Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

April 16, 2014

OUR VIEW: Heroin legislation needed soon, but state must take time to get it right

Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Every year, the General Assembly gavels itself out of session, and every year the commonwealth takes stock of what lawmakers did or did not accomplish in Frankfort.

Seemingly every year, the results are mixed. And this year’s session, which formally ended late Tuesday night, is no different.

The session began in January with Gov. Steve Beshear trumpeting issues such as expanded gambling and tax-code reform, but those concepts gained no traction whatsoever. Several weeks of the 60-day regular session soared by with almost nothing happening at all. Settling on a plan to provide relief to school districts whose calendars were wrecked by unusually intense winter weather was, predictably, made more difficult than it needed to be, but at least the issue was resolved. And, ultimately, legislators managed to pass a two-year budget – which includes more funding than had been anticipated for higher education – and two-year road plan before the hourglass emptied.

Significant pieces of unfinished business linger, however. High-profile measures regarding restoring felons’ voting rights, the deregulation of landline telephone service, beefing up state ethics enforcement and intensifying the state’s response to a growing heroin problem all faded. Meanwhile, folks in the Lexington area – along with anyone else entrenched in the University of Kentucky vs. University of Louisville rivalry – are miffed that no funding for a Rupp Arena renovation was reached, even though the state ponied up millions for Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center and convention center.

Of these, the most disappointing inaction involves heroin, the powerful – and often devastating – opiate that has been thrust into the national spotlight amid a wave of arrests and deaths, including that of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February. Kentucky, which still deals daily with the scourge of methamphetamine, can hardly afford to allow another menacing drug to sweep across the population. The toll on families, law enforcement and public safety would be steep.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Tuesday that he will ask Beshear to consider a special session to revive the heroin bill, which was halted by political disagreements over proposed needle exchanges and the constitutionality of suggested penalties against heroin traffickers.

We agree that some provisions need work. So, as much as we’d prefer to see immediate movement on this pressing issue, we’d rather get it right than to crowbar through the system an imperfect law at additional taxpayer expense. Let’s skip the special session, but commit to spending the rest of 2014 consulting law enforcement officials and abuse counselors about how best to hinder the spread of heroin. Let’s figure out how to most effectively address the problem before it compounds into a dark force that’s too large for us to comprehend, much less control.

Let’s work toward developing a can’t-fail bill in 2015 that makes a strong statement against heroin in Kentucky. A year is a long time to wait when lives are at stake, but we think spending time to do this well is a necessary investment in the state’s future.