The Speaker of the Kentucky House is signaling that a bill designed to fight heroin stands a good chance of passing his chamber this year.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo was quoted by the Courier-Journal as saying the odds of the bill passing the House are “pretty good”, given that lawmakers have shown a bipartisan ability to back legislation battling illegal drugs. A bill sponsored by Senate Republican Katie Stine seeks to increase the punishment of those convicted of selling high-volumes of drugs while increasing access to substance abuse treatment centers for addicts.
Stine’s bill passed the full Senate on Thursday and is now being considered by the House.
The northern Kentucky lawmaker says her part of the state has seen its treatment centers and law enforcement agencies swamped by a major surge in heroin abuse.
The Courier-Journal reports defense attorneys are objecting to a part of the bill that would help prosecutors convict some drug dealers of homicide when the sale of illegal drugs results in overdose deaths.
Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, follows testimony by Col. Wayne Turner, Bellevue Chief of Police, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee, and later the full Senate, passed a bill sponsored by Stine to combat Kentucky's growing heroin addiction problem.
A bill aimed at combating Kentucky’s rising heroin abuse problem is on to the House after gaining unanimous support in the state Senate. Republican Katie Stine’s measure was passed Thursday on a 36-0 vote, and seeks to distinguish between those who are selling the drug, and those who have become addicted.
“The bill targets two different groups: the trafficker who needs to be run out of Kentucky or locked up, and the addict, who has broken the law, but who has created their own personal prison of addiction that is far worse than any jail the state could design, and who frankly needs treatment,” said the Campbell County lawmaker.
Stine’s bill creates tougher punishments for dealers, making them serve more of their prison sentences before becoming eligible for parole. The legislation also requires the Kentucky Medicaid program to pay for substance-abuse treatment.
According to Stine, the increasing heroin problem is having a major impact on courts and emergency rooms in parts of the commonwealth, especially in the northern part of the state.
As temperatures in Kentucky slowly climb out of the polar abyss, so too will state lawmakers emerge from their districts and trek to Frankfort for the opening day of the 2014 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
The session got underway Tuesday.
Kentucky legislators will have until the relatively balmy date of April 15 to craft a biennial state budget, which will be a difficult task: Amid one of the toughest economic outlooks in recent memory, legislators will be forced to grapple with funding priority issues like reinvesting in K-12 education and funding nearly $900 in teachers' pension liabilities.
Many people, from political observers to politicians themselves, have estimated that in order to fully fund these and other priorities, an additional $400 million to $1 billion (or more) in revenue must be raised to plug the gap in spending.
But the state expects only $250 million in additional revenue.
Although the budget will be the front and center issue, here's a glimpse at some other legislative priorities:
A Kentucky lawmaker is taking issue with proposed legislation aimed at tackling the state’s growing heroin problem.
Legislation from Republican Sen. Katie Stine would raise penalties for heroin traffickers and punish dealers by reclassifying overdose deaths as criminal homicide when there is sufficient evidence.
Although Stine says her legislation would also attempt to shore up drug treatment efforts, Sen. Perry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville, says it's another misstep in the failed War on Drugs.
“I’ve voted against it in the past, I’ll probably vote against it in the future. She’s using the same old law enforcement, criminal technique against drugs that don’t work.”
Clark says he does support the idea of a “Good Samaritan” law, in which individuals who bring an overdose victim to the attention of emergency services may be granted immunity. Stine has said her measure would include such a provision.
A report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet says that heroin deaths in Kentucky have risen 550 percent between 2011 and 2012.
A report released Friday shows that overdose deaths in Kentucky declined in 2012—the first time there has been such a drop in a decade.
But the report issued by the Office of Drug Control Policy also found that heroin deaths in the commonwealth last year increased by 550 percent over 2011.
The office’s executive director, Van Ingram, says Kentucky first started seeing an increase in heroin use and overdoses when the formulation for the painkillers Oxycontin and Opana were changed in order to make them more difficult for intravenous drug use.
The report also shows that two of the counties in the top ten for overdose deaths in 2011 and 2012 are in our listening area. Whitley County was eighth, with 56 overdose deaths per 100,000 people.
Monroe County was ninth, with 53 deaths per 100,000 people.
Statistics show cases of hepatitis C have exploded in northern Kentucky. Due to the increase, the Independent Health Department District is offering free blood testing to anyone concerned about the chronic blood-borne disease that affects the liver. The department is also encouraging people in high-risk groups to get tested.
The area had 23 cases of acute hepatitis C in 2010, 42 in 2011 and 44 in 2012. Officials have said the heroin epidemic in the area is likely a factor in the increase.
Health department spokeswoman Emily Gresham Wherle said anyone who tests positive for the disease will be provided with counseling, education and care options. She says the health department also hopes to get a better understanding of the prevalence of the problem.