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Kentucky editorial roundup

February 27, 2019

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Feb. 22

The Daily Independent of Ashland on the Kentucky Senate rebuking Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes:

The Kentucky Senate took a rare step this week in issuing a rebuke against Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The Associated Press reported the Republican-dominated Senate passed a bill stemming from accusations that Grimes overreached her authority as the state’s elections chief. Specifically, she is accused of taking a heavy-handed approach to the elections board and abusing her authority. A previously published report by the Lexington Herald-Leader and the journalism nonprofit ProPublica contends Grimes pushed through a no-bid contract with a political donor’s company, had staff search the state’s voter registration system for information about hundreds of state workers and political rivals and allegedly retaliated against elections board staff when they complained about her actions.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said there are investigations ongoing into the allegations. The legislation, meanwhile, passed by the Senate, restricts the powers of the SOS.

“The very integrity of the office of secretary of state has been brought into question,” said Thayer, the bill’s lead sponsor. “And this legislative body needs to send a strong message to the voters of this commonwealth ... with this vote that the integrity of the voter registration rolls in this commonwealth shall not be compromised, no matter who is the elected secretary of state.”

Grimes portrayed the accusations as false and politically motivated. She said her office has “at all times” carried out its duties in compliance with the law.

“I will carefully review any legislation enacted and take all legal actions necessary to preserve the integrity of Kentucky’s elections,” Grimes said in a statement.

She contends state and federal law give her the right to access the voter registration system and directly oversee elections board staff.

The bill would eliminate the secretary of state’s access to the state voter registration rolls and would remove the secretary of state as chairperson of the State Board of Elections. If it were to be passed by the state’s Representatives it would immediately become law.

Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington said the bill is cause for concern because federal law requires every state elections chief have access to national voter registration files.

Our take on this is a neutral, independent party needs to put all of this under the microscope. On its very face there are two parts of this that are particularly concerning to us — a no-bid contract involving a political donor? Why, at a minimum, given the political connections, wasn’t such a contract put out to bid? Doing so would have alleviated any potential allegations of a conflict of interest that are now in front of the General Assembly and the public. We believe that awarding a no-bid contract to a political donor is certainly curious. Perhaps it is all on the up and up, but again, on its face, it doesn’t sound quite right.

Another huge concern for us is the allegation that a high ranking elected official had staff search the voter registration system for information about state workers and political rivals. Is this true? If so it at a minimum raises very serious issues about abuse of power. One votes with the intention of doing their civic duty. The idea that a state official might, and we emphasize might, be using the information the voter provides for political purposes is alarming.

Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and find out if its true. If so, were any laws broken? If not, are the above mentioned changes to the powers afforded to the SOS the proper remedy?

Much remains unknown. What is known, however, is there needs to be a full vetting to discern the truth.

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

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Feb. 23

Lexington Herald-Leader on government borrowing and spending and on political fundraisers:

This and that as the legislature reaches day 18 of a 30-day session:

The insurgent outsider of four years ago has undergone a metamorphosis. In the last regular session before he stands for re-election, Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking the power to cut economic development deals in total secrecy, plus $75 million in borrowing for projects. The former Tea Partier has gone full pork barrel — oh, what a campaign season of ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings awaits!

Bevin preaches austerity on pensions but is fine with taking on debt for parks, campuses and other goodies. State parks and campuses doubtless need state investment, as do public schools, public health and public protection, all of which were relentlessly cut over the last decade.

Lawmakers would make hypocrites of themselves by approving Bevin’s spree after deferring funding for their supposed top priority, school safety. Until Bevin’s surprise request, lawmakers had refused to open the budget in this non-budget year, opting to wait until the next two-year cycle to fund their school safety plan. Nonetheless, House Bill 268, granting Bevin’s wishes, sailed from House to Senate, while school safety waits.

Bevin’s Economic Development Cabinet seeks a rollback in open government laws so it can dole out corporate tax breaks and other favors free from public scrutiny. The potential for corruption and cronyism should be obvious.

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Speaking of which, a reform imposed after the BOPTROT scandal, when 15 legislators were convicted of corruption, could be at risk. Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, filed an amendment that would end the ban on lobbyists donating to lawmakers’ campaigns, but only if the lobbyist is eligible to vote in the legislative race.

