves, overcome addiction and go on to lead full, healthy lives, is priceless.

 

 

July 27, 2017

Guest Commentary - The Paducah Sun

Challenges abound in tax reform effort

This week Congressional Republicans are expected at long last to turn to tax reform. While success is more likely achievable on this front than it was with health insurance restructuring, it is no slam dunk.

As with Obamacare, there is a serious philosophical split among Republicans on the subject. It pits deficit hawks, notably the tea party branch of the party, against supply siders -- people who would accept deficit increases in return for faster economic growth.

This is not an easy thicket to wade through. Deficit hawks take the view that any tax “reform” should be deficit neutral. That means for every dollar of tax reduction there must be a corresponding spending cut or elimination of a tax break.

This is hardly irresponsible. The difference between the days of the Reagan tax cuts and today is that the national debt now stands at $20 trillion. Social Security and Medicare are approaching insolvency. There’s little room to maneuver. But the problem with a deficit-neutral approach is it doesn’t really do much to spur the economy. At best it creates different winners and losers.

On the other side of the GOP ledger are the supply-siders. They have what we grant is the preferred objective -- accelerate economic growth by allowing private citizens to keep more of their money. Most in this camp argue “dynamic scoring” should be used by lawmakers and the Congressional Budget Office to calculate the deficit impact. Dynamic scoring estimates growth in tax receipts that theoretically happens even at lower rates because of increased economic activity.

While this latter approach has a better chance of reviving long-moribund GDP growth, it collides with budget realities. So-called “mandatory spending” -- amounts the federal government must shell out for Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt, is projected this year to consume 71 percent of the federal budget. In 1980, when Reagan was president, it was 52 percent. There is simply not much of a pie left for Republicans to work with these days vis-à-vis Reagan.

This dilemma could push GOP budget-writers back in the direction of a border adjustment tax -- essentially a value-added tax on imported goods similar to ones most foreign nations already apply to American exports. This levy would provide substantial new revenue to underwrite tax cuts elsewhere.

In theory a border tax would not cost American consumers more because the value of the dollar against foreign currencies would rise in tandem with the tax. But already beleaguered retailers are unconvinced. They have lobbied hard -- so far successfully -- to get Congress to look elsewhere for a solution.

We would not be surprised however to see such a tax created and phased in over a period of years as a middle-ground solution, particularly when the only other option would be entitlement reform -- long the political “third rail” that lawmakers steadfastly (albeit irresponsibly) avoid.

Republicans will come up with some type of tax restructuring in the months ahead simply because, after the Obamacare repeal debacle, they have to. They will pass something and declare victory.

Our hope is lawmakers can find a solution that truly creates growth in income and jobs for the beleaguered American middle class. But don’t be deluded -- it will be tough sledding.

July 20, 2017

Legislative Update - By Rep. Jim Wayne, Rep. Tom Burch, Rep. Attica Scott, Rep. Kelly Flood, Rep. Reginald Meeks,
Rep. George Brown Jr., Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and Rep. Joni Jenkins

Legislators propose progressive tax reform

We applaud Gov. Matt Bevin for seeking input on how to overhaul Kentucky’s tax code and ensure our obligations to public workers and retirees are met. There is really no question Kentucky needs to clean up its tax code so we can generate more revenue to pay those liabilities and better afford the public investments that benefit us all.

There is a sensible way forward on tax reform based on facts like this: Kentucky’s richest, who earn an average $839,500 per year, pay just 6 percent of their income in state and local taxes while the poorest, who earn an average of $9,100, pay 9 percent of their income.

Kentucky’s tax code is upside-down. Low and middle-income Kentuckians pay more of their income in taxes than high-income Kentuckians and corporations that take advantage of loopholes. It has become more so over time, reflecting not only rising income inequality but also tax and budget choices, such as expanding special interest tax breaks and cuts to programs that serve everyone.

Asking those at the top to chip in a little more will make the system fairer, while also bringing in much needed revenue for investments in quality public schools, affordable college and strong communities.

Over the last 25 years Kentucky has had a variety of well-intentioned attempts at tax reform, including the convening of study groups and the consultation of scholars. The last of these endeavors was Kentucky’s 2012 Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform. Now is the time to use the wisdom of all these groups to establish a system that is adequate for our investment needs, flexible as the economy changes and fair to all of our citizens. We have prefiled our own comprehensive tax reform bill, known as BR 15, that does just that.

On the individual income tax side of things, that legislation would limit tax breaks currently used by higher-income people by capping itemized deductions at $17,500 annually, phasing out the pension income exclusion and creating a new higher top tax rate coupled with a reduction of rates for brackets under $75,000. It would also reinstate the estate tax, which only applies to very few, very wealthy individuals. These changes would bring in around $445 million annually. They are not radical; many of the states neighboring Kentucky already have similar provisions in their tax codes.

On the corporate tax side, the legislation would ensure more successful businesses pay the limited liability entity tax, tighten loopholes that allow profitable corporations to avoid taxation and eliminate corporate tax incentives that don’t promote economic growth. This legislation would rein in tax dodging and increase corporate tax revenue by about $88 million annually.

If we are serious about reforming the tax code and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to demand that the largest and most profitable corporations pay their fair share in taxes. They benefit from the investments we all make in our infrastructure and workforce that help businesses prosper.

The legislation would also expand the sales tax to include a number of luxury services such as limousine services and golf course and country club fees. We live in a service economy but Kentucky’s sales tax base includes very few services, and this would generate another $104 million.

One key component of the legislation is a state earned income tax credit (EITC) --an effective poverty-fighting tool that supports work and helps families afford basic living expenses, pay off debt and invest in education. Most states already have their own version of the successful federal EITC.

And among other things, the legislation would raise Kentucky’s tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. This would initially generate about $155 million in revenue, but – more importantly – it would discourage tobacco use and reduce associated costs. Kentucky has one of the highest smoking rates and highest rates of lung cancer in the country.

In total, all of these changes would help make Kentucky’s tax system less upside-down than it is today. According to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the bill would maintain or lower what the bottom 60 percent of Kentuckians pay in overall taxes, while asking more from those at the top – especially the richest 1 percent – all while helping generate substantial new revenue for crucial public investments.

On the other hand, “shifting to a consumption-based” tax system – giving those at the top additional income tax breaks and asking more of everyone else through the sales tax – will make our tax system even more regressive. We should be skeptical of promises that income tax cuts will improve our economy and refrain from joining the bandwagon of states that have eviscerated their budgets through this scheme.

Raising revenue equitably will help address our liabilities and allow us to better fund the building blocks of thriving communities – good schools, better health and modern infrastructure.

July 6, 2017

Guest Commentary

We’re creating a culture of collaboration,
transformation in Eastern Kentucky

It’s hard to believe that we are on the heels of our fourth-annual SOAR Summit in Pikeville. Four years ago, SOAR was an idea. It was a seed of hope planted in a region destined for transformation.

Our dream is becoming reality.

SOAR has served as a catalyst for doers. It has brought people from all walks of life, from Ashland to Paintsville, Lynch, Hazard, London, Morehead and all places in between, together to share their passion of a bigger and better Appalachia. The passions shared cover a wide spectrum from local foods and agriculture, to technology, education, workforce training and cultural and historic preservation.

What unites us in this passion? The commonality of purpose to build a better eastern Kentucky for all of us and generations to come.

SOAR is much more than an idea. It is a movement. It is a collaboration of all that is good in eastern Kentucky. It validates that none of us can do this alone, but if we work together, we can accomplish anything.

Every day I see the good happening across the SOAR region. Our work has opened doors for local entrepreneurs to create jobs. Our work has allowed for new and innovative training through our partners in higher education, workforce development and the private sectors.

Our work, collectively, has connected the dots to do what many thought was impossible.

But our work is not done. Actually, this is just the beginning.

I challenge you to be involved. I challenge you to be purposeful in your passion. I challenge you to do something, be it small or large, to make a difference in your community.

A unique way you can contribute is by being a part of the SOAR Network (www.soar.network), a community of doers that share their passion for areas such as Regional Food Systems, Regional Tourism Development, Industrial Development, Healthy Communities, Small Business in the Digital Economy, Broadband Infrastructure, and a 21st Century Workforce.

These areas are aligned with our Regional Blueprint for a 21st Century Appalachia (www.soar-ky.org/blueprint) which is the region’s collective plan to build a brighter future in Appalachia KY. We need every citizen, community, and organization working together to help us move the needle on these goals and objectives.

I often get asked “What is SOAR?”

That’s a good question and it doesn’t have a short answer. However, through everything it boils down to this: You. SOAR is you, it’s me, and it’s us not sitting back and watching, but instead, it is us owning our future. It’s an attitude. Let’s create a culture of collaboration and transformation.

So, I urge you to be part of the solution and join the movement. Join us for the fourth-annual SOAR Summit in Pikeville on Friday, August 4. Visit our website (www.soar-ky.org) to learn about ways you can contribute.

– Jared Arnett is executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR)

July 6, 2017

Guest Commentary - The News-Enterprise 

Kentucky’s opioid addiction has risen to epidemic levels to set the problem at the forefront as the most critical public health threat facing the state. Much is being done in an effort to combat the rising toll heroin and prescription opioid abuse is taking on Kentucky’s communities and others across the nation. But new state and federal funding, programs and regulatory efforts appear to be too little and too slow in coming to effectively curb the growing death-rate trend.

According to the most recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of opioid overdose in the U.S. during 2015. That number represented a 15 percent increase from the prior year and averaged 91 deaths because of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse in every 24 hour period of time that year.

Kentucky was among three states at the top of the list for overdose deaths in 2015. With only West Virginia and New Hampshire burying more of their state’s residents because of overdose, Kentucky had the third highest number of deaths resulting from prescription painkiller and heroin overdose with just shy of 30 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Consider yourself fortunate if you don’t have a family member or friend struggling with an addiction to painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Codeine, Fentanyl or other opioid derivatives. A statewide poll reveals three of 10 Kentuckians personally know someone abusing one of these drugs, and two of 10 know a heroin addict. These ratios reflect an eight percentage point increase over those reporting personal knowledge of prescription painkiller abuse in the previous statewide survey.

Most experts suggest these trend lines only will get worse across the state and nation before improvement begins. With this in mind, Kentucky must get a tighter and more effective grip on dealing with this epidemic to turn the rising trend of addiction and related deaths.

Improved tracking and mon¬i¬toring of the distribution, prescription and use of opioid drugs inside and across state lines is imperative to the solution. The state’s Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System, or KASPER – a web-based database to monitor opioid drug prescription and use across the state – is helping state regulators identify questionable prescription practices by physicians and abuse by patients. It should be improved by linking it to other systems in neighboring states.

It is known that opioid addiction occurs rapidly. Without very careful case oversight and medication management, today’s patients to whom these drugs are prescribed by physicians to treat their pain very easily become tomorrow’s addicts. Opioids must be a last and more carefully calculated resort to pain control, not the quick-fix go-to drugs as in the past.

Better discussion is needed between physicians and patients regarding potential risks and benefits of opioid painkillers versus non-opioid alternatives. Many suggest as individuals it is necessary that we accept and become better equipped at dealing with pain we experience as a result of injury or during recovery, without the need for quick relief from risk-ridden pharmaceuticals.

Access to treatment and rehabilitative services must be in¬creased to help addicts recover. Improved support services after rehab will be key in helping those who have just broken the hold of addiction remain clean.

