ANGLING FOR SPOILS OF ‘COAL WAR ’
The spoils of the Kentucky Senate’s war on coal miners became clear last week in an amendment that Sen. Chris Girdler attached to industry-dictated legislation ending the state’s safety inspections of coal mines.
Under Senate Bill 297, which cleared the Republican-controlled Senate along largely party lines, the state employees formerly known as mine-safety inspectors would become political appointees.
Yes, you read that right. Girdler has touted his bill as relief for a declining coal industry already subject to federal regulation. But Girdler, R-Somerset, and his fellow Republicans also are out to make a soft place for friends, family and political donors to land.
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If anyone in government should have the merit system’s protection from political pressure it’s employees who are responsible for keeping miners safe. But keeping miners safe clearly is not a priority for the Senate, which not only voted to end state safety inspections and make gubernatorial appointees of “mine safety specialists” but also to repeal the requirement that mine foremen receive six free hours of annual safety training from the state.
Now that the Senate has kissed the coal industry’s feet, the House must do the right thing. Speaker Greg Stumbo has predicted a hostile reception in the House; let’s hope he’s right.
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, was the only Republican who broke from the party pack and voted against this sellout of Kentucky’s coal miners. Kudos to Buford.
PROTECT KY. CONSUMERS
Attorney General Andy Beshear gave it a good try, but the Supreme Court refused to let him defend a consumer-protection law that Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration abandoned at the last minute. But protecting the public should be another easy score for lawmakers.
In 2012, the House approved the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act by a vote of 94-0. The Senate approved it by vote of 37-0.
The law required insurance companies to use public databases to make good on small life insurance policies. A St. Louis-based company challenged the law, saying the state could not apply it retroactively. The Beshear administration defended the law and prevailed in Franklin Circuit Court but lost before the Court of Appeals.
Both sides had filed briefs and the Supreme Court was ready to hear arguments when the new administration abruptly pulled the plug, saying that because the law did not specifically say it applied to policies sold before it took effect it did not. In other words, the St. Louis company had the right to send its agents into Kentucky’s low-income neighborhoods selling burial policies that the company never intended to make good on, if it could get away with it. That’s the position our Department of Insurance has taken under Bevin.
The House has reaffirmed the law 84-0 in House Bill 408, making clear that the requirement applies to all policies, existing and new. The Senate should follow suit.
For the record, Justice Mary Noble of Lexington was willing to let the AG assume defense of the disputed law.
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR FAIRNESS
A funny thing happened as the Republican-controlled Senate voted to gut local fairness ordinances in eight Kentucky cities. Five Republicans bolted.
Four of the five are from urban areas: Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, and Chris McDaniel and Wil Shroder of Northern Kentucky. Also, Sen. Carroll Gibson of Leitchfield split with GOP leadership to vote against this bad bill.
Adams said Senate Bill 18’s signal of bigotry would hurt Louisville’s economic prospects. Indiana’s legislature backed off a similar measure last year after it generated boycott threats and a backlash from employers nationally.
Under the guise of protecting religious freedom — something the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has done for more than 200 years — SB 18 attempts to carve out a legal shelter for business people who don’t want to deal withsame-sex weddings, although the measure’s language is far more sweeping than just that.
Shroder urged waiting on the outcome of a Lexington case in which a circuit judge ruled in favor of Hands On Originals, which cited religious objections to same-sex marriage for refusing to produce T-shirts for the Lexington Pride Festival. The city’s Human Rights Commission found the company violated the fairness ordinance.
The debate has made clear that many in the Senate do not understand the issue. For example, bakers are already free to turn down requests for Holocaust or KKK cakes; Nazis and the Klan are not protected classes. Indeed, in most of Kentucky it’s legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation — that’s what the legislature should be working on: outlawing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kentuckians through a statewide fairness law.
It’s sad that lawmakers from the places hurting the most economically would undermine those that are welcoming everyone to start businesses, create jobs, live, work, study and pay taxes. Places that have enacted fairness ordinances — Lexington, Louisville, Covington, Danville, Frankfort, Midway, Morehead and Vicco — are far more representative of Kentucky than the Senate’s Republican reactionaries.