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Kentucky editorial roundup

By: The Associated Press, Associated Press
December 21, 2016 Updated: December 21, 2016 at 2:12 pm

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:


Dec. 16

The Lexington Herald-Leader on tax exemptions in Kentucky:

A committee meeting Tuesday in Frankfort should serve as a cautionary tale for how resistant lawmakers are to take on special interests to reform even a small part of Kentucky's tax system.

At issue was a tax exemption created by a constitutional amendment in 1969 to preserve farmland in Kentucky by lowering taxes on it.

Both an investigative series by the Herald-Leader earlier this year and a committee staff report showed that thousands of acres covered under the exemption aren't farmed. Many are home to huge houses sitting on very large lots; others are zoned for development and awaiting a buyer.

This isn't fair to other taxpayers and, of course, isn't preserving farmland.

So, in a cash-strapped state with a governor eager for tax reform, you'd think the Program Review and Investigations Committee would jump on this low-hanging fruit and find a way to protect farmers while closing the loophole.

You'd think wrong.

"I don't think it's a big problem out there right now," said State Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford.

Sen. Thomas Buford, R-Nicholasville, seemed to think it's just too much trouble to sort out: "This is so convoluted that I don't know there is a way to come up with language," to fix it.

With friends like Buford, Gov. Matt Bevin may find overhauling Kentucky's loophole-ridden tax code much more difficult than he imagined.

Kentucky exempts more taxes than it collects — about $12.3 billion in giveaways compared to $10.2 billion in revenue. There is no way to improve Kentucky's revenue picture and create a simpler, more fair and modern tax code without doing just the hard work that Rand, Buford and other committee members didn't want to take on.

It will be hard work. Few exemptions have "sunset clauses" requiring the General Assembly to examine whether they still serve their intended purpose before reauthorizing them, but almost all have special interests that will fight to preserve them. Each year more are passed, further draining state coffers.

The agricultural exemption is a good example. In the 30 years before the 1969 amendment, Kentucky lost over a fifth of its agricultural land to suburban development. Farmland had been taxed, like other acreage, based on fair cash value — what it could sell for.

Originally farmers had to apply for the exemption and document that it produced income from agriculture. In 1992 both requirements were dropped. Farm Bureau officials supported those changes and told legislative staffers they oppose reinstating either provision now.

Other changes have arisen from rulings by the Kentucky Supreme Court and Board of Tax Appeals. All this, as the legislative staff report notes, "may not have promoted reasonable and workable guidelines," for county property-valuation administrators — the elected officials charged with keeping property-tax rolls up to date.

With everyone confused, some non-agricultural lots get the break, while some new types of agriculture — low-acreage lots used by beekeepers, part-time market gardeners, horticulturists, small scale livestock producers or others — probably don't.

Like hundreds of exemptions baked into our tax code, the General Assembly has not looked closely at this one to see if, after 50 years, the millions in taxes Kentucky is giving up are accomplishing what voters intended.

This is work legislators can no longer avoid.



Dec. 21

The Courier-Journal on why Kentucky shouldn't ease coal ash rules:

The Bevin administration's Energy and Environment Cabinet is proposing a faux regulatory process — "permit by rule" — giving utility companies the freedom to create coal ash ponds and landfills without the need for regulatory review.

This is beyond reckless and puts public health and the environment at risk.

Simply put, utilities needing a coal ash storage pond or landfill would plan the location, design, operating, closure and corrective action standards without the cabinet signing off on plans that meet Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Likewise, there would be no requirement for communities to be notified of a planned site. There would be no opportunity for public input or comment.

A utility would not be required to post a bond to ensure the reclamation was completed. If the site is abandoned, taxpayers would be on the hook for the cleanup.

Coal ash is not regulated as a hazardous waste but that doesn't make it safe. It contains arsenic, selenium, mercury and other pollutants. These can leach into groundwater or become airborne and lead to health problems.

For example, Kristina Zierold, a public health researcher at the University of Louisville, has found evidence that airborne coal ash can increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The photo above shows some of the damage from the Kingston, Tenn., disaster on Dec. 22, 2008, when a catastrophic failure unleashed coal ash that destroyed three homes, knocked dozens of others off their foundations and caused property damage across about 300 acres while leaving toxic behind toxic waste. The cleanup cost was more than $1 billion.

