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When the General Assembly began the legislative session last month, there was already broad agreement on what the three biggest issues would be: Writing state government's budget, realigning legislative and Kentucky Supreme Court districts, and limiting if not stopping prescription drug abuse.
Last week, the latter two took center stage.
On Feb. 6, Governor Beshear held a press conference to highlight the broad, bipartisan support behind stopping the illegal flow of prescription drugs. The event featured legislative leaders from the House and Senate and representatives from key support groups.
There is no shortage of evidence showing that we are truly facing an epidemic. Kentucky has a much higher rate of abuse than the national average, and the numbers of those dying annually from prescription drug overdoses far outpaces those dying on our highways. Many of our prisoners, meanwhile, are there because of crimes tied one way or another to these drugs.
Under House Bill 4, the state would take a much more pro-active approach. In short, this bill would make it easier for law enforcement and medical licensure boards to find exactly where this abuse is taking place and then stop it.
It would begin doing that by moving the state's KASPER program - which monitors prescription drug use - from the Cabinet for Families and Health Services to the Attorney General's office and expanding access to our local prosecutors.
All prescribers would also be required to take part, which would dramatically increase KASPER's usefulness. Currently, less than half of our pharmacists and doctors are enrolled.
This blanket coverage would make it significantly harder for abusers to doctor shop, and it would severely limit the ability of rogue doctors to prescribe such drugs as OxyContin with little to no patient oversight.
We are very conscious of not hindering patients in need or doctors acting in good faith. Steps are being taken to keep that from happening.
As this legislation begins moving forward, the General Assembly's plan to redistrict its population boundaries took what can be called a sideways step on Tuesday last week, when a judge set the stage for more review of the plan that became law last month. As a result, he said that, in the meantime, candidates will run in the same House and Senate districts that have been in place for the last decade.
I have no problem with this decision, because I have thoroughly enjoyed representing my constituents. However, I also agree with House and Senate leaders that it's important for the Kentucky Supreme Court to determine if the new plan is indeed constitutional; if it's not, we need the court to give us more concrete guidelines on how to proceed next. Eventually, a plan must be adopted so the legislature's districts are again roughly the same size population-wise and meet other legal requirements.
In another redistricting matter, the House and Senate agreed on Friday on a map for Kentucky's six congressional seats. This formalized a plan House leaders had offered, and assuming it becomes law, it will set the boundaries for the next decade. Although many citizens won't see a change, there were some modifications in the central and northeastern sections of the state.
While redistricting and combating prescription drug abuse dominated the news, the House voted for several other bills this past week that would be beneficial if they become law.
House Bill 308, for example, would provide more state oversight of our for-profit colleges, making them more accountable to those they serve.
House Bill 37, meanwhile, would create "districts of innovation" for schools that want to try a different approach to improve learning. This would give them the ability to do such things as lengthen the school calendar and provide more alternative programs for students in the evening.
For now, the legislative session will reach its halfway point this week, although much of our work still remains in front of us. Because of that, your input is more important than ever. If you would like to take part, my address is Room 329B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 1-800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.