Special session ends with passage of key legislation

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It took a little longer than anyone wanted, but the General Assembly took two major steps forward for the state on Friday when it finalized the funding for the $4.5 billion road plan and approved a far-reaching measure to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

As you may recall, both of those issues were left unresolved on April 12th, the regular legislative session’s final day, after Governor Beshear refused to give in to Senate leaders’ demands to sign the road plan after only a few hours’ review instead of the 10 days he has to consider bills under the constitution. When the Senate then decided not to act on funding the road plan, the governor had no choice but to call legislators back. Otherwise, the entire Transportation Cabinet would have had to shut its doors on July 1st, the start of the fiscal year.

Like you, I believe we should have finished our work during the regular session, but that does not undercut the importance of the two bills expected to be signed into law soon.

The road plan, for example, has been a bright spot in recent months because of healthy growth. For example, we were able to secure full funding for KY 146 in Henry County and for a bridge replacement on KY 36 in Carroll County and funding for spot improvements on U.S. 421 in Trimble County and new turning lanes in front of Trimble County High School.

Improved funding is also making it easier to meet other needs across the state and to move forward on several “mega” projects, such as the new bridges in Jefferson County and Land Between the Lakes.  This plan will also complete the road work in the Fort Knox area that was needed after a federal military base realignment brought in thousands of more people.

The soon-to-be law on prescription drug abuse, meanwhile, will go a long way to slowing a problem that claims the lives of at least three Kentuckians a day on average.  When you factor in innocent victims killed by those high on drugs, and the family members devastated by the loss of loved ones, the total affected reaches well into the tens of thousands.

The hallmark of the bill is expanding as well as strengthening the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, known as Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting, or KASPER.

Currently, only a third of doctors regularly check their patients’ drug histories through KASPER, but the need is certainly there to require all of them to take part when controlled substances are involved, as this law now does for all but a few cases, such as emergency care and surgery.  According to a 2010 survey of doctors that did use KASPER, nearly 90 percent said what they learned caused them to change what they had planned to prescribe.

These reports will be even more useful later this year, when Kentucky’s system is more widely linked with similar monitoring programs in other states. That will make it much harder for addicts to doctor shop, especially along our borders.

Another provision in this law will limit the often fly-by-night pain clinics that have popped up across the state, especially as other states have cracked down on them.

New pain clinics will have to be doctor-owned, and those grandfathered in will fall under the same regulations if anyone involved is convicted of a crime tied to improper prescribing of controlled substances.  We also now limit all doctors from giving out more than a 48-hour supply of controlled substances from their office.

The bill also calls for greater cooperation among law enforcement, those running KASPER and the physician-licensing boards, and for the boards to provide more training on pain management and addiction and to be more responsive when complaints of over-prescribing are received.

Coroners will also be called upon to screen for drugs if an overdose is suspected and there is no other cause of death. This data will give us a much clearer picture of just how many die from their addiction; many believe it is much higher than the 1,000 now reported annually.

A key provision that was initially supported by the House is not in the law, after concerns were raised by doctors. Instead of moving to the attorney general’s office, KASPER will remain with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Greater cooperation among the cabinet and law enforcement, however, will ensure this program remains a vital resource in the fight against this abuse.

Although our work passing laws is now over, that does not mean the legislature’s work for the year is finished. Later this spring, the joint House and Senate committees will begin meeting again, to review the progress of legislation and to see what other issues may need to be addressed when next year’s legislative session begins in January.

As always, if you would like to contact me regarding any issue involving state government, you can reach me by writing to Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.  

Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.