Kentucky News – LEGISLATIVE UPDATE – With Cluster Howard

Cluster Howard 1The 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is now history and there is much to report. In the House Majority, we began work in January with an ambitious agenda to address Kentucky’s growing heroin epidemic; stabilize the state’s Road Fund;  and secure protective orders for dating couples in cases of domestic violence or stalking. We also sought to preserve the state’s future Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) payments which are helping diversify Kentucky’s farms; provide critical health care and offer early childhood development services throughout the Commonwealth.

In these areas and more, we proved successful and, for a short, 30-day session held in odd-numbered years, I’m thankful for all we were able to accomplish for Kentucky’s citizens in such a limited amount of time.

On the last day of session, we reached compromise with the Senate on a comprehensive effort to provide more options for the treatment of heroin addiction, increase penalties for drug traffickers and allow greater access to life-saving medication. The legislation also allows individual communities to establish a needle exchange program as a way of decreasing the possibility for blood-borne diseases. Additionally, it carries a no-fault, “Good Samaritan” clause that provides immunity to those who seek emergency care for an individual who has suffered a drug overdose.

The heroin legislation immediately infuses Kentucky’s addiction treatment system with $10 million followed by $24 million annually. This money comes from savings gained through prior judicial reforms that have saved our state millions and reduced recidivism rates by up to 15 percent.  I predict our heroin law will be a model for the nation as we aggressively target those who deal in misery and death, while also recognizing that drug abuse and addiction is not just a criminal issue, but also a mental health issue. Because this legislation contains an emergency clause, it became law immediately upon receiving the governor’s signature this week.

Through House Bill 299, we’ve been able to stabilize the state’s road fund by freezing the “floor” of the state gas tax. These funds are necessary for life-saving road repairs on city, county and state roadways that are also crucial for sustaining commerce, creating jobs and ensuring economic development efforts can continue. Over half of the road fund revenues go directly to our local governments for use right here in our community.

Also, thanks to House Bill 8, Kentuckians in dating relationships will now be able to seek immediate civil protection against an abusive partner. Previously, only victims who are married to, have a child with, or live with their abuser could seek civil protection from domestic violence or abuse, physical violence, or stalking as specified under Kentucky law. That left most young, college-age women without this protection from a stalker, or abusive boyfriend. This legislation represents a significant step forward because these protective orders have been shown to work, and help stop the violence.

Passage of House Bill 512 restores certainty to Kentucky’s annual MSA payments from tobacco companies. I was proud to support this measure that protects Kentucky’s efforts to create new farm-based business enterprises, revitalize the state’s farm economy, and diversify our state’s agriculture portfolio as tobacco use continues to decline.  This legislation follows a June 2014 Settlement Agreement between Kentucky and tobacco manufacturers and ends a long-running legal dispute over an enforcement obligation under the MSA.

While all these measures represent positive steps forward for the Commonwealth, I am disappointed that the Senate did not follow the House Majority’s lead in proposing a viable solution to sustain the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. Under House Bill 4, our plan sought to take advantage of historically low interest rates by issuing bonds to stabilize the system. Our Senate colleagues refused to go along with our efforts, but this is a legal and moral obligation to our teachers and retirees that cannot be ignored.  I want the educators in my district to know how much I appreciate their service and that I will continue to fight on their behalf to identify a solution.

Despite this, there are still many more successes to discuss from the 2015 annual session, and I will brief you in my next column on additional measures that were enacted. Until then, please know how proud I am of the honor to represent the people of the 91st district in Breathitt, Estill, Lee and Owsley counties. Your emails and phone calls provided me with valuable opinions, information, and support, and I am thankful for each message I received. I ask that you continue to keep in touch during the interim by e-mailing me at cluster.howard@lrc.ky.gov or contacting me via the Legislative Message Line at 1-800- 1-800-372-7181.

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