Despite a second snow-shortened week, the General Assembly passed some major legislation last week, including a bill to strip Anheuser-Bush of two beer distributorships, another to deregulate the 

telecommunications industry and one to help construct a health 

research facility at the University of Kentucky.

    The legislative sessions for Thursday and Friday were cancelled in 

the wake of a major winter storm that dumped around 16 inches of snow on the Capitol and as much as 21 inches in other parts of the state.

    But on Monday, the state Senate followed the House's lead in 

approving the so-called "AT&T bill" which will free major telephone 

carriers from the requirement to offer basic landline in exchanges of 

15,000 or more residential customers.

    Backers like Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, have pushed the bill 

for years, but in the past rural lawmakers resisted out of fear that 

older and more isolated customers would lose their landline service. 

This year's bill attempted to answer that concern by restricting the 

deregulation to exchanges of 15,000 or more.

    Consumer advocates claim that customers who move or give up 

landlines and then regret it will not have the option of regaining 

landline service. They also say wireless and Internet-based phone 

service isn't as reliable. Supporters say the change is necessary to 

allow companies like AT&T to invest in wireless technologies and 

broadband demanded by the public.

    The Senate also agreed with the House in passing a bill to strip 

Anheuser Bush of two distributorships, one purchased last fall in 

Owensboro and another the company has owned for 37 years in 

Louisville. Kentucky has traditionally relied on what is called the 

three-tiered system which separates distillers and brewers from their 

distributors and retail outlets.

    But a loophole in the law had been ignored for years as AB operated 

a distributorship in Louisville. But when it purchased a second one, 

based in Owensboro, small brewers complained the company would 

squeeze out their products. Opponents saw the bill as unfair and an 

infringement on property rights, but it passed both chambers and 

Beshear plans to sign it.

    On Wednesday, the Senate also approved HB 298 authorizing $132.5 

million in bonds for a new University of Kentucky health research 

building, although this is a non-budget session. UK will fund the 

other half of the $265     University officials and lawmakers say the 

project is needed to combat Kentucky's woeful health status—the 

commonwealth leads the nation in incidence of cancer, heart disease 

and diabetes. The building will house teams of scientists researching 

treatments and ways to diminish deaths from those diseases.

    Leaders of both chambers, led by Judiciary Chairs Rep. John Tilley, 

D-Hopkinsville, and Whitney Westerfiled, R-Hopkinsville,, continued 

to try to work out a compromise on perhaps the most high-profile 

issue in the 215 General Assembly—legislation to combat the rising 

tide of heroin addiction and trafficking.

    The Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor 

Mill, which would treat any sale of heroin in any amount as a Class D 

felony. The House measure, sponsored by Tilley, would differentiate 

between small sales of 2 grams or less by "peddlers" selling the drug 

to fellow addicts or to finance their own habits and larger sales by 

"commercial traffickers."  Tilley's bill would also allow local 

communities— if they chose—to offer needle exchange programs in an 

attempt to cut down on blood borne diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis.

    Each side has shown resistance to the penalty structure in the 

other's bill and the Senate doesn't like the needle-exchange 

provision. Still, Tilley and Westerfield as well as House Speaker 

Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-

Manchester, said they expect lawmakers will work out some sort of 

compromise.

    The House gave final passage to an "end-of-life care bill" sponsored 

by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville. A medical order for scope of 

treatment would spell out a patient's wishes for their end-of-life 

care. Unlike advance directives, the orders are considered to be 

physician's orders and are signed by both the patient or patient's 

legal surrogate, and the patient's physician.

    The Senate passed a bill which would set a minimum salary of $20,000 

but establish additional oversight for the 41 jailers in counties 

without jails. The bill is in response to an investigation by the 

Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting which showed some jailers 

in counties with no jails did little work for higher salaries and 

often employed family members as deputy jailers. The bill now goes to 

the House.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a House bill sponsored by 

Tilley which would extend civil protective orders to dating couples 

in cases of abuse. The Senate committee made slight changes to the 

bill—with no objection from Tilley—which would create a separate 

chapter of Kentucky law for the new protections for dating couples.

    The General Assembly is scheduled to complete legislative work by 

Wednesday. After an interim period while Gov. Steve Beshear decides 

to sign or veto legislation, the legislature will come back on March 

23 and 24 to consider any veto overrides.

    Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. 

Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on 

Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

   

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