FRANKFORT, KY (4/22/12) – Three days into a special session called by the governor to pass a two-year transportation budget and a prescription-drug monitoring bill, the Kentucky House last Wednesday approved both pieces of legislation and shipped them down the hall to the state Senate.
House members were, for the most part, intent on moving the $4.5 billion Transportation Cabinet budget in House Bill 2 and legislation cracking down on so-called prescription “pill mills” in HB 1 to the Senate without delay. After all, the House had already agreed on similar legislation during the regular session just concluded—but those bills weren’t given final approval, due to last-minute maneuvering in the Senate. The legislation approved by the House closely mirrored the earlier House-approved bills.
HB 2, which included the same Transportation budget language found in the earlier HB 266, sailed through the House on a 96-2 vote. At least one high-ranking lawmaker called the bill “the reason” that the special session was called, since it would provide the funding for a required two-year state Road Plan that was passed in the regular session and signed into law by the governor last Wednesday.
But curbing the state’s growing problem with prescription pain killers was also placed on the special session agenda by the governor. While HB 1 includes some language that was not agreed upon by the House and Senate in the regular session’s “pill mill bill”, or HB 4, the bill was approved by the House on a 70-28 vote after some vigorous floor debate about how the bill differs from the regular session legislation.
Provisions in HB 1 that were not part of the agreement on HB 4 include, among other changes, language that would move control of the state’s prescription drug monitoring system (or KASPER) to the Attorney General’s Office, and allow the office to charge licensed health care providers a maximum $50 annual fee to maintain the system. Supporters of the bill said that, while no one wants to add a fee, the Attorney General needs that flexibility for maintenance of the KASPER system, which all licensed providers would be required to use. They also say the responsibility for tracking prescribing abuses needs to be in the hands of the state’s chief law enforcement officer—the Attorney General—and not the Cabinet for Health and Family Services which currently oversees the system.
Another provision in HB 1 that was not in HB 4 is a requirement that all physicians in the state, and others who prescribe or dispense pain killers, be required to use KASPER—a requirement that does not now exist.
Many of those who voted against HB 1 on Wednesday questioned giving the Attorney General so much power over medical records, among other concerns. But supporters, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo who introduced the legislation, said the legislation is needed now to rein in physicians who are feeding a cycle of addiction that the Speaker said claims the lives of three Kentuckians per day – more than die in traffic accidents.
The fate of the prescription pill mill bill in the Senate appeared uncertain by last Thursday afternoon, but one thing did appear clear, based on comments made to the media late Wednesday by the Senate President: The Transportation budget would pass the Senate—and the special session brought to a close—on Friday . The governor had vetoed some road projects in the two-year Road Plan in HB 267, which was passed last Thursday, but the Senate President told reporters those vetoes would not keep the Senate from approving the $4.5 billion in funding for the Road Plan found in HB 2, and actions later in the day on Thursday indicated he was right. By 2 p.m. that day, the Senate budget committee had resuscitated some, if not all, of the vetoed road projects by tacking them on to an amended version of HB 2. That version is the one that would be returned to the House for approval--or, more likely, sent to a conference committee for agreement--sometime on Friday.
When I left Frankfort on April 12 at the close of the regular session, all members knew a special session was inevitable. Now, a little over a week later, it appears the special session could end with a Transportation budget (and possibly HB 1) in the quickest time possible to pass a bill in special session—five days. Few lawmakers expected the session to last past Friday as of this writing.
No, the legislative process does not always unfold neatly. But, with a little hard work and compromise on both sides, we can conclude the Commonwealth’s business in a manner that is both timely and judicious.
If you would like to read the text of either bill considered this special session of the Kentucky General Assembly, you can do so by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835 to check the status of a particular bill or resolution. To comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.
Rep. Brent Yonts
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