Medical legislation moving through committees

BY RALPH ALVARADO

State Senator

The Kentucky General Assembly officially reached the halfway mark of the 30-day session, but not without Mother Nature making her presence known.

I hope you remained safe during the winter weather that rolled into the Bluegrass late last week. Join me in taking a moment to thank the fantastic people with our Transportation Cabinet and utility companies who have braved the weather to keep our lights on and our roads clear. They are unsung heroes.

Multiple bills cleared the Senate this week, but I want to provide a Health and Welfare Committee report. As chairman, I strive to make each meeting productive. When good legislation becomes law, you can rest assured that a bill’s nuts and bolts were added during its time in committee. I think it is crucial to place good bills in a position to ultimately pass, so this past week included two meetings of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, each with a robust agenda. They featured testimony from the cabinet’s secretaries for Health and Family Services and the Transportation Cabinet.

Bills clearing the committee included measures to address ongoing issues related to Managed Care Organizations. Two bills, both sponsored by a friend and colleague, Sen. Steve Meredith, seek to improve the Medicaid system.

One is Senate Bill 56, limiting the number of MCO contracts in the state. This will help with health care costs because each organization would be more stabilized by a larger share of customers, leading to improved service and benefits to beneficiaries.

Additionally, SB 55 deals with the elimination of co-payments for Medicaid recipients. Both bills passed the committee without dissent.

Additional bills clearing the committee included two of mine, SB 51, relating to addiction treatment, and SB 90, which would prohibit an MCO or the cabinet from withholding primary care services from a Medicaid beneficiary. SBs 66, 148, and 154 also cleared the committee. Remember, you can visit legislature.ky.gov to find details on all of these bills and others.

I am happy to say that SB 16, relating to colon cancer screening and prevention, and SB 74, related to dementia services, which I outlined in last week’s column, received full passage in the Senate and are now in the House’s care.

I hope to see them cross the finish line and be delivered to the governor before the end of the session. These measures are necessary steps toward improving health care in our state and build on past efforts. We all long for the day when illnesses like cancer and dementia-related diseases are no longer the cause of human suffering.

Joining them in passing was another bill I sponsored, SB 12, which will preserve the nonprofit nature of eye tissue donation by prohibiting for-profit entities from procuring any eye, cornea, eye tissue, or corneal tissue. It ensures that a person may not, for valuable consideration, knowingly purchase, sell, transfer, or offer to buy, sell, or transfer any human organ for transplantation or therapy. A for-profit organization has been attempting to corner the market on eye tissue donation, so this bill serves to make sure that does not happen in Kentucky.

Additional bills that were discussed and passed in the State Senate last week were:

SB 29 provides Kentucky’s attorney general, commonwealth’s attorneys and county attorneys security against financial liability resulting from their sworn performance of duty to prosecute state law. Losses would be compensated by funds appropriated to the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

SB 36 removes the automatic transfer of a child from a district court to a circuit court to be tried as an adult in cases involving the use of firearms. The bill brings juvenile cases involving a gun in alignment with the standards applied to any other juvenile case. It would also require the district court to consider whether or not the child has a severe intellectual disability.

SB 73 extends the timeline for action for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in cases before them. Currently, the commission is struggling with caseloads that staffing levels are not fully able to manage.

SB 77 improves diversity on superintendent screening committees by reforming committee memberships in school districts where the minority student population is 50 percent or greater.

SB 80 strengthens oversight of peace officers who conduct themselves in a criminal or unprofessional way by easing a council’s ability to revoke certification. The bill also puts in place hiring procedures that will help ensure an officer does not avoid consequences by leaving one agency to work for another. The bill will increase societal trust and has the support of law enforcement organizations.

SB 84 provides women in state correctional facilities who are pregnant with an understanding of the community-based resources available to them by connecting them with social workers to help in the child’s placement. This bill ends placing pregnant inmates, or those within six weeks of delivery of a child, in solitary confinement. I consider this a pro-life measure. We must keep the best interest of an innocent child in mind.

SB 120 redefines “parimutuel wagering” to include historical horse racing following a recent court ruling stating the definition was incompatible with historical horse racing. This was a very difficult vote for me, as it was for several members. Debate on the bill was robust, not only in the chamber but also across the state and legislators’ districts. We have been debating this issue since 1860, and I believe the constitutionality of this bill will remain nebulous.

Nevertheless, the Kentucky Supreme Court indicated that the legislature needed to speak on the definition of parimutuel wagering. I think, ultimately, the voters of Kentucky must speak on this measure directly via a constitutional amendment, but during the pandemic when so many have suffered financially, I could not forget about the people of the 28th District and their jobs here. They would be harmed without the passage of this bill.

As you can see, the General Assembly is hard at work. I am hopeful that inclement weather will not slow down our efforts. Should the weather remain as brutal as it has been, please avoid being out at all costs. This will help lessen the potential calls for first responders’ service and enable road workers and linemen to do the challenging jobs they have. If you must be out, please be safe and mindful.

 Please feel free to call me about these issues or any other public policy issue toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Ralph.Alvarado@LRC.ky.gov.

Senator Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) represents the 28th State Senate District, including Clark and Montgomery counties and the eastern portion of Fayette County.