Update 6:59 p.m.: Needle Program Possible Issue
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Monday it’s unlikely that the state Senate would allow a provision to allow needle exchanges in a final version of the heroin bill.
“I think they would have a very difficult time in the Senate,” said Stivers, a Republican from Manchester.
A state House version of the bill filed earlier Monday would allow local health districts to set up needle exchanges—programs that provide clean needles to addicts to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. Supporters say the program is also a way to provide initial treatment and counseling for drug addicts.
Stivers said he wasn’t confident that the House would be able to pass its own version of a bill to combat the heroin epidemic in Kentucky. Versions of the bill have passed in the Senate in 2013 and 2014 but have died in the House.
“We have sent this over three years in a row and it has just languished,” Stivers said on Monday.
Last year the House had 22 versions of the bill, none of which passed.
In a poll released by The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, 11 percent of respondents had family or friends who had problems as a result of heroin, an increase from 9 percent in 2013.
Sen. Chris McDaniels, a Republican from Town Branch, accused House Democrats of stymieing the legislative process by not taking up bills that had passed the Senate.
“The Senate comes to Frankfort to work, Mr. President, Democrats and Republicans alike, we come here to work and the House continues to play games,” McDaniels said during a senate floor speech on Monday. He authored the senate version of the heroin bill.
The House Democratic panel that wrote the lower chamber’s bill said they had problems with the Senate’s bill, especially when it came to the sentencing guidelines for those charged with trafficking heroin.
“We in the House believe there ought to be a distinction between peddlers, mid-level traffickers and aggravated traffickers and that’s one thing I’d have a hard time backing away from,” said Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville.
The Senate version of the bill seeks to charge all heroin traffickers with the same penalty: a Class C felony with the requirement that offenders serve at least half of their sentence.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said he was confident the two houses will be able to compromise on the legislation because the House and Senate versions are already similar.
“I don’t see any major stumbling blocks,” Stumbo said.
If the House passes the bill, both houses would have an opportunity to come up with a new, combined version of the bill in a conference committee.
Stumbo also said he would like to reopen the budget during this session in order to fund heroin treatment programs.
“What I would like to see them do is to find some money in this biennium,” Stumbo said. “I think if those conferees get in there and can come to some resolution we might be able to find some money in this biennium.”
Budgetary appropriations are usually reserved for sessions during even-numbered years.
The Kentucky House of Representatives now has its own version of a bill that seeks to combat the state’s heroin epidemic.
There are a few key distinctions between the House proposal revealed Monday and the bill that passed the Kentucky Senate earlier this year, including a provision that would allow local health districts to set up needle exchange programs. Needle exchanges have been a major hang-up for Senate Republicans in the past.
Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said a needle exchange program can be the first point of contact between addicts and people who can help.
“We are at wit’s end in the state, and for the country for that matter, to find things that will actually work, that will actually reduce drug-use that actually will get addicts into treatment, will break the cycle of addiction,” Tilley said.
The state Senate’s version of the bill would make selling any amount of heroin a class C felony and require people convicted of selling heroin serve half of their sentence. The House version sets up a three-tier system for punishing traffickers:
- -A Class B felony for trafficking a kilogram or more of heroin, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
- – A Class C for trafficking two grams to a kilogram of
- – A Class D felony for Class for trafficking two grams or fewer.
Both the House and Senate versions set aside money for drug treatment, let offenders receive deferred prosecution if they report an overdose, and increase the use of drugs that can treat overdoses.
Tilley said the bill will likely be heard by the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday.
An earlier version of this story misstated the party McDaniel criticized.