By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT MITCHELL - Northern Kentucky's largest business organization has endorsed the proposed changes to Kentucky's constitution that are on the statewide ballot Tuesday.
The 1,963-member Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce threw its support Thursday behind a pair of constitutional amendments that, if approved, would allow the establishment of family courts across Kentucky and make changes to corporate law in the state.
"The chamber believes that passage of both these amendments will have a positive impact on businesses, on the economy, on families and children, and on the general quality of life in Kentucky," said chamber President Gary Toebben. "That's why we're supporting both of these constitutional amendments."
The two amendments are:
Amendment 1, creation of family courts. Family courts operate in 26 counties under a pilot program established in 1991. Passage of the amendment would allow the courts - which handle domestic issues such as adoption, divorce, child custody, some instances of spousal abuse and non-criminal juvenile matters - to be formed in every county in the state. Boone County currently has a family court overseen by Judge Linda Bramlage, but no such courts exist in Kenton or Campbell counties.
Amendment 2, changes to corporate law. If approved the amendment would remove what supporters call outdated and antiquated provisions of law that were put into the Kentucky Constitution more than 100 years ago and are having a detrimental affect on corporations locating their headquarters in Kentucky. It would also clear the way for the Kentucky General Assembly to write new corporate laws.
Also on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, endorsed Amendment 2.
"This amendment is vital to strengthening Kentucky's economy," Mr. Bunning said in a statement. "It will put Kentucky on a level playing field with the majority of states, including neighboring states, in the intense competition for jobs."
During a Thursday afternoon press conference at the chamber's Fort Mitchell office, Boone Circuit Court Judge Jay Bamberger said he favors the Family Court amendment because it will not only streamline the operation of the court system - putting family-related issues before a single judge - but also will reduce the stress on families going through the judicial system.
Judge Bamberger said many of the cases that would be handled by a family court judge are now spread out over district and circuit courts - the other two levels of courts on the local level in Kentucky.
For instance, non-criminal juvenile matters are in the lower district court while divorce, child custody and child visitation cases are in circuit court.
"(Families) are able to get to court quicker," Judge Bamberger said. "You don't have families in district court one day on domestic violence, and having a date two weeks later on (another issue). These are families in crisis, and it's very important these pressing matters are addressed.
"It's been effective, it's efficient and we certainly appreciate the chamber's support and hope that the voters of Kentucky appreciate just how significant and important it is," he said.
Dan Lacy, vice president of corporate affairs for Covington-based Ashland Inc., also appeared at the press conference. Ashland has contributed nearly $3 million to the campaign to win passage of Amendment 2, which the company says will improve the business climate in Kentucky.
"It really does repeal certain sections of Kentucky's constitution written over 100 years ago and really paves the way for companies who are looking to start here or locate here to not have to worry about those kinds of restrictions that are in the old constitution," Mr. Lacy said.
"We believe passing this and cleaning up the constitution will help the state attract more jobs," he said.
Many of the provisions were written to deal with the influence of the 19th-century railroad industry expansion and no longer apply or are needed today, Mr. Lacy said.
One provision in the constitution technically forces companies to turn real estate over to the state if the property is not used within five years of its being purchased.
"Obviously that isn't enforced, but that's the kind of language we want to remove from the constitution," Mr. Lacy said.
Organized labor in Kentucky opposes the amendment because they fear it gives corporations too much power, and that companies such as Ashland have a hidden agenda in promoting the changes.
Labor also has said changing the constitution will invite corruption on the magnitude of Enron, WorldCom and other recent scandals in corporate America.
But Mr. Lacy said the provisions that will be removed from the constitution would not have prevented any of the problems with corrupt companies. He also said Ashland has no motivation for backing the amendment other than to modernize corporate law in Kentucky.
"None of these points in the constitution deal with corporate fraud, misuse of funds, so Amendment No. 2 has nothing to do with that," he said. "Those corporations, just like individuals, they need to be punished. And we've seen that now with the corporations that have done that."
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