As access to prescription opioids is tightened with stronger regulation, more aggressive drug enforcement pressure to fight the trafficking of heroin is needed. Otherwise, those finding it more difficult to get their hands on the oxy their addiction craves will divert to this illicit and deadly drug.

Curbing opioid addiction only will come through improvements in education, enforcement, regulation and treatment. This costs money and takes time. Without improvement, at the current trend 700 Kentuckians will die because of their struggle with opioids and heroin during the remaining months of 2017. These are lives that can and must be saved.

June 29, 2017

Legislative Update - By Senator Max Wise

Over two hundred years ago, our Founding Fathers put their lives on the line to create a new country in which freedom reigned. These men had a vision of a nation unafraid to face its enemies and win. We, the people of the United States, have faced insurmountable odds since our young country’s conception but continue to fight for our God-given rights unique to the United States of America.

The Fourth of July was the day on which the Declaration of Independence was ratified. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” This was the day that Americans stood up against tyranny to create a government controlled by the people, for the people.

We must keep those values at the forefront of our minds as we navigate today’s political discourse. It has become too easy to forget that people on the opposite sides of the political spectrum are human beings and deserve our respect, whether or not we agree. We are a nation that celebrates our differences. There is a time and a place for political rhetoric, but let us not forget the price we have paid to have the freedom for such discourse.

Innumerous brave men and women have given their lives so we could enjoy the freedoms and rights we too often take for granted. Still people fight across the globe to bring similar freedoms and rights to the oppressed. Let us celebrate the brave Americans who put their lives on the line every day so we may continue to celebrate our independence.

We are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. I hope we, as proud Americans, continue to fight for the unity of our nation and people. I wish you and your family a safe and happy Fourth of July, and may God bless America.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.


Guest Commentary - The Paducah Sun

Opioid crisis doesn’t justify vast Medicaid expansion 

Reasonable people (assuming there still are a few) differ. One topic on which there can be such disagreement is the issue of whether Obamacare, flawed as it is, is better than no Obamacare.

Justification is difficult with regard to the troubled law’s impact on the market for individual health insurance, which is in a state of collapse in large regions of the country. But the battleground in the media and in Washington these days is shifting to what is really the more costly component of the law -- broad expansions of Medicaid eligibility in 32 states, including Kentucky.

States that opted in under the ACA widened the income threshold for Medicaid participation to 138 percent of the poverty level. One result has been that many able-bodied, working-age individuals who dropped out of the workforce qualify for coverage. In Kentucky it means that one of every four residents now receives government-funded medical care.

Republican leaders in Kentucky and Washington believe this goes too far. A rational debate can be had about the fairness and moral hazard involved in requiring working taxpayers to pick up the bill for so many additional people, a fair number of whom choose not to work.

We have to say however that one of the more bizarre arguments for retaining the Medicaid expansion appeared in an Associated Press story suggesting that preserving expanded Medicaid is critical to combating the ongoing epidemic of opioid addiction.

The AP says that in Kentucky 61 percent of those receiving Medicaid-funded substance abuse treatment qualify for it because of the Medicaid expansion. In West Virginia it is 47 percent. In Michigan and Maryland AP reported percentages in the high fifties. As AP put it, “Medicaid cutbacks would hit hard in states deeply affected by the addiction crisis and struggling to turn the corner â ¦”.

The problem with that analysis is that while the percentages may appear high, the raw numbers are relatively few. Sixty-one percent of Kentuckians receiving expanded Medicaid are not addicts in treatment. We doubt that 6 percent are. The use of percentages in this fashion presents a skewed picture.

This is not to suggest that Kentucky has no financial responsibility to assist people who want and cannot afford treatment for opioid and other addictions. It absolutely does. But it doesn’t follow that money for such treatment must come from Medicaid, expanded or otherwise. And the small numbers involved certainly don’t justify keeping hundreds of thousands of people, many of them able-bodied, on the taxpayer dole.

The fact is that opioid epidemics in Kentucky and West Virginia erupted in the mountain coal fields contemporaneously with the destruction of the coal industry by national environmental policies. People lost their jobs and their way of life. This has been the result.

Putting such people on permanent assistance is no solution. Liberals who believe doing so is magnanimous and right are simply mistaken. The only long-term solution is to restore purpose to the lives of those who have been displaced by government policies by providing new economic opportunities.

That is no simple task, obviously. But if we truly hope to -- as AP puts it -- “turn the corner” on the opioid epidemic, this is what is required.


June 22, 2017

Guest Commentary - The State Journal

It’s hard to feel sorry for Pitino

University of Louisville officials are crying foul over crippling sanctions by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for paying strippers to have sex with high school recruits. We’d prefer to hear more contrition and less whining.

The allegations, truthfulness of which the school acknowledged in self-imposing a one-year postseason tournament ban and other penalties, are sickening. Former basketball Director of Operations Andre McGee arranged for women to strip and provide sex for Louisville players and recruits, including one 16-year-old, from 2010 to 2014.

Sanctions announced by the NCAA on Thursday included a five-game suspension for head coach Rick Pitino at the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference season and an order to vacate wins from the 2010-14 seasons in which any ineligible student-athletes participated. Many observers believe that will cost the school its 2013 national championship.

The university had already self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season and reduced the number of scholarships last season from 13 to 11, among other recruiting limitations.

When the NCAA levied even harsher sanctions, U of L officials vowed to appeal — and went on the attack against the collegiate sports governing body.

“For 35-some-odd years I’ve had a lot of faith in the NCAA and have reacted that way accordingly in a belief in their rules,” Pitino said. “But I feel like everybody here, that not only is there an unjust, over-the-top, severe penalty, but personally I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA with what they just did.”

It’s equally true that many have lost faith in Pitino, despite a long career of on-the-court success at Kentucky’s two major universities. There’s a good reason that the NCAA penalized Pitino personally: A head coach bears responsibility for the actions of his players, coaches and staff members. It stretches credulity to think that McGee acted completely alone and that all around him, including Pitino, were oblivious to what was happening.

Outrage over NCAA sanctions won’t help U of L in its upcoming appeal. Remorse might.

Guest Commentary - The Winchester Sun

Leaving kids in hot cars is never OK

Wednesday marks the official beginning of summer, and with it comes temperatures that are expected to hover above 80 degrees for at least the next week.

With temperatures on the rise, so are instances of young children and pets who are severely injured or even killed because they are left in hot cars.

On average, 37 children die each year from heat stroke related to being trapped inside vehicles in high temperatures. That averages to one every nine days. This year, there have already been 12 deaths related to vehicular heat stroke.

In more than half of these cases, the person responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left them in the vehicle. This is a tragedy that could happen to anyone. A change in daily routine, lack of sleep, stress, hormone changes, fatigue and simple distractions are all things parents experience and some of the reason children have been left alone in vehicles unknowingly.

Leaving children and pets in hot cars is dangerous because of what is referred to as “The Greenhouse Effect,” meaning the inside of a vehicle heats up quickly.

According to kidsandcars.org, a public service campaign aimed at raising awareness and preventing these tragedies, the inside of a vehicle can reach 125 degrees in just minutes, with 80 percent of the temperature increase occurring in the first 10 minutes.

Cracking the window does not help slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature. Kids and Cars reports that children have died from heatstroke in cars when the outside temperature was as low at 60 degrees. Adding to the dangers, a child’s body overheats three to five times faster than an adult’s.

So, while it is particularly important to be aware of these dangers in the summer months, it is never safe to leave a child or a pet in a vehicle unattended.

Kids and Cars offers some safety tips:

•Look before you lock. Create a routine where you always open the back door to check for a passenger before locking the doors to leave the vehicle.

• Create a reminder to check the back seat by putting your purse or brief case, your cell phone or something you will need at your final destination in the backseat.

• Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways and garages.

• Keep car keys and remotes out a child’s reach.

• Never leave children alone in a car even for a minute.

• If a child goes missing, immediately check inside the vehicle, including the trunk and passenger compartments.

• If you see a child or a pet trapped in a vehicle called 911 immediately. If the child appears to be sick or unresponsive get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.

Most importantly, share this information and these tips with others.

Through education and some extra effort, many of these tragedies could be prevented.



June 15, 2017

Guest Commentary - The Advocate-Messenger

Supply and demand health care

There are lots of aspects of our society that function best when free-market principles are followed. Letting markets decide how much things cost and how much of different resources are made available is often the simplest, most efficient and best way to operate.


There are, however, some things you don’t want controlled by the free market. Religion, family, morals — none of these things should be subject to market forces, because they are more important than efficiency or money. They’re primary to being human.


If we want to be good, ethical people, the free market cannot take precedence in those areas. We also cannot — or rather, should not — give the free market total control over health care for those in need. When someone is dying and needs help, our first instinct should not be to ask “how can the biggest profit be made?” But that is exactly what happens over and over again in the health care free markets we have today.


The price of naloxone — a drug that essentially reverses opioid overdoses and saves many lives — has shot up with demand, due to the ongoing opioid drug epidemic going on locally, across Kentucky and throughout the nation


This is hardly a unique and new phenomenon. You probably remember when the price for EpiPens shot into the stratosphere because a pharmaceutical company wanted to turn a bigger profit — off a medicine that saves people from potentially fatal allergic reactions.


In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Marathon Pharmaceuticals took the price for a muscular dystrophy drug for children from $1,000-$2,000 per year to $89,000 per year.


Before that, there was Martin Shkreli, the unrepentant free-market profiteer who made headlines when his company bought the rights to make an anti-parasitic drug, and then boosted the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill.


You can go back as far as you want — in the 1990s, the Clinton administration worked with pharmaceutical companies to prevent generic drugs that fought AIDS from being distributed in Africa, where the epidemic was the worst. That was so the pharmaceutical companies could turn a nice profit selling their brand name AIDS drugs instead.


Treating sick people and making them better is an aspect of our society that should fall firmly in the column of doing the right thing, not turning a profit. Sadly, our entire health care infrastructure is based on free-market forces. Barring fundamental transformation of how we think about and legislate health care, we can not only expect, we can guarantee that these offenses to our humanity will continue.



Data Reveals Gains in Health and Continued Challenges

Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation in overall child well-being, according to the 2017 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The 2017 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book, which includes county-level data, will be released in November.


39th in Economic Well-being: Poverty remains the most persistent challenge for children in the Commonwealth, with more than one in four children living below the poverty line. Kentucky has 34 percent of kids living in families where neither parent has full-time, year-round employment. Kentucky also has nine percent of teens age 16 to 19 not attending school nor employed.


22nd in Health: Kids’ health coverage continues to be a bright spot for Kentucky. Ninety-six percent of Kentucky children are enrolled in health coverage, up from 94 percent in 2013.


24th in Education: The Commonwealth ranks in the top half of states in this domain, yet three out of five fourth graders scored below proficient in reading, nearly three in four eighth graders scored below proficient in math, and 60 percent of children ages three and four are not attending school. However, Kentucky is now ranked 6th in the nation for high school graduation with only 12 percent of students not graduating on time.


38th in Family and Community: Though Kentucky’s teen birth rate is still one of the highest in the nation, it fell by 30 percent from 2010 to 2015. Sixteen percent of children live in high-poverty areas (neighborhoods where more than 30 percent of residents live in poverty). In these areas of concentrated poverty, all kids, even those from higher income families, face challenges.


