The General Assembly passed the few remaining mandatory bills left standing before adjourning Tuesday, but inaction on legislation targeting the state’s growing heroin problem may draw lawmakers back to Frankfort.
Senate President Robert Stivers said he plans to meet with Gov. Steve Beshear today to discuss the lack of movement on Senate Bill 5, which would have added stiffer penalties to convicted heroin traffickers and allowed emergency responders to carry an anti-opiate drug used to treat heroin overdoses, among other things.
With the state nearing a heroin “epidemic,” Stivers said a special session would be appropriate to tackle the issue.
“When you think about the loss of life and then compound that with the loss of productivity, the heartache, the pain on individuals in and around Northern Kentucky — much less the entire state — yes I would think it would deserve a special session,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.
He added: “I think the commonwealth would think that if we came up here in five days and spent $300,000 to do something to stop or curb this problem, that would be money well spent.”
Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, had 15 minutes before the session’s midnight deadline to maneuver SB 5 through the House. He scrambled to call a floor amendment, then a House committee substitute, then SB 5 in its original form before the clock struck the end of the 2014 legislative session.
The heroin bill was one of the more complicated pieces of legislation this session, as the two chambers could not see eye-to-eye on the strict penalties and removing culpability of victims who die in heroin overdoses as part of a legal defense.
A 45-minute debate on an 11-page amendment concerning non-profits and limited-liability companies to a separate bill, Senate Bill 108, ate away much of the time available for SB 5.
House Republicans voiced concerns with passing an amendment that had not been thoroughly vetted in the legislative process, but Tilley, speaking for the amendment, tried to force a vote and move on to the heroin bill. That motion rankled the chamber’s GOP, who seemed to take nearly every second of the three minutes available for lawmakers to explain votes.
“Any other time, that bill would have an extensive hearing in (the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee),” House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hover said in a floor speech.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, though, said he believed representatives against SB 5, sponsored by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine of Southgate, saw an opportunity with about an hour left in the session.
“I think that it was obvious that the opponents of Senate Bill 5 were using the clock and the floor amendment to Senate Bill 108 to their advantage,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “… They were cognizant of the time, and they were cognizant of the rules.”
Attorney General Jack Conway, who worked with Stine and Tilley on the legislation, said he was disappointed in the heroin bill’s fate.
“We must act to confront the reality of a growing heroin epidemic in our state,” Conway said in a statement. “Lives are at stake, and this legislation would have given law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to help address this issue.
“We must refocus our efforts to pass this legislation and expand treatment for opiate addiction to address the abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin.”
Road bills pass
Two of the largest issues left outstanding Tuesday were the fate of the state road plan and the Transportation Cabinet budget. Leaders in both sessions sounded pessimistic of resolutions Monday —Stumbo alluded to the possibility of a special session while Stivers said lawmakers could simply pass a continuation budget and settle the matters next year.
But by early Tuesday afternoon, conferees on the road plan reached an agreement. The Transportation Cabinet’s budget soon followed. The state’s biennial highway construction plan includes funding for major projects like expanding the Mountain Parkway, building an interchange at Interstate 64 as part of an agreement to bring Toyota-produced Lexus cars to the automaker’s Georgetown plant, and moving the Brent Spence Bridge project forward.
“Our state’s economy depends on a reliable, safe and well-maintained transportation network, and the timely passage of these bills is good news for our workers, businesses and taxpayers,” Beshear said in a statement.
Franklin County fared well in the final version of the two-year highway construction plan. A $5.7 million renovation of East Main Street from Kentucky State University’s campus to Schenkel Lane, a $2 million pedestrian bridge across East Main on KSU’s campus and $43,000 to improve traffic flow in downtown Frankfort made the final cut for state projects.
Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he was “very concerned” with the status of the East Main improvements and pedestrian bridge in the compromise bill, so he wrote a memo to Sen. Ernie Harris, a Prospect Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, outlining East Main as his top priority.
“The bridge is needed, there’s no question about that for students crossing that dangerous street,” Carroll said, “but with the improvement of East Main, that will then allow us to get the improvements as well as build the bridge.”