Letters to the editor about legislature: March 23

March 23, 2014 

Keep promises to state retirees

Public employees have become scapegoats for the financial instability of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the resulting burden felt across the board.

Our public servants provide resources and services to the elderly, the disadvantaged, our youth and veterans. They protect our drinking water, our food, our public safety.

They work for much less than they could elsewhere for the benefit of serving others and for the tangible, yet ever-decreasing, benefits offered through state retirement and insurance. Those benefits don't come free. Every employee is required to pay their matching contribution out of every paycheck.

Yet, year after year, lawmakers have chosen to use the employer contribution for their own projects or to misleadingly balance the budget. Where is it legal to hire someone, work them for 30 years, and then just say, "Sorry about your luck, we used the money for other things?"

Adding salt to the wound is rampant ignorance surrounding the average public pension — $22,000. Nearly 345,000 members are included in KRS, which now has an unfunded liability of $17.6 billion, and is the second-most severely underfunded pension system in the U.S. The full Kentucky Employees' Retirement System (which includes county employees and state police) has only 23 percent of the money needed to meet obligations.

In 2013, Senate Bill 2 made a commitment to fund the employer actuarial required contribution. Gov. Steve Beshear's budget proposal earmarks the funds, but for only two years. It must be fully funded every biennium.

Paul Guffey

President, Kentucky Public Retirees

Frankfort

Support smoking ban

We elect legislators to represent our will in making and enforcing laws. When an elected official fails to represent the wishes and/or welfare of the voters, it is time to replace that representative with one who will.

Some representatives seem to have forgotten it was the voters and not lobbyists who elected them. A good example is the smoking restriction bill.

This bill still allows smokers freedom to smoke, they just can't force children and non-smokers to inhale their secondhand smoke in public places. Where local smoking restriction laws have already been enacted there have been little or no negative effects on businesses. The vast majority of Kentucky voters support this smoking restriction bill.

Overwhelming medical evidence clearly states that secondhand smoke can and does adversely affect every man, woman and child. Secondhand smoke can and does even cause death. Millions of children are forced to inhale this deadly substance every day and many will develop long-term health problems as a result of secondhand smoke.

All these facts, yet our elected officials choose to serve the interests of a few lobbyists over the health of our children. Join me in pledging to use our vote to remove any and all elected representatives who put high-paid lobbyists ahead of our children

Joe Bounds, M.D.

Ashland Restore felon voting rights

Kentucky is one of the most restrictive states in restoring voting rights to former felons, imposing a lifetime ban on voting unless rights are restored by the governor. As a result, one of every 14 adults and one of five African-Americans cannot vote without the governor's approval.

The League of Women Voters of Kentucky supports House Bill 70, putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights for felons who have completed sentencing and parole, except those convicted of murder or a sex crime.

The bill passed in the House, but amendments adopted in the senate would substantially limit the number of individuals (about 100,000 of 180,000 former felons) who would benefit from the policy change. It would also create greater administrative burdens for election officials.

The league believes strongly that the right of citizens to vote should be protected. Those who have made a mistake should have that right reinstated once they have completed their full sentence and parole.

The league supports the original version of HB 70. We encourage legislators to work out a compromise that minimizes the additional waiting period imposed by the amendments, and pass the bill.

Tammy Fagley and Cindy Heine

Co-Presidents, League of Women Voters of Kentucky

Lexington

AT&T bill risky for Kentucky

Senate Bill 99, the AT&T-drafted legislation, is a great deal for the telecommunication giants. It allows them to abandon their least profitable customers and service areas as well as public protection obligations. But it is a risky and potentially dangerous bet for Kentuckians. House members should turn it down.

Kentuckians across the state agree that access to affordable high speed Internet is a good thing for Kentucky. However, despite what AT&T supporters say, SB 99 does nothing to require or guarantee increased broadband investment, especially in areas of most need.

AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris has said that Kentucky's outdated laws force the company to invest in outdated technology instead of broadband. He failed to mention that AT&T turned down federal funds to build out broadband in rural areas.

Most Kentuckians agree that a phone call is a phone call whether made from a regular phone line, a wireless phone or over the Internet. And we want our phone service to reflect the communications principles that have long been part of U.S. law.

It is a system that guarantees affordable service to anyone, no matter where they live. It promotes and encourages competition ensuring that a call from one phone company can be received by an individual using another service. It provides public safety through 911 connection and other emergency services.

There is no good reason for legislators to rush this bill through and surrender these rights and protections guaranteed to us.

Mimi Pickering

Whitesburg

A vote for malpractice panels

I have an unusual perspective from which to comment on Senate Bill 119. I prematurely retired from surgical practice in Lexington in 2002, primarily because of the hostile malpractice climate in Kentucky. I have since practiced part-time in Montana, where malpractice premiums are about half the rates in Kentucky.

Why is that? In 1977, Montana law mandated that any malpractice claim against a health-care provider be reviewed by a medical legal panel before court filing of any such action. This has resulted in a "win-win" situation for all parties concerned: patients, attorneys and health-care providers.

More claims are settled or dropped at a much earlier stage, often avoiding a lawsuit and an expensive trial. The general taxpayer benefits from the reduced costs and burden on the court system. The decision of the panel is not binding, and the claimant may pursue further action if desired.

A review of the activity of the panel over the last decade documents that the number of claims has declined. Over the same period, the number of health-care providers in Montana has increased. A coincidence? Hardly.

If one is seriously interested in improving health care access in Kentucky, encourage your legislator to vote for SB 119.

Mike Daugherty, M.D.

Whitefish, Mont.

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