FRANKFORT, KY (3/4/12) - Changes in how state public advocacy services are structured were approved last Wednesday in a bill that I am sponsoring this session with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley of Hopkinsville.
House Bill 378, which passed the House by a vote of 98-0, would create a new Division of Conflict Services within the state Department of Public Advocacy, create the position of general counsel in the department, and exclude departmental agreements that employ attorneys to represent indigent clients in conflict matters from the state’s definition of “personal service contract.” This is basically a housekeeping bill, as we refer to them in the General Assembly, but a necessary one to modernize the department. HB 378 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
Legislation dealing with judicial matters covered much of the work of the House last week. Particular focus was on bills dealing with pill mills and synthetic drugs, allowing for extensive debate and discussion on the issue in both the House and Senate in these final session weeks. I would like to talk a bit about the House bills addressing these issues.
The name “pill mill” doesn’t refer to a legal and legitimate a medical facility, any more than “synthetic drug trade” means the legal prescribing and dispensing of FDA-approved medications. These are current euphemisms for two of the most vile practices in our state today, practices that are taking the health and lives of Kentucky citizens both young and old.
Two bills approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, if passed into law, could stop those dangerous and deadly schemes by ultimately putting pill mills and the synthetic drug trade out of business.
Pill mills are another name for often-temporary pain clinics where physicians licensed in Kentucky, but working for what are often out-of-state interests, prescribe large amounts of pain medication for quick cash with few or no questions asked. House Bill 4 would address the state’s pill mill problem by cracking down on how controlled substances are prescribed, dispensed, regulated and monitored. It would give the state’s Attorney General more power to investigate and prosecute anyone involved in the improper prescribing of controlled substances, while requiring that pain management facilities be owned by individuals who are licensed in Kentucky to prescribe controlled substances, among other provisions.
Growth in the sale and use of synthetic drugs—including synthetic marijuana and compounds labeled as bath salts, both commonly sold at some convenience stores—would be addressed by the second bill, HB 481. This legislation would ban entire classes of synthetic drugs to plug a loophole in current law that bans only specific compounds, allowing creative chemists to legalistically skirt the ban by merely changing a drug’s chemical makeup. It would also extend state forfeiture-of-property laws to those who traffic in synthetic drugs, create a maximum fine of twice the profit from trafficked products for retailers who sell the drugs, and define new misdemeanor and felony crimes and penalties for selling the drugs.
These are just a few of the dozens of provisions that make up each bill. But, taken together, the provisions will most assuredly crack down on pill mills and synthetics drugs— protecting the health and very lives of our fellow Kentuckians.
Big news emerged from the Kentucky Supreme Court Feb. 24 when the state’s highest court ruled that HB 1—the legislative redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor Jan. 20—was unconstitutional. That means lawmakers and their opponents will run in the current state legislative districts, approved in 2002, until and if the districts are redrawn.
We are also working on the $19.5 billion two-year state budget that must pass both chambers no later than our constitutionally mandated adjournment date of April 15. House budget subcommittees have spent weeks gathering information from state agencies that will be used to craft the House budget plan. House leaders said early last week that they expect to have that plan to the Senate within a week or two.
As work on the budget continued last week, a bill that would encourage construction—and jobs—by helping fund energy upgrades in both public schools and small to medium manufacturing facilities cleared the House.
HB 255, passed 96-1, would create jobs and improve energy efficiency by giving eligible schools and manufacturers access to money set aside by the 2008 General Assembly for energy upgrades. Loans for energy-smart school projects would come from a $50 million pool, while the manufacturers would draw their funds from a $30 million pool. All funds would fall under the Kentucky Green Schools Initiative announced in January. HB 255 now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Theft of valuable metal items including copper coils, cast iron manhole covers, even guard rails, has become a $1 billion underground business in the U.S. But HB 390, which passed the House by a vote of 99-0 last Tuesday, hopes to put a dent in that business by preventing secondary metal recyclers and scrap metal dealers from paying quick cash for these and other valuable metal pieces.
Under HB 390, purchase of these valuable metal items would be restricted by requiring recyclers and scrap dealers to ask for proof of ownership from sellers and requiring sellers be paid by check rather than cash. Recyclers and dealers would also have to be registered with the state and undergo a police background check, among other requirements. Additionally, the bill would create new crimes for “unlawful acts relating to acquiring metals” for those who vandalize someone’s property in the course of metal theft. HB 390 now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Also passed by the House last week is legislation that would lead to new career-ready courses for high school students who want to bypass college for the workforce. HB 75, which passed by a vote of 95-0 and now goes to the Senate, would lead to the creation of new career and technical education pathways—including industry certification of students while in high school.
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