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Legislative Briefs: Increased opioid penalties bill approved; DUI measure heads to Senate

With one lawmaker calling it a crisis starting “in our medicine cabinets,” the Kentucky House Tuesday voted 96-1 to pass a bill that would fight Kentucky’s opioid addiction epidemic by limiting the amount of opioids pain killers prescribed and increasing jail time for those who deal opioids on the streets.

Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, praised provisions in House Bill 333 that would limit prescriptions for addictive opioid pain killers like oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine to a three day supply, with exceptions for the terminally-ill and some others. Addiction, Kay said, usually begins at home with a 30-day prescription to prescription opioids like Percocet or Lortab—not by buying drugs on the street.

“This pill problem is starting in our medicine cabinets, and we’ve got to get it under control,” he said. “Unfortunately in many, many cases we’re not going to stop addiction from happening. But we can stop it from happening in our medicine cabinets. We can stop is from happening in our homes.”

Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, (left) speaks with House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, in the House. (LRC Public Information Photo)

HB 333, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would also increase felony penalties for those who illegally deal in the synthetic opioid pain killer fentanyl and make it a felony to deal in drugs derived from fentanyl as well as carfentanil, which is used as an elephant tranquilizer. Trafficking in any amount of fentanyl, its derivatives or carfentanil would carry up to 10 years for a first offense, with longer sentences for repeat offenders and those who deal over certain amounts of the drugs.

Moser said these are just a few steps that HB 333 would take to solve what she called the “opioid and addiction crisis” in Kentucky.

“We continue to see increases in overdoses and deaths due to heroin and other opiates,” said Moser. She cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows over 52,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2015. “Sixty three percent, or 33,091 of those deaths involved an opioid.”

“If Kentucky is, in fact, the epicenter of this crisis, we must be leaders in addressing this crisis head-on,” she said.

HB 333 would also make it a felony carrying up to 10 years in prison to illegally bring any amount of fentanyl or its derivatives or carfentanil into the state for sale or distribution. And it would create the felony offense of “trafficking in a misrepresented controlled substance” for those who try to pass off fentanyl, its derivatives or carfentanil as a legitimate prescription drug.

While state law now has strong penalties for selling heroin, HB 333 would ease penalties for those found guilty of selling a small amount—under two grams—of heroin if a court finds the defendant had a substance use disorder involving heroin when the crime was committed. Those individuals would face one to five years in prison instead of five to 10 years for others convicted of a first offense (with higher penalties for repeat offenders).

Finally, the bill would exclude cannabidiol, or CBD, products from the definition of marijuana under state law if the products are approved as a prescription medication by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cannabidiol is a cannabis compound that is believe by many to have medical benefits, although it has not yet been FDA-approved.

“This is only when and if they become FDA-approved. These are hemp derivatives—it’s not marijuana—and again, they must be FDA-approved,” said Moser. “Upon FDA approval, cannabidiol products would not be allowed as prescriptions if we don’t change this language.”

HB 333 now goes to the Senate.

DUI ‘look back’ bill heads to Senate

Getting a DUI in Kentucky every 10 years is like getting a DUI for the first time in the eyes of the law, the result of a Kentucky ‘look back’ statute that treats a DUI conviction handed down at least 10 years after a person’s last conviction as a first offense.

That would change under House Bill 261—approved by the Kentucky House—which would only allow DUI offenders to receive the more lenient first-offense DUI conviction once in their lifetime.

HB 261 sponsor Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said his legislation “is a common sense bill” that would save lives by limiting the amount of drunk drivers on Kentucky’s roads.

Under HB 261 “You get one first offense in your lifetime. After that, it’s at least number 2,” DuPlessis told the House, which approved the bill 94-0.

The bill was amended before it was passed to clarify that it would not be applied retroactively. It was also amended to allow first offense DUI cases to be expunged 10 years after the date of the offense for employment purposes.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, said she was concerned about how expungement could affect state judges’ ability to do their jobs and asked if they would have access to information, if needed, for penalty enhancement or other purposes. DuPlessis said that they would.

“The record will be expunged but it will still be there for the court to see,” he said. “The bill doesn’t seek to tell judges how to inform their defendants. But it seeks to be very clear, very clear as to what the penalty phases will or will not be.”

HB 261, which is also sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, now goes to the Senate.

Senate OKs bill to make military surplus vehicles street legal

The Senate today approved a bill that would make it possible for Kentuckians to receive a title and license for certain military surplus vehicles like Humvees.

Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, would give citizens who purchase military surplus vehicles a way to make them street legal by outlining a framework for the state to follow when licensing and titling the vehicles.

“It requires the Transportation Cabinet to create a new inspection form for military surplus vehicles since a vehicle must be inspected prior to titling,” said West, R-Paris. “In order to get a title, the vehicles would have to be retrofitted with all the appropriate equipment – safety harnesses, et cetera – to meet the federal regulatory guidelines.”

Prior to passing the bill, senators approved an amendment that removed a specification in the legislation would have limited it to four-wheeled vehicles. West said the amendment was the result of the realization that it would be helpful to expand the legislation to cover larger trucks that can used for agriculture and other purposes.

The bill was approved by the Senate on a 37-0 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

From LRC Public Information

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