FRANKFORT, KY (1/22/12) - The meth problem in our state is not a small problem. It is a nearly $30 million a year problem that leads to lost jobs, lost families and lost lives. Some propose handling the problem by making over-the-counter drugs used to “cook” meth in makeshift meth labs available by prescription only. Others, like me, propose leaving these drugs on the shelves but further restricting the amounts that can be bought, and who can buy them.
Testimony on my proposal, House Bill 80, has been heard each week since the 2012 legislative session began on Jan. 3. I took the table before the House Judiciary Committee last week to present evidence in support of my bill, including the following facts:
--Over-the-counter drugs containing pseudoephedrine (the main ingredient in Sudafed and the only ingredient that cannot be substituted in the meth cooking process) are more effective on cold and allergies than over 130 other drugs that would replace over-the-counter pseudoephedrine drugs under a prescription-only requirement. The reason for this is pseudoephedrine provides 12 to 24 hours of allergy and cold relief while the majority of the other 130 drugs only provide up to 4 hours of relief. HB 80 would leave Sudafed and other brands containing pseudoephedrine on store shelves while limiting the amount of the drug that can be purchased to 7.5 grams a month (down from 9 currently) and prohibiting access to pseudoephedrine medications by convicted meth offenders who would be registered under the bill.
-- Legislation similar to HB 80 now in place in Alabama has proven more effective than prescription-only legislation.
-- A prescription-only requirement (also before the Kentucky General Assembly for consideration this session in the form of HB 79) would cost a consumer around $80 per prescription when the cost of the medication, copays and transportation costs are factored.
The bottom line is that prescription only requirements do not work, and they do not rid states of their meth problems. All they do--and HB 79 would do--is penalize the 508,000 law-abiding Kentuckians who use pseudoephedrine to treat their colds and allergies by raising their collective insurance costs by more than $40 million a year.
Many besides Yours Truly have testified before the House Judiciary panel in favor of HB 80 and I expect support to ramp up as a committee vote nears. I will keep you apprised of the bill’s progress every step of the way.
It has long been said that desperate times call for desperate measures. And few institutions know how true that statement is better than Kentucky state government.
Our state’s agencies and state programs have undergone 10 rounds of agency cuts since the Commonwealth entered the recession in 2007. Now, as hard times linger, we state lawmakers and the state we love face the reality that Kentucky’s next two-year budget could require additional cuts to the tune of around $300 million—a harsh reality that has both state lawmakers and the governor looking for the least painful way to get through the next biennium.
The good news in the current budget debate, in which the governor has called for an additional 8.4 percent cut in most agency spending along with some new spending, is twofold. First, the next state budget is expected to be the last of the slash-and-burn budgets for a while as state revenues continue to improve. Second, essential state services like Medicaid, state prisons and per pupil funding for K-12 schools will likely be exempt from any approved budget cuts over the next biennium under any forthcoming House budget proposal, as indicated by some key lawmakers.
Then, there is the not so good news. Most of state government that is not exempt from cuts will likely face budget reductions of around 8.4 percent in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, as proposed by the governor in his budget address before the House and Senate last Tuesday night. And while smaller cuts have been proposed by the governor for higher education, prosecutors, local jail, juvenile justice and a handful of other areas, a cut is still a cut, and it is painful.
Now, with the governor’s budget proposal firmly in hand, we members of the House are sifting through the hundreds of pages of Executive Branch budget language before us and readying ourselves for the challenge of deciding just how barebones the next budget will be. We should have a plan of our own to bring to the House floor for a vote in a few weeks, giving the multiple House budget subcommittees and the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee time to finish their work.
The House budget plan, when finished, will probably closely mirror the governor’s proposal. But that will become clearer as a House budget plan takes shape.
Besides the budget, the largest item on the General Assembly’s agenda this legislative session is redistricting. The Senate voted early last week on House redistricting plans for state legislative, congressional and state judicial districts then returned the plans to the House for final passage with mixed results. House Bill 1—which redraws the boundaries of state House and Senate districts and the state’s Supreme Court districts—received final passage by a 58-39 vote last Thursday. But the House did not accept Senate changes to the House congressional redistricting plan in HB 2. So, while HB 1 heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law, HB 2 has been assigned to a special legislative “conference” committee where lawmakers hoped to reach a compromise as early as last Friday night.
Legislative action on the House floor and in House committee last week also encompassed several other bills, including education bills to improve school graduation rates, school funding and use of school technology statewide. Perhaps the most-watched of these is a measure that would increase Kentucky’s school dropout age from 16 to 18 with hopes of ramping up the Commonwealth’s still-lagging high school graduation rates.
HB 216 would increase the state dropout age from 16 to 18 over the next five years by phasing in the new compulsory attendance age to age 17 as of July 1, 2016 and then to age 18 as of July 1, 2017. Most of the current school year’s freshman class would be affected by the legislation, which has been proposed in similar bills in each of the past three sessions. After being approved by the House Education Committee following testimony on the bill last Tuesday, HB 216 was sent to the House floor for consideration by all House members this session.
This is a lot of report to you, and I don’t expect things to slow down much as the session progresses. That said, I will have much more to share in my next column. Until then, have a great week, and stay warm.
Representative Brent Yonts
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