Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

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February 4, 2012

Pending redistricting ruling overshadows legislative business

FRANKFORT — It has been hurry up and wait this week in Frankfort. With everyone waiting to learn if a Franklin Circuit Judge will throw out the legislature’s plan to re-draw legislative districts and a hold on the filing deadline for fall elections, lawmakers are watching the calendar and court docket more closely than that day’s orders.

Judge Phillip Shepherd issued two orders, one delaying the filing deadline until Feb. 7, the other asking lawmakers to explain if several features of their maps comply with the state constitution and prior court rulings. When he did, most legislative business ground to a halt.

“Yes, the session is probably not going anywhere fast,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, when reporters asked if the uncertainty was affecting the session. He then announced lawmakers would take Friday off, thereby saving a day that can be used later in the 60-day session, which must conclude by April 15.

Over in the Senate — which tends to get moving more slowly than the House as it awaits House action on the budget — Sen. Damon Thayer, D-Georgetown, who is expected to offer a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling, said not just yet.

“I think there is so much uncertainty right now that to move forward with such a hot-button issue is not a good idea,” Thayer said.

The second most asked question (after how will Shepherd rule) is how many votes are there for gambling in the Senate?

Gov. Steve Beshear said he’s confident there are 23, the minimum necessary to pass an amendment. Others aren’t so sure, especially since some votes may depend on the precise wording of any amendment. Late in the week, Beshear said it’s ready to go but he wouldn’t offer any specifics.

The two chambers still haven’t passed a new map for congressional districts but there were signs near the end of the week that the Republican controlled Senate and Democratic controlled House were getting closer to a compromise. But Thursday ended without the release of a plan or map. Stumbo offered some hints, however: all of Pulaski and Wayne counties would be in Hal Rogers’ 5th District as well as part of Boyd and maybe Carter counties. Daviess County would remain in the 2nd District.

Stumbo announced Thursday he had filed a bill to rein in the over- prescription of painkillers. The bill would require pain clinics to be owned by licensed health care professionals, require any prescriber or dispenser of such medications to register with the state’s electronic tracking system and to maintain reports on patients to whom the drugs are prescribed. He would also move that tracking system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the Office of Attorney General and push medical licensing board to crack down on those who over prescribe.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, is sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would require such facilities to be owned by physicians but he has agreed to work with other senators to add some other provisions similar to at least some in Stumbo’s bill.

The “pill mill” issue is one of two major drug problems lawmakers want to address. The other is the “shake and bake” methamphetamine labs, which leave behind toxic wastes and can explode, posing dangers to bystanders and law enforcement. Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, and Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, are sponsoring bills to require prescriptions for products that include pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the labs. But people who depend on those over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies are opposed to the measure. As with most of other contentious or controversial issues, lawmakers aren’t likely to act until the uncertainty about filing deadlines is resolved.

That includes the budget, although many lawmakers say the legislature will likely pass Beshear’s proposal largely intact. After all, there’s no money, the budget will include painful cuts, and lawmakers facing voters this fall would rather have Beshear’s fingerprints on such a budget.

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.

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