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Legislative Briefs: Needle exchange and disposal bill passes Senate; religious freedom measure advances


The state Senate passed a bill regulating the disposal and free handout of needles Tuesday by a 28-10 vote.

House Bill 160 would require the Department of Public Health to establish guidelines for safe disposal of hypodermic syringes, needles and what’s known as “sharps” containers. In addition, HB 160 would require the guidelines to be provided to certain medical facilities and pharmacies.

It was an amendment to HB 160 that would place further restrictions on needle exchanges, legalized under last year’s anti-heroin legislation (Senate Bill 192), which prompted debate on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said supporters of SB 192 “sold” skeptical senators on giving drug addicts free needles by promising one-for-one exchanges. He said supporters were “emphatic to say it would not be a giveaway program but rather individuals could bring in one dirty needle and get one clean one in response.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington (left), debates a bill sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London (right), in the Kentucky Senate (LRC Public Information Photo)

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington (left), debates a bill sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London (right), in the Kentucky Senate (LRC Public Information Photo)

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he too was disappointed to learn over the interim that some health departments in Kentucky decided not to require a dirty needle for every clean needle they give out.

“I will vote for this bill defining a needle exchange as a one-for-one exchange, which was the original intent, and if it doesn’t pass … I will file a bill next year to eliminate the needle exchange all together. I’m willing to give this one more year.”

Last year, Louisville adopted a needle distribution program that doesn’t require a one-to-one exchange of needles. When the proposed amendment to HB 160 was debated in a recent Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, argued against the amendment, saying that if the goal is to decrease the spread of disease, public health workers should be able to hand out free needles without being required to collect a used one.

HB 160 now goes back to the House for consideration of changes the Senate made to the bill.

Senate passes bill addressing religious freedom

A bill advanced in the state Senate that supporters said would protect the religious freedom of business owners but detractors warned might undermine existing civil rights laws.

Known as Senate Bill 180, the measure would protect the freedom of religion of individuals who offer customized artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial or spiritual goods and services, said Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London. It passed by a 22-16 vote.

“Shouldn’t a florist, baker and other creative artists’ First-Amendment rights of free exercise of religion be respected?” Robinson said, before quoting a section of the Kentucky Constitution that prohibits interference with “rights of conscience.”

“Yet, that is what many wish to do – to have government to force people to using their creative skills to participate in something that violates their faith conscience.”

He said that he introduced SB 180 in response to a Lexington custom T-shirt shop getting sued for refusing to make shirts celebrating a gay pride event.

“This bill helps to promote the time-honored principle of ‘live and let live’ and encourages a balanced environment of mutual respect and civility in our public square,” Robinson said.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said he was supporting SB 108

“I also think that each of us probably interprets the Bible in a way that is most convenient for us,” he said. “Having said that, I’m going to cling the premise that this is a ‘live and let live’ piece of legislation. In doing that, I’m going to assume it protects those we are fearful that we are discriminating against with this piece of legislation. The ‘live and let live’ premise, in my opinion, protects all parties involved.”

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, voted for SB 180 because it was “a common sense” measure. He said everyone would be outraged if the government forced Jewish bakers to make cakes featuring Nazi symbols and minority bakers to make cakes featuring Ku Klux Klan symbols.

“Hopefully, we will have some common sense where we can rally around people we know are being unfairly treated – that are being made to do something that we know goes against who they are,” Smith said.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he couldn’t support the bill because it would discriminate against gay people.

“That is no difference than what you say back in the 1930s when there was rampant anti-Semitism in this country or back in the 1950s and ‘60s when blacks were … demanding civil rights,” he said. “We just have to fast forward 50 years now were gays are just demanding their rightful place in our society as equal citizens. This bill is designed to prevent that, and I can’t go along with that.”

Robinson said he personally believes homosexuality and same-sex marriage are sinful, but disagreed with Thomas’ analysis that SB 180 would legalize some forms of discrimination.

“A restaurant owner could not deny service to a transgendered individual,” he said, “and a bakery could not refuse to sell pies and cookies to someone because of their sexual orientation.”

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said the Fayette Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Lexington T-shirt maker by finding the business was within its right not to make a T-shirt promoting gay rights. In voting against SB 108, he said the Senate should wait to see if that ruling is overturned on appeal before considering any legislation.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said she couldn’t support SB 180, in part, because of economic concerns. She said the bill may be seen as discriminatory by businesses interested in investing in her hometown – the state’s largest city.

“I understand the need to balance competing interests in a very diverse society … but I’m concerned Senate Bill 180 goes way too far,” she said. “I’ve heard from constituents and my business community that this is just not needed.”

SB 180 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Bill would regulate nursing home violation adverts

The state Senate passed a bill that would mandate how information about a nursing home’s safety and health violations could be advertised by a 25-13 vote.

Senate Bill 205 would require that advertisements of nursing home inspection results also prominently include the date of any deficiencies found, the plan to correct them and whether they were corrected. The measure also calls for a disclaimer that the advertisement wasn’t endorsed by a government entity.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, characterized SB 205 as a “truth in advertising” measure. He said “deep pocket attorneys” are taking out misleading advertisements “fishing for clients” in Kentucky.

“This bill is not in any way trying to limit a law firm’s ability to file suit in any of these circumstances,” said Carroll, who introduced the bill. “It is simply about fairness in advertising and nothing more.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, said it is an unconstitutional bill “that is blatantly in violation of the First Amendment.” He added that if lawyers were taking out truly misleading advertisements, they could be sued for defamation.

“If you want to make it fair, when a nursing home advertises, maybe they should be required to disclose their infection rates, the rates of pressure sores, the mortality rate from facility-acquired infections,” he said, before reading excerpts from nursing home inspection reports that described deplorable conditions.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he supported SB 205 after witnessing a nursing home in his district get targeted by misleading advertisements. He said the advertisement listed deficiencies without stating they were from 2013, had long been corrected and that the nursing home had a new owner with a history of no safety or health violations.

SB 205 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

From LRC Public Information


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