By HUBERT COLLINS
State Rep. (D-Wittensville)
FRANKFORT- Five days into a special session called by the governor to pass a two-year transportation budget and a prescription-drug monitoring bill, the Kentucky General Assembly approved both pieces of legislation on Friday and shipped them down to the first floor of the State Capitol to be signed into law.
House members were, for the most part, intent on moving the $4.5 billion Transportation Cabinet budget in House Bill 2 and legislation cracking down on so-called prescription “pill mills” in HB 1 to the Senate without delay. After all, the House had already agreed on similar legislation during the regular session just concluded-but those bills weren’t given final approval, due to last-minute maneuvering in the Senate.
The unwanted, but necessary, short special session cleared up any disagreements about the legislation, allowing them to be passed by both chambers and sent to the governor for his signature.
HB 2, which included the same Transportation budget language found in the earlier HB 266, sailed through the House on a 96-2 vote and later received final passage in the Senate by a vote of 37-1. At least one high-ranking lawmaker called the bill “the reason” that the special session was called, since it would provide the funding for a required two-year state Road Plan that was passed in the regular session and signed into law by the governor on Wednesday.
The bill hit a road block earlier this week when a Senate committee tacked an amendment onto the legislation that restored some projects vetoed from the two-year Road Plan by the governor. By the middle of the day Friday, however, those changes were withdrawn by the Senate, and HB 2 was given final passage and sent to the governor’s desk.
The other issue on the special session agenda-curbing the state’s growing problem with prescription pain killers by cracking down on fly-by-night pain clinics known as pill mills-became known as the “pill mill bill”, or HB 4 in the regular session. It became known as HB 1 in special session, although the House initially passed the bill in a form that was different from what had been agreed to by the House and Senate during the regular session.
“Different”, in this case, was not better in the minds of many lawmakers in the Senate and some in the House.
Changes in HB 1 that caused the most disagreement were, apparently, centered around House-favored language that would have moved control of the state’s prescription drug monitoring system, called KASPER, to the Attorney General’s Office and allowed the office to charge licensed health care providers a maximum $50 annual fee to maintain the system.
Supporters of the changes said that, while no one wants to add a fee, the Attorney General needs that flexibility for maintenance of the KASPER system, which all licensed providers will be required to use under HB 1. They also say the responsibility for tracking prescribing abuses needs to be in the hands of the state’s chief law enforcement officer-the Attorney General-and not the Cabinet for Health and Family Services which currently oversees the system.
But those dissenting lawmakers in both chambers questioned giving the Attorney General so much power over medical records, among other concerns. That, and other matters, led to more vetting of HB 1 in committee meetings throughout the day on Friday.
The fate of the prescription pill mill bill in the Senate appeared uncertain by early afternoon on Friday, and then the picture gradually became clearer. By early evening, the Senate and House had approved an amended version of HB 1 that left oversight of KASPER with the Cabinet and includes no allowable provider fee, but will require licensed providers across the state to use KASPER when prescribing or dispensing pain killers for patients-a requirement that members of both chambers had called the crux of the pill mill issue from the beginning.
When we lawmakers left Frankfort on April 12 at the close of the regular session, all members knew a special session was inevitable even it was unwanted. Now, we are confident in the work that we accomplished this week in the quickest time possible to pass legislation in special session: Five days.
No, the legislative process does not always unfold neatly. But, with a little hard work and compromise on both sides, we can conclude the Commonwealth’s business in a manner that is both timely and judicious. If you would like to read the text of either bill considered this special session of the Kentucky General Assembly, you can do so by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov<https://webmail.lrc.ky.gov/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.lrc.ky.gov> or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835 to check the status of a particular bill or resolution. To comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.