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Recent Senate legislation would provide additional death benefits for first responders

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FRANKFORT – Now that we are in the second half of the session, we will see some of the legislature’s biggest issues – like the state’s biennial budget – brought to the forefront. For us, this means late nights and hard decisions as we work to reach a consensus on the most fiscally-responsible way to keep our state moving forward.

I have been following the House’s work on the budget closely, meeting with state budget officials and preparing for when budget legislation is delivered to our chamber. We anticipate that we will have the House budget soon.

We also have been debating bills in committee and in the Senate chambers. This week we saw floor action on bills intended to improve the lives of citizens across the Commonwealth. Two measures provide for the people who put their lives on the line to keep all Kentuckians safe.

One of those, Senate Bill 43 would provide a death benefit for emergency medical services personnel, if they are employed by a city or county government and are killed in the line of duty. The death benefit would be $80,000 and go to the next of kin.

SB 43 does not call for an insurance policy to be taken out. The death benefit would be paid out of the state’s general funds. While it is not known how much SB 43 would cost the state, the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services indicates that a total of nine personnel have died in the line of duty since 2002.

Senate Bill 195 would extend state-paid survivor benefits to surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters by determining that some firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers died as the result of an act performed in the line of duty. Under the bill, the firefighter would have to be 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years. Their cancer could not be attributable to a preexisting condition or tobacco – they cannot have used tobacco in the 10 years preceding diagnosis.

The death benefit would also be $80,000 and be paid out of the state’s general fund. Estimates have been made of one to four deaths per year that might be determined to be attributed to the conditions addressed in SB 195.

Some of the other bills that passed out of the Senate this week and move to the House for further consideration included:

l Senate Bill 14 would amend Kentucky’s dog-fighting law to also make it illegal to promote the practice. It would make the owning, possessing, breeding, training, selling or transferring of dogs intended for use in dog fighting a felony punishable by one to five years in prison. While the current law clearly makes dog fighting illegal in the state, Kentucky is the only state without a law addressing the promoting of dog fighting.

l Senate Bill 115 would increase penalties for dealing heroin. It would make trafficking in any amount of heroin a Class C felony for the first offense. A Class C felony is punishable upon conviction by between five and 10 years in prison. Currently, a person convicted of trafficking in under two grams of heroin faces a Class D felony on the first offense, which carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.

SB 115 would also double the time a person convicted of trafficking less than two grams of heroin would have to serve in prison before becoming eligible for parole. The bill calls for a person convicted of any amount of heroin dealing to serve 50 percent of his or her sentence before being considered for parole.

The bill would also apply to people convicted of trafficking fentanyl, a prescription painkiller similar to morphine that has also caused overdose deaths in the state.

----I opposed this bill because it prohibits addicts from getting treatment or acceptance into a drug court or other institutions that we have supported and seen positive results. Treatment does help some individuals. Furthermore, incarceration costs would increase under this bill.

We had a solemn moment on the floor of the Senate this week as we honored the life and memory of State Trooper Joesph Cameron Ponder who was fatally shot during a traffic stop last fall. His mother said it best, “He was a true hero in every sense of the word. I want him remembered for how he lived and not how he died.” To me, he was a hero and that’s how we will remember him.

On Thursday, in a break from my legislative obligations, I was honored to welcome students from across the state, especially 14 from my district, to the State Capitol for the 15th annual Posters-at-the-Capitol. Undergraduates from public universities of Kentucky and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System were in Frankfort to show off their research. This program exemplifies the high quality of the students in the commonwealth and I enjoyed meeting with our future leaders as they explained their research and findings.

The work of the legislative session will only intensify in the weeks ahead as we address our toughest issues. I welcome your input especially during the final leg of the legislative session. To leave me a message, please call the legislative message line at 800-372-7181.

You can also e-mail me at julian.carroll@lrc.ky.gov.