Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Heroin Legislation Inches Forward After Political Hurdle Cleared

 Kentucky state Senators Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, and John Schickel, R-Union, testify about heroin to the House. Provided. 
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House and Senate cleared a major procedural hurdle last night when they decided what Bill would be used to act as the framework legislation to deal with the heroin crisis in Kentucky.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the amended Senate Bill 192, which was originally a bill dealing with provisions on health care services for inmates. SB 192 largely comes from HB 213, which was personalized through the story of Rep. Joni Jenkins’ nephew, who died of a heroin overdose in 2013. Feb. 13 was his birthday and the day HB 213 cleared the House. There will likely be a vote today.

“The Senate wouldn’t budge on their position; we wouldn’t budge on ours,” Rep. John Tilley told reporters. “I thought it was time that we move on something, and I think returning the bill to the Senate in a Senate bill represented a compromise between those two.”

Senate Bill 5, which was sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel (Taylor Mill) was the first bill to clear the Senate this year, but had only been read once in the House chambers. Bills must be read three times before a vote can occur. SB 5, which was the same bill number as Katie Stine's bill last year,  died in the 11th hour of the last General Assembly due to unfriendly politically motivated amendments.

There were strong overtones in Frankfort that McDaniel's Senate Bill 5 would not get though the Democratic-controlled House because Democrats did not want the eventual successful heroin bill to be associated with the James Comer/Chris McDaniel Governor's ticket.

"It's no secret the House had problems with my name being attached to the bill. The fact is that I started making calls on April 16th last year when they killed (SB 5) then. I had worked with Dr. Lynne Sadler, Rob Sanders and Spike Jones for months," said McDaniel. "But at the end of the day names and vehicles to get the bill moving are irrelevant."

The presumed Democratic Governor's ticket is comprised of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and Sannie Overly, a Representative from Paris, Kentucky.

Stine's bill, which was also the first one passed during the last General Assembly, left the state without meaningful legislation for six months to deal with the scourge. Stine believes that political games played into the decision then.

"(Sannie Overly) had a two-fold contribution to the demise of Senate Bill 5 (in 2014)," said Stine. "As a member of House Leadership, first. They made a calculated decision to not act on the bill even though it was the first one the Senate passed. To wait until the very last day to finally take action on the floor. Second, she sponsored a floor amendment specifically calling for adding a measure that would result in tolling on the Brent Spence Bridge, which had nothing to do with my heroin bill, which was another nail in the coffin to address the heroin crisis."

Political games aside, now that a new bill has been chosen that doesn't give either party a political win per se, on the last day before the veto-process session, it looks like heroin legislation could be on its way.

The biggest compromises will have to deal with needle exchanges and penalties. The Republican-controlled Senate have compromised on needle exchanges and the House will likely have to compromise on penalties, although House leadership has not promised a compromise on those tougher penalties as of yet.

SB 192 includes the House’s proposed local-option needle exchanges with a provision that syringes handled through the program would not be considered drug paraphernalia while onsite, grants immunity on drug possession and paraphernalia charges for those who report heroin overdoses and creates a new class B felony for trafficking a kilogram or more of heroin.

The bill also eliminates the definition of a “peddler” and adds a provision that mandates those convicted of trafficking more than 60 grams of heroin serve at least half of their sentences before parole, probation or other release.

Wil Schroder, who won Stine's old seat has taken on a leadership role to see legislation get passed. Schroder was the only "nay" vote on three different resolutions simply because he believed that nothing should take precedent over working on a solution for the heroin crisis. "We can't be messing around with resolutions that are not as important as dealing with the heroin crisis," said Schroder.

"Before the session I tried to do my homework and educate myself on both versions of the heroin bill. I became more of a believer in needle exchanges. People expect us to compromise and get something done," said Schroder. "Some of our members want tougher penalties and don't necessarily like needle exchanges, but we need a compromise. Some people need to come around to get something done."

The last day of the legislative general assembly is today and there is a lot on the line to get something done. McDaniel, whose bill will not be the keystone legislation, also agrees the most important thing is to get something on the books.

“Whatever vehicle gets it done, we’re just going to be happy with that and move along,” McDaniel told CN2.

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