Open Hearts/Open Homes – Foster Care & Adoption Initiative

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES STUDY GROUP ON ADOPTION

On March 10, 2017, Governor Bevin and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services held “A Summit to Save Our Children” in Frankfort. The summit was Governor’s official expression of his ongoing commitment to streamline the Foster Care/Adoption process in the Commonwealth. This initiative should be particularly exciting for Kentucky Baptists. At that summit Governor Bevin issued a call to mobilize a network of non-profits, faith-based organizations, and loving families to “take a stand to ensure all children in the Commonwealth are safe, cared for and loved.”

Our Executive Director, Dr. Paul Chitwood, gave the invocation for this important event, and he and his wife Michelle’s experience in providing Foster Care was a featured video at the Summit.

As a part of this initiative, the Health and Family Services Cabinet has commissioned an in-depth study of the Adoption/Foster Care process by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Recommendations from the Foundation to make the entire system more efficient by the removal of barriers to foster care and adoption will be forthcoming. This study will result in a legislative package to be considered at the 2018 legislative session.

As Kentucky Baptist’s representative at the Capital, it is my intent to be as helpful as possible to the Health and Family Services Cabinet as the legislative package is developed for introduction at the 2018 session. The streamlining of the adoption process will also be studied by a working group made up of legislators in the Kentucky House of Representatives. I intend to speak out to members of the House and Senate to express our support for these efforts to make the Foster Care/Adoption process more flexible and efficient.

WHAT CAN KENTUCKY BAPTISTS DO IMMEDIATELY?

It was pointed out at the Summit, that there are children in Out of Home Care that don’t always have safe and appropriate places to sleep at night. One of the suggestions made by the Cabinet was that churches and other non-profits purchase portable cribs (Pack N. Plays) and provide them to the Cabinet to be issued to families as needed. That is certainly something that almost any size church could do immediately.

Providing a portable crib to families that need them is just one small way we can be involved, but there’s so much more that needs to be done. According to the data provided at the Summit, as of February 6, 2017, there were 7,917 children in Out Of Home Care. While it was pointed out that there is an ongoing need for additional Foster Care families in all categories, the Cabinet outlined specific areas of need, including:

  • Homes accepting sibling groups
  • Homes accepting children ages 19 and up
  • Homes with African American Parents
  • Homes with Hispanic Parents
  • Homes accepting medically complex children

Other areas of need associated with the provision of Foster Care include:

  • Recruitment of Foster families
  • Respite services
  • Training supports (sites, childcare, flexile locations and hours)
  • Visitation services
  • Transportation
  • Provision of goods
  • Supports to those aging out of care
  • Mentoring to biological families
  • Fatherhood engagement
  • Supports to kinship, foster and adoptive parents

James 1:27 tells us: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans … in their distress.” How can we not be involved in fulfilling this Biblical mandate?

Please make our involvement in the Governor’s Foster Care/Adoption initiative and the House of Representatives’ study group a matter of prayer. Pray that the goal to “ensure all children in the Commonwealth are safe, cared for and loved” would be achieved.

If you have any questions about the Open Hearts/Open Homes initiative or the House of Representatives study group, feel free to contact me at [email protected], or call me on my cell phone at (502) 330-5024. I would be honored to speak with you.

Posted in Family, Foster Care | Leave a comment

Federal Court Hearing on Kentucky’s Ultrasound Bill

On March 23, 2017, I had the privilege of attending the court hearing on House Bill, 2, commonly known as the ultrasound bill. House Bill 2 gives a pregnant mother the opportunity to view an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat of her unborn child prior to having an abortion. The hope is that if a mother sees the image and hears the heartbeat, she will determine to let her child live. The hearing began at 9:30 in the morning in the Federal District Court in Louisville, Kentucky and lasted until approximately 3:30 that afternoon.

