Keene: Heroin, Teacher Pension Legislation Now in Hands of Conference Committees
With just two legislative days remaining in the 2015 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the fate of several major pieces of legislation -- including the House Majority’s efforts to shore up the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS) and reduce heroin addiction -- now rest in the fate of conference committees.
When it comes to illegal drug use, few states have been hit as hard as Kentucky over the last 15 years. Its usage has grown dramatically, and not just in Kentucky. Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that overdose deaths attributed to this drug have gone up 400 percent nationally between 2000 and 2013. For the Midwest, the rate was 1,100 percent.
During the session, House and Senate members have been working on what we all hope will be another groundbreaking law. Last week when we adjourned for the veto period, I was named to the conference committee who will be meeting to finish the job prior to our constitutionally mandated deadline. The House bill that we passed last week proposes much harsher penalties for those bringing heroin into Kentucky while expanding treatment for the addicts. Past lessons have taught us that we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this problem. The Kentucky Catholic Conference and Texas-based research group Right On Crime have endorsed parts of our heroin effort.
I have been an outspoken advocate for the Good Samaritan law and a local-option needle exchange program that allows counties to opt out for hardship reasons if necessary. Nearly two dozen states already have this in place. To help get these programs up and running as soon as possible, the House proposal recommends shifting $10 million in the current two-year budget to these new programs. We cannot afford to wait until the next budget cycle.
We’re also nearing an agreement with the Senate on legislation I filed that would expand the use of ignition interlocks for convicted DUI offenders. The measure would supplement hardship licenses – special licenses allowing people with suspended licenses to drive to work, school and doctor’s appointments – with ignition interlocks, a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. In the 24 states that have adopted the interlock program, deaths caused by drunken drivers have been reduced by 30 percent.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), there were 167 drunk driving deaths in Kentucky in the recent year. That’s 50 lives that could have been saved in
one year had these provisions been in place.
Two other important pieces of legislation are still possible for next week’s final two days; these include stabilizing the state’s highway funding and strengthen the long-term future for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. As we await decisions on these issues, I can report the favorable passage of legislation that will include newborn screenings for Krabbe disease, a rare and often fatal degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system. Such tests would help identify methods for medical intervention, and the bill awaits the governor’s signature.
And finally, the House and Senate both passed the Breeder’s Cup tax incentive HB 134 that I sponsored and will be signed by the Governor this week.
This legislation is important because of the significant, multi-million dollar economic impact on tourism-related activities that come from hosting the Breeder’s Cup in Kentucky. The Breeder’s Cup will return to Kentucky for the first time since 2011.
Dennis Keene is the State Representative for Kentucky's 67th District which includes Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Wilder, Cold Spring, and Highland Heights. He is a Democrat and was first elected to the seat in 2004.