- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

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Aug. 12

The State Journal on court records:

Kentucky’s judiciary took a giant leap forward Friday when it comes to complying with both the spirit and letter of the state’s open record laws.

The seven justices on the Kentucky Supreme Court voted unanimously to approve the first open records policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts, which carries the weight of law under the state constitution. Up until now, access to court records was spotty at best without formal guidelines for requesting and obtaining them.

We applaud Chief Justice John Minton and his colleagues for their decision and the people who worked on the behalf of the press and public to make this happen.

The judicial branch is the one people most routinely come into direct contact with, and often at pivotal moments. Our court system and the many public agencies it encompasses is a day-in-day-out manifestation of our commonwealth’s and nation’s democratic ideals - ideally.

It deserves and requires the same level of scrutiny as the legislature and executive. Now that will be much simpler.

The AOC will also begin an online service called CourtNet 2.0, a subscription similar to an existing version in the federal courts that will allow “real-time, online access” to civil and criminal case files.

What was a long time coming was another feather in the cap of Kentucky’s open government godfather, Jon Fleischaker. The First Amendment attorney with Dinsmore & Shohl has long worked on behalf of the state’s newspapers through the Kentucky Press Association, this matter included.

He also helped draft the state’s relatively strong record and meeting laws.

“This is an important step for the Supreme Court,” Fleischaker said Friday in a news release.

“By establishing its own policy, the Judicial Branch demonstrates its commitment to transparency while preserving the separation of powers in state government. I’ve been looking forward to the day the public has definitive guidance on how to access the court system’s administrative records.”

That day has finally come. Everyone who’s a fan of free information and open government should be grateful for that.

Online: https://www.state-journal.com/

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Aug. 11

The Daily News of Bowling Green on the Kentucky Retirement System:

It’s no secret that the Kentucky Retirement System is among the worst in the nation.

The system now has, by some estimates, about $40 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. State officials have been struggling to find a solution to the problem, with Gov. Matt Bevin suggesting a special session of the General Assembly may be called soon to address the issue.

There are many pension systems under the KRS umbrella, including the County Employees Retirement System.

Unlike KRS as a whole, the CERS is in sound financial shape. The CERS is made up of employees of municipalities like cities and counties.

Total assets of the County Employees Retirement System are about $12 billion - 73 percent of the total assets in the KRS. The CERS is the most solvent of all the retirement funds KRS administers.

There is a fear that a crumbling KRS could take the CERS down with it.

That’s a legitimate concern.

As a result of those concerns, the Kentucky League of Cities, which represents city and county governments, has been pushing for several years for a separation of the CERS from the KRS.

Last week, Bowling Green city commissioners approved a symbolic resolution supporting the separation of the CERS from KRS. The city has about 450 full-time employees in CERS.

Bowling Green Assistant City Manager Katie Schaller-Ward said the proposed separation is municipal governments telling KRS “do what you need to do to fix your stuff,” she said.

On top of the concerns about the future of KRS, that agency’s board of trustees has lowered its investment assumptions, with employers being asked to make up the difference; that would cost the city about $3.8 million in a single year.

There is also a concern that even though CERS pays KRS to manage its system and has the vast majority of the assets in KRS, there is unequal representation. The KRS board has 17 members, but only six representing CERS.

The state legislature would have to approve a CERS split from the KRS and appeared to be headed in that direction during the last legislative session, but the effort was put on hold at Bevin’s urging after he announced his intention to call a special session to tackle KRS and tax reform.

While there is no doubt that the KRS must be shored up for the well-being of the entire state, there is also a legitimate concern that CERS may unfairly pay the price for the mismanagement of the KRS.

The Kentucky League of Cities has announced that a CERS split from KRS is its top legislative priority. Whether it be in a special session, or when legislators reconvene in Frankfort for the next regular session, we support making that split a reality.

Online: https://www.bgdailynews.com/

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Aug. 11

The Lexington Herald-Leader on prison cost driving a hole in the state budget :

As Gov. Matt Bevin and legislators contemplate our diminishing fiscal health, they should not ignore the ever-growing costs of imprisoning Kentuckians.

In the last several years, the General Assembly has passed significant legislation aimed at reforming our criminal-justice system to keep people who aren’t dangerous out of prison. But there is much more to be done, as the prison and jail population numbers, and their associated costs, indicate.

In the 2014-16 biennium, corrections consumed 11 percent of state spending, almost 50 percent more than human services (7 percent) and only slightly less than the 12 percent for postsecondary education.

The state inmate population, about 3,000 in the 1970s, had risen to 23,215 this June. During that time, corrections spending rose from under $20 million to $524.6 million. Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley, who championed reform as a legislator, predicts that will rise to near $600 million for the next year. The average cost to keep someone in prison is $66.82 a day, $24,389 a year.

Bevin has joined Tilley, whom he appointed, in advocating reform. Still, more can and must be done. Such as:

Put people in jail because they are dangerous not because they are poor. Thousands await trial behind bars because they can’t pay bail. This is the case despite an order by the Kentucky Supreme Court early this year setting mandatory, statewide standards to evaluate pretrial imprisonment based on risk. Failure to follow the order presents serious constitutional issues but it is also irrational and unproductive. Tilley says about 37,000 defendants who represent low to moderate risk serve on average 109 days a year in county jails at a total cost exceeding $100 million.

Raise the amount required to make theft a felony. Few things derail a life like a felony conviction, yet in Kentucky a person can wind up in prison with a felony record for stealing something worth $500, like one cell phone. Most states have a level over $1,000; in Alabama it’s $1,500, and $2,500 in Texas. Despite increases in 35 states in recent years, property crime has dropped.

Budget to fully staff probation and parole offices and reduce turnover by paying a professional wage for those difficult jobs. Over 6,000 people return to prison annually for violating probation or parole but only five percent of those committed a new crime. Most had technical violations: failing a drug test; missing an appointment; not reporting a new address or job. Kentucky has alternative sanctions for technical violations but prison is too often the default.

Stop passing laws that fill prisons based on emotion, not data. Drug traffickers belong in prison but House Bill 333 passed last session created such a broad definition of trafficking in heroin or fentanyl that one user sharing with another could face serious prison time. This state and country have proven that drug abuse will not be solved by locking up users. Putting them in prison diverts money that can be used much more effectively on programs to treat them in their communities.

The key is data. There is an enormous body of information about what makes us safer and what doesn’t. Kentucky can’t afford to warehouse tens of thousands of people who don’t represent a danger to their communities based on wishful thinking. It’s a waste of human resources and tax dollars.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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