Massie files new bill to repeal Patriot Act

For The Oldham Era
Published: April 2, 2015

By RAE HODGE

Congressmen Thomas Massie, R-KY, and Mark Pocan, D-WI, have introduced the Surveillance State Repeal Act, H.R. 1466, legislation that would repeal several federal mass surveillance laws enacted in the 2001 Patriot Act.

The bill falls just short of full-scale repeal, though goes after the heart of the act by targeting controversial provisions, several of which are already up for renewal by Congress this year.

Among them, those portions that enable the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct programs like those revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“We filed the bill this week because we wanted to get it filed before the debate really begins about renewal. Certain provisions will expire if not renewed and it will be very difficult to renew it without reforms,” Massie said.

Currently, the debate centers on the NSA’s most controversial program—the collection of metadata. Elected officials are attempting to decide whether the NSA should be allowed to collect metadata at all on U.S. citizens. A person’s metadata may include things like what a person searches for online, to whom a person sends an email and what phone numbers a person calls.

The NSA has previously cited the Patriot Act as the legal basis for this phone metadata harvesting surveillance program. Additionally, the bill would repeal the FISA Amendments Act, which contains provisions for email data harvesting.

“One reform discussed was, instead of government collection of data, phone companies could hold it for a time period. Right now phone companies could hold it for a month, or a year or five years. But telling companies to hold that data for however long is the definition of an unfunded mandate.”

Lawmakers will have to settle the debate before May, as the programs will shut down if not re-authorized this spring.

Massie said he’s aware that the full repeal of the Patriot Act is a tall order, but that by combining the right elements, it may have the chance to move forward in certain committees.

“Because it is so drastic in its reforms it will be difficult to lift. Many parts have been passed before, though,” he said, such as the provision which would prevent government entities from putting pressure on software developers to create backdoors into software for spying or, more euphemistically, for security.

“We got a vote on that as an amendment last summer as part of the appropriations. The vote of 293-123 was a veto-proof majority passage. That’s a good sign if we could get this bill to the floor,” Massie said.

H.R 1466 also makes retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and ensures any FISA collection against a U.S. person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause.

“To set the tone we wanted to not only repeal but add provision. In addition, our bill will offer additional whistleblower provisions that would cover contractors like Edward Snowden. We feel it’s important to give them a place to go besides Hong Kong or Russia,” he said. “I’d point out that as far as I can tell, today’s whistleblower provisions don’t allow people like Snowden to come to a member of Congress, and this would.”

There are a few things in the Patriot Act, however, that would stay in place even if Massie’s bill passes.

“In our bill we preserve some important features for law enforcement such as the roving wiretap. In the past people would change cell phones to avoid law enforcement and the Patriot Act legally allowed (law enforcement) to have a roving wiretap linking it to a person instead of a phone number,” Massie told the Era.

“We don’t want to eliminate valid tools law enforcement uses to track criminals.”

Pocan said of the bill in a March 24 release “The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy.”

Pocan added that revelations about the invasiveness of NSA programs “reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security. We can live in a secure nation, which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”

Massie said that he and Pocan aren’t the only members of congress carrying the banner for the bill, and that although he is presently the only Republican on-board, four other members have agreed to co-sponsor the measure.

Massie will also be bringing the bill to the other members of the Liberty Caucus, a group of about three dozen House and Senate members.

The Surveillance State Repeal Act is currently sitting in both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, though it hasn’t been called for a hearing in either.

Rand’s plans unveiled, state candidates vetted and county leadership put to the test at Oldham County GOP Women’s Club

For The Oldham Era
Published: March 26, 2015

By RAE HODGE

Eager to piggyback on an expected wave of statewide Republican momentum, the Oldham County Republican Women’s Club will be sponsoring a gubernatorial debate among all four Republican candidates–Matt Bevin, James Comer, Hal Heiner and Will Scott–on Tuesday, April 7.

The same day, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, is expected to announce his decision to run for the U.S. presidency in 2016.