Kentucky needs common-ground solutions on the federal, state, and local levels that will help kids and families, boost local economies, and strengthen the state budget:


•    To continue child health gains in Kentucky, reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at the federal level is imperative. In Frankfort, leaders must ensure any healthcare changes recognize that covering parents is key to meeting children’s physical, behavioral, and oral health needs.


•    Implement proven strategies, such as local smoke-free laws and a significant increase to Kentucky’s low tobacco tax, to reduce smoking during pregnancy and the number of babies born at low birthweight.


•    A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit, microenterprise zones that promote entrepreneurship in communities with limited economic opportunity, and expanded supports for child care would help lower-income working parents cover basic needs for their children while reinvesting money in their local economy.


June 1, 2017

Guest Commentary - By Jim Paxton Paducah Sun

Kentucky pension woes put GOP on quicksand

Illinois is back in the news in an embarrassing way. Again.


For the second year in a row Illinois risks a shutoff of utilities to state offices in Springfield. A story in last Sunday’s Paducah Sun said Illinois owes $3.5 million in past-due payments to City Water, Light and Power.


At least that’s better than a year ago, when the state fell $12 million behind. The state paid by way of a temporary spending measure after the utility sent notice of its intent to disconnect service.


This year’s delinquency is a pittance compared to the state’s total accumulation of unpaid bills. That number now stands at $14.4 billion. We genuinely wonder why anyone would do business with the Illinois government these days. No one would provide goods or services to a private sector company with this record.


The Illinois spectacle continues to be an educational backdrop for Kentucky’s own financial problems. The Illinois crisis is rooted in its collapsing public employee pension fund. It is owed more than $100 billion by the state. A recent effort to simply stem the tide ended in political disaster.


Several years ago Illinois imposed sharp increases in personal and business taxes to shore up pensions. Legislators made the increase “temporary” to win passage. Predictably there was a later effort made to make it permanent. But by then the state was losing population and businesses. There was a public backlash. The tax increases expired and Democrats lost the governor’s mansion. There has been political gridlock ever since. The state has operated without a budget for more than two years.


It is against this backdrop that a Kentucky pension story emerged last week. The Associated Press says consultants believe Kentucky needs to spend $700 million more per year to keep its pension funds afloat. This is on top of the $2 billion the state is scheduled to pour into the funds during the fiscal year beginning July 1.


We have praised Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, for being the first chief executive to be honest about the severity of the pension problem -- which is neck-and-neck with Illinois as worst in the nation -- and for taking some unpopular steps to address it. We suspect the $700 million additional need posited in the consultants’ report will be a launching point for a potentially much more unpopular Bevin proposal: a tax code restructuring that will raise significant new revenue.


We have a couple of thoughts about that. One is that we have for decades taken the position at the Sun that before Frankfort asks for a tax increase, it needs to demonstrate that it has cut spending as much as reasonably possible. We don’t feel we have seen that.
Second, there is the political lesson of Illinois. Party matters not when one starts raising taxes. If voters decide they are being gouged, justification falls by the wayside. The result can be Illinois-style budget chaos.


The severity of Kentucky’s pension problem cannot be dismissed. Something absolutely has to be done. But the easy path -- simply raising taxes -- is fraught with peril. Bevin and his GOP legislative supermajorities are unfortunately walking on political quicksand manufactured for them by decades of Democratic recklessness. Fair or not, responsibly navigating this challenge may not be possible without serious casualties.

May 25, 2017

The reason for Memorial Day

Courtesy York Dispatch

Everyone looks forward to Memorial Day weekend.
It’s the unofficial beginning of summer, three days to enjoy the sun, get out the grill, maybe go to the pool for the first time. The school year is almost over, college students are home, people are planning vacations, thinking about the beach, the mountains, the open road.
All of that is great. America has gone almost six months without a major holiday, so we all deserve a break.
But we also need to take the time to remember the reason for the Memorial Day holiday.
Memorial Day was first observed in 1868 to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers during the Civil War, according to PBS. Union Gen. James Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of 20,000 Union soldiers buried there.
Garfield went on to become the 20th president in 1881.
Northern states commemorated Decoration Day on May 30, while Southern states had separate days to honor Confederate soldiers through World War I, when Memorial Day evolved to honor all U.S. soldiers killed in all conflicts.
Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971.
Since the American Revolution, approximately 1.35 million members of the U.S. military have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Nearly half of those deaths were during the Civil War, 400,000 were during World War II, 116,000 in World War I, 58,000 in Vietnam and 36,000 in Korea.
The sacrifices are still being made. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, 4,411 U.S. military died, according to the Department of Defense. In Afghanistan, 2,251 U.S. military members have died since 2001.
Most recently, Senior Chief Petty Officer Kyle Milliken, a Navy Seal, died May 5 during an operation in Somalia, according to Military Times. Milliken, 38, was from Falmouth, Maine.
These brave men and women gave their lives to protect our lives and our freedom. Their memories live on every day that we as a country uphold the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
So yes, enjoy the holiday weekend. Barbecue with your family and friends, celebrate responsibly, jump in the pool, laugh, dance and sing.
Monday, stand still and quiet for a moment of remembrance to thank those who gave their lives for this country.

 

Legislative Update - By Senator Max Wise

While Memorial Day weekend is a wonderful time for gathering with family and friends for picnics, pool parties, and parades, I write to you with the annual reminder not to forget the true meaning of the event. Memorial Day is a time to remember the brave men and women who have put everything on the line so we may live in freedom in the greatest nation in the world.
Born out of a wish to honor those who fell in the Civil War, Memorial Day serves as a nationally-recognized holiday to honor all those who have died in service of the United States. We also acknowledge the families of these heroes who live on and continue to preserve the memories of their loved ones. In May of 2000, the “National Moment of Remembrance” was established, encouraging all citizens throughout the United States to pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m., local time.
Kentucky has a special license plate known as the “Gold Star License Plate” for mothers, fathers, siblings, and spouses of military service members who died while serving. If you or your family members are interested in obtaining one of these plates, please do not hesitate to reach out to me by contacting my legislative office.
In 2017 we passed a number of laws to help veterans and military families who are still with us. The General Assembly passed many military-centric laws, including ones that will help veteran-owned small businesses, provide death-in the-line-of-duty benefits for National Guard families, and clarify laws pertaining to military spouse unemployment benefits. I was proud to sponsor Senate Bill 117, which allows a veteran with a bachelor’s degree in any area to be issued a provisional teaching certificate if other criteria are met. That bill was also signed by the Governor this spring.
While we remember those who served this Memorial Day weekend, I also encourage you to get involved in your communities, whether by volunteering for a local veteran-oriented charity or attending weekend festivities. You never know when you may touch the life of someone who needs it—especially a veteran or a military family.
It is an honor to serve as your state senator and I wish you and your family a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.
If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.




May 18, 2017

Kentucky Surging Forward Following Legislative Session

by Governor Matt Bevin

FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 16, 2017) – On the first Saturday in May each year, the Kentucky Derby captures the attention and fascination of the world and creates special moments that will long be remembered. The Derby is truly unmatched as a sporting event and spectacle.  A brief hush precedes the opening of the starting gate, followed by the roar of the crowd as the horses explode forward powerfully and majestically. The start to the Derby provides a powerful analogy for what we have experienced recently in our state. Thanks to an outstanding effort by the General Assembly and our administration, Kentucky is surging forward.


The 2017 legislative session was one of the most productive in Kentucky history. Much of our agenda was focused on making Kentucky a better place to do business. It should come as no surprise that the three largest economic development announcements in Kentucky history have occurred since January of this year. Amazon announced their decision to invest $1.5 billion in Northern Kentucky where they will build their Prime Air Hub. Toyota announced a $1.33 billion investment in their Georgetown facility. In April, Braidy Industries revealed their plans to invest $1.3 billion dollars in Greenup County, where they will build a state-of-the-art aluminum mill, creating 550 high-paying jobs. CEO, Craig Bouchard, made it clear during his remarks at the announcement that his company would not have considered locating here if Kentucky had not been a right-to-work state. Braidy, Amazon and others have also been very complimentary of our administration’s passion for recruiting businesses to Kentucky.


Just last week, LINAK U.S. announced a $33 million expansion that will create an additional 413 full-time jobs. That announcement follows companies like UWH, TG Automotive, Traughber, Perfetti van Melle, PuraCap Laboratories, Bulleit Distilling Company and dozens of others which have also recently announced expansions or groundbreakings in our state. These announcements are only the beginning. Like those Derby horses bursting from the gate, Kentucky’s economic expansion is just getting started. Stay tuned. There is more to come.


It is important to note, however, the recent legislative session was about much more than just the economy. For instance, bills were passed that will allow our children in failing schools to have an opportunity to learn in high quality public charter schools and, going forward, we will base higher education funding on school outcomes. Another bill will return more authority to local school boards. These bills, now signed into law, will introduce competition into our education system and will result in better outcomes for all our students. Additionally, we passed a medical review panel bill that will lower medical costs and a bill that will allow funding for apprenticeship programs.


Pro-life laws were created that more accurately reflect the values of our voters. Kentucky is overwhelmingly a pro-life state. Huge bipartisan support for the twenty-week abortion ban and the ultrasound bill reflect that. We also moved Planned Parenthood, the nation’s number one abortion provider, to the back of the line for federal funds.


An important criminal justice law was signed to help the children and families of those who have paid their debt to society. The law allows for work release, work opportunities within prison, and the earning of professional licenses. By helping incarcerated individuals train to get work ready, we reduce recidivism and give children and their parents a chance to be a family again.


We passed legislation to better ensure that our state treats foster children with the respect and dignity they deserve. Kentucky will now allow the courts the leeway to place these children with fictive kin. These are non-blood relatives with whom the child already has a loving relationship and who are willing to provide a home for the child. Likewise, foster kids can now obtain their driver’s license at the age of 16, enabling them to gain independence as they acquire the mobility needed to get to school or to a part-time job.


A new law was passed that will put much needed limits (a three day supply) on the amount of opioid pain medication that can be prescribed at one time. Medical professionals were asked for extensive input as this law was drafted. As a result, there are ample exclusions for physicians who are treating patients with cancer and chronic pain, as well as those on hospice care or who have valid need for additional pain medication.


These are merely a few highlights of all that was accomplished during the 2017 legislative session.


I love the name of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, “Always Dreaming.” That is the American way. From the beginning of our administration, we have repeatedly stated our vision for Kentucky to become the center of excellence in America for engineering and advanced manufacturing and for each of us, individually and collectively, to become the best version of ourselves. The 2017 legislative session has afforded Kentucky the opportunity to get off to a roaring start towards achieving these goals. I am confident that we will succeed, because #WeAreKY.


May 11, 2017

There is a solution to our tax problems

The increasing tax burden on our citizens is creating stress and in some cases anger.  The increase in Occupational Tax may not be sufficient or in time to keep our County from default.  The school board’s ill-timed nickel tax proposal is adding to the squeeze our citizens are feeling.  However, our local officials are missing the obvious answer.  An increase in revenue doesn’t necessarily have to come from increased taxes.

Growth is the answer to our increasing tax problems.  Without growth our county government and school system will continue to ask for more money from a declining population.  An increase in jobs will bring more Occupational Taxes collected for the county and more homes being built paying property and school taxes. With an increase in jobs, more money will circulate in the local economy. New businesses will open creating more jobs and bringing in additional tax revenue for the county and schools.

