Monday, September 27, 2010

Republicans Should Get Credit For These Good Ideas

I know it's somewhat simplistic--but I like it.

The idea of House Republicans in Frankfort that legislators must forfeit their pay for a special session if they fail to pass the budget in a regular session.

That would bring pressure on both parties to get the budget done; their major work in a regular session. It should also bring about better planning, and better co-ordination between the governor and the legislature..sometimes a reason why a special session is needed in the first place.

But there's also egos and stubborness involved here. (I marvel at how Sen. David Williams keeps his crew in line vote after vote, sometimes when it really makes, to me, little sense.) Maybe not getting paid to keep on blindly following party leadership would bring pressure from the rank-and-file to "get 'er done!" If this takes a constitutional amendment, as House Dems suggest, let us begin.

I also like another idea from House Republicans..bills that spend tax monies or raise taxes must be made available to lawmakers--and you and me--at least 48 hours before a vote. It's well known that most budgets, because of their length and complexity, aren't event read over by lawmakers before reporters find out later when they start combing the fine print, and..sur-prize!

Senate candidate Rand Paul wants Congress to follow a similar approach..saying Congress must read all bills before voting on them. How to you require Congress to read a bill? You can't really require Congress to do anything; it often violates its own rules--and the law. When it couldn't (or wouldn't) pass the federal budget by the July first deadline, it moved the deadline to October first...and still hasn't met that deadline! The Frankfort approach of Paul's fellow Republicans makes more sense..get the bills out there for 48 hours before a vote.

That gives you and me a chance to comment and object..and that's what representative government is all about.

"I'm Just Sayin'"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The recent massacre in Breathitt County didn't have to happen.

Stanley Neace, the man all the witnesses say shot and killed 5 people, was not supposed to possess important development buried in a Herald-Leader story.

He had been found guilty of flagrant non-support, a felony that prohibited him from possessing guns.

But, who enforced that law? (or so many others in our society?)

It wasn't enforced, and therein may lie an even bigger tragedy; just as Virginia didnt enforce its gun laws that led to the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech.

It's not enough to get good laws on the books; they need to be enforced..and I hope during this fall campaign season, some of you may ask the candidates about this. As a reporter, let me plead guilty here; I often asked candidates' positions on proposed legislation, but I can't remember ever asking them if they would see that laws are properly enforced, if elected. That includes adequate funding and staffing for agencies charged with that responsibility.

It's all very well to some candidates will,"we just don't have the money." But many of those same candidates will say the most important thing government can do for its citizens is to guarantee their security; so they approve spending on prisons, but not adequate salaries for those in law enforcement, or proper staffing for rural sheriffs. That's not only short-sighted, it's not "security."

Ultimately, it boils down to choices: another prison for example,(with its local jobs!),or funds for crime prevention--broadly construed.

And by the way, is there any doubt Neace was mentally ill? Kentucky has, for years, not adequately funded its mental health programs. That's often debated in Frankfort in the abstract, but the specific, practical result of that debate, and inadequate funds, is what happened recently in Eastern Kentucky.

The recent massacre in Breathitt County didn't have to happen.

"I'm Just Sayin"

Monday, September 13, 2010

Crime Labs Work Best When There's Equal Access

North Carolina has become the latest state where serious problems have turned up at its state crime lab. As in about six other states, including West Virginia and even the FBI's own crime lab, reports were either done badly, done wrong, deliberately falsified (sometimes in death penalty cases), or withheld from the defense which had a right to them.

As one Tar Heel official pointed out after a scathing report on their lab--justice is expensive and can't be done on the cheap.

Kentucky's own state crime lab has suffered from lack of funds, personnel and facilities; which means our justice system is flawed. Local officials wait weeks or months to get reports on whether drivers or suspects had used drugs in accidents or crime cases, and those might be the simplest of lab reports.

Kentucky ought to invest properly here, or our justice system may be forever flawed. Killing someone because a blood sample was misread, a bullet's rifling was misinterpreted, a drug sample was misplaced; all of which, and more, have happened in other states, should give us concern.

The North Carolina report has already freed an innocent man after 17 years in prison. More will follow.

But the basic problem, as I see it, in Kentucky and elsewhere, is this: crime labs work for prosecutors only; and you and I pay the tab. If the defense needs lab work, they have to pay for it. For justice to serve all of us, (remember we presume the suspect innocent), the defense should have the right to use the public crime lab. This would keep lab personnel on their toes, knowing they report to both sides, not just one.

Could the defense delay a case by making too many requests of an overburdened lab system? Certainly. (Bet some prosecutors have tried this, too.) So there need to be rules, the type of cases limited (certainly death penalty cases should always be allowed) as well as the number and type of requests.

I would hope our justice officials; the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General, Secretary of the Justice Cabinet, KSP commander, and others, would start work right away on a new system to allow the defense access to the crime lab, and start a public awareness campaign on the importance of an adequately supported state crime lab; before what has just happened in North Carolina happens here, and innocent Kentuckians are convicted, or in the worse case, killed.

"I'm Just Sayin'"...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

KY Backroads Features Part Of What's Good In Local TV News Coverage

There is a lot of justified criticism of Lexington TV news, including the unrelenting diet of fender bender crimes, each week, a new "parents' worse nightmare", and sexual peccadilloes by the various and sundry citizenry, but that ought not to blind us to a few gems on the local air.

Among my faves is the "Kentrucky's Backroads" series on WTVQ-36. Reporter Greg Stotelmyer searches out the overlooked, off-the-beaten-path places, and people..(he seems partial to old ladies who paint and collect, and some of them are just wonderful).

His pieces are well filmed and edited. His current cameraman, Chris Woosley, did a marvelous job recently catching the spirit of Yahoo Falls, as Greg introduced us to the Native Americans who call the place sacred and why. It's a sad tale of a massacre conducted by frontier Kentuckians who just didn't like Indians, so they murdered them; mainly women and children, before the returning braves exacted revenge---and justice.

By the end of the piece I wanted to go there for a visit, for its beauty, for its history, for a tribute to forgotten Native Kentuckians so badly treated by we who were "civilized."

So I turned to my well-used copy of the Kentucky Encyclopedia. The best thing I can say about this volume is that it is the best thing out there; it is also the worse thing out there because it is the only thing out there. It has its share of mistakes, including an inexplicable filing of people by their first names not last. (And the people who issued it don't seem interested in correcting their mistakes or issuing a new, updated, corrected version. Pity.)

Among its mistakes I soon found out was, no listing for Yahoo Falls. No listing actually for any of our waterfalls. Maybe the compilers just didn't know about Yahoo Falls, or maybe they were too ashamed to remind us of the unprovoked murders of the innocent.

Yahoo Falls is in McCreary County near Whitley City, in the Big South Fork Recreation area and is on federal land supervised by the U.S, Forestry Service. It is off U-S 27 at KY road 700; go west four miles and signs to the Falls should start to appear. It should be pretty in the fall but the falls may be only a trickle. In spring the falls can run over 100 feet high, and are believed to be the highest in our state.

And watch "Kentucky's Backroads" for more gems. It's on WTVQ-36 in Lexington, Thursdays on the 6pm newscast, and Sundays on the 11pm newscast.

“I’m Just Sayin’”