As I drove to Louisville, and entered the Federal Courthouse, I was struck by the import of what would take place on that day. The fact that innocent lives literally hang in the balance was not lost upon me. I was required to go through two different security checkpoints. One as I entered the building and then one as I entered the area where the hearing would be held.

As I entered the courtroom, where Judge David Hale, would preside over the hearing that day, my mind went back to the times that I appeared in Federal Court. My practice was mainly in the State Courts, but I will say that there is something particularly stately and yet imposing about the federal courts.

The arguments began shortly after 9:30, with Steve Pitt, representing the Governor, and the Health and Family Services Cabinet, Travis Mayo from the Attorney General’s Office representing the Board of Medical Licensure, and three attorneys from the ACLU’s offices in New York City representing, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, the issue to be decided in this case really boils down to this. Do the requirements of House Bill 2, compel the EMW Surgical Center and their doctors to violate their First Amendment, Free Speech Rights under the Constitution by requiring them to provide the ultrasound image and fetal heartbeat information to the expectant mother, or do these requirements further what the United States Supreme Court has called, a government’s “legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life?”

The Federal appeals courts have come to differing conclusions based on similar legislation in other states.

I would ask you to make the decision a matter of prayer. Ask that God’s will would be done in this case. Pray that unborn lives would be protected. Pray that the Lord would give Judge Hale wisdom as he rules on this important issue.

If you have any questions about this case, I would be honored to speak with you about it. You can call me at (502) 330-5024, or e-mail me at [email protected]. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your legislative agent.

Posted in Government, Life | Leave a comment

Update from the 2017 Kentucky legislative session

By Tom Troth, Legislative Agent
Kentucky Baptist Convention

The members of the General Assembly have left Frankfort and returned to their home districts for the 10-day veto recess. They will return at noon on March 29, 2017, for two more days to deal with any potential Gubernatorial vetoes and to pass additional legislation. There were 793 House and Senate Bills filed and 366 House and Senate Resolutions. Of that number 143 bills and resolutions have been enacted and sent to the Governor for his signature or possible veto.

During this lull in the action, I wanted provide an update and give my assessment of the 2017 legislative session. It is my view that Kentucky Baptists have much to thank God for as this legislative session comes to a close. Allow me to share a few of the highlights from the session.

PROTECTION OF THE UNBORN

The very first week of the session, the legislature passed two critically important pro-life pieces of legislation. House Bill 2, requires an ultrasound be performed, with the images and an audio of the fetal heartbeat made available for the mother to view prior to an abortion being performed. Of course, it is hoped that when a mother sees the ultrasound images and hears the heartbeat, she will choose to allow her unborn child to live. Senate Bill 5, was also enacted, which bans abortions after 20 weeks. Both these protections for the unborn were passed and sent to the Governor in an unprecedented Saturday session during that first week.

Later in the session the General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 8 which would “prohibit state and local funds from being used, granted, paid or distributed to an entity, organization or individual that provides abortion services” or referrals for abortion. This legislation is commonly known as the Defund Planned Parenthood bill.

With regard to protection for the unborn, Kentucky Baptists have been working and praying for years that significant legislation like House Bill 2, Senate Bill 5 and Senate Bill 8 would be enacted into law. It is gratifying to see pro-life protections become a priority for the Kentucky General Assembly. If you have not already done so, please thank your legislators for their courageous stand to protect the life of the unborn.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY LEGISLATION

Religious liberty protections were also front and center in the 2017 legislative session. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 17, which allows students in public schools and college campuses to express their religious and political viewpoints free from discrimination and censorship to the same extent as non-religious views may be expressed. The rights enumerated in Senate Bill 17 are already largely already protected by current court rulings but the bill memorializes these protections in Kentucky statute.

ADOPTION AND FOSTER CARE

Foster care and Adoption were also a priority for the legislature this year. Two pieces of legislation promoted by the Health and Family Services Cabinet will have the effect of easing the burden on foster children and foster families.

