By Chris Harris
Through a series of extreme parliamentary maneuvers that kept teachers and other interested Kentuckians from effectively voicing their concerns, the House Majority forced a vote on the “charter schools” bill Friday in an early morning committee meeting, before rushing the measure to the House floor where it passed on a 56-39 vote.
House Bill 520 is the first step to defunding public education as we know it. It’s an effort to create a parallel system of private charter schools that will drain funding from our already financially-strapped public schools, and take away local control and place it in the hands of political appointees in Frankfort. It means more red tape and more bureaucracy for our professionally-trained teachers who are already carrying a heavy load. I am terribly disappointed that this complex issue with far-reaching, negative outcomes for every public school district in Kentucky was handled in this backdoor manner. Until now, education issues in Kentucky have always been addressed in a bipartisan manner. I joined my colleagues in the House Minority in expressing our extreme dissatisfaction with the way this legislation was rushed through without adequate vetting.
I am still assessing the consequences of this damaging legislation and will have more to report in next week’s column. Meanwhile, House Bill 520 is heading to the Senate Education Committee and I strongly encourage you to contact your state senator by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 and let your opinion on this legislation be known.
Whether we are talking about providing a quality education for our children, creating better jobs for the future, increasing access to health care or ensuring our streets are safe, the drug crisis in our state and our country continually serves as a roadblock to progress.
Unfortunately, Kentucky ties for second with Ohio when we consider states with the highest rates of death linked to drug overdose, with both states reporting 29.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This week, I joined my colleagues in the House in taking another step toward fighting Kentucky’s addiction epidemic by approving legislation that limits the amount of opioid pain killers that can be prescribed at one time, and increasing jail time for those who deal opioids on the streets.
House Bill 333 would limit the initial prescriptions for addictive opioid pain killers like oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine to a three-day supply, with exceptions for the terminally-ill and some others. As noted in our discussion of the bill on the House floor, addiction often begins at home with a 30-day prescription to prescription opioids like Percocet or Lortab – and not from buying drugs on the street. Placing limits on the initial supply of an opioid for pain relief is a step toward addressing one part of a multi-faceted problem.
Additionally, HB 333, similar to my HB 193, would also increase felony penalties for those who illegally deal in the synthetic opioid pain killer fentanyl and make it a felony to deal in drugs derived from fentanyl as well as carfentanil, which is used as an elephant tranquilizer. Under this legislation trafficking in any amount of fentanyl, its derivatives or carfentanil would carry up to 10 years for a first offense, with longer sentences for repeat offenders and those who deal in excess of certain amounts of the drugs. Also, provisions in the legislation target those individuals who bring these substances across state lines and for those who misrepresent them as legitimate prescription drugs.
While we took these steps to make Kentucky safer, I am disappointed to report that we also took a significant step backwards this week on behalf of average, working Kentuckians who seek compensation when they have been injured by a doctor.
Currently, medical malpractice lawsuits can now be filed in Kentucky by citizens who have been injured by a medical mistake. Under Senate Bill 4, however, a panel of medical providers will now review any proposed malpractice suit against a health provider to determine if the case has sufficient merit before a case can proceed to court. In my opinion, this legislation is not only unconstitutional, but profoundly un-American because it places a barrier between each of us and our right to have direct access to seek relief in our court system.
Since the 1970s, 27 states have initiated the type of medical review panels imposed by Senate Bill 4 only for two-thirds of those states to invalidate them, ignore them, or have the panels themselves declared unconstitutional. Contrary to what supporters of the bill argue, a large body of evidence suggests that medical review panels increase, instead of decrease, malpractice claims, leading to increased legal expenditures for all parties involved.
Additionally, according to a 2016 study from John Hopkins University, medical errors are the third-leading cause of U.S. deaths and, while most of our medical providers are incredibly dedicated, responsible professionals, I stand firmly in support of our constitutional right to seek relief directly from the courts for medical injuries. If the Senate concurs with the changes to the legislation that the House made, this measure is heading to the governor’s desk for his signature and it will be a step backwards for the rights of average Kentuckians.
I continue to be encouraged and informed by all your emails and phone calls and ask that you continue to keep in touch by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at [email protected]