Tax Dollars and Pain Pills

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Updated: 3/27/2012 11:51 pm
It’s the final full week of the 2012 Kentucky legislative session and lawmakers are scrambling to finish work on a couple of big issues:  how to spend your tax dollars and how to curb the deadly problem of prescription pill abuse.
 
Tuesday marked the second day of budget negotiations on a two year, $19 billion spending plan which takes effect July 1.  Lawmakers have to reach a deal by 3 am Thursday to get a vote in the Senate and House.
 
The debt level is a central issue.  "In a tight time we're trying to reduce the structural imbalance, not use bonding to cover current expenses,” said Senator Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, the floor leader.  The Republican controlled Senate proposes $161 million less in bonding than the Democrat run House, which suggests $552 million.  Governor Steve Beshear proposed $969 in new debt.
 
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Paintsville, says the Senate’s proposal to not protect bonding for school construction projects in the future could be a deal breaker.  "It's probably the best program that I've ever seen done in all the years I've been here, it’s built schools all over the state,” Stumbo said of the schools facilities construction fund.  “We just hate to see it abandoned."
 
Districts have been tapping into the fund, which has a bonding pool of $100 million or more, since 1985.
 
"Everybody wants good schools and everything else, but in a time like this how much bonding can you afford and everybody has to sacrifice a little bit,” Stivers said.
 
Another big issue which is requiring compromise, but is far from finished, is how to curtail prescription pill abuse.  Drug overdoses now kill more people in Kentucky than auto accidents.
 
A compromise bill is moving through the Senate which would regulate pain clinics by allowing only doctors to own them.  The altered House bill would also change which agency oversees the state’s electronic monitoring of prescriptions.  The system, known as KASPER, is currently run by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.  House leaders wanted the Attorney General’s office to oversee KASPER. 
 
That change was made in the Senate Judiciary, where the compromise bill also included safeguards for the doctors who write the prescriptions.
 
"I would have maybe done it differently but we tried to put safeguards to alleviate fears of the medical profession by it being over there and that's why we've got limited access on the information, this data, so it's not just a wide open investigation for doctors,” explained Senator Tom Jensen, R-London, Judiciary Chairman.
 
Starting July 1, 2013 physicians will have to report the pain pill prescriptions they write within 24 hours.  While the Kentucky Medical Association’s lawyer told lawmakers the doctors’ group still opposes the switch to the AG’s office, some of the concerns have been softened by the altered legislation.

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