After Debate Over Needle Exchanges, Kentucky House Passes Heroin Bill

Feb 13, 2015

A bill battling the state's growing heroin problem is being debated at the state capitol.
Credit Kevin Willis

Several Kentucky legislators on Friday spoke against a provision in the House’s heroin bill that would allow local health districts to start needle exchanges—but the chamber unanimously passed the bill.

“Maybe giving free needles for people to use illicit drugs sends an equally bad impression to our youth,” said Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Republican from Florence, proposed removing the needle exchange provision so it could be vetted by committee.

But the sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said needle exchanges are often the first point of contact between addicts and those who can help them recover.

The needle exchange provision was ultimately included in the bill.

But Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has indicated that the Senate would try to take out the measure in a final version of the bill.

The House bill differs from a Senate version of the legislation that passed earlier this year. Under the Senate bill, anyone charged with selling heroin could receive a Class C felony and would be required to serve half of their sentence.

The House version creates three tiers for sentencing:

  • -A Class B felony for trafficking a kilogram or more of heroin, punishable by as many as 20 years in prison.
  • -A Class C for trafficking two grams to a kilogram
  • -A Class D felony for trafficking two grams or fewer

Rep. Denver Butler, a Democrat from Louisville, advocated sentencing that focused on treatment instead of punishment.

“If your family has been affected by this scourge, you’re for treatment. If it hasn’t been, you’re for locking everybody else up,” Butler said.

The House version asks for $21 million to be set aside for treatment programs as opposed to the Senate’s $13 million.