One of the cardinal rules of every legislative session is that as the calendar gets shorter, the number of working hours each day invariably grows longer.
Last week, the last full one on the General Assembly’s schedule, proved to be no different.
It began on a high note, when on Tuesday Gov. Beshear signed into law legislation I sponsored to make some needed changes to last year’s landmark ‘pill mill’ legislation, which has already played a major role in cutting back the illegal tide of prescription drugs that kill three Kentuckians a day.
This update does such things as ensure that hospitals and long-term care facilities no longer have to make individual reports to the state’s prescription-drug monitoring system each time they provide medicine to admitted patients. There also will be more leeway for patients suffering from acute pain, such as those with cancer or who just had major surgery.
Crucially, the law will now better mesh with a permanent round of regulations that the physician licensing boards finalized this month. There had been some concern about the breadth of emergency regulations put in place last fall, but these permanent changes are much more focused on the most abused prescription drugs and will make it easier for law-abiding doctors and patients alike while not hampering the work being done by law enforcement.
During the middle part of the week, the House finalized its plans to re-draw legislative districts for its 100 members in light of population changes over the last decade.
As you may recall, the General Assembly adopted House and Senate redistricting plans last year, but the Kentucky Supreme Court later ruled that both had split too many counties, even though the number of splits for the House was the same as the plan adopted in 2002.
Under the new guidelines, smaller counties generally must not be split unless that is the only way to ensure the population of each legislative district is roughly the same. Understandably, that limits the number of maps that can be drawn – and as always when redistricting is done each decade, it means that many legislators will have to represent new areas.
Our 95th District would change only slightly, to include all of Floyd County while expanding into Pike County.
The hope is that the state Senate will take up redistricting in the time we have left to vote on bills; otherwise, this plan will not become law and will have to be approved again later.
We do not want to do this when the next legislative session convenes in January, because that is when the filing deadline is. That would give candidates and voters alike only a few days to learn their new districts, a situation that should be avoided.
In addition to redistricting, another issue I hope is resolved soon is enacting sensible reforms of our public pensions while finding a viable way to pay down their long-term liability. Gov. Beshear, other legislative leaders and I have been meeting to see if there is a way to move forward in the time we have left.
For now, the General Assembly is scheduled to wrap up much of its work early this week and then leave briefly for what is known as the veto recess. My colleagues and I will then return later this month to consider any possible vetoes Gov. Beshear may have.
Although not tied to legislation, I want to take a moment to note some recent good news for the state. On Thursday, the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet announced that the state’s unemployment rate in January had dropped to its lowest level in four years.
One reason for that is a fact highlighted by Site Selection magazine, which recently ranked Kentucky 10th among the states in its annual report on industrial activity. The magazine says that businesses announced more than 350 major projects across the state in 2012, which represented more than 14,000 new jobs and an investment of nearly $2.7 billion.
We still have a lot of work to get us back to where we were this past decade, of course, but it appears that we are heading in the right direction.
While we may be nearing the end of a legislative session, I still encourage you to let me know your views now and throughout the year. You can always leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.