To the Editor:
This year’s legislative session may have lasted only half as long as those in even-numbered years, but that did not seem to diminish the amount of work the General Assembly was able to do.
The highlights include farreaching laws that will counter the heroin epidemic and protect more victims of violence, while other legislation will update the state’s laws regarding the oil and natural gas industries.
In other areas, the University of Kentucky will soon break ground for a new $265 million health research facility; expanded tax incentives will make the commonwealth more attractive to both the entertainment industry and the Breeders Cup; and older children will have more protection while riding in a vehicle due to an increase in height and age requirements for booster seats.
The heroin legislation, which passed early last week and was signed into law just hours later, will go a long way in tackling a problem that has sky-rocketed in recent years.
Senate Bill 192 will significantly broaden the available treatment for addicts while also ramping up the penalties for those who are bringing this poison into our communities.
As part of the expanded treatment, we call for greater use of naloxone, which can reverse overdoses, and Vivitrol, a drug that appears able to cure heroin addiction. Communities will be able to decide whether they want to implement needle exchanges, which can limit blood-borne diseases and dirty-needle sticks; and a new Good Samaritan provision will provide legal immunity to those who, in good faith, report overdoses.
The penalties, meanwhile, call for much longer prison sentences for those selling large amounts of heroin. That includes anyone who brings in heroin from other states to sell here, no matter the amount.
On the same day that legislation passed, the General Assembly approved another bill that will make several new groups of victims eligible for civil protective orders. That includes those hurt by a dating partner and those who have been stalked or sexually assaulted. Many other states already include these people in their protective orders, and studies show that these orders can make a true difference in stopping violence before it starts.
Several other laws approved last week center on transportation. One, for example, will stabilize revenues at the gas pump so they do not fluctuate as much and threaten planned highway construction and maintenance. We also provided some surplus money to local governments so their road funds are maintained. As chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, which oversees highway spending, I am pleased that we could make this change.
Another law will update our booster-seat requirements so that it will apply to young children through the age of seven – instead of six – and increase the upper height requirement from 50 inches to 57. A separate bill will expand use of ignition interlock devices, which courts can order to ensure convicted drunk drivers do not drive drunk again if given a hardship license.
On a personal note, I was glad that my legislation that will expand the number of alcohol/drug counselors is now law. By creating new licensing levels, we will be able to attract more professionals to this field while also making it easier for former addicts to help others overcome their addiction as well. This will be a welcome complement to the heroin legislation.
While the legislative session was largely a successful one, were some initiatives that did not make it through, including two constitutional amendments for voters to consider: One would have added Kentucky to the long list of states having a localoption sales tax to fund new projects, while the second would have restored voting rights to most felons after they had completed their punishment.
The House and Senate also did not agree on how to best address the unfunded liability for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, though that issue will be studied more in-depth in the months ahead. There also was no agreement on my legislation to increase use of public-private partnerships at the state level, which would have enabled the government to work more closely with businesses to take on projects benefiting the public.
Our work approving new laws may be over for the year, but the legislative committees will begin meeting later this spring to start the groundwork for next year.
For now, I appreciate those who visited, called and emailed me during this session. If you would like to take part, I am easy to reach. My address is Room 373C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Leslie.Combs@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800- 372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.
LESLIE COMBS 94th District State Representative