- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

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Nov. 24

The Lexington Herald-Leader on Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear restoring felons’ voting rights:

Kentucky’s constitution clearly empowers the governor to restore the voting rights of convicted felons, and outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear has put that power to very good use.

With the stroke of his pen Tuesday, Beshear restored voting rights to Kentuckians who have served their sentences for most non-violent crimes. (Excluded are those who were convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery or treason.)

To its deep disgrace, Kentucky is one of only three states that permanently bar felons from voting. Most states have a process for automatic restoration of voting rights after a criminal sentence is completed.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 180,000 Kentuckians have been barred from voting. That loss falls disproportionately hard on black Kentuckians. A 2013 study by the League of Women Voters found that almost one in five black Kentuckians is disenfranchised, three times the national rate.

Beshear’s order, which will also restore the right to hold public office, goes a long way toward reversing that injustice.

But a lot of work remains to restore this large population of non-violent criminals to productive roles in society. Many of them also have drug or alcohol abuse problems and will have a hard time getting jobs because of their criminal records.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce recently called for a state law expunging non-violent felony convictions, creating a clean slate for tens of thousands of Kentuckians. The chamber’s motive is simple: Employers need more workers. But everyone stands to benefit; research shows that working and voting reduce future criminal offenses and recidivism.

Gov.-elect Matt Bevin, a Republican, told the chamber during his campaign that he supports both voting-rights restoration and expungement - an encouraging sign since the opposition to restoring felons’ rights in the past has come from the Republican Senate.

The legislature, which convenes in January, should move on expungement and a permanent process for restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons.

Online:

https://www.kentucky.com/

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Nov. 22

The Bowling Green Daily News on the restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the U.S.:

“We are a compassionate nation. We have always been, and we will always will be. But we must remember that our first priority is to protect the American people.” - House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Ryan made this statement in regard to proposed legislation that would impose new restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the United States.

His statements about being a compassionate nation are spot on. We are a compassionate nation that has welcomed refugees from other countries. Our country has let more refugees in than any other since World War II and we should be proud of this record.

Having said that, we can be compassionate, but we must never forget a government’s highest responsibility should be to protect its people.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed the way we live forever. On that day we lost our innocence. The people responsible for the attacks came into this country legally through a lax vetting process. We knew after that day that whatever needed to be done to keep the bad guys from getting into our country, it must be done.

Since that time, several planned attacks have been foiled, under former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Fast forward to last week to the cowardly attacks in Paris carried out by members of ISIS. In those planned attacks, 130 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded by radical Islamic terrorists.

After the attacks, France’s President Francois Hollande declared his country at war against ISIS and has increased bombings of that group in Syria.

It is worth noting that one of the terrorists responsible for the attack came across Europe into France with other Syrian refugees.

That brings us to the the point of this editorial. Obama has said that he will allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to come into our country next year after they are properly vetted.

We fear the federal government doesn’t know how to properly vet these refugees coming into our country. In our own city in 2011, two Iraqi nationals were arrested for attempting to provide money and weapons to terrorists in Iraq. The fingerprints of one matched an improvised explosive device found in Iraq.

This is a close-to-home example of a vetting system that didn’t work. As this editorial is being written, it is known by FBI Director James Comey that terrorism investigations are underway in all 50 states. Comey also acknowledged that there are still gaps in the vetting process in part because of limits to U.S. intelligence in Syria. Comey, in October, said, “There is a risk associated of bringing anybody in from outside, but specifically from a conflict zone like that.”

Comey is right on target.

High-ranking state department and intelligence officials have said ISIS is likely to slip operatives into our country under the guise of being refugees.

The president of the United States wants to admit into this country 10,000 people from Syria, a country where ISIS has a huge presence?

Obama is attempting to go against the will of the people, despite the fact that 53 percent of the population says his plans should be halted immediately. Thirty-one governors, including our own Gov.-elect Matt Bevin, have said they don’t want these refugees in their states because they could pose a potential danger to the citizens living there.

