In its first party line vote of 2013, Senate passes nursing home lawsuit review panel bill

02/13/2013 09:03 PM

The debate over a bill aimed at screening lawsuits against nursing homes took on a partisan flavor Wednesday as the Senate Republican majority limited debate and changes to Senate Bill 9 on its way to passage.

The Senate vote fell along party lines, 23-12, with two senators not present.

Senate Bill 9 would allow screening panels to review lawsuits against nursing homes. A panel of one attorney and three physicians would be selected from a list, which lawyers on both sides of the suit would get to whittle down. After hearing evidence and depositions, the panel would decide whether the malpractice complaint had merit. And the panel’s findings could then be used in court proceedings.

The bill took an unusual route through the Senate almost from the time Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, introduced it on Feb. 5. The following day, it passed through the Health and Welfare Committee that Denton chairs without the panel hearing from those opposed to the measure. That incensed Democratic Sen. Ray Jones, a lawyer from Pikeville. Jones criticized the process on the Senate floor last week.

By Tuesday afternoon, Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, sent Senate Bill 9 back to committee for another hearing. Wednesday morning, two opponents testified before Denton’s committee that the malpractice review panels would shield protect nursing homes that mistreat or neglect residents.

Lois Pemble, vice president of the Kentucky Initiative for Quality Nursing Home Standards, called the bill a “travesty” that ties up Kentucky’s most vulnerable population in more red tape.

“It’s the only group of people in Kentucky – including prisoners – who are precluded from bringing suit directly,” she said. “How crazy is that?”

The committee met during recess of the Senate Wednesday afternoon and passed the bill onto the full Senate with a 7-4 vote.

Once the bill was on the floor, Jones asked that his six amendments to the bill be considered. But because the bill had been amended by committee substitute Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, ruled that the amendments were out of order.

Jones then asked Denton, as the sponsor, if she would submit to a question and she replied that she would not allow any questions from Jones.

Out of procedural options, Jones resorted to a mini-filibuster of sorts. He spoke at length in opposition to the bill and telling senators that the review panels would not right the wrongs done to Kentucky’s seniors. Jones said the amendments he offered could have helped fix the bill. But he predicted that the bill, as it stood, would be “dead as a hammer” when it reaches the House chamber.

Stivers left the Senate president’s dais to deliver a speech telling members that he did not believe the bill would deny access to courts for nursing home patients.

A group on behalf of nursing homes has been airing TV ads in support of the bill since last week.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm joined cn|2 in December 2011 as a reporter for Pure Politics. Throughout his career, Nick has covered several big political stories up close, including interviewing President Barack Obama on the campaign trail back in 2008. Nick says he loves being at the forefront of Kentucky politics and working with the brightest journalists in the commonwealth. Follow Nick on Twitter @Nick_Storm. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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