Governor says he can't grant immunity to first responders who use anti-overdose drug on heroin victims

06/30/2014 02:18 PM

UPDATED WITH REACTION: Gov. Steve Beshear and his lawyers decided Monday that the governor doesn’t have the power through an executive order to give immunity to first responders who use Naloxone to help someone in the throes of a heroin overdose.

Unless Beshear suddenly decides to call a special session, that means any of the objectives of a bill aimed at curbing Kentucky’s heroin problem will have to wait until lawmakers return for the 2015 session in January.

Immunity for first responders was a key provision of a heroin-related bill that failed to pass the General Assembly this spring. Since then, Beshear has said he was looking to use his executive powers to accomplish some of the goals of the unfinished bill, starting with the wider use of Naloxone.

“My executive authority does not extend to granting immunity as provided in the bill,” Beshear said in a statement to Pure Politics. “We are six months away from the next legislative session and are hopeful that we can work with the House and Senate leadership to get a bill passed during the session that will cover this critical issue.”

That drug has been found to counter the effects of a heroin overdose. Police, firefighters and emergency personnel are increasingly turning to the drug to save the lives of addicts, as the New York Times most recently reported earlier this month.

Other officials, like Democratic state Rep. John Tilley, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, have said they’d like to to make Naloxone widely available to Kentuckians — even through over-the-counter sales at drug stores.

Republican state Senate President Robert Stivers told Pure Politics he agreed with the governor’s reasoning even if he still is frustrated that the state House didn’t act sooner on the heroin bill after receiving it on Jan. 16.

Stivers had questioned Beshear’s use of executive orders to expand Medicaid and implement a health exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. At the same time, Stivers has remained a chief proponent of the heroin bill.

Stivers now said the General Assembly must focus on passing a bill to combat heroin as soon as the session begins in January because the time has passed for a special session.

But with the heroin bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Katie Stine of Southgate, retiring, it’s unclear who will carry it next year.

“We have multiple people who could carry it in the Senate. (Sen.) Whitney Westerfield, for one, or to be quite frank, I could,” Stivers said. “I’m gong to do all I can do. We will see when we get closer. But it should be a priority bill – not only of the Senate – but a priority bill for the legislature.”


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