House Bill 180 will allow for the “fictive kin” placement of a child in foster care. Fictive Kin is defined as “an individual who is not related by birth, adoption, or marriage to a child, but who has an emotionally significant relationship with the child.” A church member who has a significant relationship with a child could be eligible for a “fictive kin” placement. This could potentially expand the reach of the church in caring for children who are in need.

House Bill 192, will end the prohibition of children in the custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services from obtaining a driver’s license. This legislation will provide additional flexibility to the foster parents in the transportation of a foster child to and from extracurricular activities.

Perhaps the most significant and far reaching impact on adoption and foster care in the Commonwealth is the Open Hearts/Open Homes initiative, which is a part of the Governor’s pledge to improve the Adoption and Foster Care system by mobilizing a network of non-profits, faith-based organizations and loving families. The Health and Family Services Cabinet has commissioned an in-depth study of the Adoption/Foster Care process by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Recommendations from the foundation to make the entire system more efficient by the removal of barriers to foster care and adoption will be forthcoming. This study will result in a legislative package to be considered by the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly. Kentucky Baptists will be fully engaged in this important initiative by the Governor.

WORKERS COMPENSATION RELIEF FOR SMALLER CHURCHES.

The General Assembly sought to give some financial relief to churches with bi-vocational pastors by enacting House Bill 306. The intention of this legislation is to exempt small churches who don’t pay salaries to their pastors from having to pay workers compensation insurance. It also is intended exempt the church from having to pay workers compensation for independent contractors, like individuals who cut the grass for the church.

PREVENTION OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

At the 2016 annual meeting, the Kentucky Baptist Convention enacted a resolution on the evil of human trafficking. That resolution said in part that “we call on Kentucky Baptist to support public policies at the local … [and] …state … level which combat human trafficking.” House Bill 524 is a bill that seeks to combat the evils of human trafficking. If finally passed, the legislation would require individuals who are found guilty of human trafficking of minors to register on the sex offender, or crimes against minor children registry. The legislation would also require the posting of the human trafficking hotline number at public schools and at public rest areas. Finally, the legislation adds additional definitions of what constitutes a serious physical injury of a minor. This legislation has not yet been enacted but is poised for passage on March 29, or 30 when the General Assembly returns from the veto recess.

BIBLICAL LITERACY COURSES IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

House Bill 128, would require the Kentucky Board of Education to promulgate administrative regulations to allow for an elective social studies course on the Bible. The course would not be religious instruction but would allow for the study of the literary aspects of the scriptures. This bill is poised for passage during the final two veto days on March 29 or March 30.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

The General Assembly is poised to finally pass Senate Bill 120 relating to criminal justice reform when they return after the veto recess. The legislation does not reduce crimes or the sentences imposed for those crimes, but primarily seeks to provide work opportunities for inmates while they are incarcerated. The legislation also attempts to reduce recidivism by providing training and reducing barriers that limit work opportunities upon an inmate’s release. The hope is that by providing these work opportunities, once an inmate has paid his debt to society he will be better equipped to become a productive citizen again.

EXPANDED GAMBLING

Senate Bill 204, filed by Senator Morgan McGarvey, proposed to amend the Kentucky Constitution to allow for expanded casino gambling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A similar bill was filed in the House by Representative Jerry Miller, House Bill 373. In both these bills 100% of the proceeds from expanded gambling would go to resolve the pension crisis. Neither of these bills were considered during the 2017 legislative session. In fact no potential amendments to the Kentucky Constitution were considered.

PAY DAY LENDING/FLEX LOANS

Several bills were filed regarding pay day lending during the 2017 session. Senate Bill 168 and House Bill 320 would cap pay day loans at an interest rate of 36%. Senate Bill 169, and House Bill 321 would enhance the penalties for companies violating the pay day lending laws.