During the club’s March 10 meeting, a field representative for Paul, Jennifer Decker, spoke to the club, intimating that Paul would, indeed, be announcing his bid.

“On April 7 in Louisville at the Galt House at noon Sen. Paul is going to make an announcement about something. A big announcement,” said Decker, grinning and pausing briefly to accommodate the groups’ chuckles. “We expect a big crowd so you might want to get there at 11:15 a.m… and you’re all invited and we hope you’ll come.”

Campaign revelations didn’t end there. Paul’s Deputy State Director Rachel McCubbin revealed the voting mechanism that both local and statewide Republican parties would use in the caucus-driven primary, including how he would pay for the local Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) chapters to proceed with the strategy, which McCubbin says is a one-time deal.

“One question we’re often asked is ‘Does this apply to other races?’ No. This doesn’t apply to any other year and it doesn’t apply to any other races in 2016. So you still have to organize your precincts and everyone for your May primary because there will be your state House and Senate candidate and all the other candidates will have the primary. We will simply use this as our method for selecting our would-be president.”

McCubbin also said that, despite misinformation, many will be able to vote in the caucus primaries, though much is still undecided.

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Teacher pensions still in danger as legislature nears end of session

For The Oldham Era
Published: March 18, 2015

By RAE HODGE

Approximately 50 percent of Kentucky’s 40,000 public school teachers are already eligible to retire. If all–or even most–retire this year, they might not have a pension to retire on. The state’s public school teachers aren’t allowed to draw Social Security when they retire. Nor are they allowed to draw their spouse’s Social Security if their spouse dies.

When the pension money runs out, many of the teachers who spent their lives and careers educating generations of Kentucky families could have no income to live on.

“We’re very concerned. If these teachers retire, the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System has to have money in the bank to meet payroll,” said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Educators Association.

“If they don’t do anything now we’re going to be $500 million in the hole by this time next year. It’ll be $500 million that needs to be made up in liability that the state owes. The more we do now, the better off we’re going be later on.”

House Bill 4 is one proposed solution. Sponsored by Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, the bill sought to allow KTRS to use $3.3 billion in state bonds to pay out debts. By doing so, Stumbo argued, KTRS could prevent accumulating more debt as inflation rates rise nationally. Debt would instead be locked into a low-interest bond rate.

On Mar. 13, however, the bill was gutted in the Republican-controlled state Senate, where opponents removed all funding provisions, and replaced them with instructions that the issue would be studied instead.

“As much as we were disappointed by what the Senate did to the bill, it’s understandable,” said Winkler. “It’s a huge amount of money. And we felt encouraged that both sides seemed to want to keep the dialogue going. We’re hopeful the conversation isn’t over.”

Ninety percent of students in Kentucky attend public schools. In Oldham County Schools alone, there are approximately 850 teachers handling 12,017 students. The KEA reports 150 certified members, which also include librarians whom have teaching certification.

Tracy Green, spokesperson for Oldham County Schools, backs the move to bond KTRS’ debt.

“We support the bond funding,” said Green, who added that the pension problems in both KTRS and Kentucky Employee Retirement Systems overlap for those who aren’t teachers, “And the rest of our employees go through KERS so (the liability) is bad for everyone employed here.”

Green also said that Oldham County Schools’ Superintendent Will Wells has contacted both state Sen. Ernie Harris state Rep. David Osborne, both Prospect Republicans, to express their support for the bonding bill.

When asked whether the school would be supportive of the Republican plan to study the bonding before taking action, Green described the schools support for immediate action from the legislature, concerning the rising interest rates of KTRS’ debt.

“Because of the low interest rate, bonding makes sense now, and it might not make sense later,” she said.

Winkler said the current strain to pay member benefits has caused the KTRS to start selling property.

“Right now we’re having to liquidate assets to make payroll,” said Winkler.

She says the source of the problem isn’t that the Kentucky General Assembly hasn’t been making their Actuarially Required Contribution (the amount of money, known as the ARC, which the legislature must put in the KTRS pot in order to balance the books every year), “but that they are not going back and reviewing the changes in inflation and expense.”

