Legislative Update – 3/3/17

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Standing in the back of the House Chambers on Thursday, I witnessed the culmination of over a decade’s worth of hard work as I watched the House of Representatives pass Senate Bill 4.  This bill creates a panel of experts to review and provide opinions on frivolous medical lawsuits that wreak havoc on Kentucky’s healthcare system. I’ve written about this bill numerous times before, but I cannot understate how important this reform will be to our everyday lives. One of the nursing homes in our district is paying up to $1.9 million annually in medical malpractice insurance to care for 140 patients.  That is over $13,500 per year per patient.  That is a business model that is flawed and unsustainable.  That cost is paid by the frail and elderly in our district who see fewer benefits and higher costs. The only beneficiaries are the bad-actor, out-of-state trial attorneys who use Kentucky courtrooms as a piggy bank.

I have heard arguments from opponents about the “losers” with Senate Bill 4; there is only one group who loses with this bill — the same trial attorneys I just mentioned. The rest of us will still have our constitutionally protected access to the courts. Medical providers who commit inexcusable errors will still be held accountable for their decisions. Providers who practice good medicine (the vast majority of us) can begin to trust our own judgment again and move away from defensive medicine, which only increases costs and exposes patients to unnecessary risks.  I want to see providers return to the academic standards with which we were all trained to provide our patients with the care and attention they deserve. Medical Tort Reform is one of the main reasons I ran for political office. This bill is a great first step toward reducing costs and improving care for Kentuckians.

The Senate took up several other bills that expanded protections for Kentucky citizens. Below is a brief summary:

·         Senate Bill 236 grants parents the right to request a background check from the child abuse and neglect registry for a potential child care provider. This is commonsense legislation. Why have the registry if parents and guardians cannot use it to make better choices regarding who cares for their children?
·         House Bill 180 expands the definition of who can take custody of a child when he/she is removed from a home. Currently, every effort is made to place the child in the care of relatives, even if it is not in the best interest of the child. This bill expands placement to “fictive kin” which is defined as “a person who has an emotionally significant relationship with the child.”  This should allow the system to place children with guardians who truly have their best interest at heart.
·         Senate Bill 224 extends the statute of limitations on sexual assault crimes from one year to five years and from five to ten years for sexual assaults involving minors.
·         Senate Bill 91, also known as “Tim’s Law,” helps people with mental disorders and their families by mandating adherence to a treatment plan and monitoring individuals receiving medication. Noncompliance is the major cause of the rehospitalization, incarceration, and degradation of health of people who live with a mental disorder.
·         Senate Bill 32 gives prescribing doctors who choose to access it information regarding any patient’s criminal record prior to prescribing medication via the KASPER system.
·         Senate Bills 112 and 126 continue the long journey toward shoring up the ailing pension system. There is no quick fix to this problem, but protecting our State Police Retirement is vital to honoring the sacrifices made by those who have served and also to continue recruiting skilled men and women into this dangerous line of work. Moreover, removing county employees from KERS is an important aid in allowing the General Assembly to narrow its focus on the retirement systems that have the biggest deficit and begin to make moves toward fixing it. Allowing the better-funded CERS employees to remain in the current system creates an inaccurate picture of the unfunded liability.

Toward the end of the week, I paid a visit to some of the students in our schools who will shape Kentucky’s bright future.  On Wednesday, I welcomed to the Capitol St. Agatha’s fourth graders.   On Thursday, I visited with the students of Beaumont Middle School in Lexington.  I had a great exchange with both groups about the importance of education in my life, my role as a senator and doctor, and my experience as Kentucky’s first Latino senator. I love it when I can make time to meet with students, and I have many more visits scheduled when session officially concludes at the end of March. Additionally, I met with Joshua Preston, whose project on the effects of smoking and pregnancy is one of the more fascinating things I’ve seen this week. Our discussion imagined a wondrous future for medicine, and I was thrilled to chat with him about the impressive work he’s done.

I was delighted to share a tremendous Kentucky Proud lunch with our agriculture extension agents this Friday.  These folks work diligently to provide our agricultural community all the resources they need to ensure success for our hardworking farmers. I was proud to bring back several Clark County products to share with people in my office suite, including Ale-8 One and Winchester dairy products; featuring our famous beer cheese.

Finally, I got to visit this week with Tracy Pierce, Gail Wright, and other tourism and development folks from the 28th District.  I don’t say enough about the exciting work being done by these individuals to bring jobs to our commonwealth.  Development, however, is about more than jobs, and I’m also excited about the expansion of hiking trails, revamped state and local parks, and other recreational projects coming down the pike. I think we are looking ahead to a wonderful time of growth and prosperity in our district, and thanks is owed to the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring such exciting opportunities to us. I should mention that I did not eat any of the fried apple pie treats left to me by Tracy. Dawn would not have wanted me to, but my staff told me they were excellent.