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Heroin and Phone Deregulation Plans Gain Momentum

A Hopkinsville Democrat contends that building more prisons is the wrong answer to the heroin scourge. Rep. John Tilley said his House Bill 213 offers a different approach that balances treatment and incarceration to combat the drug.

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the measure yesterday. Despite several key differences, Tilly, who is chairman of the panel, said his plan has more in common than not with the anti-heroin bill the Republican-controlled Senate passed in January.

But the House plan includes a local-option needle exchange program, which was a deal-breaker during last year’s negotiations. Tilley said HB 213 also creates a three-tiered penalty system to better distinguish between small-scale dealers and high-level heroin traffickers who push a kilogram or more. Senate Bill 5 punishes all dealers the same regardless of the quantity of heroin they move with a Class C felony and a mandatory sentencing requirement.

A Father’s Crusade
The founder of a national organization that advocates for policy changes to reduce overdose deaths also testified yesterday. Gary Mendell, the CEO of Shatterproof, told the Judiciary Committee that his 25-year-old son took his own life after battling drug addiction. His son had been clean for 13 months before committing suicide.

Mendell said the overdose antidote, Naloxone, is proven effective 98 percent of the time. House Bill 213 expands access to the medicine beyond first responders and families to include pharmacists and high schools. Mendell also noted the bill’s Good Samaritan provisions that would keep those who report overdoses from facing drug-related charges.

Alternative Options on Immunity

The committee approved an amendment that would prevent charges or prosecution for a criminal offense of drug or paraphernalia possession if a person calls 911 or seeks medical help for an overdose victim. The same immunity would apply for the person who suffered the overdose.

Rep. Robert Benvenuti (R-Lexington) took issue with that part of the plan and believes a better route is to grant immunity only if a user agrees to seek treatment.

The nephew of Rep. Joni Jenkins’ (D-Louisville) died from a heroin overdose in 2013. The number assigned to HB 213 is a tribute to Wes Jenkins’s birthday, February 13. It’s also the day the full House plans to vote on the measure. Rep. Jenkins responded to Benvenuti’s concern about the immunity issue.

Circuit Court Judge David Tapp, who serves Lincoln, Pulaski, and Rockcastle Counties, testified that a large contingent of users need alternatives to jail time in the form of treatment and community supervision. He spoke to the efficacy of the drug Vivitrol, which is used to treat opioid and alcohol addiction. Tapp said Vivitrol is prescribed in a judicial system program to help drug-dependent offenders.

House Bill 213 advanced out of the Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon and is slated for action by the full House on Friday.

Telephone Deregulation: Is the Landline a Lifeline?

Supporters and even opponents sense that persistence may finally prevail in the recurrent push to pass a measure that deregulates aspects of the telecommunications industry. It’s unofficially called the AT&T Bill – so named because it’s a key priority of the telecom giant and the focus of a legion of lobbyists the company has employed to promote the legislation.

Supporters say it would free resources AT&T needs to modernize Kentucky’s technological infrastructure. There’s a consensus among policymakers that wiring the state for high-speed connectivity would enhance education and job training, and it would spur growth in the high tech industry.

Critics note the measure doesn’t require the telecom industry to reinvest deregulation-related savings in infrastructure broadband fiber. But Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), who is sponsoring the bill yet again, cast it as a potential engine of economic development and a companion to SOAR, the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative.

Environmental attorney and public policy advocate Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council testified that the bill would jeopardize landline telephone service for many who depend on it.

As he continued his remarks, FitzGerald pointedly questioned AT&T’s assurance that new landline customers would be served

Despite the strikingly dissimilar interpretations of Senate Bill 3, the measure cleared the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on a 9 – 1 vote. It now waits for action by the full Senate. In the House, Rep. Rick Rand (D-Bedford) is carrying a companion bill that’s on the docket for consideration by that chamber.

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.