Perhaps this is the time to visit Governor Bevin and ask for help. He certainly doesn’t want the distinction of having the poorest county in the United States in his state. The need for a dedicated, experienced business recruiter working full time for the county, with the state, is a necessity. (A strong emphasis on experience should be the primary qualification for this position.)

Look at the positives this county can bring to an interested employer. The strong work ethic of our people is a testament to our traditional values. A qualified recruiter would use our strengths to attract businesses and work as a liaison between the county and state to develop an attractive package for the business.

If you say the county can’t afford a full time business recruiter, then we will continue to pay more in taxes as our county continues to declines. When you look at the advantages an experienced recruiter would bring to the county, the additional revenue would more than pay his salary. The longer we wait the more we will pay.  We cannot afford not to take this step.

May 4, 2017

Guest Commentary - Tom Eblen Lexington Herald Leader 

 

 

It caused 834 deaths in Kentucky last year.  Why don’t we treat it like a disaster? 

What would happen if tornadoes ripped through Kentucky and killed 834 people? The president and the governor would declare a disaster.

What if terrorist attacks wiped out more than 40,000 people across the country? People would panic, and politicians would scramble to try to keep it from ever happening again.

But consider this: 834 people died on Kentucky roads last year, state officials announced last week. That was 73 more deaths than in 2015 and the most in a decade. At least 218 people have died so far this year.

Nationally, 40,200 people died on roads in 2016, the most since 2007. Forty thousand, two hundred people; that’s more than twice as many Americans as died in the War of 1812.

How do we react to this carnage? Mostly, we shrug.

Unless they know a victim personally, most people casually accept this huge annual death toll — plus tens of thousands more injuries — as the price of transportation. We call them “accidents” — as if they are random occurrences that nobody can control.

Police and emergency workers, who must deal with this tragedy every day, try their best to publicize the problem and its causes, but nobody pays much attention.

More than half the people killed on Kentucky roads last year weren’t wearing seat belts. Speeding and aggressive driving contributed to 36 percent of deaths. Nearly a quarter involved cellphone use or other driver distractions.

Alcohol use contributed to 139 deaths. (No numbers for drug use were reported.) Of the 92 motorcyclists who died, 62 weren’t wearing helmets. Big trucks and other commercial vehicles were involved in 82 deaths.

There are several issues here worth discussing. The first is personal responsibility, which we excuse too often in ourselves and others. We love our cars. We’re in a hurry. We like to drive fast. We love our cellphones even more than our cars. We are busy. We have short attention spans, and cellphones have made them shorter.

Laws and new technology might force some change, but probably not much. People always find ways to evade them.

The answer is to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as we have made drunken driving. How do we do that? I don’t know, but it will be hard. Unlike drunken driving, virtually everyone has been guilty of distracted driving at one time or another.

The recent uptick in traffic deaths follows a steady decline from the 1940s through the early 2000s. Much of that can be attributed to seat belts and other car design and safety improvements.

Traffic engineers would argue that roads are safer, too, but I’m not so sure. There is a good argument to be made that many costly projects to make roads safer have instead made them more dangerous.

Speed and aggressive driving have always been key factors in highway deaths. Yet, the American engineering solution for “safer” roads is usually to make them straighter and wider, which only encourages people to drive faster and more aggressively while paying less attention to what they’re doing.

This also makes roads less safe for slower-moving vehicles, and for pedestrians crossing the road or walking on nearby sidewalks. When people don’t feel safe walking or biking, they don’t, and that forces more people to use cars.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I am going to the Netherlands to help escort a group of college students on a bicycle tour. It will be my second bike tour of the world’s most bike-friendly country.

Kentucky and the Netherlands are very different places. The Netherlands has a population four times larger than Kentucky’s on less than half the amount of land. And the country is flat, unlike most of Kentucky.

Still, Kentucky could learn a lot from the Dutch about traffic engineering. The Netherlands has fewer than 600 traffic deaths a year — one of the lowest per 100,000 people of any developed country, and one-third that of the United States. Less than one-third of Dutch traffic deaths are cyclists, even though one-third to one-half of all trips there are made by bicycle.

On newer and busier Dutch roads, cars, bicycles and pedestrians are separated. Still, where everyone uses the same road, the Dutch design philosophy forces people to control their speed and pay attention to what they’re doing.

As the innovative Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman once said: “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like that.”

April 27, 2017

Community Conversations Throughout Kentucky

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

As a Senator, my job requires that I spend many hours in Washington, but Kentucky is my home and I make it a priority to be in the state when the Senate is not in session.  Over the last two weeks, the Senate was not in session so I decided to again travel throughout the Commonwealth as I often do.  Not only is this a great way to engage with Kentuckians from every corner of the state, but it’s also a great way to ensure I can continue my work most effectively as Kentucky’s voice in the Senate.

I had many productive discussions with economic development leaders across the Commonwealth.  From a business roundtable in Leitchfield to meetings with Northern Kentucky realtors and homebuilders, I answered questions leaving no topic off limits.  In Daviess County, I met with farmers and agriculture leaders and heard about their concerns for the future.  I also had the opportunity to speak with students in Western Kentucky about my work in Washington.  In Louisville, I had meetings with community members and policy experts.  At many of my events throughout the state, I spoke with the local media about matters important to their area.  I appreciate these opportunities to hear directly from Kentuckians about the issues that affect their lives.

One of the greatest privileges of being Kentucky’s senior Senator is to be able to help when asked.  Last fall, the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center asked for my assistance when it applied for a competitive grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  I wrote a letter to the NIH Director about the groundbreaking research being done at UK.  And we were all pleased to see the Markey Center was awarded an $11.2 million federal grant to study the connection between cancer and obesity.  I believe that UK will continue its extraordinary research to lead in the fight against cancer and make a real impact on the health outcomes of patients right here in Kentucky.  I am proud to have advocated on UK’s behalf and to have participated in the grant announcement on campus while working back home.

In Richmond, I participated in a roundtable discussion about the devastating effects of substance abuse in Kentucky communities.  Dozens of leaders from Madison, Garrard, and Estill counties described their efforts to reduce drug abuse in the region and offered their perspectives on the best ways to promote recovery.  Through this and similar community conversations across the state, it has become clear that we can’t incarcerate our way out of this problem.  To save lives in Kentucky, we should also emphasize treatment and rehabilitation in our communities.

Last year, I shepherded two pieces of legislation through the Senate that can help us win this fight.  The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) expands education and prevention initiatives, improves treatment programs, and bolsters law enforcement efforts.  The 21st Century Cures Act authorizes $1 billion over two years to states to help combat the prescription opioid epidemic.  This week, the Administration announced that the first of these resources are now on their way to Kentucky.

There is still much more to be done to end the opioid crisis and many communities are looking at innovative ways to do so.  For example, Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor told me about his plans for a new rehabilitation facility in the region.  I am hopeful that our communities will be able to secure the resources necessary for this type of project, and I look forward to supporting them.

This has been a productive state work period, and the insights I’ve gained will be helpful as I continue my work on behalf of Kentuckians in Washington, D.C.  We have an ambitious legislative agenda ahead of us – including funding the government and negotiating comprehensive tax reform.  I will keep the thoughts and concerns of the people of Kentucky foremost in mind as these and other issues come before the Senate, and I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me as I work on Kentucky’s behalf in Washington.  By writing a letter, emailing through my website, or calling my office, you can always voice your thoughts and concerns about the federal government and my work in the United States Senate.

 

April 20, 2017

The Voice Letter Policy

Recently our policy concerning  “Letters to the Editor” has been questioned, some even implying they are a “farce”.  The letter questioned in last week’s paper was a legitimate, signed letter from a race volunteer, which is currently in our files.  This volunteer requested their name be withheld for fear of reprisal.

All letters to the editor must be signed, with phone number and address, or we will not consider printing them.  More than two years ago we began allowing names to be withheld in print but The Voice retains the original signed letter. It was necessary to adjust our policy when it became clear that people with a point or criticism to make were afraid to voice their opinion for fear of losing their job or that their family would be treated unfairly.  This is the nature of a small community with few jobs available.

In an open, free society, people have the right to voice their opinion.  The Op-Ed page is the only page in The Voice where opinion pieces and letters are printed. We may or may not agree with them, but, it is their opinion, as we clearly state on this page.  If it is necessary to withhold their name because of their affiliation with an agency, county or state government or business, to protect their job and/or avoid any sort of reprisal or vindictiveness, we will honor their request.

Most letters have a point, and if taken with constructive criticism, could help make the next event run smoother if corrective actions are taken.  Questioning what the county invested is a valid point that most tax paying citizens would ask.  Looking objectively at the letter, there were several things that should be taken as constructive criticism and worked on to improve.  (This was not the only complaint we heard from volunteers, just the only one written.)  Everything can be improved if looked at objectively and not personally. This applies to county government, events, projects and business. If there is a problem, fix it and move forward.

Really, who would work 12 hours for a Tee shirt and possibly a meal, other than someone who genuinely wanted to help. It is admirable that this person will keep volunteering.  That the letter was a farce or was someone looking for a handout and freebies is not a factual statement.

As another letter writer states this week, looking for the good or positive in people, projects, events, etc., while objectively correcting the problems, makes all endeavors more successful.  In a small town, or any town, that attribute is one we should all aspire to have.

 

April 13, 2017

Lets Run Together

The Yamacraw Race was enthusiastically run by people from all areas and from different states and countries.  The wide variety of people coming into this area helps showcase the natural beauty we live in.  The support from the county officials, businesses and local volunteers helped make the event a great day to race.


Racers leaving town commented on the natural beauty of this county and the friendliness of the volunteers and all the local people they met.  The warm reception the racers received was appreciated and they voiced it clearly on their way out of town.


The motels and some restaurants saw an increase in business the Friday before the race.  Almost all the area motels were full, only a few rooms were vacant Friday night.  Most racers left town Saturday after the event, hopefully buying some gas on their way out.


This one day event brought a much needed economic boost to some of our businesses.  The cooperation exhibited among all facets of our county greatly contributed to the good feelings our visitors left town with.  Perhaps we can use the cooperation of this event as an example to build future events and projects with other groups that will benefit all.


By working together we can make positive things happen. Divided we accomplish nothing.


“United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

April 6, 2017

Legislative Update

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2017 session ends

FRANKFORT – The 2017 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly ended Thursday evening shortly before midnight after months of work that led to passage of over 130 bills that will impact most areas of Kentucky life, from public education to the fight against drug abuse.


Most new laws – those that come from legislation that don’t contain emergency clauses or different specified effective dates – will go into effect in late June.


A partial list of bills approved this year by the General Assembly include measures on the following topics:


Abortion. Senate Bill 5 prohibits abortions in Kentucky at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The prohibition does not apply in cases where an abortion is required to save the life or prevent serious risk of permanent bodily harm to the mother.


Bible literacy. HB 128 will allow schools to offer an elective social studies course on the Bible that teaches biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives and their impact on today’s world.


Charter schools. HB 520 will allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky beginning next school year. Local school boards would be allowed to authorize an unlimited number of the schools, which will be established by contract and governed by independent boards. A local board’s decision regarding charter schools could be overridden by the state school board, although the courts could be called on to review the state board’s action.


Coal fields. HB 156 establishes the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority to fund improvements to infrastructure, water, economic development, public health and technological access in the east and west Kentucky coal regions. Improvements will be funded with $7.5 million in state coal severance dollars, and projects will be selected based on their economic development and job creation potential and their ability to be self-sustaining.


