Governor undecided on meds-for-meth bill, says time hasn’t come for state smoking ban, but may back nursing-home legislation

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Gov. Steve Beshear says he hasn’t made up his mind about the bill that would require prescriptions for decongestants used to make methamphetamine, but he sounds skeptical. And he doesn’t think Kentucky is ready for a statewide smoking ban, but he might endorse legislation to better protect residents of nursing homes.

Beshear addressed the three health issues under questioning from Bill Bryant of Lexington’s WKYT-TV on the latest “Kentucky Newsmakers,” broadcast today. To watch the broadcast, click here.

“I’m personally conflicted” about the meds-for-meth bill, Beshear said, but his more specific remarks indicated skepticism. He said people in law enforcement are “pushing very hard” for the bill, and noted that such a law greatly reduced the number of meth labs in Oregon, and might do the same in Mississippi, but he suggested the numbers might go back up.

“They’ll just go across the state line and get it across the counter,” he said of meth makers, adding that the problem needs a national solution, perhaps like Kentucky’s registration-and-reporting system for sales of pseudoephedrine and other decongestants. “You’re going to have to have a system that applies in every state,” he said. “I’m concerned about the millions of people who need to go buy cold medicine.”

Bryant noted that law-enforcement officials say most pseudoephedrine sold in Kentucky goes to make meth, and asked Beshear if those officials had convinced him of the need for a prescription law. “I haven’t heard that statistic,” Beshear said, reiterating his indecision. “It’s tough one because there isn’t any easy answer to it.”

The meds-for-meth bill is one of the legislature’s major issues, with drug manufacturers finacing heavy advertising campaigns against it but major political figures in Appalachian Kentucky weighing in for it. On Thursday, the bill pased a Senate committee on a bipartsan 6-4 vote after competing testimony from 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Pat Davis, the wife of 4th District Rep. Geoff Davis, all Republicans.

The bill’s supporters also include House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the legislature’s top Democrat, and Senate President David Williams, the top Republican, who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor in the May 17 primary election.

Williams also favors a statewide smoking ban. Beshear, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, said Kentucky isn’t ready for such a law, but will be once local bans become more prevalent: “Once you start getting experience with it, I think your business community becomes more comfortable with it … and people enjoy it.”

The governor said momentum for a statewide ban “is building, but I don’t think we’re at the point where everybody in the state is ready to go in that direction.” He said his administration took a step against smoking by making cessation programs eligible for Medicaid.

Asked about a Stumbo proposal to ban smoking in cars with children, Beshear called it “an interesting concept” that deserves discussion but said the idea is “probably in the same situation” as a general ban, which has been offered as a bill by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington.

Williams’ opponents in the Republican primary, Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw and Louisville businessman Phil Moffett, oppose a statewide smoking ban. Holsclaw favors local bans, but Moffett said at a recent Kentucky Press Association forum that the dangers of secondhand smoke have been “overblown.”

Bryant asked Beshear if he plans to endorse a package of nursing-home legislation. “I’m talking to legislators who have some good ideas on how we can increase the protections to our elderly,” the governor said. “We’ve got to do even better. The restrictive part is, we have no money … but that shouldn’t stop us and should not be an excuse for not doing some of the non-monetary things we can do to protect our elderly.”

Beshear was not asked about specifics of the package, but for years Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform and other advocates have lobbied for minimum staffing requirements at nursing homes. The long-term care industry, one of the more influential in Frankfort, has beaten back those efforts, arguing that homes need more flexibility and state inspections ensure proper care.

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