Of course, lobbyists already effectively get around the ban by raising money for political parties, as Kentucky American Water’s Senate Bill 163 vividly illustrates.

It would allow the Lexington-based subsidiary of one of the largest privatized water companies to overpay for dilapidated municipal water systems, then roll the inflated price into its rate base. Local governments could reap one-time windfalls from unloading their water systems for a premium, while consumers, including longtime Lexington customers, would be perpetually saddled with unnecessarily high rates as millions more dollars flowed from Kentuckians’ pockets to a New Jersey corporation’s stockholders. Kentucky American will buy the small water systems even at book value because it has excess capacity and expansion is its corporate strategy.

Lined up in opposition are the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Association of Municipal Utilities, Kentucky Resources Council and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. So, how did SB 163 muster support to clear a Senate committee?

Kentucky American has employed a team of lobbyists that includes two big fundraisers for the Republican Party of Kentucky: John McCarthy, managing partner of McCarthy Strategic Solutions, describes himself as “an avid fundraiser” who “has played a central role in recruiting candidates and raising money for the eventual GOP takeover of the state House.” Amy Wickliffe, also pushing the KAW bill, has served as the state Republican Party’s finance chair.

Lawmakers should not sell out their constituents to repay a debt to lobbyist fundraisers.

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

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Feb. 24

The Bowling Green Daily News on pending “constitutional carry” legislation:

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides U.S. citizens the right to bear arms. The amendment, adopted in 1791, reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

For nearly 228 years, Americans have been debating and arguing over its interpretation, meaning and whether it provides collective gun rights or individual gun rights.

The collective group thinks the amendment gives states the right to train and maintain a formal army, the “well regulated militia” clause - meaning the right to bear arms should only be given to the militia, and only those militia members have the right to carry guns legally.

The individualists believe the Second Amendment gives every U.S. citizen the right to protect themselves by owning a firearm and that ownership is free from federal (and state) regulations and oversight. They tout the fact that the amendment’s militia clause was never meant to curtail the citizenry the right to bear arms.

Both sides’ interpretations have fueled our nation’s gun control debate for years. The supporters of an individual’s right to own a gun argue the Second Amendment should give all citizens, not just members of a militia, the right to own a firearm. The stricter gun control law groups think the Second Amendment has to have restrictions on guns: What kinds of firearms can people buy, who can own them, under what conditions and where can they be displayed and carried are just a few of the restrictions.

Currently, Kentuckians have to have a state-issued license to carry a concealed firearm or other weapon such as a switchblade knife or nunchucks. To be issued a permit, you must be over 21 years of age, take a six-hour class presented by a certified instructor, pass a 25-question written test, hit a life-size paper target with 11 of 20 shots from 21 feet away and pass a Kentucky State Police background check.

You must pay a $60 fee at the time of the application, with $20 going to the sheriff’s department of your county of residence and the other $40 allocated to the KSP and the Administrative Office of the Courts, by statute.

There is a growing movement among states to allow their populations to carry a concealed gun without a permit. “Permitless carry,” or “constitutional carry,” as the legislation is called, reads that citizens have a constitutional right to carry a gun with as few restrictions imposed on them as possible at the state and federal level.

Here in Kentucky, “constitutional carry” legislation is pending after the state Senate recently voted 29-8 to pass Senate Bill 150. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, will now go to the state House of Representatives, where it will be referred to the Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Many gun rights advocates are expecting SB 150 to pass.

While we staunchly defend the Second Amendment rights of Kentuckians, we firmly believe that doing away with the long-standing permitting system in the state threatens the safety of our communities and our commonwealth by not providing for the basic fundamentals and training of firearm safety and the legal ramifications and penalties of owning or using a firearm improperly.

We do not support Senate Bill 150 because we don’t believe allowing our residents to conceal carry a gun without any idea of how to use it or when deadly force is justified is not good policy for our state.

Carrying a firearm, especially a concealed firearm, is a great responsibility.

We do believe that the better trained a concealed carrier is, the more of a deterrent he or she is against would-be attackers. Let’s face it, criminals don’t follow the laws and most of the time don’t buy guns legally. But why do away with requirements that at least give honest, law-abiding citizens the opportunity to learn the basics, so that when they do feel the only way to protect themselves is to pull a concealed firearm, they have a fighting chance?

Legislating away that required training puts Kentucky concealed carriers at a disadvantage.

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