House Bill 447, would have provided an additional predatory lending option to pay day lenders which is often referred to as a Flex Loan. Persons using these flex loans would be allowed borrow up to $1,000 on an open ended note, much like a credit card. The interest rate on these flex loans as set forth in the legislation is 24%. However, a customary daily .7% fee is also charged on the loan which results in interest rates of up to 280%.

None of these pay day lending bills were heard during the legislative session.

MARIJUANA/MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Senate Bill 57 would have provided for the cultivation, regulation and sale of marijuana for medical uses only. Senate Bill 76 would have provided for the cultivation, regulation and sale of recreational marijuana. Senate Bill 243 would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana for palliative or end of life care. None of these bills were considered by the General Assembly during the 2017 session.

EDUCATION RELATED LEGISLATION

House Bill 58, often referred to as the Tim Tebow bill, would authorize participation in public school interscholastic extracurricular activities by home school students. Though the legislation passed the House of Representatives, it currently appears that it may not have sufficient momentum to become law during the current legislative session.

House Bill 162, and Senate Bill 102, would authorize the creation of a scholarship tax credit program for low to middle income students or students with disabilities in non-public schools, grades K-12. This legislation would directly benefit students at institutions such as Oneida Baptist Institute. Though not enacted during the current legislative session, this tax credit program appears to be poised for favorable consideration in the upcoming special legislative session when the General Assembly will consider tax reform.

House Bill 522 appears poised for passage when the Kentucky General Assembly returns on March 29. This legislation as amended in the Senate would create a requirement that high school students pass a financial literacy course prior to graduation from a public high school.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the bills that I tracked during the legislative session, but is an attempt to provide you with the highlights. As I said at the beginning of this update, I believe Kentucky Baptists have much to be thankful for as the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly comes to a close. It has been an honor to serve as your legislative agent. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like further information on these or any other legislative issues that have been or may be considered in the future, I would be honored to speak to you. You can contact me at 502 330-5024 or send me an e-mail at [email protected].

Posted in Family, Foster Care, Gambling, Government, Life, Payday Lending, Religious Liberty | Leave a comment

18th birthdays should be time of celebration, not trepidation

EDITORIAL

It’s good to see Gov. Matt Bevin focusing attention on Kentucky’s foster care system.

In his latest initiative, Fostering Success, Bevin is trying to ease the transition from foster care to self-sufficiency for young adults aging out of the system. Bevin is promising to provide them short-term government positions so that they can develop needed job skills.

Read the rest of this editorial at Kentucky Today.

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Memorial Day Reflections

WohlanderBy Mark Wohlander

In an old fashioned way, Memorial Day is a special day for me.  It reminds me of the sacrifices of thousands of ordinary men and women who have served since the birth of our nation in order to protect our freedom.

In an old fashioned way, Memorial Day reminds me of my deep sense of pride for a nation which truly is “…the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In an old fashioned way, Memorial Day reminds me of what it means to live in the “land of the free” which is a gift to all of us from the“brave” who have fought for and defended our freedom.

Read the rest of Mark Wohlander’s Memorial Day commentary at Kentucky Today.

Mark Wohlander, a former federal prosecutor in Kentucky, is a lawyer in Lexington.

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Fewer than 4,500 tobacco farmers remain in Kentucky in wake of buyouts

Shelby County farmer John Rothenburger stands in a greenhouse filled with young tobacco plants. Rothenburger is among fewer than 4,500 remaining tobacco farmers in Kentucky. (Kentucky Today/Kristen Lowry)

Shelby County farmer John Rothenburger stands in a greenhouse filled with young tobacco plants. Rothenburger is among fewer than 4,500 remaining tobacco farmers in Kentucky. (Kentucky Today/Kristen Lowry)

John Rothenburger is one of fewer than 4,500 tobacco growers left in Kentucky — a state where the crop used to be king. Growing health concerns about tobacco use, as well as the increasing number of foreign growers, have devastated the industry in the state.

