- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Dec. 8

Lexington Herald-Leader on proposed cuts by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

Well, that was quick.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had barely finished making his fabulist prediction that the GOP tax overhaul would add nothing to the deficit when his fellow Republicans started saying that the deficit will force them to curb Medicare and other safety-net programs on which almost all Americans depend.

McConnell insists the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts will “jump start” so much economic activity that the effect on federal debt will be a wash. “I’m totally confident this is a revenue neutral bill. Actually, a revenue producer,” said McConnell. Congress’ own analysts disagree with his fanciful theory. So does history.

But, just for argument’s sake, let’s say McConnell is right and the current 3 percent growth surges to 4 percent. It would barely matter to the places and people who have been bypassed by the longest-ever postwar recovery. They include a lot of Kentuckians who helped put Donald Trump in the White House but are being left behind, despite 86 consecutive months of job growth.

The tax bill’s $47 billion windfall for Apple isn’t going to help average Kentuckians, while the pittance they gain in tax cuts will be quickly spent on necessities.

What would help McConnell’s constituents is higher wages. But Republicans have blocked a minimum wage increase and weakened the labor unions that negotiate improved compensation. Education, training and retraining would help. Kentucky employers repeatedly say they have jobs but can’t find workers with the skills to do them. Many Kentuckians also lack means to travel or relocate to where there are jobs. Their boats won’t be lifted by the tide of tax breaks soon to wash over commercial real estate, though Trump’s family will be further enriched.

McConnell’s constituents die from cancer and drug overdoses at a higher rate than residents of almost every other state, while Republicans try to dismantle the reforms that gave more than 500,000 Kentuckians access to doctors, medicine and addiction treatment. The tax bill’s increases in the deficit will automatically trigger cuts to Medicare and public health services. The Senate is choosing to save $300 billion by insuring 13 million fewer people to help stay within its self-imposed debt limit.

McConnell, who vowed to return the Senate to “regular order,” disputes that the tax bill was rushed through without vetting. Eighteen months of bipartisan debate honed the last major tax reform in 1986. Under McConnell, the Senate voted on handwritten changes in their 479-page bill in the wee hours of the morning without having read it. These last-minute changes unintentionally wiped out a chunk of the savings for corporations that were the bill’s main point, prompting GOP ally Robert Murray to howl that the Senate’s alternative minimum tax would deprive his and other coal companies of “enough cash flow to exist.”

Rest assured the corporate tax breaks will be restored as a House-Senate conference committee irons out differences in the bills, both of which deepen economic inequality. Then, Republicans will re-discover the deficit and use it as an excuse to unwind the social contract that protects the young, old, sick and impoverished. That will hurt Kentucky and the rest of the country, no matter how pretty the economic fantasy our senior senator spins.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/editorials/article188897639.html#storylink=cpy

Online: http://www.kentucky.com/

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Dec. 10

Daily News of Bowling Green on an audit that found more than 1,000 public employees claimed paid leave to vote in Kentucky elections, but didn’t cast a ballot:

Voting in this country is a privilege and a civic responsibility.

While no one is required by law to vote in this country, we believe every citizen should do so during every election cycle. Some people might say their vote doesn’t count, but we would counter that argument by saying it absolutely does. One only has to look at the 2015 Republican gubernatorial primary in Kentucky, which was decided by only 83 votes. That narrow margin proves that every vote does, in fact, matter. Had more people come out and voted, we might have a different Republican governor today. This is not a slight against Gov. Matt Bevin - it’s just a fact.

A lot of people like to complain about certain politicians or laws that are enacted, but then when you ask many of them if they voted, they say they don’t vote. They certainly have the freedom of speech to whine about who gets elected to certain offices, but we would argue that those who exercised their right to vote don’t need to take them seriously.

Having said that, it is beyond alarming to learn of a recent audit conducted by state Auditor Mike Harmon that showed that more than 1,100 public employees claimed paid leave to vote in Kentucky elections but did not cast a ballot. Harmon said in a statement that his office reviewed the use of election leave during the 2015 general election and the 2016 primary election. The audit found that 1,329 employees claimed four hours of paid election leave but were not entitled to it because they weren’t registered to vote, did not cast a ballot or were on another form of leave. Harmon said of those, 1,176 took leave but did not cast a ballot in one or both elections.

