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Lawmakers Brace for Showdown Over Anti-Heroin Proposals

Two measures to combat heroin addiction are now circulating in the Kentucky General Assembly, as a new proposal from House Democrats sparked stern criticism from Senate Republicans.

At a press conference on Monday, House Democrats presented their plan that seeks get low-level users and addicts into treatment. A key provision of House Bill 213 creates a three-tiered penalty system to better distinguish between low-level dealers and large-scale heroin traffickers.

The House bill also provides for a needle-exchange program, according to Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville), the sponsor of HB 213. That provision snagged similar legislation in last year’s session. Under the new bill, Tilley says city councils or fiscal courts would approve needle exchanges based on recommendations of local health boards.

Tilley said the needle exchange program would reduce needle sticks experienced by law enforcement by a projected 30 percent.

In yesterday’s announcement about HB 213, Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Louisville) explained the personal significance of the number assigned to the measure.

Other Provisions of the House Proposal

Under HB 213, any person – not just first responders and other qualified agencies – would be able to administer the overdose reversal medicine Naloxone. The bill also allows pharmacists to prescribe the antidote and would let high schools store Naloxone.

Tilley’s bill calls for a portion of the savings realized from the 2011 penal code reforms to be used for drug treatment programs in jails and community health centers. Under the bill, Medicaid would have to offer more comprehensive substance abuse treatment options. Tilley’s measure also addresses neo-natal care.

There is no additional revenue stream for the anti-heroin effort, and Tilley, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says the savings from penal code reform are already accounted for this biennium.

Comparing the House and Senate Plans

The House measure differs significantly in several key areas from the bill the state Senate passed in January. Senate Bill 5 treats all dealers the same, regardless of the quantity of heroin they move. It also has no needle-exchange provision and has tighter controls on Naloxone use. The House and Senate measures do agree on a Good Samaritan clause to shield those who report overdoses from facing drug-related charges themselves.

Rather than tweak the plan approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, Rep. Tilley maintained the issue needs more emphasis on treatment. He also stressed the importance of distinguishing between users and high-level traffickers, and he says the data is clear that needle-exchange programs work.

Response on the Senate Floor

The rollout of HB 213 fueled speculation that SB 5 may stall in the House. By all appearances, the Democratically controlled lower chamber stands poised to pass Rep. Tilley’s bill and send it to the Senate.

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) is the sponsor of SB 5 and he’s the running mate to Republican gubernatorial candidate James Comer. Yesterday on the Senate floor, McDaniel protested the apparent death of his measure and accused the House of playing games with lives at risk.

House Bill 213 is slated for committee action tomorrow, with a vote by the full chamber expected by the end of the week.

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.