A Shelby County tobacco farmer since 1974, Rothenburger started when he was 16 years old, helping his father for pocket money. Now, he grows 26 acres of the labor-intensive crop on the same piece of land that his father farmed before him.

He’s held on through the buyout and the price drops.

Tobacco was once a major industry in the state, but as Americans became aware of the health risks, demand began to plummet.

In 2004, Congress passed the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act, which included the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, commonly known as the “Tobacco Buyout.” The buyout provided cash payouts to tobacco growers as compensation for the loss of quotas.

Read the rest of this story at Kentucky Today.

Posted in Economy, Employment, Tobacco | Leave a comment

Hal Heiner sends refreshing message by refusing state salary

EDITORIAL

Heiner

Heiner

When our Frankfort reporter, Kristen Lowry, set out to write an article about Kentucky Education Secretary Hal Heiner, one of the more intriguing facts she uncovered was that he doesn’t accept a government salary.

Mind you, it could have been a handsome salary. His predecessors in recent years were all paid well over $100,000 a year.

Read the rest of this editorial at Kentucky Today.

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House Republicans get it right by striking provision to draft women

EDITORIAL

In the midst of the political chaos on Capitol Hill, there are still some good decisions being made.

Such was the case Tuesday when House Republicans removed a provision from the annual defense policy bill that would have forced America’s daughters to register for the military draft.

GOP lawmakers wisely struck the provision before it ever reached the floor for consideration.

Continue reading this editorial on the Kentucky Today website.

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Gov. Bevin sets the bar high as defender of Kentucky values

EDITORIAL

Gov. Matt Bevin has once again proven himself faithful in his defense of Kentucky values.

He’s come out as a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s overreach into public school bathrooms.

The administration’s threat to withhold federal funding from schools that do not fall in line was clearly a bullying tactic.

Click here to continue reading this editorial at Kentucky Today.

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Kentucky legislators pass laws to protect the unborn & newborns

Babies were among the big winners in the legislative session that wrapped up last week.

Kentucky lawmakers passed two bills intended to protect both the unborn and newborns.

In what many evangelicals consider a major victory, the House and Senate came together on legislation that will require women seeking abortions to have face-to-face meetings or real-time video consultations with their physicians or other medical personnel.

You can read the full story on Kentucky Today.

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New marriage license forms protect county clerks’ religious liberty

TrothBy Tom Troth

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has signed Senate Bill 216 into law, which establishes requirements for the issuing of marriage licenses by county clerks. The legislation was enacted to resolve the issue created when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed for refusing to issue licenses for same-sex marriages because of her sincerely held religious belief in the traditional view of marriage.

In a statement issued at the time of his signature, Gov. Bevin said, “Everyone benefits from this common-sense legislation. … There is no additional cost or work required by our county clerks. They are now able to fully follow the law without being forced to compromise their religious liberty.”

Senate Bill 216 deletes the requirement that a county clerk sign and issue the license, thereby preserving a clerk’s sincerely held religious belief. The legislation also provides for the issuance of a single marriage license form, where the parties can be listed as bride, groom or spouse.

You can read the full story about the legislation at Kentucky Today.

Tom Troth serves as a legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a pastor in Frankfort, Ky.

Posted in Homosexuality, Marriage, Religious Liberty | Leave a comment

Food pantry faces heavy burden in wake of downturn in coal industry

Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundred of families served by the ministry. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundred of families served by the ministry. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

“We have a lot of people who will tell us, ‘There’s no food in my pantry; I have nothing to eat,’” said Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry. “If not for what we do here, we’d have a lot more people going hungry in Letcher County.”

The Whitesburg initiative supplies food boxes to more than 500 families in a 6-mile radius each month.

The food pantry is operated out of a small white house on the corner of the grounds of Whitesburg First Baptist Church. The building is provided by the church, which also pays the water and electric bills each month.

