Kentucky editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Aug. 08, 2018
Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
Lexington Herald-Leader on new state and federal child-welfare laws:
A pair of new state and federal child-welfare laws demand swift, capable action by Gov. Matt Bevin's administration.
So, here's hoping kids and taxpayers get more out of the governor's new "special advisers" than they did from his "adoption czar."
Kentucky will pay Chris and Alicia Johnson $165,000 a year to assume the role previously held by Dan Dumas, a Baptist pastor, who was paid $20,000 a month until Bevin cut him loose after seven months with $60,000 in termination pay.
Kentucky children in foster care have increased by 1,000 over the last year. Kentucky had the nation's highest rate of increase in children entering foster care, according to a legislative report last year. As of July 1, Kentucky reported 9,528 children in foster care.
Kentucky's drug overdose deaths also rose last year, by 11.5 percent from the prior year, to 1,565. The opioid epidemic is fueling the breakdown of families.
The state needs new foster parents. It also needs to provide more (or, in many cases, any) financial support to grandparents and other relatives who take in neglected or abused children.
Most important, Kentucky needs better ways to prevent the neglect and abuse that land children in foster care.
Prevention to preserve families, including drug treatment for parents, is the thrust of a law enacted by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in February as part of a federal spending bill.
What worries us — and should worry legislators — is the state's readiness to implement House Bill 1, enacted by Kentucky's legislature this year, or to comply with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which changes the standards for federal foster-care funding to states, effective 2020.
Kentucky lost its child-protection chief in June. Adria Johnson resigned after, says her lawyer, being subjected to "repeated acts" of discrimination and sexual harassment. Johnson is seeking a cash settlement, but officials in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services say their investigation revealed no evidence to support her claims.
Last month, Eric Clark, former CHFS chief of staff and legislative liaison, succeeded her as commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services, which range from child and elder protection to food stamps and financial assistance for needy families.
Adam Meier, formerly Bevin's top policy aide and an architect of his proposed Medicaid revamp, became secretary of the sprawling CHFS in May.
Meanwhile, Kentucky grandparents and others who are foster parents to young relatives are still waiting for the same state support (average $750 a month) as other foster families, even though it's been almost a year since a federal judge ruled that they were entitled to equal treatment.
A different but related program, Kinship Care, which provides $300 a month to relatives who have custody of a child or are informally caring for one, will receive an additional $4.9 million over the next two years. Kinship Care was closed to new applicants five years ago; the backlog of need already exceeds the new money, and the cabinet is writing new regulations for the program.
HB 1, which was championed by First Lady Glenna Bevin, allows the cabinet to create new advancement opportunities for state social workers. The legislature put $50 million into the budget to give social workers pay raises, hire more of them and upgrade their technology.
HB 1 has been hailed by the governor as transformational. And it can be, but only if it's capably implemented.
The bill also established the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee, made up of lawmakers, to spotlight gaps in how the law's working. Here's also hoping that committee gets to work soon.
The Independent of Ashland on overcrowding in Kentucky jails:
Kentucky has a crisis on its hands in the form of jail overcrowding and it's not going to get better anytime soon.
In our Sunday section front package, Focus on Jails, we talked in-depth with jailers in Greenup and Carter counties. There were two particularly striking facts to be found in these stories — one, both county jails are running well over capacity and two, the overcrowding is almost exclusively related to drug arrests. In Carter County the jail houses 215 inmates and is at about 50 percent above capacity. The Greenup jail averaged around 108 inmates when Jailer Mike Worthington took office. The jail now houses 150 to 170 inmates.
Both Worthington and Carter County Jailer R.W. Boggs said the culprit is the drug epidemic.
"Mostly everything's drug related," Boggs said. "If it's not direct drug charges, your second two big charges would be theft or (failure to pay) child support and typically the reasons for those two issues is because of drugs. You're stealing to get drugs or you're not paying your child support because you're spending it on drugs."
This story thread of jail overcrowding is repeating itself across the Commonwealth. (...) The Lexington Herald-Leader reported recently that Kentucky prisons intake is up 32 percent in five years due to drug offenses and low level crimes. Also complicating the matter is the fact that the state is out of prison space. So, it ships state inmates to county jails and pays to house them.
A report from the Kentucky Justice Reinvention Work Group said "since 2010, 31 states across the country have decreased imprisonment rates while reducing crime rates. Yet Kentucky's prison population has grown by eight percent in the last five years, reaching more than 23,500 by the end of 2016. As of 2015, Kentucky had the tenth highest imprisonment rate in the country."
Kentucky's prison population is projected to grow 19 percent, or 4,400 inmates, by 2027. (...)
The Reinvention Work Group recommended 22 steps that would help. They included expanding the administrative release program of low and moderate risk defendants including Class D felony defendants, limiting the use of monetary bail, reclassifying non-DUI traffic offenses, reclassifying drug possession, increasing the felony threshold for flagrant nonsupport, and streamlining the parole process for inmates convicted of nonviolent, non-sex Class C or D offenses. As far as we can tell every one of the proposed reforms was ignored by the General Assembly in the most recent legislative session.
The cost for Kentucky's growth in inmates on the state level alone is expected be more than $600 million over 10 years.
We are all paying for it. The General Assembly needs to revisit the recommendations of the Work Group or, in the alternative, come up with a plan for building a lot more prisons and figuring out a way to pay for them. We don't think the latter is an option.
The News-Enterprise says free trade is preferable to bailouts:
The federal government announced July 24 that it would be funneling up to $12 billion in aid to American farmers hurt by the escalating trade war brought about by U.S. tariffs placed on foreign imports.
The necessity to subsidize or prop up agriculture to this extent should provide clear evidence that President Donald Trump's wide-ranging list of duties placed on imported aluminum, steel, newsprint and other raw materials and produced goods from Canada, China, Mexico, European Union countries and elsewhere are hurting, not helping, American industry.
While some American farmers might experience a degree of relief in the short term, no one wins in the long run when a flawed policy necessitates bailouts of this magnitude.
The coming bailout of farmers also creates a precedent the administration can't afford and will have to confront repeatedly as other industries come with hat in hand seeking assistance.
Farmers aren't the only group negatively impacted by the president's trade policy. Retaliatory reaction by other countries hitting the U.S. with taxes on exports flowing across their borders is taking a heavy toll on a wide range of industry segments from the largest consumer goods, such as automobiles, to the smallest of appliances and everything in between, including bourbon, a Kentucky signature product.
Even ours, the newspaper industry, is suffering the consequences of unjustified tariffs imposed on newsprint coming into the U.S. from Canada, the supplier of roughly 60 percent of the U.S. market.
The gamble of Trump's foreign trade policy is based on the supposition that raising the price of foreign products through tariffs will make American product alternatives more attractive to the consumer market.
Higher American-made consumption will benefit U.S. industry and the economy as a whole, the premise goes.
The problem with this theory, as most economists point out, is tariffs put U.S. manufacturers in the precarious position of having to pay higher prices for the raw goods needed to produce their products. These higher production costs are passed along to the consumer through increased prices, ultimately causing consumption to go down. Lower consumption leads to the manufacturing having to cut costs, negatively impacting wages and employment. Businesses lose sales and employees lose jobs.
The president's views on tariffs are clear as evidenced by a Twitter post last week, "Tariffs are the greatest!"
Not everyone agrees — especially those in the real world who are left to pay the costs through increased consumer prices and resulting bailouts paid for with American tax dollars.
Congressional leaders, both Republican and Democratic, decry the trade war and its impact on the economy. But newscast rhetoric will not solve the growing problem. Removing the tariffs and opening the global door to free trade will.