Legislators Discuss Heroin Bill, Gas Taxes and Booster Seat Laws

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THE WINCHESTER SUN | RACHEL GILLIAM | MAY 27, 2015

New laws regarding the gas tax, booster seats and penalties for heroin traffickers were all discussed at a town hall meeting hosted by state Rep. Donna Mayfield and state Sen. Ralph Alvarado Thursday evening at the Clark County Extension Office.

The Winchester Republican legislators detailed information from some of the more noteworthy bills, including stiffer penalties for heroin users and a “good Samaritan” exemption to encourage heroin users to seek treatment for fellow users suffering from an overdose.

Mayfield spoke about the telecommunications bill, which sparked controversy when it was first introduced because of a proposal to eliminate landlines in rural areas. The purpose of the bill was to allow telecommunications companies to invest more money in upgrading technology and improving cell-phone reception and Internet service in rural areas. The bill, House Bill 152, was modified to prohibit landlines from being installed in new residences in certain rural ares, but allowing customers to keep current landlines.

Mayfield said she believes the bill will make Kentucky more attractive to corporations and ultimately bring more jobs to the state.

“It did pass, and that’s a good thing,” she said.

Senate Bill 192, the Heroin Bill, provided several changes to previous laws. With the new legislation, health departments can implement needle-exchange programs designed to stop the spread of infectious disease and keep dirty needles off the streets. The exchange would be one-for-one, and would also allow health-care providers to educate addicts on treatment options and test them for HIV and hepatitis.

The bill also allows pharmacists and first-responders to administer Narcan to overdose patients. The drug is an antidote to heroin and Alvarado said that facet of the bill will require more education. After administration, overdose victims must still seek treatment at a hospital within 30 minutes.

To help provide more treatment options, $10 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund will be allocated to the Heroin Bill, and another $24 million will be added annually.

New laws will require dealers selling between 2 and 100 grams to serve at least half their sentences. Selling more than 100 grams was elevated to a Class B felony, and dealers would also have to serve at least half their sentences.

“This is going to make it a lot tougher,” Alvarado said.

House Bill 8, the Dating Violence Bill, expands emergency protection orders to cover people in dating relationships. Before the new bill, EPOs were only administered for married or cohabiting couples, or couples with a child. The law is supposed to provide more protection, and keep dating violence cases out of the criminal court system, Mayfield said. The bill could save the state up to $86 million, she said.

“It is good and I think Kentucky is one of very few states that didn’t have domestic violence protection for unmarried couples,” Mayfield said.

She also raised concerns about the bill, which she believes does not clearly define a dating relationship.

House Bill 168, the Beer Bill, closes a loophole in state law that allows the same companies to manufacture, distribute and sell beer in retail outlets. Laws are in place that prohibit hard liquor and wine manufacturers and distributors from operating both businesses, but beer companies had operated under what Alvarado called “a gentlemen’s agreement” for several decades. The change in statutes will likely be challenged in court by the Anheuser-Busch Company, he said, because of recent purchases of companies in the state.

New gas tax laws, House Bill 299, are an attempt to stabilize gas taxes, which fluctuate with gas prices. A cap already existed that prohibited prices from climbing more than 10 percent above the previous year, but the new bill prohibits taxes from dropping more than 10 percent as well. Gas taxes are used to fund infrastructure projects, and several projects were in danger of going unfunded without the bill.

“When the price of gas started falling, the state wasn’t able to sustain enough funds for projects,” Mayfield said.

She did not support the bill, she said, because of inadequate time to review it.

Alvarado also explained House Bill 315, which increased booster seat regulations. Children are now required to ride in a booster seat until they reach 57 inches, or age 8. The bill puts Kentucky more in line with neighboring states, Alvarado said, and makes it easier for families when traveling.

House Bill 298 allows the state to provide the University of Kentucky with $132.5 million in bonds for a cancer research facility. The university will have to raise an additional $132.5 million in matching funds.

Senate Bill 10 creates a list of comprehensive stroke centers and is designed to help stroke patients receive the best possible care in the shortest amount of time, Alvarado said.

Legislation dealing with smoke-free regulations, right-to-work laws and the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System will likely be before the legislature next session, according to Mayfield and Alvarado. KTRS is funded for the next 21 years, but Alvarado said structural changes are needed to sustain the fund long-term, although there is no clear outline for what those changes might be. Alvarado also said he would like to see a task force appointed to make recommendations, like the one convened to review the state employees pension fund.

Mayfield said she hopes to see pro-life legislation in the next session, which would give women seeking an abortion an option to discuss the procedure and their concerns with a physician beforehand, and also allow them to have an ultrasound. Mayfield said the provisions would not be requirements, but only options.

The General Assembly is not expected to hold a special session this term, with priority bills like the Heroin Bill, passing in the regular session.

Read the article online.