Beshear: It's 'too early to determine' if special session needed for anti-heroin bill, Rupp funding

jbrammer@herald-leader.comApril 16, 2014 

Gov. Steve Beshear delivered his State of the Commonwealth Address on Jan. 7 at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort.


FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear said Wednesday it's "too early to determine" if a special legislative session will be needed to deal with an anti-heroin bill, funding for a renovation of Rupp Arena or any other topic left undone during the just-concluded 2014 General Assembly.

"After the end of a long general session, there are always some worthy bills that don't make it through the legislative process," Beshear said in a written statement. "My first priority is to review the 19 bills that we received this week, including the road plan and transportation budget, and take appropriate action on those. It's too early to determine if a special session on any topic is prudent or needed."

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Robert Stivers said Beshear should recall lawmakers to Frankfort and demand they pass legislation aimed at stemming a growing tide of heroin abuse in the state.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo was noncommittal on the issue, saying lawmakers should be cautious of spending more taxpayer money on a special session.

Both legislative leaders, in separate news conferences the day after Kentucky's 2014 General Assembly concluded, said an agreement should be reached between each chamber before any special session is called so it would not last any longer than five days.

Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. Lawmakers determine its length. The cost of special session is about $65,000 a day.

Stivers, R-Manchester, said no issue besides heroin comes quickly to mind to warrant a special session. He noted that 29 people in Kenton County have died of heroin overdoes since the beginning of this year. Deaths in the state from the drug rose from 22 in 2011 to 143 in 2012.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said any other issue to be considered for a special session should be beneficial to taxpayers. He mentioned funding for a renovated Rupp Arena in Lexington and increasing the minimum wage. Stivers said he did not think funding for Rupp Arena would merit a special session.

Stumbo said the House failed to vote on an anti-heroin bill Tuesday night because "time had run out." Lawmakers were debating its merits when the clock struck midnight, the constitutional deadline to end the 2014 General Assembly.

A big difference between the House and Senate on the bill was whether to include a provision that would let health departments establish needle exchanges for addicts. Other controversial language in the bill would allow prosecutors to pursue homicide charges against dealers if their sale of schedule 1 controlled substances resulted in an overdose death.

Stivers said he believes the House and Senate are close in agreeing on anti-heroin legislation.

The measure, Senate Bill 5, was pushed by Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate; House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville; and Attorney General Jack Conway.

Conway said in an email that he was disappointed that lawmakers did not approve the legislation.

"We must act to confront the reality of a growing heroin epidemic in our state. Lives are at stake, and this legislation would have given law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to help address this issue," Conway said. "We must refocus our efforts to pass this legislation and expand treatment for opiate addiction to address the abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin."

Legislative ethics

On the topic of ethics, the top two leaders in the legislature had harsh words for each other after the Senate declined to consider legislation Tuesday night that would have strengthened and diversified the Legislative Ethics Commission.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would remove commission members who miss too many meetings and make clear the commission can consider charges against former lawmakers for their actions while in the legislature.

The House action was in response to public criticism that the commission fell one vote shy last week of punishing former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, for alleged sexual harassment of three women legislative employees. Three commissioners were absent and one seat is vacant.

Stumbo said he did not know why the Senate failed to vote on the House legislation but Stivers said it was delivered late to the Senate and the House was "trying to draw attention away from their own problems."

Stumbo said if Stivers has any evidence that the House has problems, he should make it public.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog:

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