KET Legislative Coverage

Comment on Kentucky: Unfinished Legislative Business, Medical Breakthrough, Campaign Cash

by John Gregory | 04/21/14 2:26 PM

After a long and winding 3 1/2 months, the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly session ended as scheduled on April 15, prompting a relieved Frankfort reporter Jack Brammer to say, "I think all of us in the media should pause and give thanks to the framers of the state constitution for putting a deadline in the constitution."

Lawmakers did produce a state budget, road-building plan, and several key laws, but the panel on this weekend's Comment on Kentucky program focused on the opportunities legislators missed.

Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader said that as with many sessions, little substantive work gets done in January, momentum builds in February, then in March, legislators get down to serious work on key issues. But a proposal to address the state's heroin epidemic, which had been in play since the first day of the session, still failed to pass. Brammer said a key factor was a provision in Senate Bill 5 to charge heroin dealers with homicide if a customer of theirs died of a drug overdose.

Ryan Alessi of cn|2 said a second strike against SB 5 was language permitting needle exchanges, which some lawmakers saw as a tacit approval of heroin use. Alessi explained that in December, state House and Senate leaders outlined their top five legislative priorities for the session. Dealing with heroin abuse was the only item that appeared on both chambers' lists. Alessi faulted the leadership for not using their influence to push SB 5 through to passage.

Calls for a Special Session
Host Bill Bryant said some community leaders and law enforcement officials are already requesting a special legislative session to address the heroin bill. But few citizens, he said, are eager to spend $60,000 a day to pay lawmakers to do something they should've done in the regular session. Brammer said the calendar will also make it difficult to schedule a special session between the May primaries, summer vacations, and the November elections.

Another issue that could be on the docket should lawmakers reconvene is funding to renovate Lexington's Rupp Arena. Alessi said state legislators remain gun-shy of providing state bonding for the project until details about the University of Kentucky's lease agreement for the facility are made public. He contends UK officials are worried the financial arrangement could impact how legislators view future requests for funding educational needs at the school.

Medical Research Dollars Pay Off
The Louisville Courier-Journal's Laura Ungar reported on research to help paralysis victims move again. Using a device to electrically stimulate the spinal cord, doctors at the University of Louisville were able to give four test subjects abilities of movement they thought they had lost forever. News of the study, which was supported in part by state Bucks for Brains funding, has garnered worldwide attention.

Ungar also told about an effort by community leaders to make Louisvillians healthier by the year 2020. She said the group has issued a series of goals; ideas range from restricting consumption of salt and trans fats and to reducing pollution by limiting the idling of cars. Finally, Ungar reported on a study by the Center for Health Equity that detailed the life expectancies for people living in various Louisville neighborhoods. As  similar research has shown, the study indicates people in affluent areas live longer than those in poorer neighborhoods.

Campaign Cash in Senate Race
Ryan Alessi said the three major candidates in the U.S. Senate race had their best fundraising periods yet: Alison Lundergan Grimes received $2.7 in campaign contributions in the first quarter of 2014, while incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell netted $2.4 million, and Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin garnered $1.1 million. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of fundraising for the race, McConnell has received about 80 percent of his contributions from out-of-state donors, while Grimes has gotten about 70 percent of her donations from beyond Kentucky.

Although McConnell outpaces all contenders on total fundraising, Alessi said he's also spending more because McConnell is competing in three races at once. "He's running the primary, he's running the general election, and then he's running the Mitch McConnell brand election where he's trying to temper the frustration at Washington in general, at incumbency in general, and at him-the people who have just decided for whatever reason over the years they don't like him anymore."

Watch the full Comment on Kentucky program, which also includes discussions about how House Speaker Greg Stumbo's Twitter account may have been hacked, developments in the 2015 governor's race, and a tribute to a legendary Eastern Kentucky newspaper publisher.