The food pantry, which serves an average of more than 1,000 people a month, was established with money from a legal settlement after the Scotia mine disaster of 1976, one of the worst in Kentucky history.

Holbrook says that most of the people who use the food bank typically are the unemployed or the working poor trying to make ends meet in minimum-wage jobs.

And their ranks keep growing throughout central Appalachia where the coal industry is going through a bust cycle. Employment in the coal industry has declined from more than 13,000 five years ago to under 6,000 today.

Read the final installment of Kristen Lowry’s three-part series on coal and the economy in eastern Kentucky at Kentucky Today.

Posted in Unemployment | Leave a comment

Laid-off miner faces four-hour commute to new factory job

Justin Johnson stands with his wife Christy outside an idled coal mine in eastern Kentucky. He now commutes four hours to a factory job in northern Kentucky and sees his family on weekends. (Kristen Lowry/Kentucky Today)

Justin Johnson stands with his wife Christy outside an idled coal mine in eastern Kentucky. He now commutes four hours to a factory job in northern Kentucky and sees his family on weekends. (Kristen Lowry/Kentucky Today)

For eight years, Justin Johnson worked as an electrician in the coal mines, and life was good. He made a good living, got married. He and his wife, Christy, bought a house and had two children.

But in 2011, the industry began a steady decline. Mines began closing. Companies began layoffs.

Johnson held on until September of 2013, when he was laid off from his job. He was offered a transfer to Illinois, but he didn’t want to leave Kentucky.

After 18 months of unemployment, he got a job at the Dow Corning Corp. plant in Carrollton, working as an electrician.

Johnson isn’t alone in leaving Kentucky’s mountain region to find work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, thousands have left eastern Kentucky to look for work elsewhere. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 7,000 people have migrated out.

Read the rest of Kristen Lowry’s second part of a three-part series on coal and the eastern Kentucky economy at Kentucky Today.

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Half of working-age residents in Appalachia can’t find jobs

State Rep. John Short, right, chats with a customer in his gun shop in Hindman, Ky., where the faltering coal industry has meant widespread job losses. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

State Rep. John Short, right, chats with a customer in his gun shop in Hindman, Ky., where the faltering coal industry has meant widespread job losses. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

More than half of working age residents in Kentucky’s coalfield counties have been without jobs in recent years, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics that measure actual unemployment.

John Short, a state representative from Hindman, said he sees no signs that the economy is improving in the heart of Kentucky’s coal-mining region.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Workforce Development found in a review of census data that fewer than 40 percent of Knott County residents ages 16 and up had jobs between 2009 and 2013, revealing that the employment drought is affecting not only adults but also their teenage children who, in other regions, have little trouble finding part-time positions.

You can read the rest of Kristen Lowry’s first story in a three-part series on the eastern Kentucky economy and the fate of coal on Kentucky Today.

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Casino gambling bill once again fails to move forward in the Kentucky General Assembly

By Tom Troth

TrothWith only four legislative days remaining in the 2016 session, as Kentucky Baptists, I believe we can once again give thanks to God that a bill to expand casino gambling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky has failed to gain traction.

Senate Bill 144, co-sponsored by Morgan McGarvey and Julie Raque-Adams would have submitted a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters that, if passed, would have allowed the General Assembly to pass legislation to allow for casino gambling in this state.

Under the legislation, 90 percent of the state’s revenue from casinos or other forms of expanded gaming for the first 10 years would be allocated to fund shortfalls in the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. The remaining 10 percent would be allocated toward purses for the horse racing industry.

Thankfully this legislation was never even called for a hearing in the Senate.

We need to thank the members of the Kentucky General Assembly, both Democrat and Republican for their resolve not to allow casino gambling to invade the state of Kentucky. Click the photo below to read more about the casino gambling proposal at Kentucky Today.

Tom Troth serves as a legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a pastor in Frankfort, Ky.

