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Kentucky editorial roundup

January 16, 2019

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Jan. 11

The Lexington Herald-Leader on Gov. Matt Bevin’s Public Service Commission asserting that affordability can have no bearing on its decision about whether utility rates are fair, just and reasonable:

In a startling departure from past practice, Gov. Matt Bevin’s Public Service Commission is fighting to exclude advocates for the poor from decisions about what Kentuckians will pay for heat, light and water.

Almost 1 in 5 Kentuckians live in poverty, but the PSC also is asserting that affordability can have no bearing on its decisions about whether utility rates are “fair, just and reasonable” as mandated by state law.

This dubious quest, which the PSC has escalated to the state Court of Appeals, is forcing non-profits and government agencies, including the PSC, to waste resources on red tape and litigation, even though they have no money or staff to spare and important missions to fulfill.

Composed of three Bevin appointees, this PSC has made some strong decisions that will benefit consumers and that made utilities unhappy. It’s distressing then to think that it has succumbed to PBS (Petty Bevin Syndrome). Yet the only evidence offered by the PSC to bolster its argument that advocates for the poor add nothing of value to rate cases is a news release from the office of Attorney General Andy Beshear, a candidate for governor and the Democrat most reviled by the ill-tempered Bevin.

Published in a small online newspaper, the release boasted of Beshear’s success in advocating for low-income customers.

On the basis of that boast and with no rational explanation, the PSC concluded that the Office of Attorney General can be counted on to represent the interests of low-income Kentuckians (even while businesses, industries and utilities hire armies of lawyers and expert witnesses to plead their cases to the PSC).

The PSC also has concluded that what the Community Action Council, based in Lexington, and the Association of Community Ministries and Metropolitan Housing Coalition in Louisville add to rate cases is not worth the time and resources it takes to process and read their filings.

The three non-profits run programs that help low-income people pay energy bills and afford housing. In November, the PSC refused to let them become participants (known as intervenors) in a case in which Kentucky Utilities and LG&E are seeking a rate increase that would amount to an additional $9.63 a month for the average KU customer. The PSC also refused to grant intervenor status to the Sierra Club, which advocates for the environment.

At the same time, the PSC welcomed large industrial and commercial interests into the case, giving a green light to intervene to the Kentucky Industrial Utility Customers, The Kroger Co., Walmart, Charter Communications, the U.S. Department of Defense and the governments of Lexington and Louisville.

The four blackballed groups challenged the decision — and won — in Franklin Circuit Court. Judge Phillip Shepherd issued an injunction which the PSC now is challenging at the Court of Appeals.

The PSC also has excluded Lexington’s Community Action Council from being a party in Kentucky American Water’s request for a 24 percent rate increase. The Community Action Council is the expert on Lexington’s low-income residents and has recommended programs endorsed by an earlier PSC, but, because it can’t afford to take the PSC to court alone, has thrown in the towel on the latest water rate increase.

Why the PSC inflicted this black eye on itself and the Bevin administration is baffling. More information leads to better decisions; considering data and arguments from respected anti-poverty organizations can’t be more taxing than picking a legal fight with those same organizations. The PSC should extricate itself from this needless fight as soon as possible.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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Jan. 13

The Daily News of Bowling Green on a measure that would have restricted access to some public records:

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Newspapers play an important role as a watchdog for the communities they represent. They find information, many times through Kentucky’s open records law, that people in the community really want to know about. The open records law is a very important tool for the press because it helps provide information unrelated to politics, but it also helps provide information about politicians when they have done wrong or they are trying to hide something from the public.

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State Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, has made it very clear that he isn’t a fan of Kentucky’s open records law. We don’t know if Carroll, a retired police officer, was the subject of a story that he didn’t like or what, but he had filed legislation, Senate Bill 14, on the first day of the legislative session that would’ve eviscerated the open records law. The measure, which Carroll pulled from the Senate floor after considerable outcry from state media, would have restricted access to some public records. The bill would have exempted several state and local agencies — such as public safety officers, first responders, commonwealth and U.S. attorneys — from having to release personal information as part of records requests. Part of the bill would restrict Social Security numbers and dates of birth of elected officials from being made public. The bill also provides a private right of action to covered employees to challenge disclosure of applicable records directly in the courts. Senate Bill 14 would’ve required the judge in any case brought under the law to determine why someone seeking records is doing so, and whether he is doing so for “an improper purpose.” It would have also barred access to many Health and Family Services records involving child deaths from abuse and neglect. It would have also limited access to allegations of sexual harassment by state employees.

This is a blatant attack by Carroll on the free press. To go so far as saying a reporter or their publisher would have to appear before a judge over an open records request is simply an ill-advised attempt to make the state’s open records process more cumbersome.

We also thought it was odd that Carroll said he didn’t write the bill and that he was given the proposal by a state Homeland Security employee and a Secret Service agent working in Kentucky. Perhaps this is true, but it’s still odd since our open records laws has worked fine for more than 40 years.

Michael Abate, a Louisville attorney who has represented the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and several other media outlets on public records issues, said the bill’s language was a direct attack on transparency in the state.

“It strikes me as an attempt to take off the table extremely important records that media outlets — and the public in general — have used to understand what their agencies have done in their name, and on their dime,” Abate said. “That is the essential purpose of the open records law.”

Abate’s right on target.

Carroll has said he will revise this bill after the three-week legislative recess. We would highly advise him not to do so, as some of his own colleagues in Frankfort have criticized his bill.

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said it best of Carroll’s bill when he said: “It’s astounding. We need bills that encourage more transparency and accountability, not less.”

Carroll’s bill was a clear attack on transparency and the high amount of heat he was taking from it is likely the reason he pulled it.

Kentucky does indeed need more transparency, not less, Sen. Carroll.

Online: https://www.bgdailynews.com/

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Jan. 14

The State Journal on curbing substance abuse:

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According to the latest numbers from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, 25 overdose deaths were reported in Franklin County in 2017. That is a staggering 49.5 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Statewide, 1,565 died from drug overdoses in 2017. Kenton County, near Cincinnati, had the highest rate (69.5) followed by Campbell County (66); Boyd County (64.6); Mason County (58.2); and Jessamine (56.5).

Though Franklin’s numbers aren’t as high as these other Kentucky counties, drug and alcohol abuse persists and continues to destroy lives in the state capital.

Gov. Matt Bevin has stated Kentucky is in “a crisis state” when it comes to substance abuse issues. In recent years, the legislature has passed more laws addressing the drug problem, including increasing penalties for drug dealers; diverting additional funding for drug treatment programs; and limiting prescription painkillers to a three-day supply, unless granted a larger amount by a doctor.

The state has also spent thousands on Narcan training for first responders and pumped in $500,000 to create a hotline connecting users with treatment options — 1-833-8KY-HELP (1-833-853-4951).

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to the problem and it may take years before we know whether recent legislation has a long-standing effect on drug and alcohol users.

Despite all these efforts, on average between 40 percent and 60 percent of people who’ve been treated for addiction or alcoholism relapse within a year, according to a 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association study. That doesn’t mean we give up. It means we fight harder. Each and every number in the statistics are our community members, our sisters, our cousins, our sons.

There is also the fundamental rule when it comes to overcoming any adversity: The person has to want and be willing to accept help, and, oftentimes, when it comes to drug offenses that means numerous circuits through the court and corrections system.

Online: https://www.state-journal.com/

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