- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

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Dec. 14

The Lexington Herald-Leader on child deaths in Kentucky:

The number of abuse and neglect cases that child-protection workers in Kentucky must juggle should not be a state secret.

Yet the panel created by the legislature to review child deaths and make recommendations for keeping Kentucky children safer can’t seem to get the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to share data about caseloads.

New Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson could get off to a good start by making it clear that she wants an end to the culture of secrecy.

The cabinet’s stubborn refusal to comply with the open records law has been costly.

Just last week, the state Court of Appeals upheld a $16,000 ruling in favor of the Todd County Standard. The weekly in Elkton had to put up a legal fight to gain access to records that revealed failures in the child-protective system that contributed to the death of nine-year-old Amy Dye.

The appeals court has yet to rule on a lower court’s order that the cabinet owes the Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville almost $1 million in penalties and legal costs incurred as the newspapers battled in the courts for years for access to public records of child deaths and the cabinet’s role in those deaths.

The biggest cost has been to the the cabinet’s credibility and the public trust.

As Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd wrote almost two years ago, in ruling in favor of the two daily newspapers, the cabinet’s repeated open records violations shielded “the cabinet’s own conduct (and sometimes, negligence) from public scrutiny.”

While transparency and accountability can make bureaucrats uncomfortable, it’s the surest path to win public and legislative support for more resources for child protection.

No one wants to scapegoat overworked case workers. Certainly, the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel is looking only to support child-protective workers and strengthen the system, but it needs the numbers on caseloads and worker turnover to do its job. The cabinet should cooperate with that.

In its 2015 report the panel looked at 37 child deaths in which abuse or neglect are suspected: 16 were drug-related compared with five from physical abuse. Parents’ drug or alcohol use was the leading cause of death, mainly impaired adults sleeping with babies and accidentally smothering them; two children died after ingesting drugs.

Children dying because of drug-dependent parents are a tragic reminder that Kentucky’s addiction epidemic has the power to literally kill our future.

Secretary Glisson and the Bevin administration should make addiction prevention and treatment a high priority.

Online:

http://www.kentucky.com/

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Dec. 11

The Courier-Journal on investing in higher education in Kentucky:

Does this story line sound familiar: The governor and General Assembly, strapped for cash in a tough economy, keep pulling money from a program vital to Kentucky’s economic development? In the process, they shift more of the burden onto future generations.

If you think we’re talking about Kentucky’s pension system, you’re wrong. We’re talking about its system of higher education.

As with the pension crisis, higher education hasn’t always been a convenient place to find dollars to balance a budget. Beginning with the passage of the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, the state increased spending on state colleges and universities in every budget through 2007-2008 - a total of 33.2 percent.

For those who like to see a return on investment from such spending, here’s a few ways to measure the results: In 2000-09, Kentucky ranked first in its rate of improvement in six-year graduation rates among state universities. It also showed the second-highest improvement rate in the percentage of adults 25-44 with an associate degree or higher.

But beginning in the middle of the 2007-08 budget, state spending on higher education has been dropping ever since - to the tune of a cumulative 15.6 percent.

For those who like to measure the impact of such dis-investment, here’s what happened to those same measures: From 2009-13, the improvement in the graduation rate slowed to 41st in the nation; improvement on getting more adults with degrees swung to 24th.

The Council on Postsecondary Education and the state’s nine university presidents have all lined up behind a budget request that no doubt will seem daunting to an administration and legislators dealing with the pension crisis and a host of other spending needs.

What’s interesting in their proposal is that, in the parlance of the new administration, they are putting “skin in the game.” The plan they present requires each school to achieve certain metrics in the first biennium or lose the additional funds in future budgets. It’s a creative proposal that shouldn’t be dismissed lightly - even in the current budget climate.

The alternative to restoring some of the funding cuts from higher education in recent years is continuing to ask students to shoulder more of the cost - putting the education they need for the jobs of the future out of reach for more of them or adding to the debt load of future generations.

Many of those who advocate that Kentucky needs a more business-friendly climate point to states such as Indiana or Tennessee as our competitors for jobs. We could easily surpass them in one key measure of workforce readiness - the percentage of the population with at least an associate’s degree. Kentucky ranks 44th in the nation by that measure - 33 percent of the adult population with a degree. But our neighbor to the south is at only 33.8 percent and ranked 42nd. Indiana is a mere two steps further up the ladder at 40th and 34.5 percent with a degree.

While we’re scrambling just to line up with Tennessee and Indiana on such supposed economic development checklist items as right to work, why not jump ahead in preparing our workforce to meet the demands of employers? One clear start on doing so would be to invest in our higher education system - and your future workforce - again.

Online:

http://www.courier-journal.com

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Dec. 12

The Kentucky New Era on state’s new justice secretary:

Of course, Tilley’s departure is a loss for Democrats in the General Assembly. But any cynical conjecture about Tilley’s selection to head the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet overlooks the reality of his legislative record. He has an impressive resume, especially in criminal justice reform and measures to combat drug abuse. He is nationally recognized as a leader in corrections reform and effective drug legislation.

So how could anyone argue that he isn’t an excellent choice for justice secretary?

Tilley has been respected among Kentucky Democrats and Republicans for his ability to win bipartisan support on bills that tackle some of the state’s toughest social problems.

In spite of Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s ridiculous statements, in which he questioned Tilley’s “character” after learning about the Bevin appointment, the fact remains that Tilley is widely regarded as a rising star in Kentucky politics.

As expected, Tilley took the high road on hearing complaints about his decision to leave the House.

“I know there are some hard feelings and, you know, I’m not happy about that, but I understand them. I hope people understand this was a decision about where I thought I could be most effective,” he said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

As he often does, the 46-year-old Hopkinsville attorney sounds more like a true public servant than a calculating politician - although he did demonstrate a high level of political savvy as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. One hallmark of his legislative record was his respectful and productive relationship with Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who is also a Hopkinsville attorney. Westerfield chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tilley and Westerfield collaborated on legislation to combat Kentucky’s heroin epidemic and on a bill that provides domestic violence protection for dating partners, among other positive efforts.

We will miss Tilley’s leadership in the House. But we respect his decision to leave the General Assembly. This is a huge step in Tilley’s professional life. He’s earned it.

He’s also earned enough respect to weather any complaints that his move is part of a political scheme to shift the House to a Republican majority.

Bevin picked the best man for the job. Tilley’s record proves that.

Online:

http://www.kentuckynewera.com

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