Legislators approve pseudoephedrine, other bills; some left undone

jcheves@herald-leader.com•March 30, 2012 

Legislative Session

The Kentucky Senate votes out last-minute bills Friday March 30, 2012 at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. The regular session ends at midnight, with one veto day reserved for a day in April. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

JOHN FLAVELL — AP

FRANKFORT — State lawmakers exited the Capitol just before 9 p.m. Friday with only one more day — April 12 — left in this year's legislative session and plenty of work left to be done.

The House and Senate managed on the 59th day of the 60-day session to send to Gov. Steve Beshear a bill to further limit the amount of pseudoephedrine — an ingredient in cold medicines that is used in making methamphetamine — consumers could buy without a prescription.

But another key drug bill that would regulate pain clinics ran into trouble in the Senate, putting it in limbo.

The two drug bills had been touted as landmark legislation of this year's General Assembly.

Beshear said he will sign into law Senate Bill 3, the bill designed to curb the proliferation of illegal meth labs in the state.

"Methamphetamine continues to cause tremendous pain in our families and communities, and I am pleased that legislators found a way to limit the sale of meth ingredient pseudoephedrine," Beshear said in a statement. "SB 3 is a good step for both families and communities, and I will sign the bill."

The Senate voted 29-8 Friday in concurring with changes the House made to the bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. SB 3 would require Kentuckians to get a doctor's prescription to buy the pill form of more than 7.2 grams of pseudoephedrine a month and 24 grams a year. A generic box of pseudoephedrine with 48 pills, each with a 30-milligram dosage, contains 1.44 grams of the medicine.

The bill's sponsors had wanted lower limits, but they compromised with opponents who worried about inconveniencing cold and allergy sufferers.

The pharmaceutical industry had lobbied aggressively against any limits and prescription requirements.

Gel caps and liquid pseudoephedrine would be excluded from the limits in SB 3 because making meth from those forms is considered more difficult.

The Senate had a more difficult time in handling House Bill 4, a measure sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, that would regulate pain clinics and transfer the state's electronic reporting system for prescriptions from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office.

The Senate was considering a conference report on HB 4 when Sen. Carroll Gibson, R-Leitchfield, moved to lay it on the clerk's desk. That request is a parliamentary maneuver to make it more difficult to pass a bill. A bill on the clerk's desk would need a constitutional majority — or 20 votes — to be considered in the chamber.

Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, took a voice vote on Gibson's motion and ruled that it failed.

Senate GOP leader Stivers said it might be better to consider the bill April 12, but Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said delaying a vote on it would give its opponents more time to try to kill it. The Kentucky Medical Association has opposed parts of the bill.

Stivers called for party caucuses to meet to discuss the issue. After the caucus meetings, the Senate adjourned and Stivers said lawmakers would work on the bill for possible consideration April 12.

The Senate gave final approval Friday to a bill that would require potential residents at personal care homes to be screened for brain injuries by medical professionals.

Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, now goes to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature or veto.

The measure stems from the death last year of Larry Lee, a brain-injured resident who disappeared from a personal care home and was found dead four weeks later on the banks of the Licking River, not far from the Falmouth Nursing Home in Pendleton County.

There are about 2,500 to 3,000 people in 82 free-standing personal care homes across Kentucky. Personal care homes provide long-term care for people who do not need full-time nursing care but need some assistance. Many of those served by such homes are mentally ill or mentally disabled.

Advocates have long said personal care homes are not an appropriate place for brain-injured individuals to live because the facilities are not equipped to provide them with adequate care and therapy.

Last week, a watchdog state agency released a report that said the continued placement of mentally ill residents in Kentucky's personal care homes is a violation of federal disability laws.

Kentucky's personal care homes unfairly segregate people with disabilities from the community, denying residents their right to interact with non-disabled people to the fullest extent possible, according to a report by Kentucky Protection and Advocacy. The group is an independent state agency that protects and promotes the rights of people with disabilities.

The Senate did not act on a bill pushed by Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, that would have strengthened Kentucky's human trafficking laws. Senate GOP leaders said it did not have sufficient readings in the chamber to come to a vote.

The Senate also did not act Friday on House Bill 260, which would set up a scholarship program for students in coal-producing counties.

The House sent to the governor House Bill 495, which will let the state borrow money to pay interest on $960 million in federal loans that kept the state's unemployment insurance program intact during the recent recession. The House and Senate had disagreed on who should get stuck with the bill for the interest payments, employers or workers.

The bill was one of the governor's top priorities for the legislative session. Beshear said his March 2009 appointment of a task force on the issue led to the legislation.

"With House Bill 495, the business community has developed such a method which not only meets the immediate payment requirements, but also prevents huge tax increases on business owners," Beshear said.

"This solution, solidly supported by both parties, shows again that people with differing viewpoints can still come together to deliver workable solutions to some of Kentucky's toughest challenges. I want to thank Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark and the task force for once again developing an answer that meets the needs of our state."

The House also gave final passage to House Bill 255, granting tax relief to residents of the state's tornado-devastated communities. The legislation provides rebates for sales taxes paid on building materials. Beshear will decide whether to sign it into law.

Under the bill, building owners in counties declared disaster areas by President Barack Obama could recover the state's 6 percent sales tax paid on building materials used to repair or replace structures damaged in the storms, schools could waive up to 10 days and school staff would not lose any salary because of absences related to the storms.

The House dropped House Bill 234, which would — as amended by the Senate — require the state courts to award pay raises of 2 percent to 15 percent to circuit court clerks, bringing their top salaries to $113,615.

Court officials said the raises would have cost $2 million to $3 million a year, which was unaffordable given steep cuts elsewhere in the judicial budget. The House would have needed to agree with the Senate's changes for the bill to be approved.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.comJack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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