Driver’s licenses. HB 410, known as the REAL ID Bill, will create a voluntary travel ID or enhanced driver’s license to board airplanes and enter federal facilities, including military facilities, as of Jan. 1, 2019. The legislation is designed to meet anti-terrorism standards in the federal REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005. It also spells out rules for issuing a “standard” driver’s license, permit or state personal ID card.


Education reform. SB 1 will create new rules for how students are taught and tested and how teachers are evaluated in Kentucky public schools. The legislation will require a review of academic standards in the schools beginning next school year and every six years thereafter while implementing a performance-based assessment of student learning and new benchmarks for measuring college and career readiness.


Fentanyl and other opioids. HB 333 would create strong penalties for trafficking any amount of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and fentanyl derivatives that are destroying Kentucky lives and families. It would also clarify definitions and requirements for the prescription of controlled substances, define prescribing authority within long-term care facilities, and allow the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Office of Inspector General to investigative patterns of prescribing and report irregularities to appropriate authorities.


Hemp. SB 218 is designed to improve the state’s industrial hemp production program, first established in 2014. This year marks the Commonwealth’s largest industrial hemp crop under the program with more than 12,000 acres approved for production.


Juvenile offenders. Senate Bill 195 will help some juvenile offenders have their criminal records expunged. Currently, children convicted of a misdemeanor must go through a court process to have their records expunged. Senate Bill 195 will create a process for expungement of felony juvenile records two years after the offender reaches adulthood or is released from commitment. However, anyone who has convictions for felony or public offenses in the two years prior to applying for expungement or who has pending charges would not be eligible for expungement.


Prevailing wage repeal. HB 3 repeals the state’s prevailing wage law that dictates the hourly base wage for construction workers hired for certain public works projects.


 Primary care agreements. SB 79 will allow patients to enter into contracts with their primary care provider that spell out services to be provided for an agreed-upon fee over a specific period of time.


Religious freedom. SB 17 will specify in statute that Kentucky public school and public college and university students have the legal right to express their religious and political views in their school work, artwork, speeches and other ways.


 Retirement transparency. SB 3 requires that the retirement benefits of current and former General Assembly members be made public. Disclosure would include the member’s name and estimated or actual monthly allowance.
Right to work. HB 1—the House majority’s top priority for this session—makes Kentucky the 27th state nationally to enact right-to-work legislation. It prohibits Kentuckians from being required to join labor unions as a condition of employment.


School calendars. SB 50 will allow school districts to use a “variable student instructional year” that would require the same hours of instruction now required by law but allow for fewer school days than the minimum of 170 days that the law requires. Districts could instead use the variable schedule beginning with the 2018-19 school year if their first day of instruction is on or after the Monday closest to Aug. 26.


Ultrasounds during pregnancy. HB 2 requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an obstetric ultrasound of her baby explained to her by her health care provider before she could give required informed consent for an abortion. Women could decline to see the ultrasound image or hear the fetal heartbeat if they choose.

 

Mar. 30, 17

The right questions, wrong time line.

Darlene Price was on the right track during Thursday’s Fiscal Court meeting; she just didn’t go far enough down to the time line.
Price questioned the actions of the Fiscal Court in 2012 when the Jail was in danger of being closed. She wondered if the County did enough to fix the problems in the building to prevent the closure.
Deputy Judge Andrew Powell was correct when he pointed out the Department of Corrections told the County that either the Fiscal Court was going to close the jail, or they would. And that their main rationale for doing so was more about the management of the facility than the condition.
Granted, there were, and still are, a lot of physical problems with the jail building, but in a Fiscal Court meeting representatives from the DOC plainly said they had serious issues with who was running the Jail at the time.
The logic was if the Fiscal Court pulled the plug and shut down the jail, there was still a glimmer of hope that it could be reopened. At the time there was talk about a 2-year window, where there was a possibility that the jail could be reopened.
If the DOC closed the facility – it would have been shut down forever.
When the Jail closed, Jailer Ball was still in office, and the DOC implied they were not willing to work with the Fiscal Court regarding possibly reopening the Jail while Ball was still in office.
But, still nothing was done in that time to take a look at what needed to be done to fix the old building.
In May 2014 Tony Ball lost his bid for re-election in the Primary Election.
From that point forward County officials knew Ball was no longer going to be our Jailer.
That’s when the work really should have begun. The County had at least six months to get things moving.
That’s when consultants should have been hired to examine the facility.
That’s when the DOC should have been contacted and told that we wanted the jail reopened.
But none of that was done.
The only talk about the facility at the time was discussion of using the kitchen to process jelly.
It wasn’t until another year later that some cosmetic work was done on some of the cells with the hope of getting permission to repair the building and hopefully reopen.
There is no way that the building could be even considered safe to operate as a jail today. The visit by the DOC Commissioner last year basically put the final nail in the coffin of any chances of that facility being used to house prisoners ever again.
But if county officials would have taken steps – even small steps after the Primary – who knows what could have happened.

 

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

The Truth About Charters – Part 2

This week’s update continues last week’s narrative on charter schools by focusing on House Bill (HB) 471, which details the components of funding public charter schools in Kentucky. I hope this column helps alleviate the concerns posed by misleading information detailing how this legislation will “steal” or “siphon” money from our current public schools.  Necessary credit must also be given to our LRC educational policy analyst, Joe Burks, for his assistance.  The good news is that HB 471 has been crafted to support, not burden, school district funding systems.
As stated in my previous charter school column for everyone to remember: First, as the authorizer, the LOCAL school board must APPROVE a charter school application and the charter’s plans to use their funds to serve a school district’s targeted population.
Second, based on projected enrollment, a school district typically sends its request for funding to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). They would include charter school enrollment figures as well.  The plan for a Kentucky charter school would be for 75-100 children to enroll. I must once again note it is very unlikely that a rural Kentucky child would toss away his or her letterman’s jacket or school colors to go to a charter school.  Then, a “base” guarantee of funding is sent to a school district that includes adjustments for percentages of students who are at-risk, special education, limited English proficiency, home/hospital, plus transportation costs.  The formula also requires local fair share by each school district based on their local taxable property.
The school district develops and uses an allocation model that promotes educational equalization, equity, and adequacy based on the needs of its schools and distributes allocations to each Site-Based Decision Making Council.  For charters, our funding legislation allows the school district to receive state funds and to allocate a portion of the funds to a charter school board of directors in its district using the same allocation model the district would use if the school were one of its own.  No siphoning away; funds follow the students wherever they are.  In fact, the students, teachers, and other staff in the charter would still be from the community.
Third, before sending funds to the school, the school district is allowed to keep the following amounts:

• Three percent of the allocation to the charter for administrative purposes
• Amounts for transportation, capital outlay, debt service, and extra local tax raised that was matched by the state.
In other words, a school district would continue to receive funds as it always has to serve its students, and a charter school would receive even less.  Funding to a charter school would be forwarded by the district to the school as though the school were its own, minus three percent and other amounts as listed above.  So the district would actually keep a percentage of the funds for students they were no longer serving.  Regardless, the local school board would have oversight of the charter school’s funding and implementation of its approved plans.
Finally, a school board could deny a charter application if the applicant did not adequately plan to serve a school district’s targeted population.  Although the applicant could appeal to the state board, it would be highly unlikely that the state board would overturn a local board’s decision to use its funding to meet the needs of its underserved population. Once again, this clearly leaves the decision for a charter school to come into ANY Kentucky community up to the local school board to approve or deny a charter school request.  By charters looking at local property taxes as a basis for choosing to locate, your urban areas or populations over say 70,000 people are the primary focus and target.
As stated before, I hope these columns have helped provide more necessary education and explanation on the charter school bill and why I voted the way that I did.  I appreciate your taking the time to read this and for allowing me to serve as your State Senator in the 16th District.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Mar. 23, 17

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

The Truth About Charters

While many bills passed through both legislative chambers this week, it was House Bill (HB) 520, the legislation to create an opportunity for public charter schools in Kentucky, that dominated the news. I know that many of you, especially my districtwide public school educators, may be disappointed in my vote to support public charter schools in Kentucky.  While it is inevitable that constituents will never agree on every vote I take, I prayerfully consider all views and guidance in the job that I do as your state senator.  Please allow this op/ed to provide you with information on what a charter school is, the rationale for making the decision that I did, and how public charters will be established in Kentucky.

I will also be publishing a follow-up letter in the coming days detailing the entire funding process that the state will use when it comes to Kentucky public charter schools.  I hope this will better educate you on the issue and provide more insights into the truth about charter schools.  I have championed for being an honest and transparent legislator, so my apologies for the details and length for this communication.  I must also give credit to Representative Addia Wuchner for statistics and written details found within this letter that she provided.

As a state legislator, a public school graduate, and as a parent of children currently in the public school system, I have worked and supported our schools for years.  My core fundamental belief has always been that education is a parent’s choice, be it public, private, Christian, homeschool, etc.

In the past weeks I have seen and received phone calls, texts, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts featuring discussions about charter schools in Kentucky.  House Bill 520 does not open the door for private charter school providers to pop up all over the state and take over the Kentucky public school system.  With HB 520, public charter schools would have to be authorized/approved by local school boards before implementation or authorized by the mayors in Jefferson and Fayette counties (for those counties only).  This process gives local control decision if a county wants to implement a charter school or not.

The argument that public charters pose a threat to our local public education system is completely inaccurate. Public charter schools will be a part of our public education system. The only institutions that should feel threatened by public charter schools are those that have failed students. Public charter schools will provide the parents of those students with additional public school options. Parents will not remove their children from schools where their needs are being met.  As the son of a former college basketball coach, I think competition is a good thing.  I have seen schools in my Senate district raise their educational gains from “proficient” to “distinguished” because of competition.  Maybe, just maybe, having public charters in our larger urban areas can help our public schools desire to be more than just the status quo.

Both of my parents are former public school educators.  I, like my wife, am a product of public school education.  I have great respect for all educators and value our traditional public schools.  I am especially proud of the public schools in my own Senate district. As your Kentucky State Senator, I take very seriously the responsibility and trust the people have placed with me.  While our area public schools are not failing by any means, as a Commonwealth, we do have many low and underperforming public schools, especially in the urban areas.  Even though I represent seven south central Kentucky counties, I cannot have a blind eye when it comes to our overall statewide public education.  When we fail in the education of one student, we fail in providing them the building blocks for their future and our state’s future.  This failure has detrimental social and economic ramifications for families, communities, and the Commonwealth.

The Kentucky General Assembly has a responsibility to provide additional educational options for those students who are in public schools with scores that repeatedly demonstrate deficiencies. As legislators, we have a responsibility to the students whose future successes depend on their educational experiences, to their parents who entrust their children to public education, and to the taxpayers who fund our public schools.

Opponents of HB 520 worry that public charter schools will draw money away from traditional public schools. Charter schools would be funded with public dollars on a per-pupil basis much like traditional public schools are funded. Specified funding would “follow” students as a transfer from a traditional public school to a public charter school. Public education dollars would continue to be disbursed to school districts based on the number of students they serve. Neither school districts nor public charter schools have a right to public education funding. Funds are allocated for students’ education, and those funds should follow students to whatever public school they attend.  As stated in my opening paragraph, I will be providing a follow-up letter on the exact methodology and formula for public charter school funding.