This is a total outrage. These are public employees who essentially lied to their employers by saying that they were going to vote and didn’t vote, yet still used four hours of time to do whatever they chose to do - besides voting, of course - on the taxpayers’ dime.

Harmon called the findings “troubling” and said the report will be sent to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Personnel Cabinet for further investigation and possible disciplinary action.

We’re very glad Harmon conducted this audit and exposed this large number of public employees for not being truthful about voting and wasting taxpayers’ money. Those involved in this deserve to be disciplined and we would like to see them pay back the state for services not rendered during the hours in question.

Online: http://www.bgdailynews.com/

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Dec. 10

The Independent of Ashland on combining opioid lawsuits:

Hundreds of attorneys met before a federal litigation board in St. Louis last week to discuss ways of expediting the cause and speed of justice by reducing the about 150 lawsuits filed nationwide accusing several major drug manufacturers of fueling the opioid epidemic that is threatening to destroy area communities.

A request, filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, in September, asks that those suits filed in multiple states be grouped together for better cohesion and efficiency as the cases move forward. A decision is expected in two weeks.

The lawsuits state that wholesale distributors breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates coming into the states over the past several years, a duty the lawsuits claim companies have under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Among those joining in the class action suit are virtually every city and county government in the Tri-State region. They include, but are not limited to, Ashland and Boyd County, Scioto, Gallia and Lawrence counties and the city of Portsmouth in Ohio, and McDowell, Kanawha, Boone, Wyoming, Logan, Lincoln, Cabell and Wayne counties and the city of Huntington in West Virginia.

Huntington attorney Paul T. Farrell Jr., whose coalition of law firms represents about half of the 154 cases filed thus far, said Thursday’s hearing did not seem to focus so much on whether the cases would be grouped, but instead where the cases would be heard.

“It’s anyone’s guess on where they will land,” he said. “But the panel is looking for a judge with some experience with handling MDLs (Multijurisdiction Lawsuits), and there was not a whole lot of time debating on judge or jurisdiction. Most of them want Columbus, Ohio, or Charleston.”

Grouping would allow one judge to make rulings on pretrial motions and other issues that arise, Farrell said. “No one is losing their case,” he said. “There are just several decisions that have to be made, and that will be conducted by one person, if the panel approves the order. It saves time and inconsistent rulings.”

Farrell also noted the issue of who had filed the suits - whose plaintiffs range from hospitals, government entities, labor unions, third-party payees and individual citizens. The panel could choose to separate those suits from each other due to different claims.

The “Big Three” distributors - McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. - and five manufacturers, like Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, who are named in dozens of the lawsuits - argued the move would be ideal, but other pharmaceutical distribution businesses - including Walgreens, Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid - who are named in just a handful of lawsuits - oppose the consolidation.

Smaller pharmacy distributors named in local lawsuits oppose the centralization of dozens of cases they are not named in. The move would be unfair and dramatically increase burdens and costs associated with the move, several claimed.

The filings started after a 2016 Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation revealed that between 2007 and 2012, the “Big Three” shipped 423 million pain pills to West Virginia, which has about 1.8 million citizens, before the number of pills started to decrease. The Cabell County Commission declared the distribution of pain medications in the county a public nuisance under West Virginia State Code and hired the law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel to pursue first-of-its-kind legal action against those in the chain of distribution. It created a domino effect of lawsuits being filed nationwide.

After the hearing in St. Louis, Farrell said, “We got their attention today in one of the most important courtrooms in the country right now. They know that there is going to be a day of reckoning and it’s going to be magic or tragic - one or the other.”

It started with aggressive moves to promote OxyContin and other highly addictive “pain” medicine and supplying pain clinics with massive doses of those drugs. We think the pharmaceutical industry did play a role in creating this region’s opioid epidemic. We will allow a jury or juries to decide just how large that role is and if there is any liability, if at all. However, before any trial can being the many existing lawsuits must be combined into a more manageable number.

Some litigants may not like having their suit combined with a much larger action, but that is the best way to assure that the important issues in the suits do not take years before they are decided in a court of law. Most local governments involved in the combined suit likely will play only a minimum role in it, but it is important that they have a seat at the rather large table.

Online: http://www.dailyindependent.com/


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