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One day left for legislature

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April 12 is the final day of the General Assembly's 2012 session

By Stephen Lega

Both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly have approved more than 130 bills so far during the 2012 regular session, and Governor Steve Beshear has signed 28 of them into law.

Those new laws cover a range of topics - from alternate high school diplomas for students with disabilities - to sewer collection charges and pharmacy audits.

The legislature has been recessed since March 30, but it will return Thursday, April 12, for the final day of the session. Much of what will be done has been done. With that in mind, here is a look back at some of what the legislature has done and is trying to do.

Pill mill bill

HB 4 would affect how prescription drugs are monitored and prescribed within the state. The bill has been in a conference committee because of differences between the versions approved by the House and the Senate, but Beshear has encouraged legislators to approve something before the end of the session.

As it exists, the bill would create a division within the Attorney General's Office to monitor KASPER, the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is currently responsible for monitoring KASPER.

HB 4 was been amended to incorporate provisions of a bill introduced by State Sen. Jimmy Higdon relating to "pill mills", which are pain management clinics in which the treatment exclusively involves prescribing large amounts of narcotics and often operate on a cash only basis.

The bill would require a physician to own a pain management clinic, but physicians with any issues related to their medical license would be barred from owning such a clinic.

Higdon said one of the sticking points is the proposal to move KASPER monitoring under the Attorney General's Office. He said that's why he voted against the legislation.

Nevertheless, he, House Speaker Greg Stumbo (the sponsor of HB 4) and Beshear have all encouraged legislators to reach a compromise.

"Something has to be done about that," Higdon said. "It's a big issue. We can't stick our heads in the sand and claim that issue's not here."

Higdon added that the bill might have already been approved if not for a change made by the conference committee.

The bill lost votes when the revised bill included a prohibition on 90-day mail-order prescriptions for drugs that weren't among the narcotics they wanted to focus on, Higdon said. He added that this was more stringent than the bill that had been sent to the committee.

"They didn't read the tea leaves quite right," Higdon said.

State Rep. Terry Mills agreed that the state needs to attack its drug problem.

"We have more people die in Kentucky from drug overdoses than die from automobile accidents," Mills said. "All of us in our society have an obligation to deal with this."

HB 4 isn't the only drug bill under consideration. SB 3 deals with over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in many allergy medications that is also used in the production of methamphetamine.

SB 3 has been approved by both houses and sent to the Governor, although it has not been signed into law.

Mills, who supported the bill, said the current version had been watered down from the original proposal. In its current version, the bill would 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.

"That seems very reasonable to me," he said.

Higdon also voted in favor of this legislation.

Larry's Law

Higdon and Mills both introduced versions of Larry's Law, aimed at changing how personal care homes deal with individuals with brain injuries and mental disabilities.

Higdon said the bill was named after Larry Lee, a Marion County native who walked away from a personal care home in Falmouth on Aug. 4, 2011. Lee, 32, suffered from a brain injury, schizophrenia, and diabetes. He was found dead Sept. 3, a few miles from the home.

After Higdon's bill, SB 115, cleared the Senate, they focused their efforts on getting that bill through the House, Mills said.

The final version of the bill requires a medical examination of individuals before they can be admitted to a personal care home. It also prohibits anyone under 18 from being admitted to a personal care home.

Mills said this final version was watered down from the original proposal, but he was glad the legislature passed something.

"We were able to do what Jimmy and I think was a real improvement in the law," Mills said.

The governor has not yet signed this bill into law.

On a related matter, an amendment to HB 467 would include individuals with mental disabilities in the state's Golden Alert. Under the proposed legislation, a Golden Alert D would be issued to notify emergency management, law enforcement and local media if an individual with a brain injury or disability is reported missing. The governor has not yet signed this bill.

Budget

The legislature has approved the state budget for the next biennium. HB 265 has been sent to the governor for approval.

"It's an austere budget, but a responsible one," Mills said.

He and Higdon both voted in favor of the budget bill.

Beshear hasn't signed the bill yet, but he did issue a statement that the bill kept much of his original proposal intact.

On another financial matter, the House and Senate approved different versions of the state road plan. HB 267 (which deals with road projects) and HJR 77 (which relates to the six-year road plan) are in conference committees.

Mills said both versions include $23 million for road projects in Marion County, mainly on Hwy. 49.

The differences in the bills did not involve Marion County, but Mills cautioned that a compromise has not yet been reached, so that could change before the road plan is adopted.

Redistricting

One issue that will remain unresolved is redistricting for the state legislature.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has ordered that state legislative races will use the current districts for the 2012 election cycle.

Now, legislators are awaiting a final ruling from the court about the redistricting bills that were approved this session.

Mills and Higdon agreed that redistricting was the dominant issue for the first half of the session.

"Redistricting was the elephant in the room for about 30 days," Mills said.

Higdon said he knew redistricting would be political, and it was.

"There's got to be a better way to do it than what we did," Higdon said.

School starting age

A bill sponsored by Higdon that would change the school entrance age has cleared the legislature. SB 24 requires a child to be six years old by Aug. 1 (rather than Oct. 1) in order to enroll in public school.

An amendment would implement this change starting with the 2017-18 academic year.

"It won't affect any child that has already been born," Higdon said.

This bill is still awaiting the governor's signature.

Closing thoughts

Mills said he was more active this session than last year. He said he sponsored or co-sponsored 67 bills.

"It was really a busy and fun session for me," Mills said.

Higdon added that he appreciated all the input he received from his constituents.

"It was an unusual session," he said.

 

 

Mills wins weight-loss bet

Early in the 2012 regular session of the General Assembly, local legislators State Rep. Terry Mills and State Sen. Jimmy Higdon signed up to participate in the Weight Wise Challenge, the Kentucky legislature's own version of The Biggest Loser.

When all was said and done, Mills not only defeated Higdon, he also lost more weight than anyone in the General Assembly.

During the 2012 session, Mills lost 40 pounds. His reward: $10 from Higdon.

"You wouldn't believe how much better I feel," he said.

Mills said he watched what he ate and walked around 15 miles per week during the last few months.

He also gave Higdon credit for paying up in a timely manner.

"He came over as soon as he heard I weighed in and paid up," Mills said.

Higdon started his own weight loss efforts in November. He lost 32 pounds before the legislature met and another 36 pounds after he and Mills made their bet.

Higdon joked that Mills may not be able to play Junior Samples in the St. Joe play this year because of all the weight he lost.

But Higdon was also in good spirits about what he and Mills had accomplished.

"Even though I lost, I won," Higdon said.