The only way for a public charter school to be authorized locally is by local school board authorization. I want to repeat that again...public charter schools would have to be authorized by your LOCAL school boards, meaning that it is up to our local school boards to decide if their county wants to start a charter school or not thus eliminating a plethora of charter schools statewide.  I have a hard time seeing any rural local school boards wanting to create & authorize a public charter school in their local communities.  As authorizers, those boards would have the responsibility of providing oversight for public charter schools. House Bill 520 holds public charter schools to a much higher standard of accountability than traditional public schools in Kentucky. Not only would public charter schools be required to participate in the state assessment and accountability system, they would also be required to meet the academic performance standards agreed upon in their charters. Charter schools that fail to meet or make significant progress toward meeting those standards would be closed by local school board authorizers.

Public charter schools have been shown to have a positive impact on student performance across the country. However, there are also horrific stories of charter schools that have failed miserably.  Charters’ greatest academic gains have been with low-income students and students of color; the very students Kentucky’s traditional public schools have struggled most to reach. The addition of public charter schools in Kentucky through HB 520 provides education leaders and educators across the state with an additional tool for meeting the needs of those students.

Given the performance of low-income students across the Commonwealth, that additional help is sorely needed. According to a study on the student performance gap by the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS):

• 75% of students in grades 4-6 performing in the bottom third of students on Kentucky state assessment (K-PREP) qualified for free and reduced-price lunches (FRL).

• 56% of all students qualifying for FRL performed in the bottom third in reading or mathematics.

• 66% of all African-American students performed in the bottom third in reading or mathematics.

Kentuckians need all available tools to help these students. And while public charter schools are not necessarily the right choice for all students or even all districts, we have an obligation to provide more choices to those who need them. We need to help the students whose parents cannot afford private schools or do not have the opportunity to homeschool, especially in Jefferson & Fayette counties.  It is my hope that House Bill 520 will provide that choice and a chance for those students to succeed.

In closing, I want to commend the bold leadership of the bill sponsor, my friend and colleague, Representative Bam Carney.  In my election as State Senator in 2014, not a single elected official on the state level came out in public support of me as a candidate except for one, Representative Bam Carney.  Bam believed in me and did what he thought was best for this area in supporting me for public office, even though it was unpopular among his political colleagues.  Bam has invested and spent over twenty years as a public school educator.  Bam’s best interest is in the kids and it always will be.  This is not about lobbyist pressure, Governor pressure, etc., when it comes to Bam.  It is unfair seeing the amount of hateful comments that have been hurled his way in the wake of sponsoring this particular bill.  I know it comes with the territory as an elected official...we volunteered to run for these jobs, we were not drafted.

Will HB520 be the silver bullet to fix the failing schools in our state...no.  Could this legislation end up being a failure in the Commonwealth...possibly.  There is no way to predict what any legislative outcome will be when first passed.  In my three years in public office, I have yet to find the “perfect” bill.  In fact, I will never find a “perfect” bill as long as I am in office because all bills have flaws.  I hope that in five to ten years our inner city and our rural schools are performing better than before and that proper credit can be given to an educator that took a bold step, one that may have been unpopular at the time but was needed.  I hope that then Bam Carney is not given the cold shoulder but rather the pat on the back that he justly deserves.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Senator.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Mar. 16, 17

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

A flurry of activity stemming from committee meetings and the passage of bills marked a short but intense Week 6 of the Kentucky General Assembly. Although the Senate was only in session from Monday to Wednesday of this week, committee meetings still met during the later part of the week to give final hearings to a few select bills.

Quite a few pieces of legislation have already made it to Governor Bevin’s desk to await his signature. Senate Bill 8, of which I was the primary sponsor, creates a tiered funding system to ensure no state dollars are being used to perform abortion. Senate Bill 17, relating to student rights to political and religious speech, was given final passage by the House this week. Senate Bill 101 would allow pharmacists to administer any immunization to children, and Senate Bill 117, of which I was also the primary sponsor and allows veterans who meet certain criteria to obtain special teaching certificates, were also finally passed by the House. Senate Bill 50 also passed the House and would give schools more flexibility in choosing their start date to allow for longer summer breaks.

The Senate also enrolled House bills to be sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature, including: House Bill 14, which makes committing an offense against a first responder a hate crime; House Bill 93, strengthening penalties for assaulting a law enforcement animal, also known as “Ernie’s Law”; and House Bill 189, increasing transparency within area development districts.

We also passed several bills that are now one step closer to becoming law. Senate Bill 215 establishes the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Fund to be used for the purpose of supporting efforts to diversify the economy of the coal fields within Kentucky and allocates $7.5 million a year toward those efforts. House Bill 222 prohibits shock probation if a person is convicted of second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide stemming from driving under the influence. House Bill 67 limits lawful distribution of autopsy photographs, images, video, or audio recordings to specified persons and agencies to help protect families’ privacy. House Bill 100, removing regulatory overreach on our growing bourbon industry, allows distillers to sell “vintage distilled spirits,” as defined in statute, at fairs, festivals, and similar events.

The General Assembly is now quickly approaching the end of the 2017 Session. We adjourned on March 8, marking day 26 of 30 of the session, and we will reconvene again on March 14 and 15 before going into the veto period. During that period the Governor has the power to veto bills, but the General Assembly can override vetoes on the last two days of session, March 29 and 30.  If you have questions about the status of bills, please feel free to contact my office or review the Legislative Record online which can be found at www.lrc.ky.gov/record/17RS/record.htm.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Mar. 9, 17

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

Late nights, packed committee meetings, and heated debate marked the fifth week of the 2017 Session. The Senate is quickly passing the remaining Senate bills out and receiving bills from the House for consideration. While there were some contested issues, the Senate conducted itself in a bipartisan fashion. We wasted no time this week and passed over 40 pieces of legislation including:

• Senate Bill 9, redistricting of judicial districts in order to better align caseloads with current census data;

•Senate Bill 11, lifting Kentucky’s nuclear ban, allowing the building of nuclear plants to keep Kentucky competitive with the energy portfolios of surrounding states;

• Senate Bill 13, providing the next step in obtaining federal funding to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green;

• Senate Bill 81, providing line-of-duty death benefits for National Guard or Reserve members;

• Senate Bill 112, injecting more funding into the State Police Retirement System;

• Senate Bill 136, requiring any active member of the Kentucky National Guard to be given in-state tuition when enrolling in a Kentucky university;

• Senate Bill 188, prohibiting the Kentucky General Assembly from imposing mandates on cities without providing a funding source for said mandate;

• Senate Bill 190, allowing children in foster care to remain in the same school even if they change housing locations;

• Senate Bill 236, permitting a parent or legal guardian to request a background check of the child abuse and neglect registry records when employing a child care provider for his or her minor child;

• Senate Concurrent Resolution 78, designating April 6, 2017, as the World War One Centennial Day throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky;

We also passed two notable House bills, aimed at helping Kentucky’s foster children, which are on their way to the Governor to be signed. House Bill 180 eases the process of placing a foster child with relatives, and House Bill 192 allows a minor who is in the custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to obtain a driver’s license with the proper application.

Additionally, Senate Bill 2, which encourages transparency throughout the Kentucky Retirement Systems, is on its way to be signed by Governor Bevin. Senate Bill 4, establishing medical review panels that will ultimately lower the number of frivolous lawsuits and save taxpayer dollars, is also heading to the Governor’s desk.

The 2017 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly is nearing its end. Friday marked Day 23 of 30 of the session and this was our last full week in the Kentucky Senate Chambers. Sine Die, the last day of session after the concurrence and veto period, is March 31. The next few weeks will be focused on wrapping up committee meetings and passing House bills, and I am honored to represent our district throughout this legislative process.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.


Mar. 2, 17

The Budget Enigma

The county budget continues to be an enigma.  The latest effort by County Attorney Conley Chaney to decipher where the county stands fiscally was a valiant try, but, without all the information it is a guess. As the Voice pointed out five weeks ago, the Magistrates and Judge-Executive must have real time numbers to make decisions that are in the best interest of the county.  Without real time numbers everything else is a guess.

A true budget always gives a total budget with amounts spent to that point in time (monthly) with a percentage of the amount budgeted.  This indicates where the expenditures are in relation to the amount budgeted.  Adjustments should be made through the year to ensure you stay on budget. If you are four months into a fiscal year and have already spent 60% of the amount budgeted for an expense, you are immediately aware that steps must be taken to lower expenditures for that expense.

A true budget isn’t that difficult to produce.  All court officials should demand an up to date, true budget before entering into a fiscal court meeting. It is the duty of the Magistrates to know and understand the fiscal condition of the county and the Judge-Executive’s responsibility to furnish it.

And so, the question remains – why can’t we get an accurate accounting?

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

Halfway through the 2017 Legislative Session with a sight of the finish line ahead, it was a productive week as more than a dozen bills passed the senate chamber.  We were excited to welcome the children of Kentucky National Guard members from across the state for the First Annual Kentucky Military Kids Day.  It was an honor to host these families who have sacrificed so much to serve our state and our country.  We also introduced the “Sunny Page” program this week, which encourages special needs students from across Kentucky to page in the Senate and be a part of the legislative process.

While we vigorously debated various bills on the floor, it was a healthy exchange of ideas. The body has maintained a sense of decorum. The depth of the discussions has advanced the debate on some key issues facing Kentucky. That is what happens when you have a healthy representative style of government that ensures we hear everyone’s voice.

Friday marked day 18 of 30 of the 2017 Session, so the window of time to pass legislation is closing.  We passed quite a few important bills through the Senate, including:

Senate Bill 8, which essentially defunds Planned Parenthood in the Commonwealth.  As the lead sponsor of this bill, I was proud to see it receive bi-partisan support and pass by a 31-6 margin.  I have heard the claims from the opponents of this bill stating that this bill does nothing to stop abortions and does everything to prevent access to health services throughout the state.  That is the farthest thing from the truth.  This bill does nothing more that create a tier system within Kentucky that would put Planned Parenthood at the end of the line when it comes to where our taxpayer dollars go.  There are only two Planned Parenthood facilities in our state (Fayette and Jefferson counties) who receive a disproportionate amount of funding.  Meanwhile, there are 358 good family planning facilities throughout the state who operate marginally and provide vital services to rural areas.  This bill makes sure that taxpayer dollars do not go to facilities that perform abortions far more than they perform adoptive services and instead helps free up dollars for rural areas of the state where access to care is severely limited.

Senate Bill 21, also known as the “Right to Try” bill would allow for the use of experimental treatments not yet approved by the FDA if the patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Senate Bill 122 establishes a Gold Star Sons and Gold Star Daughters special license plate for children of the armed forces who were killed overseas.

Senate Bill 153 establishes a comprehensive funding model for the allocation of state funds to public universities based on student success, course completion, and other components.  This bill encourages universities to focus on the long-term success and preparedness of their students.

Senate Bill 159 requires all public high school students to pass a civics test in order to receive a regular diploma.  Students can take the exam as often as needed, but the passing score would be a minimum of 60 percent and the questions would be pulled from the test required of all people seeking to become U.S. citizens.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns, and your ideas for the future of our commonwealth.  It is an honor to represent you in the State Senate.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Feb. 23, 17

Congress, White House Working Together to Bring Relief to Coal Country

By Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

As the Obama Administration packed its boxes and prepared to leave office, the former president took a parting shot at Appalachian coal communities, who have already been some of the areas most hurt by his coal policies.  After eight years of anti-coal executive actions, the Obama Administration added insult to injury with its Stream Buffer Rule.

