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No decision on pill mill bill, road plan funding

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General Assembly started special session Monday

By Stephen Lega

Once again, the legislature will be working overtime.

April 12 was the final day of the 2012 regular session of the General Assembly, and on Friday, April 13, Gov. Steve Beshear issued a call for a special session, which started Monday, to address two issues: the transportation budget and the pill mill bill, legislation aimed at addressing the availability of prescription drugs.

Beshear blamed his 2011 election opponent, Senate President David Williams, for the need to call the session.

"Senator Williams is so wrapped up in winning what he sees as a political game here in Frankfort that he is willing to turn his back on the needs of our people," Beshear said in a press statement.

Williams, in turn, blamed Beshear for causing the regular session to fall apart and referred to Beshear as "a small, petty and vindictive individual," according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Local legislators say they are disappointed that a special session is necessary. The session costs taxpayers $60,000 per day.

"Who's to blame? There's plenty of blame to go around," State Senator Jimmy Higdon said. "I'm not going to point any fingers."

State Representative Terry Mills said he started Thursday "optimistically, maybe naively," thinking they would be able to reach an agreement on the transportation budget and the prescription pill legislation.

"I am at the very least frustrated and disappointed," Mills said.

The legislature has approved a state road plan, but it has not yet approved the legislation providing the funding for the road plan.

Higdon said the Senate wanted the governor to sign the $4 billion transportation plan into law before the legislature approved the funding bill. Higdon said legislators wanted to know if Beshear signed the bill as it was sent to him or vetoed any portions of the transportation bill before approving the funding.

Pill mill bill

Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo sponsored HB 4, which was written to move monitoring of the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the Attorney General's Office.

Stumbo's bill was amended in the House to include provisions of SB 2, a bill sponsored by Higdon.

SB 2 was intended to make it difficult to operate pill mills in Kentucky. Pill mills are pain clinics that usually operate as cash-only businesses and treat pain by prescribing high doses of narcotics, rather than offering a variety of pain management treatments.

The Kentucky Medical Association objected to the bill largely because of proposed changes regarding KASPER, which included concerns about enforcement authority being moved to the Attorney General's Office.

Higdon said he had initially opposed HB 4 for similar reasons, but said he was ready to vote for it anyway Thursday.

"The only thing worse than House Bill 4 is not doing anything," he said.

Mills agreed that the state must act to curb the growing problem of prescription pill abuse across Kentucky. This includes everyone, not just legislators, he said.

"Anything we can get is a step in the right direction," Mills said. "Everybody needs to recognize this is a problem of epidemic proportions."

Higdon said it's possible his original bill, SB 2, which focused on the pill mills without changing KASPER enforcement, could be reintroduced as a compromise bill during the special session.

On another drug-related matter, Beshear signed SB 3 on April 11. This bill set monthly and yearly limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be purchased without a prescription by an individual.

The new law will allow individuals to purchase up to 7.5 grams of pseudoephedrine in a month or 24 grams per year without a prescription. That's about 800 pills per year, or 2.5 pills per day, according to Mills. 

Despite the political gamesmanship on the last day of the regular session, Higdon was confident that the special session could be productive.

"We can get it done," he said. "There's got to be cooperation between the House, the Senate and the Governor's Office."

Each legislator will be paid $180 per day the General Assembly meets during the special session. After taxes are taken out, they will receive about $100 in net pay.

Higdon said he plans to donate his special session pay to charity, most likely the American Red Cross. Mills said he donated his pay from last year's special session to charity, but said he had not yet decided what he will do with the pay from this year's session.