Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

Dec. 3

Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky, on telemarketing:

You're sitting down at dinner very excited about a meal you or your spouse prepared, and as you begin to eat, the phone rings. You rise to answer it, and guess who is on the other line? A telemarketer.

It is a common occurrence across this country that many Americans abhor.

The majority of these calls are not only annoying, they are intrusive.

That is why more must be done to strengthen the Telemarketer Sales Rule.

A letter signed by 38 attorneys general, including Kentucky's Jack Conway, was sent last week to the Federal Trade Commission urging tougher standards against telemarketing.

The rule, set forth in 1995 and amended three times, established the national Do Not Call Registry, restricting the hours during which telemarketers can make calls and requiring them to get a customer's consent to be charged for a service. The attorneys general are asking the FTC to prohibit telemarketers from using pre-acquired account information, in which a consumer's credit card information has been passed to a third party and could be used to place a charge against a consumer's account without his knowledge.

The letter also asks to expand the rule to better address what is known as negative opinion marketing, in which a consumer's silence or failure to take action to reject a telemarketer's service or cancel an agreement is taken by the telemarketer as acceptance of an offer. They also are requesting telemarketers to create and maintain call records and either ban or restrict certain methods of payment.

One of the big concerns with telemarketers is the increase in fraud that comes with some of them.

Fraud complaints originating from phone contact have increased in number each year since 2011.

Conway's office fielded about 1,300 complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls last year. Officials at the attorney general's office say they received a lot of calls, particularly in the past year or so, from companies trying to sell medical alerts or home security systems.

Top law enforcement officials are backing the letter.

Rightfully so. Some of these calls border on criminal acts.


Dec. 2

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, on police body cameras:

Events in Ferguson, Missouri, have triggered a renewed interest in the use of video cameras to record interactions between police and the public.

Known as "officer mounted cameras" or more commonly, body cameras, such devices already are in use in several major cities including Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama drew fresh attention to the subject Monday when he announced he's proposing up to $263 million in federal funds to help police departments buy body camera equipment.

But such devices already are on the way for Louisville Metro Police Department, which is planning to launch a pilot project by summer 2015 to try out police body cameras.

Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad first proposed the project about a year ago. The administration of Mayor Greg Fischer has been exploring the types of cameras available, the cost, a policy for use and technical details, such has how to store and access content of recorded material.

It also is working with civil rights groups and police union representatives.

By around June, the chief hopes to be trying out the devices in one police district and eventually, expanding them to about 500 patrol officers throughout Metro Louisville.

It is refreshing that Louisville is ahead in an area of growing national concern. It's also encouraging that LMPD is willing to try out the devices advocates say can protect citizens from police misconduct as well as police from false claims of abuse or bias.

One study of a pilot program in Rialto, California, found that between 2012 and 2013, the first year police began wearing the cameras, complaints filed against officers dropped by 88 percent and use of force by officers declined by about 60 percent, The Huffington Post reported.

One could read that study to indicate police misconduct dropped. But it also could suggest citizens were less likely to file complaints when they knew a video recording documented their involvement with police.

Last week, the subject came up in Louisville at a community meeting sponsored by the Urban League. When asked by citizens whether LMPD would consider the cameras, the mayor and police chief were able to report the devices already are on the way.

The furor over a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson officer who fatally shot the unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown, has been fueled in part by lack of a complete account of the officer's interaction with the 18-year-old.

The officer told the grand jury that Mr. Brown punched him repeatedly and fought with him for his gun. Critics remain angry that the grand jurors relied on the police version of events, along with forensic evidence and witness accounts, but will never know what the slain youth would have said about the encounter.

A video of that interaction would have filled in the details that continue to haunt Ferguson and many throughout the nation.

In an era of heightened sensitivity about policing, especially within the African-American community, the use of such technology can only help to inspire confidence and provide a true record of what transpires between an officer and citizen.


Nov. 30

Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader on coal's cost:

We hear a lot about a war on coal. But, to borrow another trendy phrase, amnesty is the real threat — amnesty for the coal industry.

How many more examples do we need of coal operators' lawlessness, aided and abetted by government apathy or impotence?

First, a stunning series by NPR and the Mine Safety and Health News this month detailed how 2,700 mine owners have gotten away with dodging nearly $70 million in safety fines.

Why should you care? Miners are injured in these delinquent operations at much higher rates than in those that pay their fines. Seven of the top 10 scofflaws, including West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice, control mines in Eastern Kentucky.

Then, last week, a ruling by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd laid bare the charade that is Kentucky's enforcement of coal industry compliance with the Clean Water Act. The judge described a state agency that barely even goes through the motions of enforcing the law.

Shepherd rejected a state-proposed settlement with what was one of Eastern Kentucky's largest producers of surface mined coal before going through bankruptcy, the West Virginia-based Frasure Creek Mining, which still has mining sites under permit in the state.

The company for years submitted false water monitoring data. Shepherd concluded there was either a scheme to commit fraud "or incompetence so staggering as to defy belief."

The Beshear administration's Cabinet for Energy and Environment chose to handle the 1,520 violations as paperwork errors, so did not investigate "substantive pollution violations" except in a very limited way and even that "tasked the staff significantly," wrote Shepherd.

"With only a handful of enforcement personnel, and a dwindling number of field inspectors, and with the position of Director of Enforcement unfilled since 2007, it is impossible for the Cabinet to effectively regulate permittees such as Frasure Creek who systematically violate" the Clean Water Act.

No wonder 93 percent of the Big Sandy River, the watershed where Frasure Creek does most of its Kentucky mining, is unfit to support aquatic life mainly because of surface-mining runoff.

The cabinet does not even know how many discharge outfalls are associated with the state's 2,200 coal general permits, Shepherd wrote. Therefore, the cabinet can't say whether coal companies are self-monitoring water pollution as required by federal law, much less whether they are violating their water pollution limits.

The massive violations were discovered by citizens who threatened to sue. The cabinet agreed to a consent decree under which Frasure Creek would pay $310,000. The cabinet also fought — and lost — all the way to the state Supreme Court to exclude citizens from any involvement in deciding the case.

Shepherd ruled the penalties were too small "to deter future violations" and sent "the message that cheating pays. This puts the many companies that comply with the law at a competitive disadvantage."

Hiring a new lab cost Frasure Creek an extra $30,000 a month. For a while, the company's quarterly reports appeared to be accurate with many more actual violations reported. Then, as if to prove Shepherd right, Frasure Creek started sending obviously false reports again. Citizen groups on Nov. 17 notified the state that they were again going to sue. The state insisted that it was already on top of any problems.

Shepherd said the settlement he rejected was unlikely to have changed Frasure Creek's behavior because the company gained more economic benefit from taking shortcuts than complying, making any fines or penalties "an acceptable cost of doing business."

It's the same for operators who increase profits by taking shortcuts on safety and health, putting lives at risk.

We also hear a lot about our economic dependence on cheap energy from coal. It's not cheap, though. The costs are high — they just get pushed onto someone else, the disabled or dead miners, or Kentuckians who depend on water, ruined by surface mining, that flows from the mountains across our state. How about a little amnesty for them?


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