This regulation was a blatant attack on coal jobs and the communities they support.  It would have impacted both surface and underground mining.  It took authority away from states and contradicted federal law.  That’s why one national newspaper called this rule “a power grab aimed at giving federal regulators more authority to make coal too expensive for anyone to mine or use.”

Even worse, one study estimated that the Stream Buffer Rule would have put as many as one-third of coal-related jobs at risk.

When miners lose their jobs, the economic effects extend far beyond one family.  In coal country, teachers and first responders are losing their jobs because communities don’t have the tax revenue to pay their salaries.  Small businesses can’t afford to operate when their customers can’t pay for their products and services.  We have all seen the growth of drug abuse that devastates families in these areas and contributes further to the perpetual cycle of unemployment.

The status quo is unacceptable.  We cannot allow the legacy of the Obama Administration to continue damaging our communities.

Luckily, supporters of coal workers finally have a friend in the White House.  The election of President Trump signaled the change coming to Washington.  Throughout his campaign, Trump inspired the American people with a vision of fewer regulations and a fair, competitive marketplace.  In a recent letter I sent to then President-elect Trump about the coal industry, I urged him to join with us against job-killing regulations, including the Stream Buffer Rule.

Now, Congress and the new Administration are working together to finally bring relief to communities hurting across the country.

Kentucky deserves better than a targeted rule to put miners out of work.  Washington should support efficient and safe ways to mine and use coal - an American commodity which provides affordable and reliable power for our homes, businesses, and communities.  That’s what I have long supported, and I am thankful we finally have a president who agrees.

Last December, I vowed to fight back against the Stream Buffer Rule.  I kept my promise to coal families, and, with a Republican president, we won.

Legislation, identical to what I introduced in the Senate, has already made its way through Congress to stop this disastrous rule and bring relief to coal miners and their families.  I am heartened to know so many of my colleagues recognized the problems facing coal country, and I am glad that they joined with me to address them.

Of all the Obama Administration’s onerous regulations, I chose to address the Stream Buffer Rule first because of the devastating impact it would have had on Kentucky families.

Both houses passed the McConnell Resolution, and President Trump signed it into law.  I am grateful for his help, and I look forward to working with him in the future to protect coal families and communities.  More regulations will be repealed, but this was a crucial place to start.

We were proud to have many partners in this fight.  The opposition to this rule was not a partisan issue.  Both Republicans and Democrats recognized that this rule was destructive to miners, their families, and their communities.

That’s why the Kentucky Coal Association, the United Mine Workers of America, and Attorneys General from 14 states, including Kentucky, joined together to put an end to one of President Obama’s final attacks on coal.

Last November, voters sent Republican majorities to Congress and a Republican president to the White House.  Now, we can begin to undo the damage of the Obama Administration.  Together, we can all work to bring real relief to coal country.



Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

A wide array of bills were heard in committees and voted out of the Senate in a busy and exciting third week of the 2017 Session. Because this year’s 30-day meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly is considered a “short session,” we make sure we maximize our time here in Frankfort.

We passed nearly 20 bills this week with topics ranging from tobacco use on school property to campaign finance reform to transportation issues. One of the most noteworthy bills, however, is Senate Bill (SB) 14, which strengthens penalties for trafficking in heroin. Kentucky made national news these past few weeks for the rash of devastating overdoses that occurred. In Louisville, for example, there were over 50 overdoses in a 32-hour period—a number that was previously unheard of. People dealing heroin are dealing in death, and they must be stopped.

Another important piece of legislation the Senate passed this week was SB 1, which is comprehensive education reform that is desperately needed to help our school system. With approval from teachers, administrators, and other education stakeholders from across the commonwealth, SB 1 allows teachers to teach and returns control to our local districts. I am happy to report this bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support and is now heading to the House for consideration.

We also passed SB 117, which would allow a veteran with a bachelor’s degree in any area to be issued a provisional teaching certificate if other criteria are met. This legislation would ultimately make it easier for veterans to teach in a classroom. I am dedicated to helping our veterans easily integrate back into the workplace, and this bill is one tool in the toolbox to do just that.

The Senate has already started to receive House bills, and we have sent Senate bills to the House for their approval. Many of you have already reached out to me regarding certain pieces of legislation, and I appreciate your input and concerns. I urge you to continue making your voices heard in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties.  He is chairman of the Enrollment Committee and the Government Nonprofit Contracting Task Force; Vice Chair of the Education Committee; co-chair of the Government Contract Review Committee; as well as a member of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee; the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; and the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. He is the Chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation and a member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. He is also a member of the Education and Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, the Tourism Development Subcommittee.


Feb. 16, 17

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

The hallways were packed with Kentuckians from across the state making their voices heard as we began the second part of the 2017 Legislative Session in Frankfort. I was especially heartened at the passionate and robust-sized crowd attending the “Rally for Life” on Wednesday, February 8, and later in the evening that energy and excitement continued during Governor Bevin’s State of the Commonwealth Address.

Hundreds of people filled the Capitol to celebrate the sanctity of life alongside Governor Bevin and members of the General Assembly. The governor ceremonially signed Senate Bill (SB) 5 and House Bill (HB) 2, both pro-life bills that help protect unborn Kentuckians who cannot protect themselves. As Governor Bevin noted, 83 percent of the General Assembly supported these bills—a great reflection of the pro-family values of Kentuckians—and I was proud to be a member of those ranks.  I was honored to be a guest speaker at the rally and voice my support for Senate Bill (SB) 8, the effort to defund Planned Parenthood in Kentucky.  I sponsored this bill last session and am carrying the bill again this year.

During the State of the Commonwealth Address, the governor told compelling stories from citizens across the commonwealth both praising our state’s progress and offering suggestions for improvement. From addressing tax reformation to our pension crisis to assistance for veterans, Governor Bevin hit the nail on the head when he outlined these issues.  I look forward to continually working with him to solve these problems.

Between the rallies and visits from citizens from across the commonwealth, the Senate was busy hearing bills in committee and passing some out of the chamber. Although this week was not quite as hectic as the first week of session in January, we kept a quick pace and sent four bills to the House.

Senate Bill 2 encourages transparency and accountability in the state pension system. This bill passed unanimously from the Senate, and I am proud to stand up for taxpayers and retirees alike by taking another step toward fixing our broken pension system. We also passed SB 18, which protects the confidentiality of peer review information conducted by doctors.

Senate Bill 50 was another bill that passed with bipartisan support. This legislation gives local school districts control over their school calendars, giving them the option to push back their school start dates so families have more time to enjoy the summer months. Senate Bill 17, which protects students’ rights to religious and political speech, was the last bill to pass this week.  I was proud to cosponsor this bill and allow our young people the right to express themselves politically and religiously in our public schools and universities.

I would like to thank all those in my district who have taken the time to reach out with their questions, concerns, and support. It is an honor to be in Frankfort on your behalf.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties.  He is chairman of the Enrollment Committee and the Government Nonprofit Contracting Task Force; Vice Chair of the Education Committee; co-chair of the Government Contract Review Committee; as well as a member of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee; the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; and the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. He is the Chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation and a member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. He is also a member of the Education and Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, the Tourism Development Subcommittee.

Feb. 9, 17

Citizen involvement is good for the County

It was encouraging to see so many citizens at the last two Fiscal Court meetings. It is a shame that it takes something like the threat of raised taxes to elicit such a response, however.

Typically there are only a small amount of citizens who habitually show up for the monthly meetings.  But that number seems to be growing and that can only be a good thing.

An informed and active citizenry is vital for our government to grow, thrive and prosper. Without seeing people’s faces when they make decisions that affect all of us, our elected leaders would be hard pressed to realize the impact those decisions have.

We encourage this trend of citizen involvement to continue.

The next few months will be crucial to the future of McCreary County.  We need the people of this community to be invested in holding our government accountable every day, not just during elections.

Your involvement in the way your tax dollars are spent is critical to the health of our county. If it is necessary to cut services, you should have a voice in that decision.  Likewise, if taxes are raised, it should be done fairly with your sentiments heard.  We urge you to stay informed on all aspects of local government and voice your opinion, whether you agree or disagree.  The decisions made by local government today affect us all tomorrow and for years to come.

All government, local, state and federal, should be by and for the people.  See you at the next fiscal court meeting.

Guest Commentary

New Kentucky must overcome old politics

By David Brock - The State Journal

We wish much success to former state Auditor Adam Edelen and others behind a new group that seeks to make Kentucky governance less political and more about finding the elusive common ground on issues of the day. It’s hard to think of a more noble pursuit.

Unfortunately, it took a wave of stinging Democratic defeats — starting with Edelen’s own ouster and Matt Bevin’s upset gubernatorial victory in 2015 and culminating with Republicans’ takeover of the state House of Representatives in November — to spark the New Kentucky Project.

Had Democratic backers of the nonprofit organization started it a few years ago, when their party was still in power, it would have had more credibility — and perhaps more Republican participation.

As it stands, Republicans were conspicuously absent from the New Kentucky Project’s Ideas Conference, which drew 600-plus Saturday in Lexington. Supposedly, a couple of GOP lawmakers wanted to attend but were told to stay away.

Compromise always appeals most to the side that’s out of power. For many years in Kentucky, that was the GOP. The tables have turned now, and humbled Democrats, staring at an electoral map with deepening shades of red, have decided that compromise isn’t such a bad thing after all.

To the victor goes the spoils, and in America’s two-party system, the ruling party has little interest in power sharing.

“When people have absolute power, they don’t have an incentive to reach to the other side, and that’s an issue,” said Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones, who helped Edelen launch the New Kentucky Project.

Jones said the group will try a bottom-up approach, adding that he was heartened by grassroots participation in Saturday’s Ideas Conference.

Much as we’d like to see a wave of bipartisanship roll through the Capitol this week, Jones is right. Politicians will sow the seeds of common ground only after citizens have tilled it.

Nation must find a way past the political divide

By Chip Hutcheson - The Times Leader

It seems as though the political divide in this country worsens with each passing day. So much that it makes you weary of watching the evening TV news. You become prone to skip over posts on social media which, quite often, are irresponsible, to say the least.

Count me among the multitude in the “fed up with it all” category.

I don’t care how large the crowd was at the Trump inauguration. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make if it was larger or smaller than the Obama inauguration.

I will be quick to say people have the right to protest, but not the right to break store windows and set vehicles on fire. The election might not have gone to suit you, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to have a child-like temper tantrum.

Ashley Judd’s vulgar remarks and Madonna’s comment that she had thought “an awful lot about blowing up the White House” tarnished the women’s march on D.C. We cannot reprint some of what Ashley Judd said because this is a family newspaper. She proudly proclaimed that she is a nasty woman, a loud, vulgar proud woman.” That’s a disgraceful statement.

And did you notice the attention given to President Trump’s statement “America first.” People in foreign countries were asked their opinion about that. Who cares? Surely every American has the sentiment that yes, it is “America first.”

The more I pondered the craziness surrounding the Trump inauguration, the more I thought back to presidents who I did not vote for and did not think would be good in that position. But I don’t recall people protesting and drawing a line in the sand. Sure I have some misgivings about Trump, but I’m willing to give him ample opportunity to show he can deliver on his promises.



