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Time Running Out on Heroin Bill

The clock is ticking on legislation to address the state’s heroin problem.

With the days waning in the legislative session, both the state House and Senate have passed their own versions of a heroin bill. A final version -- which defines sentencing guidelines for drug traffickers, treatment options and whether a needle exchange will be included -- has yet to be nailed down.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican, said he’s not sure when the bill will pass.

“I’m not sure, obviously time’s getting pretty short,” said Westerfield, chairman of the committee that passed the Senate’s version of the bill. Still, he remained hopeful for a compromise: “There’s a lot of room in the middle for us to find things that both chambers like.”

Westerfield indicated that he was in favor of letting local health districts set up needle exchange programs. That provision is included in the House version of the bill and has been controversial among Senate Republicans.

“I’m a yes vote for it,” Westerfield said. “I think the net is positive and not a negative and it’s worth it to me. And I know some other members are.”

The Senate’s version of the bill would also charge all heroin traffickers with a Class C felony. The House version would charge drug “peddlers,” traffickers and aggravated traffickers with increasing penalties.

The General Assembly has until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to pass bills before the legislature adjourns for the week-and-a-half long veto period. During that time, the governor can approve or dismiss legislation.

Legislators would also be able to pass bills after the veto period on the 23rd and 24th of March, but those days are normally reserved for responding to potential vetoes from the governor.

Last year the bill passed the Senate but died in the House during the last minutes of the legislative session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, says leaders in from both parties and chambers are working on a compromise.

“This is one area that we’ve tried to avoid getting mired up in politics,” Stumbo said.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat who sponsored the House version of the bill said he’s confident the bill will pass this session.

“There are things we can do in this bill that will have an immediate impact on saving lives and easing suffering and treating addiction and I think that’s what we all need to keep in mind,” Tilley said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.