The unaddressed changes have resulted in the pension fund having only 54 percent of what it needs in order to pay out to those teachers who are eligible to retire.

Rep. Osborne said the calculations needed to secure the pension “have been talked about considerably among House members, which is one reason we’re cautious. The KTRS is making assumptions of 7.5 percent returns.”

The expectation that the KTRS’ can achieve 7.5 percent investment has received round criticism, particularly following the re-evaluation of the aggressive 6 percent expected-but-not-achieved rate of return for the KERS.

“There’s no reason to expect that they can get those returns,” said Osborne. “If they haven’t been able to do 7.5 percent in the kind of upward market we’ve had recently we might need to re-evaluate. So I don’t have any faith in those numbers.”

But Osborne relented, admitting that the legislature is actively seeking out professional investment opinions. “At the end of the day, if all the professionals rally around and sing Kumbaya and agree that 7.5 percent is right, then we have to do it.”

Osborne’s concerns also center on creating a structure for KTRS’ future.

“It’s premature to throw money at it but that said we’re ultimately going to have to start the process,” he said. “I kind of fall a little in between each side of it. I don’t have any ultimate problem with bonding, but to blindly bond without examining some of the structural causes that have created def is not real practical.”

Osborne expressed his support for an amendment proposed by Shelbyville Republican Rep. Brad Montell, which would authorize the study while funding the ARC

“It’s obviously concerning and I thing that’s one of the valid reasons for showing some good faith on our part, and say we’re not going to let it turn into another KERS,“ said Osborne. “If we would go ahead and put the money in for the first year so everybody understands this isn’t kicking the can down the road. We know we’re going have to pay it, so let’s start the process.”

Green concurs with Osborne on this point. “We would not consider ourselves knowledgeable enough in those markets. The legislature needs to find these things out so we can move forward,” she said. “We would support any action that moves the process forward so if the legislature finds that concurrent ARC funding this year, along with a study, is the best way to move we would support it.”

Green insisted that in order to keep up the Oldham County streak of notable academic excellence, benefit option have to be kept in shape. “Pensions are a huge retention tool for our teachers,” said Green.

Osborne said when it comes to retirement, he’s “not sure how much of a driver it is toward the profession,” but that “Once people get into it and become seasoned professionals, obviously their thoughts start to change a little.”

However, Winkler agrees with Green when it comes to retaining teachers in Oldham, the state’s eighth largest school district. “If you want to attract and retain good employees you have take care of them.”

Kentucky is one of 17 states which currently does not allow teachers to draw a Social Security when they retire thanks to a measure passed in the 1980’s.

“It’s basically a penalty for public service,” said Winkler.

The Era asked Osborne whether Kentucky should allow teachers to collect Social Security if the state can’t provide its obligated pension to them. And whether the conference committee where the bill resides has discussed the option.

“I don’t think that it has become a dramatic part of the conversation yet,” he said of the ongoing bonding discussions in Frankfort. “Certainly, there are those conversations where it comes up, where we ask ‘What is the ultimate consequence?’”

Winkler has a response: “If we don’t invest in public education we’re not investing in jobs, creating productive workers, and contributing to society.”

Right to Work moves forward in Fiscal Court

For The Oldham Era
Published: March 11, 2015

By RAE HODGE

Right to Work legislation may have failed in Kentucky’s state legislature but advocates of the measure are pushing for local level passage in Oldham and other counties across the state.

Just as vocal advocates of the bill were given opportunity to show their support during a previous meeting, voices opposing the measure got their chance to speak out at the Mar. 3 meeting of the Oldham County Fiscal Court.

Advocates are adamant that the ordinance is not anti-union. The measure, however, would allow non-union employees in unionized workplaces to skip paying dues to the union, although the unions would still be required to provide benefits like legal protection and health insurance negotiations.