Feb. 2, 17

Legislative Column

Early Session Leads to Pro-Growth Bills

Following the legislative early session on January 7th, Governor Bevin signed seven new bills into law. Three of the bills will provide economic growth and increased job opportunities for Kentuckians by better positioning the state to become the manufacturing and engineering hub of excellence in the United States.

House Bill 1 grants right-to-work protections to all of Kentucky’s workers. Contrary to claims by the bill’s opponents that this measure was somehow “against the worker,” studies show right-to-work laws spur economic growth. Tennessee, a right-to-work state, currently creates 20,000 more jobs per year than Kentucky. One third of Fortune 500 companies will not relocate or expand to a state that is not right-to-work. In some cases, Kentucky union workers were going to Indiana and Michigan to find jobs, both of which are right-to-work states where job growth is expanding for both union and non-union workers.

“I applaud this historic action by the General Assembly. It will be transformative in the way Kentucky competes economically and, as Kentucky begins to attract and retain more business, our workforce could see explosive growth,” Governor Bevin said. Likewise, Senate Bill 6, known as the “paycheck protection bill,” gives Kentucky workers the choice of whether they want union dues deducted from their paychecks, giving them the ability to associate freely and do what they wish with their hard-earned dollars.

One other bill, House Bill 3, repeals Kentucky’s prevailing wage law. The original law required construction workers on certain public projects be paid a “prevailing wage.” The law made determination of what the wage should be difficult and cumbersome. It also prevented the state of Kentucky from awarding construction projects to the lowest bidder, thus driving costs to the taxpayer upward. One policy paper estimated the prevailing wage law cost Kentucky taxpayers approximately $136.8 million annually.

These pieces of legislation will allow Kentucky to make great strides toward becoming the best version of itself. Though some critics claim that being a right-to-work state depresses wages, studies conducted in other right-to-work states demonstrate that the opposite is true. As the economy expands, demand for skilled labor rises, leading employers to compete for workers. This competition results in increased wages.

Guest Commentary

What are we becoming? 

Nokia, a firm that makes electronic products, reported that cell phone users were checking their devices 150 times a day. Pew Research reported that young adults are sending an average of 110 text messages per day. A survey by another firm, Tecmark, excluded single purpose cell phones and considered only “smart phone” usage and found that people were checking their devices 221 times per day.

What do we gain by this obsession? What do we lose? In a bygone era, we gathered to bowl or play cards or chess or play pool or play a sport. We came together at social events where we talked to friends and neighbors. There isn’t much humanness in an electronic screen. If you were stranded on a remote island with only an electronic device for company, you would surely be lonely. Are we in the process of becoming stranded in a crowd of people, isolated from friends and neighbors?

Celebrities employ public relations agents who attempt to promote and maintain a particular image for the celebrity among fans who are unknown to the celebrity. That public image may differ considerably from the real person. Now, we are seeing young people promoting an image of themselves on the internet. Some of the information that people post about themselves can be a self-inflicted wound. A Harris Poll conducted in 2016 determined that 60 percent of employers check online social media when they are screening job applicants, and 49 percent of those employers have rejected an applicant because of the information posted online.

There are other disturbing issues associated with electronic devices. Professor Sam Wineburg, supervisor of a Stanford Graduate School of Education study, reports “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet. Young students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from. . . .” Nancy Colier writing in her book, The Power of Off, states that “. . .texting while driving is now the leading cause of death among teen drivers, taking 3,000 lives per year and causing 300,000 injuries. . . .” LTC Dave Grossman, US Army (Ret.) was a psychology instructor at the West Point Military Academy. He is now a consultant to police departments. He expresses a concern that young people who play violent video games are adversely affected by that form of entertainment. LTC Grossman makes a book length argument in Assassination Generation that many of the school shootings and other violent incidents in recent years are related to obsessive use of violent video games. He writes “. . .violent video games. . .are  warping the minds and behavior of children around the world.” “. . .these games. . .teach millions of children to derive pleasure from human suffering.” “. . .violent media consumers [display] a severely limited ability to process rational thought.”

According to Michigan Medicine, an online information program sponsored by the University of Michigan, “An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18.”

Many useful things can be used inappropriately. Explosives are very useful for construction projects but can also be used to kill people. Trucks are a vital part of our economy but can also be rammed into a crowd of people. Prescription medicines are very useful but can be misused. Electronic devices are convenient and very useful, but they can be misused to our detriment. Some old fashioned discipline might be appropriate.

Jack Stevenson

Pensacola, FL 

 

Jan. 26, 17

Court operating on hope and a prayer budget

The Fiscal Court has known since June that this current budget was unrealistic.  How did they think this fantasy budget was going to balance or that we would be able to pay the bills?  Perhaps with pixie dust and a wave of the magic wand.  Their thought process is baffling.

Our officials have an elected duty to operate this county’s government with the same efficiency and monetary expedience necessary to keep the county operating for the benefit of its tax paying citizens.  Certainly this is a trying time with costs rising and revenue not keeping up with the increases.

We are six months into this fiscal year and they are just now figuring out we have a problem.  Knowing this was a problem looming over their heads, why haven’t our Judge-Executive and Magistrates been working together to find solutions?

The Magistrates and Judge-Executive need to have current facts on the status of the county.  They must be knowledgeable on our budget, current expenditures and owed bills. This information must be accurate, up to date and shared between them. No Magistrate should walk into a court meeting without knowing where the County stands fiscally. To say “we are on budget “in November and in a crisis in December is irresponsible.

The Magistrates have a duty to know and understand the fiscal obligations and condition of the County and it is the Judge-Executive’s responsibility to furnish accurate, up to date, correct information.  The fact that Occupation tax and Profits tax are reported in one number is disturbing.  This is two different income streams – one from wages and one from business profits.  Without knowing what each number is, it is impossible to know the wage growth or decline.

Meeting our growing expenses without growth is almost impossible.  The Cordell Trucking Company would have provided much needed occupation tax revenue. Unfortunately, our Judge’s office lacked the business acumen to locate them in this county.

Money is budgeted for economic development.  What good is that doing the county?  We need more than “hope and a prayer” – we need a plan with qualified people to execute it.

Jan. 19, 17

Is it fair?

The budget crisis continues to plague the County, and seems to get worse every day, one possible option for the Fiscal Court to consider is implementing an insurance premium tax.

While the Fiscal Court has only limited ways of raising revenue, Judge Stephens has stated this particular tax would be a fair and equitable tax on the citizens.

In looking through the proposed first draft of the ordinance there are some concerns about the “fairness” of the tax.

According to the ordinance exempted parties include:  “a. Policies of group health insurance provided for state employees under KRS 18A.225.”

Looking closely at that statute reveals that “any elected public official, who is regularly employed by any department, office, board, agency, or branch of  state government; or by a public postsecondary educational institution; or by any city, urban county, charter county, county, or consolidated local government, whose legislative body has opted to participate in the state sponsored health insurance program,” would be exempt.

As well as: “Any certified or classified employee of a local board of education. Any elected member of a local board of education and beneficiaries of participating employees and retirees who are entitled to participate in the state sponsored health insurance program.”

Also: “McCreary County Fiscal Court and associated entities shall be exempt.”

What that means is most teachers, state road workers, elected officials, county employees and any other state employee participating in their offered health insurance plan will not be subject to the tax on their health insurance.

What are the two biggest employers in McCreary County? The government and school system.

Additionally, language in the ordinance calls for an exemption for people receiving insurance through Kentucky Access – a program that no longer provides coverage and was replaced by KYnect in 2014.

That brings up two questions.

First, does that mean citizens receiving health benefits through Obamacare are exempt?

Second: Did Judge Stephens simply copy and paste an ordinance from another county without reading it first and understanding what it entailed?

The implementation of such a tax would hurt, as most taxes do. But it would only hurt a select few of the citizens of McCreary County.

The County needs money; there is no question of that.

But perhaps the only “fair” way to get out of this hole is to raise the Occupational Tax and bring in more jobs.

It may not be a pleasant opinion, but that way more people share the burden instead of a few.


Senator Wise to hold town hall

Senator Max Wise recently announced a series of dates for his annual town hall meetings across his district.

The senator will be in McCreary County on Friday January 20th at 5:00 p.m. at Papa’s Pizza in Stearns. The meeting will be Wise’s final stop on a four-day series of meetings in each of the seven counties in his Senatorial District.

He will begin Friday in Clinton County before traveling to Wayne County for a 3:00 p.m. town hall prior to the McCreary County event.

“Town halls offer a great opportunity for constituents throughout my District who elected me into office to have the opportunity to express their ideas, opinions, concerns and participate in the legislative process,” Wise said in a press release. “I value being an advocate of my District and always listening to them on any issue as a member of our great Commonwealth’s state legislature.”



Jan. 12, 17

Crisis mode - again

Well that was not unexpected.

Judge Executive Doug Stephens called a special session to notify the Fiscal Court of impending budget shortfalls – something anyone with any common sense could see coming when they first passed the budget last June.

That budget, with an unrealistic reduction in expected jail-related expenses, served only one purpose – to pass a balanced budget.

But there were never any real expectations that the Fiscal Court would be able to curtail spending, or raise additional revenue that would make the budget realistic.

Now, with less than six months before the end of the fiscal year the Fiscal Court has to make some tough choices if they expect to finish the year on budget.

In one aspect Judge Stephens is correct; there is very little in the existing budget that can be cut to make up the $350,000 projected deficit.

Layoffs, cutting expenses and eliminating programs may allow the County to squeeze about $100,000 out of the budget, but that still leaves us a quarter of a million dollars short.

It is an emergency, and there may be little choice for the Fiscal Court other than to raise revenue through taxes to get by.

But, the only way the Fiscal Court can raise enough revenue to cover the shortfall would be to raise the occupational tax: as we see it.

It is that simple.

There is no magic solution in cutting salaries, programs, or positions that can conceivably make up that difference.

Other revenue generating possibilities available to the Fiscal Court are either too little, or too late.

A restaurant tax, which has been bandied about for a while, has special requirements that only allow the collected taxes to be spent on tourism-related expenses. While it may ease the burden on the General Fund to replace some of that money, it certainly would not be enough to cover the deficit in less than six months.

An insurance tax would bring in about $1 million, but the tax can only be implemented at the start of a fiscal year. Even if it passed, it would be at least October until the county sees any revenue flow in – far too late to save this year’s budget.

The same with raising property taxes: too little, and too late.

When this budget passed last June it didn’t take a lot of foresight to see the potential problems looming down the road.

Judge Stephens’ announcement should have come as no surprise, but here we are.

In a November Fiscal Court meeting Deputy Judge Randy Jones was asked where the County stood in regards to the budget and he replied, “as of last month we are on budget.”

What happened in the past three months that the budget went from “on budget” to $350,000 in the hole?

Unless a miracle happens and the Fiscal Court can figure out a way to squeeze blood from the stone that is our budget, the OC Tax is the only immediately viable option.

Raising that tax will solve the budget issue – temporarily. But it will create more long term problems down the road. Problems such as shrinking the business sector of McCreary County more, and no new businesses will likely look to locate here after this. More workers leaving and more families struggling.

This administration has done next to nothing over the past few years to improve economic conditions in McCreary County. Sure, they have made strides in tourism, but that obviously isn’t enough.

You have to question if this is an orchestrated attempt to raise the OC Tax without time for public comment or time to find other alternatives. Seems we have seen the same tactic before, such as with the garbage contract.

Isn’t it time for things to change at the top?

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

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