- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspaper:


Sept. 27

Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader on why easing rules on lobbyists is a bad idea:

John Schickel was already in the Kentucky Senate when disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff explained how political corruption works to the General Assembly.

Government is made up of “ordinary, decent people slowly accommodating themselves to a system that is rife with moral predicaments,” the master influencer told lawmakers at an ethics training in January, 2012.

Abramoff, who spent over three years in federal prison for conspiring to bribe members of Congress and others, said the best way to avoid those predicaments is to ban all gifts or contributions to lawmakers by lobbyists and their clients.

Abramoff’s suggestions went beyond Kentucky law, which prohibits lobbyists from giving money at any time to sitting legislators or those running for legislative seats; their clients can’t give when the General Assembly is in session but can at other times.

But that’s not good enough for Schickel, who is serving his second term with plans to run again in 2016. He and two Libertarian hopefuls filed suit in federal court challenging the restrictions on lobbyists’ giving and a $1,000 limit on campaign contributions by others.

Schickel turned to federal court after his unsuccessful attempt to double the campaign donation limit in the last legislative session.

There is a case to be made about raising the donation limit but any proposal must be fully and publically vetted by the General Assembly, which passed the limits in the wake of the BOPTROT scandal in the early 1990s.

BOPTROT resulted in the corruption convictions of 15 sitting or former lawmakers.

It’s much harder - indeed almost impossible - to make a case for easing off on the restrictions on lobbyists that also grew out of BOPTROT. As Abramoff well knows, the public will not gain from a cozier, economically enhanced relationship between lobbyists and the legislators they are paid to influence.

Schickel’s lawsuit argues that the restrictions violate the First Amendment rights of the lobbyists and himself.

In one of the lawsuit’s odder statements, Schickel complains that he “would attend holiday parties, hosted by longstanding friends, who are lobbyists or employ lobbyists,” if it weren’t for the bothersome restrictions.

As it happens, Schickel needn’t sit alone during the holidays. He just can’t accept food, drink or other favors without compensating the lobbyists. He could either bring his own holiday cheer or write a check for his share of the entertainment.

This doesn’t seem like a huge burden considering what’s at stake.

Money, gifts, favors, trips all create obligations that can lead to “moral predicaments” that in turn can mean legislation that favors a well-heeled few over the rest of us.

It’s also not an unusual burden. In many private-sector jobs restrictions are imposed based on ethical or economic interests. Buyers must keep a distance from the vendors; many company executives are restricted to avoid insider trading. Remember Martha Stewart’s stint in federal prison?

It’s remarkable that a legislator is willing to argue that paying his own way for private entertainment or striking a few people from his list of campaign contributors is too great a price to ensure at least the appearance of an untainted legislative process.




Sept. 30

Bowling Green (Kentucky) Daily News on state’s positive unemployment data:

It is always welcome news when unemployment numbers fall in the area.

No matter what part of this country you live in, falling unemployment figures should make us feel good about ourselves and the direction we’re heading.

Warren County, surrounding counties and the state all boast dropping unemployment numbers. Data recently released by the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training revealed encouraging trends pertaining to the percentage of jobless residents.

The August jobless rate in Warren County fell to 4.1 percent from a July mark of 5 percent. In the Bowling Green metropolitan area, August unemployment stood at 4.3 percent, compared to 5.2 percent in July.

These are significant decreases that show more and more people are rejoining the workforce.

This is promising news. It is also very significant that the numbers are below 5 percent, which is considered to be full employment in economic models.

Some say the Kentucky labor market is the best it has been in a decade. Given these numbers, we would agree with that assessment.

Surrounding counties also did well in decreasing their unemployment numbers. Simpson County dropped to 4.2 percent from 4.9 percent and Allen County to 4.3 percent. Logan County dropped to 4.5 percent and Barren County went from 5.2 percent to 4.6 percent. Butler dropped from 5.8 percent to 5.1 percent.

These numbers are also terrific news for the Barren River Area Development District, especially in some of the more rural, poorer counties the district encompasses.

State unemployment numbers were also encouraging with a 4.9 percent rate. Unemployment rates fell in 112 Kentucky counties between August 2014 and August, only rose in six counties and remained the same in two counties. These statewide numbers are better than the nationwide unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.

We are very pleased with these local, state and federal numbers. They are a clear indication that we have taken a positive turn, and we hope the trend continues.




Sept. 22

The (Kentucky) Courier-Journal on state’s response to synthetic drugs:

Prescription drug abuse was a problem in Kentucky for too long before the state began addressing it.

Then heroin began to replace prescription painkillers, and again the state was woefully slow to act, finally passing significant legislation in the 2015 General Assembly after bills failed in two previous sessions.

Now, a new scourge appears to be on the rise. Flakka, an illegal synthetic drug that causes users to become hyper paranoid and exhibit superhuman strength, has surfaced in Lewis County. As Kristina Goetz reported last Sunday, the drug is unlike anything law enforcement officials have ever seen.

And that’s why Kentucky must not wait to tackle this new threat.

As with other drug-abuse problems, this one requires a combination of law enforcement, education aimed at prevention and rehabilitation and treatment of those who abuse substances.

One of the concerns The Courier-Journal has raised in the past regarding harsh penalties for drug abusers is that too many are incarcerated when what they really need is treatment and rehabilitation. That’s why we have opposed past heroin bills that would have allowed prosecution for dealing with any amount possessed.

Flakka and other synthetic drugs are a different case. As The Courier-Journal has reported, possession of synthetic drugs like flakka is only a misdemeanor under Kentucky law. A first-offense trafficking charge is a Class A misdemeanor. Possession is a Class B misdemeanor - no matter how many times a person is arrested or how much they’re caught with. Those penalties apparently were aimed at synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which were not considered as dangerous as today’s synthetics like flakka. As Kentucky law now stands, it binds the hands of law enforcement officials and will allow this dangerous drug to fester in communities and spread. The legislature needs to remedy that with stiffer penalties.

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, says he is preparing a bill to amend the synthetic drug penalties, but short of a special session - which certainly could be warranted for this more than for county clerks - that puts any deterrent effect months away.

The experience of Broward County in South Florida points to an equally important step the state can take immediately - intensive education campaigns to dissuade likely users. Given the low price of flakka and its easy availability via Internet sites, getting the message out about its dangers is vital.

“Your best weapon right now is prevention,” said Paul Faulk, director of the Broward Addiction Recovery Center. “There really has to be an active effort out there in making sure that youth and those that are indigent get this information and stay away from it.”

The state should find the agency and resources to pursue such a campaign quickly.



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