Senate Judiciary panel approves bills tightening penalties for heroin traffickers; broadening police power at hospitals

02/09/2017 03:58 PM

FRANKFORT — Two pieces of legislation tied to Kentucky’s heroin problem cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with unanimous votes on Thursday.

Senate Bill 17, which would increase the penalty for those who traffic in heroin or fentanyl to a felony on a first offense, was touted as a needed tool for police in the fight against the opiate drug scourge by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union.

The retired law enforcement officer turned lawmaker told colleagues on the panel the General Assembly, including himself, made a “tragic mistake” in lowering the offense for trafficking in 2011 reforms.

Schickel did concede on one portion of the legislation allowing people who are convicted of a class c felony that were charged with less than two grams eligible for parole after 20 percent of the sentence served. Those over two grams would have to serve 50 percent of their time before being eligible for parole.

Rebecca Ballard DiLoreto, of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke in opposition to the legislation.

Citing three main points, DiLoreto said there are concerns that the legislation should be approached in conjunction with the efforts of the overhauls to the criminal justice system.

There are also concerns with the broadness in Kentucky’s trafficking laws, which DiLoreto said could create unintended situations where users sharing drugs could trigger a larger offense if prosecutors charge one of the users with possession of all of the drugs. She suggested the General Assembly look at “tightening the language with respect to trafficking.”

Another concern raised was the overall costs brought to the state with an increased prison population, rather than diversions into drug treatment programs.

The bill was passed 9 to 0 and is expected to be heard on the Senate floor.

Lawmakers in the committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 42, which would expand the powers of police to arrest for probable cause of a misdemeanor at hospitals and hospital parking lots.

Linda Robinson, a nurse with St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky, said violence is increasing in Kentucky’s hospitals — which has been increased with the uptick in heroin abuse.

The issue of allowing police to arrest for probable cause piqued the interest of Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, who was puzzled as to why this was not already a law and why police are not allowed to arrest everywhere for probable cause, and not just in hospitals.

Currently, police cannot arrest on probable cause for a misdemeanor offenses in Kentucky, a crime would have to be witnessed by an officer. But, Schickel, the bill’s sponsor, said he thought a narrowly defined bill is what was needed and he would not be in favor of broadened police powers.

Senate Bill 42 was placed on the consent calendar for the full Senate’s action.


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