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Friday, April 20, 2012

In The FEUD Between Steve Beshear And David Williams Over Vetoed Projects In His District, Beshear Appears Victorious And Kentucky's "Annual Special" Session Ends.

Kentucky special session ends with passed transportation budget, pill mill bill Legislators wrap up both issues left hanging earlier Written by Tom Loftus and Mike Wynn FRANKFORT, KY. — Eager to avoid a second week, Kentucky legislators ended their special session Friday after five days, successfully hammering out an agreement on a transportation budget and a bill to fight prescription drug abuse. Neither the House nor the Senate got everything it wanted, but Friday’s agreements resolved the two issues that prompted Gov. Steve Beshear to angrily call legislators back to work after the regular session collapsed April 12 over transportation funding. In the end, the Senate wasn’t able to restore Beshear’s vetoed funding for road projects in and near Senate President David Williams’ district. And the House didn’t get a provision in the prescription-drug bill that would have moved a drug-tracking system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general’s office. Nonetheless, the two sides that spent most of the regular session sniping at one another found enough common ground to adjourn the session on the fifth day, the minimum number needed to pass legislation. But it still cost taxpayers roughly $300,000 — about $60,000 per day. “I am thrilled, and Kentuckians should be as well, that the General Assembly joined with me in taking a giant step forward in addressing one of the biggest problems facing our people — prescription drug abuse,” Beshear said in a statement after the session ended. In the Senate’s final hours it was Williams who made the motion to drop the amendment to restore his road project funding, after the House ruled they could not be considered as part of the special session’s limited agenda. Williams, R-Burkesville, said Beshear did not have to veto the $50 million of projects that Williams had put in the plan, because he could have simply chosen not to build them. “It was just an act of vindictiveness, defiance, and maybe he’s gotten that out of his bloodstream,” Williams said. “I hope he has.” For his part, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he had hoped a stronger version of the prescription drug bill could have passed. Still he called the approved version a “major step forward” and said he expected Beshear would use his executive powers to address issues the bill excluded. Stalled over road projects Beshear called the special session because the Senate had refused to pass the transportation budget during the regular session. The transportation budget is needed to pay for road projects and other state transportation programs when the new fiscal year begins July 1. Beshear added the prescription-pill bill to the agenda after it died in the Senate on the last day of the regular session. The antipathy between Williams and Beshear reached a head Wednesday when Beshear signed into law a six-year road construction plan passed by the legislature — but only after vetoing $50 million of projects in Williams’ district in south-central Kentucky. Beshear accused Williams of greed by bumping his projects ahead of others by changing their funding sources. Williams accused Beshear of vindictiveness and said the governor should seek counseling. During Friday’s debate on a transportation budget that would fund the road plan, Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, said two of the 11 projects vetoed were in his Russell County district, which adjoins Williams’ district. “We do have Kentucky citizens living down there …,” McGaha said. “And I take great offense at (these projects) being called an act of greed.” The battle over pills The approved version of House Bill 1 to combat so-called “pill mills” was the result of a last-ditch deal that removed its most controversial provision. The House and Senate clashed for weeks over how best to use the state’s prescription tracking system — known as Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting, or KASPER — in drug investigations. Data from the program can help identify doctors who prescribe excessive amounts of pain medication, fueling a drug epidemic that kills 1,000 Kentuckians each year. The final version of HB 1 mandates that doctors who prescribe schedule II and III narcotics participate in KASPER and run regular reports on patients. It also stipulates that pain clinics be owned by licensed physicians. But the two chambers could never reach a compromise on transferring KASPER from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general. Sen. Tom Jensen, a London Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers were concerned in the end about giving the attorney general unlimited authority to run KASPER reports that are tantamount to “fishing expeditions.” “We want to protect innocent people’s rights and medical records,” he said. “I think it has a chilling effect on doctors that say, ‘Gosh, I’m going to be looked at every time I prescribe a controlled substance.’ ” Even so, Stumbo said Friday he expects Beshear to act aggressively to accomplish some of the goals left out in the final version of the bill. When asked by reporters if Beshear can move KASPER using an executive order, Stumbo replied that the governor has broad reorganizational powers. “The governor, I believe, is really serious about this problem,” he said.

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