To the Editor:
State senators worked early into morning on March 25, the final day of the session, to ensure the passage of the hallmark piece of legislation of the session – an omnibus bill designed to fight the devastating heroin epidemic. Bipartisan agreement was reached on two other key issues – stabilizing the road fund and expanding domestic violence protections – that allowed previously stalled bills to receive final passage. And that’s all in addition to dozens of other bills that reached the governor’s desk this week.
The anti-heroin legislation, or Senate Bill 192, which was signed into law by the governor later that morning, balances the desire to hold people accountable for their actions while recognizing that addiction is a disease.
The accountability part comes in the form of tougher penalties for heroin dealers. Selling between 2 grams and 100 grams is still punishable by five years to 10 years in prison, but now convicts would have to serve at least half of their sentences. Selling 100 grams or more is punishable by 10 years to 20 years in prison. Dealers convicted of this would have to serve half their sentences.
Selling less than two grams of heroin is still punishable by one year to five years in prison. Dealers who are caught with at least two indicators of trafficking, however, may be required to serve at least half of their prison sentences, de- pending on the prosecution. Dealers who prove that they are selling to support a habit are eligible to be probated into treatment.
In addition, SB 192 creates a new crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for importing heroin into Kentucky with the intent to distribute or sell it. It’s targeted at out-of-state dealers setting up shop in boarder cities such as Covington and Newport in Northern Kentucky.
In recognizing that addiction is a disease, the bill allows heroin users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones at the state’s regional health departments – but only if a local jurisdiction approves. It also contains the so-called “Good Samaritan provision.” It shields heroin addicts, if they provide their name and address, from being prosecuted if they report an overdose.
SB 192 will immediately infuse Kentucky’s addiction treatment system with $10 million followed by $24 million annually from money saved from prior judicial reforms designed to reduce prison costs by providing lawbreakers with drug treatment, among other things.
It further provides for administration of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of an overdose. There is also money for Vivitrol, a drug to help narcotic dependents who have stopped taking narcotics to stay drug free.
Senators responded to falling oil prices that threatened the sus- tainability of the state’s road fund by giving final passage to House Bill 299. This measure could potentially save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in road funds.
HB 299 sets a new minimum rate for the tax at 26 cents per gallon. That’s less than the current rate of 27.6 cents, but more than a rate of 22.5 cents which was to have taken effect on April 1 under the law that adjusts the tax rate each quarter based on the wholesale price of gas.
The state has already lost 4.9 cents per gallon in gas taxes since the end of September 2014.
Every one-cent reduction in the gas tax equals a loss of $30 million in the road fund – a pot that is split two ways. About half goes into the state construction account with the remaining going to cities and counties. A loss of that much revenue would be devastating because it costs local governments an average of $50,000 to resurface a mile of road.
Senators answered a call to provide civil protection from domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking in the form of a protective order by giving final passage to House Bill 8. The bill also streamlines the process to obtain protective orders for other victims, and allows an order to be expunged from someone’s record if a judge dismisses the order.
Currently, victims of dating violence in Kentucky must file criminal charges against their partner in the hope of preventing ongoing abuse. Only victims who are married to, have a child with, or live with their abuser can seek civil protection from domestic violence or abuse, physical violence, or stalking as specified under law.
We also passed legislation that would protect and save the lives of some of our other most vulnerable Kentuckians.
House Bill 315 requires booster seats to be used in motor vehicles by children who are less than 8 years old and are between 40 inches and 57 inches in height.
Senate Bill 133 expands the use of ignition interlocks for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol. It supplements hardship licenses – special licenses allowing people with suspended licenses to drive to work, school and doctor’s appointments – with ignition interlocks. That’s a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A motorist must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle.
Senate Bill 82 creates state income tax refund check-offs to support pediatric cancer research and the state’s rape crisis centers.
We will return to the Capitol for committee meetings and other discussions throughout the year, but unless the governor calls a special session, we will not be back to vote on new bills until January 5, 2016. Until then, I hope you will stay in touch and let me know how you feel about the issues facing our commonwealth. You may leave me a message by calling the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372- 7181. You can also e-mail me at johnnyray.turner@ lrc.ky.gov.
JOHNNY RAY TURNER 29th District State Senator