- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Dec. 29

Lexington Herald-Leader on caring for children in Kentucky:

Lawmakers in 2017 examined the crisis - that word is no exaggeration - that the opioid epidemic is inflicting on Kentucky’s children.

The only problem with ideas recently offered by two legislative committees is that they cost money that Kentucky does not have.

The federal government would send aid to clean up and rebuild from a natural disaster. But despite President Donald Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency, too little help has arrived in response to this man-made disaster, one that was abetted by the reluctance of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lawyers to punish pharmaceutical companies for supplying volumes of addictive painkillers so huge that they were clearly bound for illegal diversion.

Kentucky is far from alone in this hydra of a crisis that’s brought grief to almost every family and neighborhood. But states are largely on their own to develop solutions.

After adjourning the House Adoption Work Group on Dec. 19, co-chairman Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, recoiled at the prospect of tax increases to pay for its recommendations. He talked instead of “streamlining” and “realigning,” despite what he said will be “one of the most difficult budgets anyone has seen in state history.”

Faced with a $156 million current shortfall, Gov. Matt Bevin and lawmakers who convene Jan. 2 must decide how to meet overdue pension obligations without slashing education, health care and other state services that Bevin said have already been “cut to the bone.”

So, Kentucky youngsters, entering foster care at a higher rate than their counterparts nationally, will do without early interventions and supports that can keep them with their families, even though, as Meade said, preserving families is better for children and cheaper for taxpayers.

The numbers reveal a downward spiral:

? Since 2011, children living in foster care have increased nearly 8 percent nationally and more than 24 percent in Kentucky. More than 11,000 Kentucky children whom judges removed from their families were in out-of-home care in 2016 - up 15.4 percent since 2012.

? Intake calls received by child-protection caseworkers in Kentucky doubled from 2011 to 2017; the number of children in substantiated reports of abuse or neglect increased by 42 percent.

? As social workers struggle to keep up with the chaos spread by addiction, a perennial risk factor - unbearable caseloads - is probably worse than ever. In a survey last spring, 94 percent of caseworkers and 98 percent of supervisors said their workloads were unmanageable within a normal work week. Half of the caseworkers and 65 percent of supervisors said their workloads would be unmanageable no matter how many hours they worked in a week. Turnover exceeds the national rate, with a typical caseworker in Kentucky staying on the job just four years, according to a draft report issued by the Program Review and Investigations Committee.

Lawmakers on both committees urged the Department for Community Based Services to seek increases in social worker pay and numbers and to adopt strategies to improve recruitment, hiring and retention. Lawmakers called for equipping social workers with better technology, such as tablets and smart phones, to lessen their administrative burdens and give them more time with children and families.

Lawmakers identified high child-care costs as an obstacle to recruiting foster and adoptive parents. The need for affordable, reliable child care is something no one disputes. Children are put at risk when a parent is forced to choose between losing a job or leaving a child in an unsafe setting.

But, then again, money.

Other low- or no-cost recommendations, such as performance-based contracts for private foster care and adoption agencies, are worth pursuing.

But the reality remains: No amount of “streamlining” and “realigning” can make current state revenue meet Kentucky’s needs.

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

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Jan. 2

The Daily News of Bowling Green on donating Christmas trees to be used as a water habitat:

Each year, we all gear up for Christmas by getting decorations out of the attic, setting up the outdoor lights and preparing ornaments for the tree - all while getting excited about picking out the perfect tree.

Many people have opted for artificial trees in recent years, but a lot of people still pick out a real tree. Some families venture to Christmas tree farms and cut down their own trees, and some who own land chop down a tree on their own property. There is no right or wrong on what kind of tree to use, but Christmas trees certainly help bring out the spirit of the season, especially decorating them and putting an angel or star on top at the very end of decorating.

For several weeks, people get to sit in front of their tree and enjoy the lights - and in the case of live trees, they can enjoy the wonderful smell that comes with them. This is the fun part of having a tree in one’s house.

The not-so-fun part is having to take the tree down after Christmas and saying goodbye to it after putting it on the curb to be picked up. A lot of people simply wait for their trees to be picked up by the trash hauler, which is well and good, but we want to offer a better solution: donate your tree to be used as a water habitat.

For decades now, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has had drop-off locations around the state where trees - with all ornaments and lights removed - can be left. KDFWR takes the donated trees, attaches weights and sinks them in lakes and waterways across the state. These “brush reefs” provide a useful habitat for gamefish as well as creating homes for invertebrates and smaller fish.

As most people know, fish need habitat and these Christmas trees provide just that. They not only create a place for fish to stay and hide from predators, they also provide a place to nest in and around during nesting season.

According to officials with KDFWR, thousands of trees were dropped off last year and used for fish habitats.

(…)

We really encourage people to drop off their trees at these locations to provide much-needed habitat for fish in the lakes and waterways in our area. It really is a wonderful way to recycle your tree.

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

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Jan. 1

The State Journal on why transparency should be key for the legislature in 2018:

With 2018 now well under way, some of Kentucky’s state legislators may be getting started on their New Year’s resolutions, but we have one all members of the House and Senate should embrace - transparency.

This week marks the start of the 2018 legislative session, and as our representatives and senators work to solve the many, thorny issues facing them, transparency should be paramount.

First and foremost, it should apply to pension and budget discussions. (…)

In the session that runs through April 13, the legislature has the opportunity to remedy the problem or ensure Kentuckians don’t feel ignored by elected officials. The legislature should hold at least one public hearing to gather input about ideas to raise revenue or make large spending cuts, if that’s the preferred option, before considering a bill. At least one more public hearing should be held before the General Assembly takes a final vote on a pension reform proposal.

Meanwhile, the legislature should deliberate in public through all stages of the process.

But indications that they will do so aren’t good. Currently, the Kentucky House of Representatives is engaged in a lawsuit with the Bluegrass Institute about whether a closed meeting in August violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. The lawsuit started after the House appealed a decision by the Attorney General’s Office that the meeting violated state law.

While legislators met in private to discuss the tens of billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities, state workers were left wondering when a solution might be reached. No special session was called, and the state’s budget is falling short of projected revenues. As a result, Gov. Matt Bevin ordered spending cuts of 1.3 percent.

At some point, state officials will need to reform the state’s pension system, and there are two basic options - further reduce funding for a state government that’s already been plagued by cuts in recent years or raise revenue through taxes or other means. Both could have a significant effect on the daily lives of Kentuckians, and legislators should ensure their actions comport with the wishes of the people who will be affected. Public hearings that are properly advertised are the best method to accomplish that.

When faced with such monumental tasks as pension reform and balancing a budget, transparency is key. Kentucky state legislators should commit to that principle in 2018.

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


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