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Kentucky editorial roundup

May 15, 2019

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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May 5

The Daily News on Beshear’s lawsuits:

Attorneys general perform many tasks as a state’s highest law enforcement officer, such as helping victims of fraud and scams, enforcing our laws and defending them in court, issuing legal advice to state agencies, enforcing federal and state environmental laws, handling criminal appeals and serious statewide criminal prosecutions, deciding open records law appeals and acting as public advocates in areas such as child support enforcement.

In his three years in office, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is running in a crowded primary to earn the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in the general election against Gov. Matt Bevin, should rightfully be credited with addressing the opioid crisis in our state, for working hard to end the long waiting period for rape kit testing and ruling in favor of transparency several times in open records law cases.

However, aside from those accomplishments, which we believe are important, Beshear has spent considerable time as attorney general suing Bevin at every turn, mainly over the state’s failed pension system, which is one of the worst in the country.

For eight years, Beshear’s father, then-Gov. Steve Beshear, did nothing to try to deal with this elephant in the room. He did propose expanded gambling to address the problem, but it never went anywhere, even when Steve Beshear was governor with a Democratic-controlled legislature. Other administrations previous to Steve Beshear’s also kicked the can down the road on pension reform, which has put us in this mess today, in part because they were beholden to the state’s well-funded teachers’ unions.

That’s a real shame, because their lack of action for many years made our pension system a huge mess. Thankfully, we now have a governor in Bevin who has actually tried to do something about it.

It hasn’t gone smoothly, and Bevin can be faulted for calling a previous special session that proved useless, but at least he is trying to get the worst pension system in the country in better shape. In 2018, lawmakers passed legislation that Bevin signed into law that would have had an impact on this mess, only to see it struck down by a Franklin County circuit judge because it was not passed with the required three votes.

In hindsight, the GOP-controlled legislature should’ve known better. This session, another pension-related bill was sent to Bevin, only to be vetoed. There is talk of a future special session to try to get pension relief legislation passed and signed into law.

Back to Andy Beshear: We take issue with his continued lawsuits against Bevin on the taxpayers’ dime. These suits show a person who clearly has a personal vendetta against Bevin.

Andy Beshear’s latest lawsuit, filed Monday, aims to block subpoenas from the state Labor Department’s investigation into teacher “sick-out” protests that shut down schools in some counties for several days in February and March. Among other information, the Labor Department seeks the names of teachers who might have used sick days to attend rallies in Frankfort, according to The Associated Press.

On Thursday, the Department of Education turned over records from 10 school districts related to sick-outs between Feb. 28 and March 14 after receiving a subpoena from the Bevin administration, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told The Courier Journal.

We have stated that we believe the sickouts by teachers were irresponsible and sent students a bad message. The protests forced students to stay home when they should’ve been in school learning. We are still of that opinion.

State law clearly states that the Labor Department has the legal right to investigate potentially illegal work stoppages and to issue individual fines to those found to have been involved. The department’s subpoena seeks any documentation teachers provided, including doctors’ notes. The cabinet also wants copies of district sick leave policies and records in which district officials discussed the decision to close schools due to sickouts, according to the AP.

Andy Beshear said the subpoenas are unlawful because the sickouts were not related to teachers’ employment conditions. How could the pension issue not be related to working conditions?

Andy Beshear - who, like his father, has proposed the tired old idea of expanded gambling to fix our pension problem - could not be any more wrong on this issue. The Labor Department is acting appropriately in trying to determine whether any aspect of these work stoppages violated law. We predict Andy Beshear will lose this legal fight, which is funded once again on the taxpayers’ dime.

It is possible to conclude that the lawsuit filed by Andy Beshear is not about the teachers or fighting for what is right, but rather part of his effort to become governor.

Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, said it well when he said the lawsuit shows that Andy Beshear is “more concerned about politics than the law.”

Online: https://www.bgdailynews.com

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May 11

The News-Enterprise on the pursuit of justice:

Elizabethtown’s vision of itself as a calm, safe city was shattered Feb. 21 when a series of shots interrupted the darkness.

Cherie Turner, 34, was killed that night on West Warfield Street near her home.

Soon after, more gunfire occurred at the convenience store at 600 N. Miles St. The store’s owner, 40-year-old Subash Ghale, was killed.

Another store employee Prayash Baniya was struck and Nadia Browne, a customer in the parking lot, was struck in the leg by a bullet but managed to drive to safety at a nearby park where she alerted police.

