Politics

UPDATE 6:42 p.m.: Senate Moves Bills To Stiffen Penalties On Opioids, Strip AG’s Powers, Bail Out KFC Yum! Center 

Lawmakers have continued to advance several major bills into the last evening of the legislative session, including policies to limit painkiller prescriptions, curb the attorney general’s powers and bail out the Louisville-based KFC Yum! Center.

With supermajorities in both chambers, Republican legislators have easily overcome opposition to the proposals, which Republican Gov. Matt Bevin would consider once they pass both chambers.

Under House Bill 333, doctors would only be able to prescribe Kentuckians a three-day supply of opioid painkillers. That bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, said the bill would help attack the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

“I think this is a good first step towards cracking down on too much medicine getting out there in our communities,” Westerfield said.

The legislation creates several exemptions for doctors to write opioid prescriptions that last longer than three days, including for people suffering from chronic pain or cancer, and in end-of-life situations.

Sen. Ray Jones, a Democrat from Pikeville, said even with the exemptions, the legislation would restrict doctors’ ability to help patients.

“Those decisions should be up to the physicians,” Jones said. “We should not put guidelines that tell doctors how to practice medicine. There are too many variables to take into account to fall under any set of guidelines.”

The legislation would also increase penalties for trafficking synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which has been blamed for recent spikes in drug overdoses in several Kentucky communities. Those caught trafficking even the smallest amount of fentanyl could be charged with a Class C felony under the legislation.

Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union, applauded the stiff penalties for drug dealers.

“I’m sorry, they’re not victims — they’re criminals and they need to be punished,” Schickel said.

The state Senate also advanced a bill curbing some of the attorney general’s powers — a move that has drawn loud opposition from Democrats and Attorney General Andy Beshear.

The legislation would give the governor sole authority to file amicus curiae — “friend of the court” — briefs where the state weighs in on lawsuits in which it is not directly involved.

The Senate also advanced a bill extending the time in which the KFC Yum! Center is allowed to gather revenue from nearby sales and property taxes in the form of tax increment financing.

The arena is on track to default on its debt service payments in 2020 if the General Assembly doesn’t step in.

The legislation would allow the arena authority to gather the revenue until 2054 instead of the current deadline of 2029. The state would lose about $350 million in tax revenue over the course of the extension as a result of the deal.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, chair of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said he wants the arena, the University of Louisville and Louisville Metro government to “come to the table.”

“There is an expectation from this body that they will step up beyond what’s been stepped up before,” McDaniel said. “And if they don’t … I will assure the members of this body the only that you will see me work on outside of the budget next year is to kill this TIF in its entirety and force an immediate default on these bonds. It is time for everybody to get engaged. Enough is enough.”

McDaniel said the city committed to pay $10.8 million per year to help retire the arena’s debt and U of L will to contribute $2.5 million per year.

Those provisions weren’t written into the bill, which McDaniel called “worrisome.”

UPDATE: 3:37 p.m.: Trouble In Paradise

In a rare show of tensions between the Republican leaders of the state’s two legislative chambers, the state House rebuked the Senate for tinkering with a bill that would have studied how to streamline the adoption process in Kentucky.

Rep. David Mead, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, withdrew the legislation on Thursday after it was returned to the House with the Senate’s changes attached.

“It is truly unfortunate that this resolution wasn’t passed in its original form. I am saddened by it. I am disappointed by it,” Meade said in a speech on the House floor.

“The Senate’s unfortunate action is the direct cause of my decision to withdraw this legislation, which no longer serves its original purpose,” Meade wrote in a statement on the caucus’ Facebook page.

The House passed HCR 105 unanimously in late February.

The Senate amended the resolution Wednesday to include 13 other provisions ranging from studying whether local health departments should perform drug tests to a review of the attorney general’s powers.

Meade, whose daughter is adopted, said the bill would have helped find places where the state can reduce costs and paperwork.

“Every single child in Kentucky deserves the best chance to find a loving home, and I stand by my mission to make that a reality,” Meade wrote.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover indicated that he would appoint a bipartisan panel to study the adoption issue before next year’s legislative session.

Earlier:

Lawmakers have gathered in Frankfort for the final day of this year’s General Assembly and several significant pieces of legislation are advancing or changing at the last minute.

A bill that would limit pain pill prescriptions to a three-day supply, one that would expand the definition of gangs and increase penalties for recruiting, and another that would limit the attorney general’s powers are all being discussed behind closed doors as lawmakers try to hammer out agreements.

The legislature has until midnight to pass bills.

Louisville’s financially troubled Yum! Center would be able to gather money for longer from a tax increment financing plan under a new version of House Bill 330, which was presented Thursday morning.

The TIF plan — which has been in place for nearly 10 years — allows the arena to skim tax revenue gathered from local sales and property taxes gathered around the facility in downtown Louisville.

The arena is currently allowed to collect revenue from the TIF district until 2029 and the new legislation allows the scheme to stay in place until 2054.

The measure passed the Senate Appropriations and Revenue committee unanimously, but several lawmakers, including chairman Chris McDaniel, expressed reservations because it would sap tax revenue that would otherwise go to the state.

“But because of the signature nature of this project and its high visibility, it’s important that we step in,” McDaniel said.

The Senate Economic Development committee did not take up House Bill 296, which would make changes to the state’s worker’s compensation laws, though it was scheduled to do so Thursday morning.

Supportive lawmakers have been battling union representatives — including those representing police and firemen — who say the legislation would limit benefits to emergency responders.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, chair of the committee, said the bill could still come up in the final hours of the session.

“We want to make sure that it’s vetted properly and that all the members have an opportunity to look at it and know what’s in it as it’s come late,” Kerr said.

Under the version of the bill that passed out of the House earlier in the session, employers and insurers would be allowed to stop paying workers’ compensation benefits if an injury isn’t resolved within 15 years. Those with permanent disabilities or amputations would continue to receive lifetime benefits.

Workers would also have to file claims for cumulative trauma injuries within five years of leaving the job in which the injuries occurred.

This story will be updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.