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Special session ends after pain-pill bill; transportation budget wins approval

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By JACK BRAMMER
AND BETH MUSGRAVE

Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — A five-day special legislative session that cost taxpayers more than $300,000 ended late Friday afternoon after Kentucky lawmakers approved a transportation budget and a bill aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.

The contentious session wrapped up quickly after leaders in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House begrudgingly accepted compromises on both bills, which they had failed to approve in the final hours of the regular legislative session on April 12.

The Senate backed off a proposal to restore about $50 million worth of road projects in and near Senate President David Williams’ Southern Kentucky district that Gov. Steve Beshear had vetoed earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the House accepted an anti-drug abuse bill that keeps the state’s electronic prescription monitoring system in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — and out of the hands of law enforcement agencies eager to investigate doctors who over-prescribe addictive medications.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the pain-pill bill, wanted to transfer the monitoring system to Attorney General Jack Conway’s office.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said after the House gave final passage to House Bill 1 that he believed Beshear has the power to transfer the prescription drug monitoring system to Conway’s office without legislative authority.

“I think the governor, in the days ahead, will continue to take aggressive action on addressing this problem,” Stumbo said.

Beshear was not available for comment late Friday. In a written statement, Beshear congratulated lawmakers for completing the special legislative session in the minimum five days. In particular, he praised passage of the prescription drug bill.

“Even though the final version of the prescription drug bill doesn’t include every element we had hoped, it is an enormous bipartisan accomplishment, and it restores Kentucky as a leading state in innovative tactics in battling prescription drug abuse,” Beshear said.

HB 1 would require most doctors who prescribe narcotics to use the electronic prescription monitoring system and would limit ownership of pain management clinics to physicians. There will be no fee for doctors to use the system.

Currently, less than 25 percent of the state’s doctors use the system, which allows doctors to check to see if another doctor has prescribed a painkiller or addictive drug to a patient.

Conway, in a written statement, thanked both chambers for approving the bill, which met stiff opposition from major medical groups.

“I encourage those who are fearful of increased oversight of prescribing practices to end the hyperbole and begin a constructive process with the legislature and Executive Branch to implement this bill,” Conway said.

The first order of business Friday was approving the $4.5 billion operating budget for the Transportation Cabinet in House Bill 2.

Earlier in the day, the Senate supported an amendment offered by Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, that restored the projects Beshear vetoed on Wednesday.

But the House later ruled the amendment was not germane to the bill. That prompted Williams, R-Burkesville, to recommend that the Senate recede from the amendment, which it did.

The Senate then gave final approval to HB 2 on a 27-1 vote and sent it to Beshear for his consideration. The governor has 10 days, not counting Sundays, to review approved legislation and decide whether to sign it into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it.

The legislature will not have an opportunity to override any possible vetoes.

Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, cast the only “no” vote. He tried unsuccessfully to include in the bill a road project in Christian County.

Earlier this week, Beshear vetoed 11 road projects from the state’s two-year road plan in the districts of Williams and Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell. The move upset some Senate Republicans.

Leeper said he filed his amendment to restore the projects because Beshear had been unfair to the people of south-central Kentucky.

Williams said in a floor speech that House Democratic members should take a look at what their leaders did in the road plan.

He had this message for House members “who feel victorious” that his district lost road projects: “You are the saps in this thing because you are the ones whose leadership has taken all the money.”

Later on Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a version of the pain-pill bill that differed from the version the House approved earlier this week. Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Jensen, R-London, said the House version gave the attorney general’s office broad powers over sensitive medical information.

“They could go on a fishing expedition,” Jensen said.

The Senate panel passed the amended measure 8-3, and it was headed for a vote on the Senate floor when Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers told the Senate that the House would agree to the Senate version if they changed a provision regarding funding for the prescription monitoring system.

The Senate agreed to the change and ultimately passed the measure 26-12. The House later concurred with the changes and the special session ended before 5:30 p.m.

Stumbo said the House agreed to back off the provision that would allow the attorney general to oversee the prescription monitoring system after talking with Conway, Beshear, prosecutors and law enforcement.

“They recommended that we pass it and take a major step forward,” Stumbo said.