Kentucky editorial roundup
Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
Lexington Herald-Leader on the Appalachian water crisis:
Personal stories of families collecting rainwater, going without laundry or bathing, and keeping children out of school seem like the stuff of a hurricane aftermath or other weather emergency — not routine life in America.
Those are just a few of the findings of the Herald-Leader’s “Stirring the Waters” investigation into eight Eastern Kentucky water systems. The project — a partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, coordinated by The GroundTruth Project and its new initiative, Report for America — showed many are living as if in an impoverished, undeveloped country.
The reporting team documented a long list of boil-water advisories, line breakdowns, pollution, discoloration, leaks and shutoffs. From 30 to 70 percent of water is lost from leaky pipes. All the while, customers’ bills go higher.
“Those folks deserve water just as much as the rest of the state,” State Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, told Herald-Leader reporter Will Wright. “It doesn’t seem to be the priority of Frankfort to reach out to places like Martin County and the edge of Harlan and Letcher counties. Maybe we just haven’t made enough noise about it.
Through this series, people made some noise.
It’s not unreasonable to expect that Gov. Matt Bevin should express some outrage about the situation or, better yet, commit to finding solutions.
After all, the dire water situation in Eastern Kentucky is a major obstacle to the economic-development efforts he touts. How can Kentucky attract businesses there when we can’t guarantee dependable water service?
This is not an issue that can generate quick political scores. It’s complicated by the region’s declining population, shrinking revenue, private management of water systems, inadequate maintenance over years, the need for more federal support and insufficient state oversight.
There are a few ways to start addressing these issues:
- On the federal level, both Rep. Hal Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell told Herald-Leader reporter Will Wright that Congress has designated more money for rural water systems. But the most available source of money for Eastern Kentucky would be the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund. McConnell and Rogers should use their clout to allow that money to be spent on water infrastructure repair, not just expansion.
- On the state level, the legislature needs to give the Public Service Commission, which approves utility rates, more authority to appoint managers of poorly run operations, in the same way the education board does with poor-performing schools. It took years of problems before the PSC ordered the Martin County district last month to find new management for day-to-day operations. The PSC would also need more staffing to expand its expertise.
- Local elected officials should demand full accountability of finances and plans for repairs and help make tough decisions about rates and distribution areas. There should also be a way to deliver water to customers when there are service problems. Ray Jones, Pike County’s judge-executive-elect, said one of the first meetings of next year will be a detailed presentation from the Mountain Water District on their finances and operation. Other county officials should follow suit and let lawmakers know what they need.
Hatton said she and other state legislators have briefly discussed filing a bill similar to one passed in California, which would put into law that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”
Debating that might help keep the issue on lawmakers’ minds and remind other legislators that this is problem for the state as a whole. As Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, said: “These are universal concerns and crises that we all have to gather around.”
The Daily News of Bowling Green on a pension law being overruled:
We are a nation of laws and, as citizens, we should always follow and respect those laws.
We might not always like the laws or court decisions, but we should always try to adhere to them.
This month, we learned that the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down a law that made changes to the state’s struggling public pension system.
You may recall, in April, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill that moved all new teacher hires into a hybrid pension plan. The bill also restricted how teachers used sick days to calculate their retirement benefits and changed how the state pays off its pension debt. We believe, and said so at the time, that it was a step in the right direction, since Kentucky has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country. Previous administrations had simply kicked the can down the road on this issue, and we applauded Bevin for trying to address a serious problem that in previous years had not gotten the attention it deserved.
Before he signed this into law, thousands of teachers across the state descended on Frankfort to protest Bevin and his Republican colleagues for the changes to the pension system. Schools in more than 30 districts closed.
Those who marched should be happy now that the state’s high court struck down the law, but we don’t believe this is the end of the effort to try to put this out-of-control pension system into a healthier place.
One really has to look at what led up to taking the case to the high court and the court’s ruling to understand why we make that comment. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear filed suit challenging the law, arguing the legislature violated the state Constitution by not voting on the proposal three times over three separate days. Bevin argued lawmakers did not need to do that because they had substituted the bill for an unrelated one that already had the required number votes.
The Supreme Court ruled lawmakers cannot take a bill close to final passage and replace it with an unrelated bill without voting on it three times over three separate days as the Constitution requires.
We do believe the court got it right in its ruling, but the fix is simply a matter of voting on a new pension bill the required three times when it comes up again, which it almost certainly will in time.
We believe this is something to watch very closely, because 2019 is an election year for Bevin. It is also an odd-numbered year, which means the legislature is only in session for 30 days. One has to ask: Will Bevin and the Republican-controlled legislature bring this hot-button issue up again in a gubernatorial election year?
We don’t know, but we will anxiously be watching. One thing that Republicans have on their side is last month’s election. Democrats and teachers said they would knock out as many Republicans as possible in the election. That didn’t happen, as Republicans still hold a comfortable majority in the House and Senate.
If Republicans do try to revisit pension reform in 2019, they obviously need to do it the proper way and follow the court’s ruling. We will be watching to see if Republicans try to tackle this issue during a gubernatorial year, or if they play it safe and wait until 2020, hope that Bevin is re-elected and try to get it passed then.
Only time, and perhaps an election, will reveal that answer.
The Richmond Register on hazardous driving conditions:
While winter weather has been mild so far for our region, law enforcement is cautioning drivers to be prepared for when hazardous driving conditions do appear.
“Winter driving can present formidable challenges including sleet, snow, slick roads, freezing temperatures and reduced visibility. It can be a deadly combination if you’re not prepared,” said Kentucky State Police spokesman Sgt. Josh Lawson.
In 2017, state police reported that slippery roads were a contributing factor in 69 deaths and 12,772 crashes — both up from 2016′s 51 highway deaths and 12,412 crashes.
To meet the challenges of the upcoming winter driving season, KSP reminds drivers to plan ahead, make sure all passengers are properly restrained, drive defensively and ensure their vehicle is properly maintained to handle the effects of cold temperatures.
Here are a few more tips for winter travel:
- Reduce speed in wintery conditions.
- Leave early to allow more travel time and expect delays.
- Increase distance between vehicles as the ability to stop is significantly affected on snow covered or icy roadways.
- Clear all windows on your vehicle prior to travel as having unobstructed vision is vital to avoid running off of the road or having a collision.
- Use caution on bridges and overpasses as they are susceptible to freezing before roadways.
- Avoid using cruise control which can cause a vehicle’s wheels to continue turning on a slippery surface when speed needs to be decreased.
- Ensure your vehicle has a full tank of gas in the event you are stranded for an extended period of time.
- Charge your cellphone prior to departure.
- Carry a winter survival kit that includes items such as blankets, a first-aid kit, a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for water), windshield scraper, booster cables, road maps, tool kit, bag of sand or cat litter (to pour on ice or snow for added traction), collapsible shovel, flashlight and extra batteries.
But the best way to be safe in wintery conditions is to stay home.
While that may not always be possible, remember the above tips so you will be prepared to safely make it to your destination.