- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

Feb. 16

The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky., on Obama’s actions contrary to ACA law being ‘settled’:

As the Republican-controlled U.S. House passed several bills that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act, liberal critics belittled these efforts by contending that Obamacare was “settled law” since it had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But how can we say it is “settled law” when our president’s actions seem to reflect his belief that some of the law’s very specific provisions are what he wants them to be as opposed to their clear meaning?

The most recent case in point was the administration’s decision Monday to delay until 2016 the requirement that employers with 50 to 99 full-time workers either provide health insurance or pay a financial penalty.

This represents the second time this particular requirement has been delayed for a year. In July 2013, the administration delayed this employer mandate until 2015.

Congressional approval is clearly needed to change a very unambiguous provision that the mandate is effective after Dec. 31, 2013.

President Barack Obama’s stated rationale for the extension was to ensure that mid-sized companies had sufficient time to comply with the law.

His explanation raises two interesting questions.

How long do you really need to comply with a law that was enacted in 2010?

Is it fair for the president to be in the business of picking winners and losers? One group of employers has received a two-year delay while everyone subject to the individual mandate got no such reprieve.

Obama’s decision to ignore the clear intent of a law that defines his presidency seems more attuned to political calculation than about providing additional time for compliance.

The Affordable Care Act is expected to be front and center among issues in the 2014 midterm elections, but this does not justify doing an end run around the Constitution.

At one point in his life, our president taught constitutional law. He surely knows better.

Arbitrary decisions on who wins and who loses under the Affordable Care Act extend well beyond Monday’s announcement. The record reflects far too many waivers and exemptions to the politically well connected.

So much for equality under the law.

By the same token, so much for our country being a nation of laws rather than one where those laws can be effectively rewritten at one man’s pleasure.

This is what you would expect in a banana republic, but not in a constitutional republic with co-equal branches of government.

All hail El Presidente.

Online:

http://www.bgdailynews.com

___

Feb. 13

Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky., on stopping efforts to limit access to information:

It wouldn’t be a legislative session in Kentucky if there weren’t efforts on the part of some elected officials to weaken Kentucky’s Open Records laws, so in that sense, Senate Bill 101 and Senate Bill 130 are par for the course.

What sets these two pieces of legislation apart, however, is the audacity of efforts to convince the public that these laws are actually about promoting greater transparency. Supporters want you to believe this is about protecting poor, cash-strapped governments from the big, bad media empires, when in fact, what they really want is to let the fox guard the hen house.

Let’s start with Senate Bill 101, which is sponsored by Republican Sens. Julie Denton, Christian McDaniel and Whitney Westerfield. As it stands now, governments are required to publish financial information and other legal notices in the local newspaper, but SB 101 would allow them to instead post this information online at a website operated by local government.

So basically, their idea of improved transparency is to take this information out of the hands of an independent party and allow local governments to have control over what information they do or don’t make public. What’s really ironic is this “trust us” campaign is being led by the Kentucky League of Cities.

You remember the KLC, don’t you? This is the same organization that for years fought to keep their activities outside the parameters of open records laws, despite the fact they take hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from local governments. This is the same organization that used those tax dollars on lavish travel and perks, such as a BMW SUV for top executives.

One of KLC’s arguments for putting this information on a government-controlled website is that it will save cash-strapped cities money. We’ve heard this argument from KLC before. For years, they complained about the costs cities face with the state pension system, then gave more than $250,000 in forgivable loans to five employees so that they could buy more years of retirement - essentially further taxing the system they said cities couldn’t afford to support.

And yet now they say “trust us” on what information is made available to the public? No thanks.

Then there is Senate Bill 130, sponsored again by Denton. On the surface, this bill has some merit. It would require state officials - not the agencies they work for - to pay any court-ordered penalties for a willful violation of the Open Records Act. The hope is that officials might err on the side of transparency if they know it will be their dollars - and not tax dollars - at risk if they are found to have purposely violated the law.

But Denton was way off base when she told the Courier-Journal, “I look forward to having a discussion about this bill and having personal accountability in our cabinet so our tax dollars - tax dollars needed for our children in this state - are not given away to newspaper companies to pay legal fees.”

This is textbook blame-the-media political spin. For starters, any money recovered goes to lawyers, not newspaper companies, but that bit of truth doesn’t fit the agenda behind that statement. Beyond that, Denton, as a legislator, should know better than anyone that the open records law isn’t written for newspapers. It is written for every citizen in Kentucky. The sad part is, newspapers are one of the few entities that can actually afford to challenge governments who are in violation. Most individuals would be put into bankruptcy.

And that, we’re afraid, is the real motivation behind this law. Those backing it know that judges would be much less likely to hold an individual financially responsible than they would an agency. So fewer attorneys’ fees would be awarded, and eventually fewer open records cases would be filed - certainly by the public - thus giving government even more control over what you can and can’t know about their operations.

Is this really someone’s idea of transparency? Seems more like a sleight of hand to us.

Online:

http://www.messenger-inquirer.com

___

Feb. 17

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on Florida’s example:

Kentucky legislators rushing to pass several laws backed by the gun lobby to further loosen restrictions on firearms in the state should pause to reflect on the latest developments from Florida.

Over the weekend, a jury in that state deadlocked over whether to convict Michael Dunn, 47, of Jacksonville, of shooting and killing an unarmed teenager he confronted in a parking lot over loud music.

Dunn invoked Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, claiming he acted in self-defense after he saw Jordan Davis, 17, point a shotgun at him. While no gun was found and no one corroborated the defendant’s claim, it apparently was enough to plant doubt in some jurors who convicted him only of attempted murder for shooting at the teens with Jordan as they fled for their lives.

The decision comes just seven months after the notorious Florida case in which neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman was acquitted of fatally shooting unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman claimed he shot the 17-year-old because he felt threatened and acted in self-defense.

The so-called “stand your ground” laws - aptly dubbed by critics as “shoot to kill” laws - were dreamed up by the National Rifle Association and pushed through a number of submissive state legislatures, including Kentucky’s.

After Kentucky passed its law in 2006, we had our own experience a year later when two men decided to resolve a parking dispute at a suburban Jefferson County shopping center by opening fire on each other. The shooting left one with severe brain injury; the other walked away with no criminal charges, thanks to Kentucky’s new law.

Now Kentucky lawmakers are considering more NRA measures to lift sane restrictions meant to limit firearm violence.

Two bills, Senate Bill 106 and House Bill 351, would allow victims of domestic violence with protective orders to carry concealed firearms, with permission from a judge. The law was not sought by the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association but gun lobby support has assured the bills hearings in the House and Senate and a place on the fast track.

Another nefarious measure, Senate Bill 60, would end the ban on concealed weapons in bars as long as those who carry aren’t drinking.

True, when it comes to weak gun laws, Kentucky is already in the same boat as Florida. But we don’t need to punch more holes in the bottom.

Online:

http://www.courier-journal.com

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