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Heroin Debate Continues; Senate Panel Moves on Rape Kit Backlog

Treating addicts and shutting down heroin distribution are the two main objectives of Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel (R- Taylor Mill). Heroin-related overdoses have more than tripled in the last three years in his northern Kentucky district.

The state Senate and House have approved separate measures to deal with the heroin epidemic. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee considered House Bill 213, and yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee discussed McDaniel’s Senate bill. The House and Senate versions are divided on trafficking penalties and the House’s inclusion of a needle exchange program.

During testimony yesterday, Jenni Woodruff told the House panel about the plight of her daughter, who died from injecting heroin with a dirty needle.

The House version has a three-tiered penalty system that separates small-time peddlers who traffic two grams of heroin or less from high-volume dealers. Sen. McDaniel, who is a candidate for lieutenant governor with Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, made a familiar argument to the House Judiciary Committee that drug dealers don’t deserve sympathy, compassion, or charity.

Freshman Sen. Wil Schroder (R-Wilder) is a former county prosecutor in northern Kentucky. He told the panel that even small quantities of heroin can impact a significant number of people.

Rep. Stan Lee (R-Lexington) expressed concern that the House approach to sentencing dealers and the local-option needle exchange program would imperil the goal to reduce heroin use in Kentucky. He debated those points with Rep. John Tilley, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of HB 213.

An addiction treatment professional testified that the public health threat of heroin can’t be solved through the criminal justice system, and that addiction is a disease that’s short on treatment options.

Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Shively) lost her nephew to a heroin overdose. She made an emotional statement at the end of the nearly 90-minute meeting.

The House Judiciary Committee took no action on Sen. McDaniel’s measure, but the partisan sponsors of the competing approaches expressed confidence a compromise can be reached by the end of the session.

Senate Panel Addresses Untested Rape Kits

By Steve Shaw

Kentucky is one of many states with a backlog of untested sexual assault examination kits – also known as rape kits. Those kits include swabs that were used to collect evidence for the purpose of developing a DNA profile.

In ideal circumstances, a kit comes to the Kentucky State Police forensic crime lab, where it is processed and a genetic profile is entered into a criminal database for a possible match. That database is part of the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS, which helps law enforcement identify and prosecute numerous crimes.

But as many as 5,000 rape kits with DNA evidence of violent crimes remain unprocessed in Kentucky. Senate Joint Resolution 20, sponsored by Sen. Denise Harper Angel (D-Louisville), requires the state police crime lab to account for those untested rape kits and report the total number to the Legislative Research Commission by November 1.

Harper Angel said the count will help Kentucky qualify for federal grants that would significantly subsidize the testing of those outstanding kits. She joined Morgain Sprague, a lawyer with the Kentucky State Police, to endorse the measure for its potential to protect the public from violent offenders.

Lawmakers including Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) questioned why so many rape kits remain untested. Sprague said there are many reasons.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the resolution, and it now advances to the full Senate.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage app for your smartphone or tablet.

This KET production is part of the Inside Opioid Addiction initiative, funded in part by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.