Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The Glasgow Daily Times on felony expungement:
Our mistakes can define us, or they can be a building block into making us better people.
Kentucky lawmakers haven't agreed on much this year, but we applaud them for passing a bill that will allow the felony records of some offenders to be expunged five years after completing their sentences.
Those who commit violent crimes or sex offenses won't apply for the clean slate, and that makes sense. But in a state that is seeing more and more drug addiction issues, we can only expect to see the number of felony convictions rise.
Personal responsibility cannot be shunned when it comes to breaking the law. People must acknowledge their wrongs and work to correct them if they want to avoid making the same mistakes.
But one of the biggest obstacles those who have been convicted of a crime, especially a felony, face is finding a decent job after they've paid their dues to society. And without gainful employment, those former convicts are left struggling to make ends meet.
You can see where the equation goes from here. A person trying to leave a life of crime behind them can't get a good job because of past mistakes. Money gets tight, bills go unpaid, and suddenly those ex-convicts are headed back down the road that led them to breaking the law initially.
Beyond what lawmakers decide in terms of expunging records, it's up to us to forgive. We should not give up on people because they have made mistakes. Employers should not immediately dismiss a job applicant because they have a criminal past.
The world is not black and white. Has that person been arrested recently? Do they appear to be making changes in their lives that will lead them away from crime? Are their references credible, and do they speak highly of the applicant?
These are questions that should be considered by an employer if a person who has been convicted of a crime applies for a job and meets the employment criteria. Instead of dismissing an ex-convict, consider giving them a chance to right their wrongs and become a productive member of society.
We also need to realize that drug abuse is an illness, like alcoholism. People who are addicted to drugs need to get clean and move on with their lives. They need help, not judgment. As the Daily Times' series "Battling an Epidemic" has shown, drug abuse doesn't know a demographic. It can rear its ugly head among the poor and wealthy, and anyone in between.
At some point, we have to break the cycle. We can help do that by giving people a chance to redeem themselves.
The Kentucky New Era on cuts to higher education:
If the Kentucky General Assembly reaches a compromise and passes a state budget by the April 15 deadline, several of the state's public university presidents will deserve some credit for helping move negotiations along at a critical point.
It was their meeting last week with Gov. Matt Bevin that brought about a compromise on cuts to higher education.
Bevin, who focused heavily on the pension crisis in his first budget proposal, wanted to cut funding to colleges and universities by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent in each of the next two years. He has the support of the Senate, which is controlled by fellow Republicans, but not the House, where Democrats hold a slim majority.
On April 8, eight university presidents delivered a letter to Bevin outlining their willingness to compromise. They said they would go along with a 2 percent cut this year (if a current-year reduction passes a legal test) and 4.5 percent next year and the year after.
"We make this difficult decision based on our trust that you have committed to make new investments in higher education in the following biennium, investments that will enhance our state's economy and the health and well-being of Kentuckians," they wrote. The letter was delivered to Bevin, House Speaker Grady Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers.
While we share concerns that cuts to education are potentially dangerous to the state's long-term economic health, we respect the willingness of the university presidents to find some agreement with Bevin and the General Assembly. What they did is rare today in state and federal government. Compromise has gotten a bad name.
Too often political differences run so deep that no one is willing to step back and offer any concessions. But there are more productive ways to govern.
It's one thing to stand for a belief. It's something else to refuse any sort of respect for a pragmatic resolution.
Most of us recognize that we can't have our way in every situation. That kind of common sense is missing from our state houses and Congress.
Budget negotiations broke off late Sunday night in Frankfort, but then House and Senate leaders agreed to push the legislative deadline from Tuesday to Friday in hopes of using this week to reach an agreement on the two-year spending plan.
Maybe lawmakers will follow the example of university presidents and compromise where they must to pass a budget by Friday.
The Lexington Herald-Leader on fracking waste:
The illegal shipment into Kentucky of radioactive waste from oil and gas fracking operations and the illegal dumping of the out-of-state waste in at least two Kentucky landfills is so far producing more questions than answers.
One question, raised by Anya Litvak's recent reporting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is why Kentucky regulators failed to respond proactively to block shipments in mid-2015 when notified by West Virginia regulators of plans to truck the waste from a Fairmont, W. Va. processor to Kentucky.
An official with the Radiation Health Branch of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services informed a West Virginia official that Kentucky law strictly forbids importation of such waste.
But the shipments came to Kentucky anyway. There apparently was no follow up on Kentucky's end until January, when the Division of Waste Management in the Cabinet for Energy and Environment was tipped off and confirmed that radioactive fracking leftovers had ended up in landfills in Estill and Greenup counties. The public didn't learn of the illegal dumping until late February.
Since then environmental officials have cited the two landfills for accepting the material and Attorney General Andy Beshear has launched an investigation.
A key focus is a company, Advanced Tenorm Services, based in the Morgan County seat of West Liberty that operated a facility in Ashland where the material was processed by being diluted and solidified before being trucked to the landfills. The landfill operators say they were kept in the dark about the true nature of the shipments.
Current science suggests there is some cancer risk from any exposure to radiation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The immediate risk would be to workers and others who were exposed to the material at the Ashland facility, the landfills or points between.
But no landfill in Kentucky is designed to contain even low-level radioactive waste, such as that produced by nuclear medicine or oil and gas drilling. Regular landfill liners block leakage for 30 or 40 years. The radioactive waste in the Estill landfill has a half-life of 1,600 years.
Kentucky learned all too painfully at Maxey Flats in Fleming County that buried low-level nuclear waste migrates into waterways, endangering animals and people. So one important question is how the state will oversee plans to contain or move the waste in Estill and Greenup counties.
Other pressing questions include how to make sure other Kentucky landfills have not become clandestine destinations for other states' concentrated fracking waste, and how to make sure there's no repeat of what happened in Estill and Greenup.
Energy and Environment Secretary Charles Snavely has reconvened a working group that drafted recent changes in oil and gas industry law to consider options for dealing with fracking waste and other unresolved issues. It's expected to meet next month.
The shale energy boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia has produced mountains of wastewater and rock — or TENORM for technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials — brought to the surface by drilling operations.
There are no federal regulations governing TENORM, which raises the obvious question of shouldn't there be, while the enforcement breakdown between Kentucky and West Virginia, and within Kentucky, points to the need for greater interstate vigilance.
The Blue Ridge Landfill, which is owned by a Florida company and is across KY 89 from Estill County's high school and middle school, apparently received the most radioactive waste, an estimated 1,600 to 1,800 tons.
Estill County residents are justifiably angry and anxious and have a lot of questions. They should not have to wait much longer for answers.
Kentucky must protect itself from becoming the resting place for other states' fracking waste.