KYT screen

 

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Bill to add churches to infant safe haven list passes Kentucky Senate

1458164638_64f6An amendment to House Bill 148 would add churches to the list of safe havens where unwanted babies can be dropped off without parents being criminally charged. As long as the baby is not injured, the law ensures that the parent or person acting for the child will not be liable.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville (pictured above), proposed the amendment.

“Churches are a safe place for babies to go,” Raque Adams said, “and they are prevalent throughout our communities.”

Read the full story HERE at KentuckyToday.com.

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Baptists credited with defeating push to legalize marijuana

LOUISVILLE – Kentucky Baptists won a major legislative victory by helping to defeat a measure in the General Assembly that would have legalized marijuana.

Ky CapitolLawmakers concluded the 2015 legislative session early Wednesday morning without passing legislation that would have essentially bypassed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and made marijuana widely available for medical purposes.

Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood had called on lawmakers to reject the proposal, saying Kentucky shouldn’t follow the lead of other states that have legalized marijuana.

The KBC, the state’s largest religious organization, has a powerful voice in Kentucky, where 1 million of the state’s 4.4 million residents identify themselves as Southern Baptists. Those demographics filter into the state legislature, where almost half the Senate and a third of the House identify themselves as Baptists.

“The success we had this year was, in large part, thanks to the stand Dr. Chitwood took on this issue,” said Ed Shemelya, coordinator for the National Marijuana Initiative, an organization that opposes legalization of pot. “I appreciate his courage and leadership on this issue.”

Shemelya said the fight isn’t over because lawmakers are certain to be asked to pass the legislation when they reconvene next January.

“We’re already getting ready for next year,” Shemelya said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this matter will be back again. If we can beat it down next year, we may be able to put this to rest.”

Supporters of medical marijuana insist the drug can be used effectively to treat symptoms of various maladies. Opponents, including Chitwood and Shemelya, point out that lots of FDA-approved drugs provide better treatment for ailments, and that marijuana use can damage the lungs, immune systems and brains of long-term users. Most importantly, marijuana has not been shown, through careful study and testing, to be safe and effective enough for FDA approval.

Chitwood

Paul Chitwood

“It makes no sense to bypass the FDA and allow Kentuckians to smoke marijuana under the guise that it is somehow medically beneficial,” Chitwood said. “If derivatives of marijuana are ever approved by the FDA to be safe and effective, by all means, we would support their legalization. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet. To the contrary, we know that marijuana is a gateway drug that often leads its users to even harder drugs that are claiming thousands upon thousands of lives through overdose.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo sponsored a bill that would have allowed Kentuckians to obtain marijuana, but only with a doctor’s prescription. Already, nearly half of all U.S. states have passed similar legislation.

“I’d like to believe the prescription requirement in the bill would limit its use, but we have seen in the past how willing wayward doctors have been to hand out prescription narcotics,” Chitwood said in comments at the start of this year’s legislative session. “Thankfully, lawmakers saw this for what it was: another step in the push by pro-marijuana advocates to legalize marijuana altogether.”

Chitwood said his opposition isn’t because he lacks compassion for the sick, but because of all the problems and risks associated with marijuana use. “For now, we have so many drugs that are better options,” he said.

RELATED STORIES:

Kentucky Baptist leader opposes marijuana legalization

Posted in Drug Abuse, Marijuana | Leave a comment

Support Senate Bill 32 to curb the effects of payday loans

By Rick Hardison
Chair, KBC Committee on Public Affairs
Pastor, Great Crossing Baptist Church, Georgetown

I want to invite you to join me in an effort to curb the effects of the payday loan industry.

payday20loansPayday loans are “short-term” loans where borrowers get, say, $500 in cash, and two weeks later they have to give the lending company about $589 to settle the debt. If they don’t have the money, they can take out another loan – then another, and another, and so on. I recently went by a payday loan company in Georgetown and looked at the interest rates. They ranged from 300 percent to more than 500 percent APR (annual percentage rate).