Among the speakers, Bill Londrigan, the Kentucky President of AFL-CIO, presented his arguments to the court on behalf of unionized workers.

“That’s like saying you’re pro-motherhood, but being against mothers,” said Londrigan.

Londrigan cited recent studies demonstrating a marked difference between Right to Work and non- Right to Work states in the amount of average wages per worker, noting that employees in Right to Work states earn nearly $5,000 less per year than others.

AFL-CIO is currently also involved in a lawsuit againt Warren County, which passed the ordinance. AFL-CIO claims the passage is in violation of constitutional statutes and oversteps the county’s authority.

When asked by Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele whether Oldham’s passage of the law could be legal, Oldham County Attorney John Carter told the magistrates flatly, “The law’s against it.”

As previously reported in the Era, Oldham County doesn’t currently have any employers with unionized shops, but several members of unions live in Oldham County and commute to work.

Oldham could join a small number of other counties in passing the legislation at the county level, where proponents have focused thanks to repeated failures in passing a statewide law.

Voegele has previously said that he’s discussed the measure with Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger and spoken with Bullitt County Judge-Executive Melanie Roberts about also passing a similar ordinance.

Though Right to Work measures are unlikely to pass in the heavily Democratic Jefferson County, the state’s largest, it would be surrounded by a ring of counties with the ordinance if Bullett and Shelby counties pass it as well.

The Oldham County Fiscal Court meets on the first and third Tuesdays of every month on the second floor of La Grange’s City Hall. The Oldham County Fiscal Court is scheduled to vote on the Right to Work ordinance on Mar. 17.

Bevin seeks support from Oldham Co. GOP women

For The Oldham Era
Published: March 11, 2015

By RAE HODGE

During what has become a neck and neck race for the nomination among Republican would-be’s for the Kentucky governor’s mansion, the Oldham County GOP Women’s Club heard from candidate Matt Bevin on Tuesday.

Bevin joined the group to discuss his position on families, military service, Right to Work legislation, and women’s issues.

“This War on Women argument is an unfair argument,” he said, accusing the press of manufacturing gender inequality in Republican party politics.

Bevin turned his speech to his running mate Jenean Hampton, “The fact that she is a black woman in Kentucky as a Republican puts her in fairly select company,” he said, adding “It’s going to matter in the general election. If there’s a ticket being sold out of the Republican side that doesn’t have a woman on it, fairly or otherwise, you’re going to hear that narrative.”

The National Conference of State legislatures holds that in 2013 Republican women were elected to state government at only half the rate Democratic Women were.

When Bevin was asked afterward what he would do on a state level to address the gender disparity in his party, Bevin said that he didn’t know, but that even with slight increases in Republican registration among women “we still aren’t seeing the commensurate elected positions.”

Bevin was asked what the obstacle was in getting female Republicans elected.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I wish I had an answer for you there.”

But Bevin says he’s also not confident about signing a wage equality bill if he were elected Governor, adding “You can’t guarantee an outcome. That’s the sad reality of it. I could want anything I want, but this has never been a nation nor will it ever be a nation that can guarantee equal outcomes. It’s impossible.”

Bevin also explained his position against Kentucky’s state healthcare exchange, Kynect.

“I am the only candidate that has come out in favor of completely dismantling Kynect,” Bevin told the group.

When asked afterward how he could do so without cutting services for the nearly half a million Kynect participants in the state, Bevin advocated for transferring Kynect users to a federal healthcare exchange program in order to save state dollars.

Bevin, a former member of the U.S. military, also spoke on the homeless veteran population in Kentucky.

Bevin accused the current administration of mismanaging funds and lacking organiation.

“Our military retirees are mature, important members of our community,” he said, but “We are spending too much money.”

His speaking event fell on the same day a Bluegrass Poll was released, showing him in a dead heat at 20 percent approval, with Republican candidate Jamie Comer, though trailing behind candidates Hal Heiner and Louisville Democrat Jack Conway.

Bevin is scheduled to continue his campaign in Kentucky, making stops through northern Kentucky next week.