A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – In one way, the bills filed each legislative session are not much different from the teams taking part in the NCAA basketball tournaments. Some advance, while others find out that this is not their year.
There is one key difference in the General Assembly’s version of March Madness, however: More than one “winner” is crowned.
Two of those to pass early last week are landmark laws that will help Kentucky counter a steep rise in heroin addiction and that will make several new groups of victims eligible for civil protective orders. Both cleared the General Assembly on the session’s final night.
The heroin legislation is crucial because we are losing hundreds of Kentuckians a year to that and other illegal drugs, and thousands more are caught in addiction’s deadly grip. In ways large and small, we all pay a price.
Several of my legislative colleagues talked about the grief they experienced after their loved ones died because of a heroin overdose, and we know there are many more like them. We also heard from law enforcement, corrections officials, healthcare professionals, judges and victims advocates who said we are facing a trend that cannot continue.
Under Senate Bill 192, which Gov. Beshear signed into law just hours after the bill cleared the legislature, the state will take a two-pronged approach to reverse that tide. First, we will broaden treatment, which studies have shown is crucial to reduce the number of addicts. As a result, those addicted will have more options in jail if arrested and also through Medicaid and our community mental health centers.
Pregnant women who are addicted will see a renewed focus on treatment, and there will be an increased use of two miracle drugs: naloxone, which can reverse heroin overdoses if administered in time, and Vivitrol, which is being hailed as an actual cure.
Two initiatives new to Kentucky, but not to many other states, will provide “Good Samaritan” protections and a local-option needle exchange program. The former will give legal immunity to fellow addicts who may otherwise be hesitant to call an ambulance for an overdose victim, while the latter will allow communities to decide whether they want this type of program. Many addicts who share needles are much more prone to becoming infected with blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, and there is also a growing prevalence of dirty needles sticks among the public and law enforcement. An exchange program can help limit that.
Beyond treatment, this new law also increases penalties for those selling heroin to others. Selling two grams or less of heroin will remain a Class D felony, which is punishable by one to five years in prison, but those found to be commercial traffickers will face a much higher threshold before being eligible for probation or parole.
Under another new provision, those selling more than 100 grams will now face a Class “B” felony, which calls for a 10- to 20-year prison term, and any amount brought to Kentucky from another state and sold here will now be a Class “C” felony, which calls for a five- to 10-year term.
Because this law has an emergency clause, it takes effect immediately, and the General Assembly also set aside $10 million extra to begin funding these programs quickly. Once they’re up and running, they will be paid with savings generated from 2011’s far-reaching criminal-justice reforms.
As we move forward with this law, we also will begin allowing three new groups of victims to qualify for a civil protective order: those abused by someone they are dating and those being stalked or who have been sexually assaulted.
Many states already include these groups in their protective orders, which have been shown to limit violence and reduce criminal justice costs. This change will put Kentucky back on the path as a national leader in reducing domestic violence.
Another new law from last week will stabilize funding for our state and local roads by setting a new “floor” on revenues generated at the gas pump. Had we not acted, we could have lost about a third of highway funding from the level it was at a little more than a year ago. That would have severely limited highway construction and maintenance.
Two other laws to pass last week are also transportation-related. One extends the age and height requirements for booster seats, which will now apply to young children through the age of seven and up to 57 inches in height. The other will set new requirements for ignition interlock systems, which courts use to make sure those convicted of DUI do not drive drunk again if given permission to drive.
Although our time enacting legislation is over, the General Assembly is always monitoring issues affecting the state. If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns about any of these, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.