Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
Lexington Herald-Leader on the legal spat between Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear:
Kentucky's government has no riches to spare, which is reason enough for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to drop a pair of legal grudges against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Two judges in separate cases recently rejected administration attempts to impede the attorney general's ability to hire outside lawyers. Bevin should waste no state resources nor the courts' time appealing the rulings.
A Feb. 20 decision by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd makes clear that the attorney general has the independent authority to enter into contracts with outside lawyers on a contingency-fee basis.
Beshear sought the ruling after Bevin's Finance Secretary William Landrum attempted to cancel a contract between the AG's office and an outside legal group hired to investigate Kentucky's potential recourse against drug companies whose actions spurred the opioid epidemic.
Taxpayers are not at risk in contingency-fee cases because the lawyers are paid from any settlement or judgment, so if the state loses the lawyers don't get paid. States and cities around the country, including Lexington, are moving against drug companies that profited hugely by flooding unsuspecting communities with absurd amounts of addictive painkillers.
Statute, common law and the state constitution all support the AG's authority to enter into contingency-fee contracts, concluded Shepherd, who said that such independence is key to fulfilling the AG's duty to protect citizens' rights. The judge cited case law dating back to 1942.
Shepherd also ruled that even if the AG lacked independent authority, Landrum's cancellation of the contract was "arbitrary and capricious" and would be void under the state's model procurement code. At one point during the three-month approval process, the Finance Cabinet rejected language that it earlier had insisted the AG's office add to the contract. Landrum finally gave his approval only to rescind it after a legislative committee, which has advisory power, spurned the contract.
On Feb. 26, surely to no one's surprise, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the state cannot stiff the law firm that represented Kentucky in a suit that produced a $24 million settlement against the maker of the addictive painkiller OxyContin in 2015. Bevin was trying to force the firm to return $4.2 million it was paid for its services.
Former AG Jack Conway, a Democrat, handed Republicans a political weapon by going to work for the firm that he as AG had hired to pursue a lawsuit inherited from his predecessor against Purdue Pharma in Pike Circuit Court. Republicans have complained Kentucky settled for too little, though the $24 million compares favorably with what other states won in similar suits. Canada settled a class-action suit against Purdue Pharma for $20 million last year. The optics may be poor, but decision to join the firm after he left office apparently violates no laws or ethics rules.
In Conway's last year the contract with the law firm was unintentionally allowed to expire. When the mistake was discovered, the Finance Cabinet approved a retroactive renewal — a no-brainer — and the company was paid. Later, the Finance Cabinet changed its mind and sued the law firm to reclaim the $4.2 million.
The AG might have a hard time hiring outside lawyers in the future if the administration had succeeded. But Wingate rejected the attempt to force the law firm to repay the money, saying that dishonoring the deal would "violate the laws of equity."
The Bevin administration, which has 30 days from the time of the rulings to appeal, should let this fight die.
Bowling Green Daily News on legislation that would speed up the adoption process:
Children who are born out of unwanted pregnancies or to drug-dependent mothers didn't get to choose their parents.
Sadly, many such children, because of the reasons we mentioned, end up in the custody of the state. It's very sad to realize that someone who brings a beautiful child into this world can't, or won't, take care of them. It's a reality that we read or hear about every day.
Thousands of prospective parents across this country try for years to have children, only to find out that they aren't able to because of various circumstances, such as fertility issues or some other health matter. They would love to adopt these kids who are living in state custody, but the process has to be frustrating for these families, as the bureaucracy and procedures take far too long to navigate.
But hopefully the long waits for adopting in our state are about to become somewhat shorter, after the Kentucky House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that would help put these children into loving homes. House Bill 1 would impose timelines on the state and the court system in an effort to shorten the length of time children in state custody are in limbo. It would also direct state officials to automatically begin the process of terminating parental rights for any mother who gives birth to a drug-dependent baby and refuses to enter a drug rehabilitation program.
The bill would create quicker timelines for the placement of children, adding language to resolve delays in the court systems that often keep children out of homes. It also would reduce the amount of paperwork involved in the process, not only for adoptive parents, but for the social workers who must deal with ever-increasing foster care caseloads.
HB 1 also would place a much higher emphasis on looking out for the welfare of children than currently exists. The measure would create an advisory committee in the legislature to focus on child welfare issues, and also would create more oversight and accountability over the processes of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The bill would also establish a confidential putative father registry in Kentucky. Here, unmarried males who claim to be a father must register with the state no more than 30 days after the child's birth in order to have input into the child's adoption processes.
In addition, the bill would protect infants diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which often occurs as a result of the birth mother misusing controlled substances.
Currently, Kentucky has more than 8,600 children in state custody. Officials say that number has risen sharply in recent years because of the opioid crisis. Again, it's a real shame that a mother would choose drugs over their own children, but it does happen. But what is promising is that those kids potentially now have a better chance of being adopted and getting out of state custody if this legislation becomes law.
The passage of this legislation is a victory for Kentucky's children. Children whose parents don't want them need to be in loving, caring homes in a much more expedited manner than currently exists. We believe this is common-sense legislation that should be overwhelmingly passed in the state Senate and signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin.
The Daily Independent of Ashland on the comeback of methamphetamine:
The opioid epidemic that is the scourge of communities throughout this region seems to be abating as addicts are seeking "safer" less deadly drugs to feed their habits. As a result, methamphetamine — a once popular drug of choice that all but disappeared from this area as a result of first the prescription drug and then the heroin and other opioids epidemics — is making a comeback.
"We've seen a change in the drug trade," said Boyd County Sheriff Bobby Jack Woods. "The people that were overdosing, they're switching. They (meth users) believe they're less likely to overdose. But something they don't take into account, they can still overdose on it, and they're much more likely to end up dying from an illness after repeated use."
Woods said 80 percent of his office's undercover buys are now for meth. This time last year, heroin was purchased 80 percent of the time during undercover operations.
The meth now on the street should not be confused with the methamphetamine that plagued this region in the days before first the prescription drug and the opioid epidemics became commonplace in that region. That meth back then was typically homemade varieties concocted in kitchens, motel rooms and other places with the right equipment by untrained people using ingredients then common in household products. Such so-called "shake-n-bake" operations have all but disappeared and the meth now on the streets is crystal meth, also known as "ice."
"The shake-n-bake labs, those kind of went out in 2014," said Woods. "The meth they're bringing in here now is almost pure. Sometimes crystal clear as a glass."
Methamphetamine may be a little less deadly than heroin and other opioids in the immediate term but make no mistake about it — it is a devastating scourge that will ruin peoples' lives in short order. There is a mortifying irony in America's drug epidemic in that now meth is considered a safer drug. This speaks volumes to the lethal potency of the heroin and fentanyl now on the streets. Meth is a highly addictive drug that can and does destroy lives and lead to death. The addict using meth instead of heroin is like the alcoholic switching to another type of alcohol because it is "safer." It doesn't work. Just as alcoholics who switch their type are still alcoholics, opioid users who switch to meth are still addicts.
The resurgence of meth is further evidence that the drug problem is never-ending. Just as prescription drug addicts switched to heroin when new laws made it cheaper than prescription drugs, those who profit by feeding the drug habits of others will always find a new way to keep the addict high.
The only real solution to the drug epidemic is educating young people about the perils of drug use and to help addicts kick their habits.