Heroin, Teachers Pension Solutions Elusive in Kentucky General Assembly
With two working days to go, Kentucky lawmakers still haven’t nailed down legislation to address the state’s growing heroin problem and it's ailing teachers pension system.
On Friday, legislators from both chambers met for hours, trying to craft compromises on the bills.
A solution is starting to take shape to help shore up the teachers pension system, but the House and Senate remain divided on sentencing guidelines in the heroin bill.
Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to pass laws.
Representatives and senators were still at odds Friday afternoon over needle exchanges, sentencing guidelines for heroin traffickers, and whether to include a “good Samaritan” clause that would provide immunity to those who report heroin overdoses.
Senate President Robert Stivers repeatedly suggested that the committee stop arguing and produce a bill that only includes points that lawmakers agree on: making overdose-reversing drug naloxone more available and increasing funding for treatment programs.
“If you all are not willing to change philosophy on increasing sanctions and increasing penalties for individuals who are doing that, then I think we need to back up and say ‘what can we agree on’ and move forward,” Stivers said.
State senators want to charge all heroin traffickers with a Class C felony. Representatives wouldn’t back down from their three-tier sentencing system that would give a Class D felony to dealers who sell less than two grams of heroin, a Class C felony to those who have between two grams and under a kilogram, a Class B felony those who possess a kilogram or more.
“Our position still is that there should be a difference between trafficking and selling a very small amount versus a very large amount,” said Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat and sponsor of the House heroin bill.
Lawmakers are trying to keep the bill alive—a similar bill died in the last moments of last year’s legislative session.
In another committee, legislators tried to hammer out a possible solution to the state’s ailing teacher pension system.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo adjusted his proposal to take out a $3.3 billion bond to bail out the Kentucky Teacher Retirement Systems—suggesting the state take out the bond, but only make $1.9 billion of it available now.
As suggested by the state Senate, the legislature would commission a study of the teacher pension system. Once that study was complete, the additional $1.4 billion in bond money would be available.
Stumbo said the move allows the state to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
“If the consensus is that the market’s favorable then we ought to go ahead and allow these bonds to be issued at some level that makes the concept viable,” Stumbo said. “Then if you want to study changes, if you want to study things that would add to the viability of the fund going forward, we aren’t opposed to that.”
Last week the state Senate had stripped the House’s $3.3 billion bond proposal, replacing it outright with the study provision.