Kentucky News – Legislative Update by state Rep. Cluster Howard

Cluster Howard 1With just a handful of days remaining in this brief, 30-day session, Kentucky was hit again by a record winter storm. Despite the weather, we’ve made the most of our time this week as we work to finalize details on legislation set as priorities early on by our House Majority. The state Senate is in the process of deliberating many of our bills after passage by the House, and we’re all doing what we can to shepherd the legislation through the final stages of the process. Snow, power outages and temperatures in the single digits caused us to delay formal proceedings on the final two days of the week, but negotiations did continue on issues like combating the state’s heroin epidemic, and providing protections for couples in dating relationships.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in support of House Bill 8 that will allow dating couples to seek civil protection from domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking. Currently, these protective orders are only available to those who are married, have lived together or share a child together. Sadly, Kentucky is the only remaining state that does not offer civil protection of any kind to dating couples and, according to federal data, also leads the nation with the highest percentage of women who are stalked. After 10 years of work on this bill, it’s time we finish the job and enact this measure. I am hopeful House Bill 8 will be passed favorably by the Senate this time around.

Work continues on compromise legislation addressing the growing heroin epidemic in Kentucky, and statewide support of House Bill 213 remains strong. This approach creates more treatment options for those addicted to heroin so we can break that viscous cycle, and makes the rescue drug naloxone more widely available to first responders, pharmacists and families. The bill varies criminal sentencing to target the largest traffickers with the highest penalties, and allows needle exchange programs, which have been shown to dramatically cut down on infectious disease. HB 213 also includes a provision granting immunity to those who call for emergency help to report an overdose. The Senate has its own version of a heroin bill and negotiations to hammer out differences remain positive. I was pleased to support House Bill 213 on the House floor.

The health and safety of Kentuckians served as the focus of a number of measures moving forward through the process. This week, the Senate approved our House Bill 298 providing $132.5 million in state funding to help construct a new research facility at the University of Kentucky that will focus on the state’s most serious health issues, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. UK will fund the other half through research contracts and private fund-raising. The building will bring researchers together to work in teams across disciplines to address these health challenges, and will serve as an important economic catalyst, as well, with an estimated 1,623 jobs expected to be created with an annual economic impact of $116.2 million. Budget matters are normally considered during our longer, 60-day session held in even-numbered years, but we opened up the process this year to move forward on this important, potentially life-saving project as soon as possible.

Other important health matters considered this week include legislation requiring health insurers to cover the cost of follow-up testing resulting from a colorectal cancer screening.  SB 61 was sent to Gov. Steve Beshear after being approved in the Senate and House. Additionally, a bill that would require the state to post a list of all Kentucky stroke hospitals and stroke centers online and distribute the list to local emergency services providers is on its way to becoming law.

At the request of our hospices and medical care providers, SB 77 passed, which will allow an end-of-life order known as a “medical order for scope of treatment,” or MOST. Typically used by hospice patients in their last six months of life, a MOST spells out a patient’s wishes for their end-of-life care. Unlike advance directives, the orders are considered to be physician’s orders and are signed by both the patient or patient’s legal surrogate, and the patient’s physician.

With time running out, I am disappointed the Senate has not taken action on our efforts to shore up the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System through House Bill 4. While this approach raised some concerns, it represents a good faith effort on our part to protect the promises we’ve made to teachers and retirees for their dedicated service to Kentucky’s children. If our Senate colleagues refuse to act on this issue, we’ll continue to work on this and other solutions that may be offered in the months ahead.

After we iron out details on several important measures this next week, the legislature will recess  before returning in late March to consider overriding any vetoes by the governor and wrap up this 2015 session for good. I encourage you to contact me with any questions or concerns as we move forward through these final days or throughout the upcoming interim session. I can be reached by calling the legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181.

Several residents have called me about issues with their heat and electricity this week. Please feel free to contact me with any of these issues and I will do everything I can to help. I will also be sending an update to the teachers that contacted me this session. It is very important for everyone to take part in our political process.

I want to thank our sheriffs, mayors, county judge-executives, magistrates and other first responders who have helped their communities during the past few weeks.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve you this session, and I look forward to reporting more information to you soon.

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