Update 3/25/2015: KY Senate and House members reached an agreement to pass a bill on heroin in the last hours of the 2015 legislative session. The news comes after three years of the General Assembly’s attempts to pass a heroin bill and recent predictions that it would be stalled again in 2015.
The finalized heroin bill includes measures that have been controversial, such as one which allows health departments to set up needle-exchange programs with the approval of city and local government. The bill also contains a “Good Samaritan” measure, which protects people from being charged with possession if they report an overdose to authorities, and if they agree to seek treatment. House members also compromised to stipulate harsher prison sentences for some drug dealers, who would have to serve at least half their sentences.
Kentucky’s House and Senate remain divided on crucial points of a proposed heroin bill. With this Tuesday, March 24 marking the end of the current legislative session, meaningful action on the KY heroin epidemic might once again be deferred by the state assembly. Lawmakers met this week in a conference committee while the General Assembly was on break and were intent on resolving the disputed measures. The Lexington Herald-Leader now reports that the House and Senate members aren’t budging on several issues, and the assembly will likely pass a much more limited bill if they pass one at all.
What’s in the heroin bill?
So what provisions are likely to be included in a bill that would pass this session? According to the Herald-Leader’s reporting, the bill will likely include:
- Expanded access to Naloxone, a drug that reverses heroin overdose and can prevent death when used in time;
- Increased funding for addiction treatment in the next state budget;
- More efficient tracking of overdose numbers in the state;
- Expanded addiction treatment coverage within Medicaid.
Heroin bill stuck on needle-exchange programs and drug penalties
The lawmakers have remained at odds over the issues of needle-exchange programs, mandatory sentencing laws for heroin possession, and “Good Samaritan” laws. The Herald-Leader quoted House Judiciary chairman John Tilley that the members of his branch remained “insistent on the needle-exchange program.” However, the Senate still opposes allowing local governments to set up public exchanges for sterilized syringes. At least 32 states currently allow needle-exchange programs to operate.
Current state laws on penalties for heroin traffickers differentiate between the amount of the drug found in the possession of the offender, and will likely stay that way for now. Members of the House planned to further differentiate levels of offenders, proposing shorter sentences for those found with minimal amounts of heroin. They would also have increased mandatory sentences for those found with very large amounts of heroin. The Senate had proposed mandatory lengthy sentences for those found with any amount of the drug. They claimed that dealers often skirt the higher-level penalties by keeping only small amounts of heroin in their possession.
In an opinion piece published this week, State Rep. Mike Denham described the view of the House on mandatory sentencing. “We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this problem,” he wrote. At the same time, he emphasized that KY’s drug laws are already “some of the toughest in the nation.”
Will the heroin bill include $10M in treatment funding?
Our last update on the state of the heroin bill led with the report that an additional $10 million in treatment funding had been added to it by lawmakers. New reports cast doubt on whether those funds will come through after all. The Herald-Leader reported the state senators’ claim that no source was specified for the funding. House Judiciary chairman Tilley claimed that the funding was already available in the state budget, but offered no details.
So what will Kentucky actually pass this year: a trimmed-down, less controversial bill, or no heroin bill at all? Or will the lawmakers find a way to compromise on those sticking points at the last minute? The legislature’s action on fighting heroin abuse in the state will be seen on Monday or Tuesday as the current session of the General Assembly comes to an end.[image is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0]