Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is laying out his priorities for the current legislative session. They include creating a fund for opioid lawsuit settlements to fight substance abuse, mandatory human trafficking education for truck drivers, allowing the Office of the Attorney General to petition the Supreme Court for multi-county grand juries and creating audits for utility companies before rate hikes are approved.
Beshear’s priorities come as he runs for Governor Matt Bevin’s seat in a Democratic primary that includes three other candidates. Here’s a rundown of the measures he announced Wednesday:
Opioid Settlement Fund
Beshear said that as settlements begin to come in from his lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, there needs to be a mechanism to quickly disperse the money to help with the opioid crisis.
“This measure would create not just a moral but a legal obligation for every single dollar that we recover in these opioid lawsuits to be spent addressing the epidemic,” Beshear said.
House Bill 44, sponsored by Dennis Keene, a Democrat from Wilder, would create a committee that would decide how to spend the money, instead of waiting for the next budgeting process in the legislature.
Representatives Angie Hattan, a Democrat from Whitesburg and Chris Harris, a Democrat from Forest Hills, are introducing House Bill 16, which would require the Public Service Commission to audit a utility company before a rate hike is approved.
“If you’re going to give our utilities monopolies, which they have to provide power or gas or water, they have to be able to provide those basic needs at a price that all of our families can afford,” Beshear said.
The bill would also require regular audits, and the Public Service Commission would be allowed to consider the affordability of the rate hikes in their approval, though “affordability” hasn’t been defined.
Human Trafficking Education
House Bill 162 would require any Kentuckian getting a commercial driver’s license – typically truck drivers – to watch a short video on recognizing and reporting human trafficking.
This bill is sponsored by Representative Ruth Ann Palumbo, a Democrat from Lexington, as well as a large group of bipartisan lawmakers. Beshear said his office is currently investigating 32 human trafficking cases.
“The trucking industry is targeted, and they walk these kids — I mean they target boys and girls aged 12 to 14 — and they walk them from cab to cab to cab,” Beshear said. “But I know at least in one of those cabs is a responsible parent and adult, that with the right training will make that call will help us save that child.”
A similar bill was introduced in the past two sessions but was never heard.
Beshear is also pushing for House Bill 65, which would allow the Kentucky Attorney General to petition the state Supreme Court for a statewide or multi-county grand jury.
Sponsored by Jeff Donohue, a Democrat from Jefferson County, Beshear said this authority allowed the attorney general in Pennsylvania to investigate and subpoena eight Catholic dioceses to uncover how the churches had covered up sexual abuse of minors.
Beshear’s move follows a report from the Courier Journal last year that found the Louisville Archdiocese paid more than $25 million in the early 2000s to 240 alleged victims who said they were sexually abused by priests and other people working in the church.
Beshear also said he’s calling on the legislature to expand sports betting, including online poker to help bring in $550 million in revenue to pay for the Kentucky public pension system.
“It’s time that we stepped up and were able to provide a dedicated revenue stream to our pension system, while at the same time not raising taxes on any single Kentuckian,” Beshear said.