Thursday, February 3, 2011

Decongestant prescription bill passes panel; both parties split

After hearing an endorsement from Kentucky's senior member of Congress, and opposition from the wife of another Republican congressman, a state Senate committee voted 6-4 to require precriptions for decongestants that are often used to make methamphetamine.

Fifth District Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Somerset made what the Lexington Herald-Leader called "a rare Frankfort appearance" for the bill, at two committee meetings and a Capitol rotunda rally, but perhaps the rarer event was the contrary testimony of a colleague's spouse -- Pat Davis, wife of 4th District Rep. Geoff Davis of Hebron.

Rogers, accompanied by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Presonsburg, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that prescription laws in Mississippi and Oregon greatly reduced the number of meth labs in those states. "Our future is gravely at stake here," Rogers said. He said he was testifying to counter the heavy advertising and lobbying by decongestant manufacturers, who are running full-page newspaper ads and heavy flights of radio commercials.

The radio ads say the MethCheck electronic tracking system designed to prevent multiple purchases of decongestants for meth making "is working" and "effective," and some law-enforcement officials testified likewise yesterday, "but others in law enforcement said that the number of meth labs in Kentucky has skyrocketed even with MethCheck and that most law enforcement officers find meth labs through regular police work, such as traffic stops, not with MethCheck," Jack Brammer writes for the Herald-Leader.

On the other hand, Pat Davis "told the committee that, as a mother of six and grandmother of one, she is concerned the bill will lead to more trips to the emergency room and to the doctor," Brammer reports. Davis said all her children have allergies or asthma, and "This will drive already high medical costs higher."

The two Republican senators on the committee from Davis's district, Jack Westwood of Erlanger and John Schickel of Union, voted against the bill, along with Democrats Perry Clark of Louisville and Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville. Voting for the bill were four Republicans Carroll Gibson of Leitchfield, Tom Jensen of London, Robert Stivers of Manchester and Dan Seum of Louisville, and Democrats Ray Jones of Pikeville and Robin Webb of Grayson.

The division among Republicans appeared to short-circuit Williams' plan to have the full Senate vote on the bill later in the day. No vote was held. (Read more) Jessie Halliday of The Courier-Journal expects a Senate vote next week. (Read more)

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