Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 26, 2014

House passes bill to crack down on heroin trafficking

FRANKFORT — It took a couple of last-minute pleas from supporters, but a bill to crack down on heroin trafficking narrowly passed out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Katie Kratz Stine, R-Southgate, easily passed the Senate and would allow heroin traffickers to be charged with homicide if one of their purchasers died from an overdose.

That provision includes a “presumption” that the death is “foreseeable” and that creates constitutional concerns for some, including the Guthrie True, the president of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Lawyers, Guthrie True, and the association’s legislative agent, Ernie Lewis.

Stine’s bill also provides that those convicted of heroin trafficking must serve 50 percent of their original sentence; that Medicaid can pay for treatment for addicts; and provides a “good Samaritan” provision that allows someone to call for medical help for someone suffering an overdose without fear of prosecution.

True and Lewis said they support the provisions of the bill which deal with increasing treatment options for addicts but they believe the presumption the seller should foresee death by overdose is unconstitutional. Lewis said that provision would prevent a defense that the victim had several drugs in his blood at the time of death, any of which might have caused death.

“Senate Bill 5 is unconstitutional because it presumes (the death) was foreseeable,” Lewis said, citing several court rulings and contending the bill shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.

It might also allow prosecution for homicide of someone who never met the ultimate victim — if one sold heroin to someone who subsequently sold it to a person who overdosed, conceivably the first seller might be charged with homicide.

True said heroin is “an insidious problem,” but he said it isn’t one “we can prosecute our way out of. We do have a problem we can treat our way out of; we have a problem we can educate our way out of, but we can’t prosecute our way out of it.”

But proponents made impassioned pleas for the law, including Stine, a northern Kentucky judge who said “80 to 90 percent of my docket is heroin-related,” Attorney General Jack Conway and a mother of an overdose victim.

“Heroin has overwhelmed our court system, our jails and our law enforcement,” Stine told the committee. She talked about the dramatic increase in heroin arrests and medical emergencies arising from heroin use in the past two years in northern Kentucky.

Conway said heroin is replacing prescription painkillers in Kentucky as the state has enacted legislation to crack down on prescription opioid drugs. Others who testified in support of the bill included Justice Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown, Van Ingram who heads the Office of Drug Control Policy and law enforcement officials.

Committee Chairman Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, offered a committee substitute which kept the original provisions of Stine’s bill but added a needle exchange program to help reduce the incidence of AIDS and other diseases spread by re-using contaminated needles.

That complicated the bill’s prospects because several Republicans on the committee who planned to support the measure objected to the addition of the needle exchange measure.

Others objected to the presumed and “foreseeable” homicide provisions, agreeing with True and Lewis, and when the vote began it looked as if the bill would fail to gather the 12 votes necessary for passage.

Several Democrats passed, citing their concerns about the law’s constitutionality and some Republicans passed, two of them citing the needle exchange provision.

But during the vote, Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, pleaded with committee members, several of whom had already passed, to vote for the bill, saying any concerns could be addressed with floor amendments. Still, when the vote tally was complete, there were only 11 votes for passage. No one voted against it, but nine passed.

The bill required 12 yes votes to go to the House floor, and Tilley pleaded for one of the pass votes to switch. After a few minutes, Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, switched her vote to yes, saying she reserved the right to vote no on the floor.

That sent the bill to the House floor, but with only two days left on the calendar that were originally scheduled for legislation, the measure must still clear the Rules Committee on Thursday.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

Text Only
Local News
  • Stumbo questions Noah’s Ark incentives, backs off on expanded gambling

    Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo on Wednesday questioned the constitutionality of state incentives for a Noah’s Ark tourist attraction in Grant County.

    July 30, 2014

  • Night Moves for First Friday

    A chance to enjoy an evening run through the streets of Ashland will be among the things to do during the First Friday ArtWalk and Downtown Live for August in downtown Ashland from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

    July 30, 2014

  • ‘Arts in the Vines’ will be in conjunction with U.S. 60 Yard Sale

    Offering a different taste of life in Carter County, the owners of RockSprings Winery are inviting locals and visitors to the U.S. 60 Yard Sale to spend some time in their vineyards during the first “Arts in the Vines” from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.

    July 30, 2014

  • Grimes zeroes in on women’s issues with latest ad

    Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is out with a third television ad posing questions from Grimes’ supporters to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

    July 30, 2014

  • UPDATE: OEA to investigate Fairview

    State education investigators were scheduled to arrive in the Fairview school district this morning to interview school officials.
    Superintendent Bill Musick on Wednesday confirmed that two teams of investigators from the state Office of Educational Accountability will interview him and other officials.
    Others to be interviewed include school board members, council members of Fairview High and Fairview Middle schools, finance director Ernie Sharp and pupil personnel director Brant Creech.
    Interviews will be conducted at the high school and the middle school.
    The nature of the inquiry is unclear, because the OEA doesn’t release information on its investigations other than final reports.
    Musick said the OEA hadn’t told him what the investigation is about. “I don’t know a single question they’re going to ask,” he said. He said such visits are “not unusual.”
    Other sources say complaints have been lodged with the OEA about a number of irregularities, and that the OEA will examine Musick’s status and whether the board acted illegally in February when it rescinded its acceptance of his resignation.
    Musick had announced his retirement and tendered his resignation in the wake of a separate investigation by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association that penalized the district for using an ineligible player in 2012 and 2013.
    Musick said then that he was ready for retirement but later said he had had a change of heart and asked the board to reconsider his resignation.
    The Kentucky Department of Education’s legal department said the rehiring was illegal but the finding doesn’t have any enforcement power and the school board has not taken any further action.
    MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

    July 30, 2014

  • Stumbo says Bissett 'handpicked' by McConnell

    Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo said Wednesday there’s an obvious reason the president of the Kentucky Coal Association has publicly defended Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s support of the coal industry.

    July 30, 2014

  • colepotteronline.jpg Acoustic jam night at Callihan's

    With the onset of  patio season, the staff at Callihan’s American Pub & Grill have adopted a new program for Wednesday’s open-invitation entertainment with the all new Callihan’s Acoustic Jam Session, providing a stage for local talent and a spotlight for a featured musician each week.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Golf scramble will benefit Paramount Arts Center

    Paramount Woman’s Association’s seventh annual Ladies’ Golf Scramble is scheduled for Aug. 11 at Bellefonte Country Club.

    July 30, 2014

  • MARK MAYNARD: Parking, history, and some wiffleball

    The calendar flips to August tomorrow and some students in the area will be back in school next week.

    July 30, 2014

  • Students need better counseling to contribute more to the region, working group says

    A group studying how education can lift the economy of Appalachian Kentucky has several ideas, including a “counseling for careers” approach that would begin for students no later than middle school and continue through high school.

    July 30, 2014