We applaud Bevin for taking that stand and the 30 other other governors from both parties who have publicly raised concerns over Obama’s reckless plan.

U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have also strongly opposed Obama’s plan. The house has passed legislation, with support from 47 Democrats, aimed at improving screening for Syrian refugees. The legislation introduced Wednesday would require the FBI director to certify a background investigation for each refugee - and several top security officials to certify that each refugee is not a security threat to the U.S. - before a refugee from Iraq or Syria can be admitted. Under this plan, there would be a pause until a stronger vetting system is in place.

Paul has also introduced similar legislation in the Senate. This seems like a sound approach because it strikes the right balance between security and compassion.

Obama just doesn’t get it. He obviously doesn’t see the potential threat of letting the Syrian refugees in without the most stringent vetting.

Obama has said that those who oppose orphans and women refugees coming into this country from Syria should be ashamed of themselves. That’s demagoguing, plain and simple.

Secondly, one of the terrorists in the Paris attacks was a woman who blew herself up with a suicide vest. That, along with the knowledge that women are a part of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, is proof that women are just as capable as men of causing harm to our citizens.

Our government must come up with ways to fill in the gaps as Comey mentioned to ensure we have an ironclad and reliable vetting process to keep out those seeking to harm us.

Obama needs to halt his plan until that is done. Once it is proven that we do have a reliable vetting process to ensure no threat to our citizens, then we can let them into our country.

It doesn’t have to be a choice between compassion and security. If we approach this situation in an intelligent and focused way, there is no reason we can’t have both.

Online:

https://www.bgdailynews.com/

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Nov. 18

The Kentucky New Era on making over historic buildings in towns:

Just about every town in Kentucky that’s looking for creative ways to bring people and businesses back to their downtown districts can identify with a story out of Winchester. The Clark County seat is 20 minutes down the road from Lexington, putting it in the shadow of a large city with hundreds of options for chain stores, restaurants and theaters. In other words, competition for the retail and entertainment dollars is right across the county line.

But Winchester, with a population of 18,500, has some beautiful, historic buildings in a charming downtown setting, and the town’s leaders want locals to see what is possible for some of the vacant buildings there.

That was the idea behind Winchester’s ReMain North project over the weekend. Using empty spaces along one block, about 10 businesses set up temporary shops Friday and Saturday and attracted several hundred people to explore downtown. The weekend tenants included a restaurant, bakery, bike shop, art gallery and a brewery. Most of the businesses are already in Clark County, but a few came over from Lexington to participate.

“I think the best part of this project is pulling people into downtown to work on building a better community,” said Winchester Main Street Executive Director Rachel Alexander.

Winchester’s experience could provide inspiration for similar projects in our region. Hopkinsville, Princeton, Elkton, Guthrie, Trenton and Cadiz all have valuable downtown assets - and all of these towns would like to see every downtown building occupied.

The Winchester project relied on volunteers from about 30 organizations, including high school groups and 4-H clubs, that helped prep the vacant buildings.

It was hard work, Alexander said, but the project was worth it because of the momentum it created for downtown revitalization. Fostering a sense of ownership for downtown among a larger group of residents is the long-term benefit, she said.

Perhaps the easiest part of the project was convincing property owners to make their sites available. No one balked.

A community foundation in Winchester spurred the project when it brought a Texas consultant, Jason Roberts, to speak to local leaders. Roberts helped establish a group called The Better Block after initiating improvements to a run-down neighborhood of Dallas. In a TED Talk, Roberts has described a grass-roots effort that challenged out-dated planning codes that got in the way of new uses for downtown properties in his community.

Alexander said Roberts’ vision was instrumental in Winchester’s enthusiasm for a temporary pop-up business weekend. She’s hopeful the experience will bring new business downtown.

Winchester might have given new life to some old buildings simply by showing what is possible. That’s an example other towns ought to explore.

Online:

https://www.kentuckynewera.com

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