The CJ's James Bruggers reported that LG&E and KU Energy are among the utility companies embracing the proposals. They say the cabinet's plan would eliminate unnecessary and unproductive regulations.

But utilities should see value in regulatory review because it could offer them a defense if there is a problem.

We understand that there may be regulations in the state that are unnecessary or outdated. It's good to review and kill some of those.

This one is not.

We think there must be a full-blown approval process of the location, design and operation that also includes public notification as well as public comment. Even textbook zoning cases require that the public be notified and given the chance to comment.

In addition, the utilities must post a bond to protect the taxpayers.

Also, existing coal ash ponds and landfills must continue operations under their original permits. Utilities must not be freed from prior permit obligations.

Gov. Matt Bevin wants to cede any authority for formal review of permitting of these toxic sites.

Attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy organization, said, "The idea that you are going to allow the generators of waste that contains elevated heavy metals and other pollutants of concern to essentially regulate themselves ... is a recipe for disaster."

Gov. Bevin, Kentuckians don't need a taste of what you're serving.



Dec. 18

The News-Enterprise on considering medical marijuana in Kentucky:

The question of medical marijuana deserves a detailed hearing and thorough research.

Clouded by controversies surrounding the recreational use of pot and a common view that it is a gateway to more serious drug abuse and addiction, medical applications of marijuana are not clearly understood.

Based on the reams of disclaimers included with every prescription, all forms of medicine have some unwanted — and potentially harmful — side effects. Certainly, marijuana will not be the exception.

But it's hard to collect facts when research is not being conducted.

The federal Food and Drug Administration requires scientific clinical trials involving thousands of patients to determine the benefits and risks of any possible medication. So far, researchers have not conducted enough large-scale clinical trials to determine if the benefits of the marijuana plant outweigh its risks in patients it is meant to treat, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Most research conducted in university settings is grant dependent and it's difficult to obtain federal money to research a product that's defined as illegal. Pharmaceutical companies perform all manner of medicinal research. Unfortunately, natural products too often fall in priority to new medications with blockbuster copyright and profit potential.

While the plant itself remains off the market, scientific study of cannabinoids — chemicals in marijuana — resulted in two FDA-approved medications that contain these chemicals in pill form.

THC-based medications have been approved because they increase appetite and reduce nausea, which is particularly important for cancer patients ravaged by chemotherapy. CBD is a cannabinoid that does not affect the mind or behavior and may be useful in reducing pain and inflammation. It could have further benefits such as controlling epileptic seizures or addressing mental illness.

While Kentucky does not allow medical marijuana, state law does provide for the use of cannabis oil, a hemp-based extract.

Recently, a Rineyville family shared its very real story about the life-changing benefit of this medicinal option.

Tim and Julie Cantwell had major concerns about their son, Preston. He took seven different medications and 13 pills daily, but continued to deal with epilepsy issues including daily mini-seizures and grand mal convulsions once or twice each year.

While on the medication, the family says it seems to suppress all of the teenager's emotions and ambitions — the Cantwells described as a "zombie-like" condition.

And then they found a cannabis extract that contains a high cannabidiol and low tetrahydrocannabinol. It's legal in Kentucky and doesn't typically cause the "high" associated with recreational marijuana.

Using a syringe, Preston receives 2.5 milliliters under his tongue each day.

The family said Preston experienced an almost immediate transformation. With a bright 16-year-old example, the family constantly takes on the issue by promoting Preston's experiences on social media and reaching out to legislators. They are not alone in this fight.

An advocacy group founded in 2013 called Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana helped foster two bills in the 2014 legislative session. It gained some footing, including the first medical cannabis bill to be introduced in the state House of Representatives, the first to be passed with a favorable vote in committee and the first to have a hearing before the General Assembly.

That momentum will be difficult to build upon.

With a short session next year and a lot of Republican emphasis on right to work, pro-life measures and business-friendly tax reform, it would be fortunate to end the session with a study group established to report back to the 2018 legislature.

This topic needs and deserves a champion in the General Assembly. It's unlikely that Hardin County's delegation, which is quite conservative, will lead any such effort.

It is time to collect real information and give medical marijuana legislation a serious opportunity to be considered in the General Assembly and among federal regulators and legislators.


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