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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Heroin Bill Passes in House & Senate

Because there is an emergency clause in the bill, Governor Beshear will sign bill in formal signing ceremony Wednesday at 10:30 AM.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 24, 2015) -  Senate Bill 192, the final vehicle that was used to carry the heroin bill over the finish line passed the Kentucky State Legislature, cleared hurdles with just a few hours to go in the Kentucky State General Assembly.

The negotiations have been ongoing for the past three months and the final sticking points essentially came down to needle exchange, a "Good Samaritan law" that would give immunity to others who would call an overdose into authorities and penalties.

The needle exchange and Good Samaritan law were thought to be deal breakers for Republicans, while toughening penalties were non-negotiable for Democrats. In the end, House Democrats got "2 for 1" as some Republicans commented after the vote.

Here's what Senate Bill 192 amounted to:

•A total of $24 million to be reached through savings in the budget over two years for treatment for addicts, babies born to addicted mothers, addicts who are in jail and other educational programs.

•Low-level traffickers: Just like under current law, selling less than two grams of heroin is still considered a Class D felony. But dealers who are caught with at least two indicators of trafficking — such as large sums of cash or baggies — could have to serve at least half of their prison sentence, depending on the prosecution. Dealers who prove that they are selling to support a habit could be probated into treatment.

High-volume dealers: Selling between 2 grams and 100 grams still constitutes a Class C felony, but now convicts would have to serve at least have of their sentence. Selling 100 grams or more would be a Class B felony, and again, dealers would have to serve half their sentence. Also, importing any amount of heroin for the purposes of trafficking would be a Class C felony.

A new trafficking violation called "importing" was also added. This allows prosecutors to charge those who come over from other states to receive a Class C felony with 50% parole eligibility. 

•Provisions to allow needle exchanges overseen by regional health departments, but only if a local jurisdiction approves. Such programs allow heroin users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones, with advocates saying it reduces the spread of disease and keeps them in contact with addicts and possibly get them into treatment.

•Expanded use of the anti-overdose drug naloxone by first responders and others, with a provision that holds such users harmless against a potential lawsuit.

•A "good Samaritan" clause that allows someone who calls in an overdose to avoid prosecution on drug charges if they provide a valid name and address.

The final vote totals were 100-0 in the House and 34-4 in the Senate, with Senator John Schickel as the only local NAY vote on the bill. Schickel, who has been adamantly opposed to needle exchange, voted NAY because he felt that they were fundamentally wrong and "just because a person is an addict, does not excuse them from penalties of responsibilities." 

He said he disagreed with the public health argument, and wondered whether condoms in schools would be a direct corollary.

Despite that, there were a lot of handshakes and even some standing ovations for Senator Chris McDaniel, who was the sponsor of the very first version of the heroin bill in the legislature.

Senator Wil Schroder, who was an integral part of helping broker the heroin bill as a member of the smaller conference committee said, "That until (the recent passage of the heroin bill), he thought his freshman session was going to be a failure before the compromise."

"That's what people send us here to do," said Schroder. "We have to compromise and get a deal done. Especially this one."

“This is the legislation Kentuckians have been waiting for – a robust and comprehensive package that attacks the spectrum of heroin abuse, from punishing traffickers to supporting addiction treatment to protecting public health through needle exchanges. Heroin is a multi-dimensional monster and demands an array of tactics to support families, treat addicts and protect our communities," said Governor Steve Beshear. "Senate Bill 192 is tough on traffickers who bring these deadly drugs into our communities, but compassionate toward those who report overdoses or who admit they need help for their addiction.  I applaud our legislators for putting aside partisan interests for the greater good of all Kentuckians who have been affected by this devastating drug. Because the bill has an emergency clause, I will sign it first thing tomorrow morning – Kentuckians can’t wait one more minute for the tools it provides to fight heroin.”

Last year Senate Bill 5, which was sponsored by longtime Senator Katie Stine, suffered an untimely defeat in the waning moments of the last General Assembly due to partisan political games. Senator Sannie Overly attached a Brent Spence Bridge Tolling amendment onto the bill, which ultimately led to its demise.

Senator Damon Thayer said in his closing remarks of the heroin vote that Senator McDaniel, who is running as the Lieutenant Governor on James Comer's Gubernatorial ticket, should get credit for the bill despite Kentucky House Democrats' efforts to strip him of the credit because of those same types of political games.

Overly, who is running on the Democratic Gubernatorial ticket with Jack Conway was not to be outdone, by trying to make a name on the back of this bill. House Democrats were successful in attaching her name to an immediate $10 million emergency funding option on the bill to open up treatment right away.

Republicans say that move was clearly done in an effort to help Overly purge the reminder of her tolling amendments that killed Stine's bill during the last General Assembly and aren't clear where that funding will come from.

When it's all said and done, they got something done. And that's better than nothing.

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