Shadrach Peeler was at the center of this violence, police say. A convicted felon, he soon was charged with two counts of murder and numerous other charges. Court documents indicate the store’s cameras recorded Peeler in the act.

Peeler, 35, remains in the Hardin County Detention Center under a $2 million bond.

The Commonwealth is seeking the death penalty.

On the last day of April, he was transported to Hardin Circuit Court for a hearing related to the charges. With 20 to 50 years of freedom and possibly his life on the line, Peeler interrupted the proceedings.

As attorneys discussed a request to admit Peeler to the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center for an evaluation, he asked if he could “go against it” and change his plea to guilty.

Peeler said he wanted to and to “stand up for what I did just to get it over with.”

That’s a startling statement. It could have ended the proceedings. Some people on social media - apparently more interested in vengeance than justice - immediately shouted for swift action. The suggestions included a Wild West sort of solution akin to public lynching.

Fortunately, those people were trolling the internet and not behind the bench.

Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton exercised restraint and wisdom instead.

He calmly advised Peeler to consult with his court-appointed counsel.

“Just talk to your attorney about it, OK, Mr. Peeler?” Easton before the defendant exited.

The criminal justice system is at the core of our civilization. It’s about truth, fairness and objectivity. A basic principle of the criminal justice process is the accused is considered innocent until and unless proven guilty.

That’s a concept which opinionated and fearful people often forget when encouraging a rush to justice and immediate implementation of harsh penalties.

For their sakes, if a criminal allegation is ever filed against them, hopefully, a reasonable jurist such as Judge Easton will be on the bench to see their rights are protected too.

Peeler will be back in court soon enough. He will encounter justice and it’s not likely to be pleasant.

It certainly will be delivered with far more mercy than Cherie Turner, Subash Ghale or the other victims of the Feb. 21 shooting spree experienced.

Fair, measured justice: That’s what our society is based upon and what calm, safe and sane cities expect.

Online: http://www.thenewsenterprise.com/

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May 12

The Daily Independent on healthy food for students:

Not too long ago we visited a school in another jurisdiction. There, we were invited to have breakfast with students.

Sure. We’d love to, we responded. The breakfast fare?

Powdered donuts.

Yikes.

Now, we are not anti-donuts. Everyone loves a good donut every now and then. But, with this said, we think that in our public schools such sugary, processed foods should not be the first thing kids eat in the morning at school, especially considering the out-of-control childhood obesity problem we have both in eastern Kentucky and across the nation.

A recent comprehensive study supports this contention.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky recently shared the details of this comprehensive study — it is an important one. It has a long title — Health Disparities Related to Obesity in Appalachia: Practical Strategies and Recommendations for Communities. It was published by the foundation along with the Appalachian Regional Commission with funding from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. The findings are significant. Here are some highlights:

— School based programs that increase kids’ access to healthy foods and incorporate more physical activity in the school day are critically important strategies for tackling childhood obesity.

— Establishing healthy behaviors among children and youth early on is also very important.

— Increase the availability of affordable, healthy foods and beverages is a part of any successful strategy.

— The same standards of increasing physical activity and instilling healthy eating in adults is also important. This in turn offers up some healthy experiences for kids as we all know our kids mimic many of the habits they see in the adults around them.

The report emphasizes, according to the foundation, “establishing healthy behaviors in early childhood and says that child care and schools are uniquely positioned to influence healthy habits.” Examples include programs called Salad Bars to School and Farm to School programs.

“Both programs are based on research showing that students who have access to fresh fruits and vegetables actually do eat more of those foods and add more variety to their diets,” the foundation said. “Another example is a Pike County, Ohio, program that conducted a 30-day ‘sodabriety’ challenge that reduced student consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

“Policies that ensure healthy foods are available for purchase in rural Appalachian communities — such as the tax credit for farmers who donate their products to local food banks that has been enacted in Kentucky and West Virginia are essential,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Our health is critically important to our well-being, our happiness, and our productivity. If our children are starting out in life fighting off obesity and its devastating health impacts, it has the potential to greatly reduce their quality of life over the long term.

This isn’t just some online preaching from a health nut. It is necessary as a result of our reality. A shocking one in five kids in Kentucky are obese. That’s the third highest rate in the country, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

One could argue this is the most important issue Kentucky faces regarding its future. We believe making sure healthy foods are available to kids in schools — and at home — is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids. Another great gift is to purge our diets of the sugar-laden foods and drinks that are a huge part of the childhood obesity equation, and there is not better place for that purge than in our schools.

Online: https://www.dailyindependent.com/