This financial product is unwise and harmful because it traps borrowers in devastating cycles of debt. Scripture says, “The borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7), and that is particularly true with this type of loan. The average Kentuckian who gets one of these loans ends up having to take out 10 loans before he is able to pay it back completely. That’s 20 weeks in debt to a loan at more than 300 percent APR. Only 1 percent of borrowers succeeded in paying their loans back in first two weeks. Therefore, these loans are not short-term loans; they are long-term debt traps.

I regularly talk to people who are facing financial hardships – bankruptcy, eviction notices, no food in the pantry, utilities that are about to be cut off. When people are in a tight spot, they get desperate, and the payday loan industry leverages this desperation by offering products that are unwise and suck people in.

Therefore, I believe one way to love our neighbors is to provide consumers with protections against payday loans. The Kentucky Senate is currently considering a bipartisan piece of legislation (Senate Bill 32) that would cap interest rates for payday loans at 36 percent. Right now, Kentucky usury laws prohibit most companies from charging more than 36 percent, but payday loans have been given a special exemption. If passed, Senate Bill 32 would force payday lending companies to conform to the same rules everyone else already has to follow.

Here’s what I’m asking: First, please think about this issue and consider what loving your neighbor looks like. Second, consider calling the legislative hotline to express your support for Senate Bill 32. That number is (800) 372-7181. An operator will ask for your name and address, then will record and pass along your message. Please request that the message be delivered to Senate leadership, because that is who is currently keeping the bill from coming to the floor for a vote. It takes about one minute to make the call.

I realize some feel unsettled anytime a pastor mentions anything about the political world; I do, too. I am also aware that good Christians may disagree with this bill because it may feel like too much government regulation; or because people may lose their jobs; or because they may have seen positive examples where these loans actually helped someone for a time. Thus, I’m not trying to outline THE “Christian position” on payday lending.

But the Bible does call us to fight oppression, and the normal impact of these loans is to oppress and trap. So loving our neighbors sometimes means favoring laws that promote compassion and opportunity, not cycles of debt that seem impossible to escape.

For good reason, Kentucky Baptists passed a resolution in 2011 seeking to cap payday loans.

If you want to learn more about this issue, visit the Center for Responsible Lending’s website.

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Newspapers credit Ky. Baptists with gambling bill kill

Kentucky Baptist efforts urging opposition to gambling expansion coupled with strong Baptist influence in Frankfort have been cited by two large daily newspapers as the reason gambling bills can’t make it out of the General Assembly. From a story posted on kybaptist.org:

LOUISVILLE — Two of Kentucky’s largest newspapers have run stories probing why a proposal to legalize casino gambling didn’t make it out of the General Assembly again this year, concluding that strong Baptist influence in Frankfort doomed the idea.

The Courier-Journal and the Kentucky Enquirer reported that Baptists make up more than 1 million of the state’s 4.4 million population, and that almost half the Senate and more than one-third of the House identify as Baptists.

Baptists have long opposed casinos, saying they prey on human weakness for profit and that they would especially hurt Kentucky’s poor who might be lured into losing the little money they have in hopes of a big payoff.

The newspapers reported that Baptists hold an abundance of key leadership positions in both the House and Senate, and that has had a noticeable impact on what gets through the state Legislature.

The newspapers credited Baptist influence with passage of Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage in 2004, as well as Gov. Steve Beshear’s inability to get legislative approval for a constitutional amendment on gambling that he’s been pushing hard for the past six years.

Beshear has pushed casino legislation every year since he became governor in 2007.

Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood has played a lead role in opposing casinos.

Chitwood’s offensive this year included advertising on Christian radio stations, devoting time to secular talk radio, and communicating directly with the KBC’s 750,000 members about the evils of gambling through a video sent to Baptist churches across the state.

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Chitwood, Hutcheson discuss gambling battle with ERLC’s Walker

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