An embattled bill establishing a medical review panel system for use in civil litigation against long term care facilities dominated Senate floor action on Wednesday.
Supporters claim the measure will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits against nursing homes, while opponents maintain the plan will make it harder for nursing home residents and their families to get their day in court for a facility’s neglect or abuse.
Senate Bill 9, which was fast-tracked to the Senate floor last week, resurfaced back in the Senate Health and Welfare committee where it began yesterday. The bill’s atypical odyssey traces back to a schism between Democrat and lawyer Sen. Ray Jones from Pikeville who accused committee chair Julie Denton of rushing action on the bill without hearing opposing views in committee last week.
Senator Jones commandeered the Senate floor Wednesday to air a lengthy argument against Senate Bill 9, which he deems as an unfair indictment of trial lawyers and an injustice to mistreated patients in nursing homes. The sponsor of SB 9, Senator Denton, presented a second iteration of the bill in committee where it was advanced to the Senate floor late yesterday afternoon. That’s where she gives the following explanation:
The debate’s intensity reached its zenith when Pikeville Democrat Ray Jones offered a stern defense of trial attorneys and literally illustrated with dramatically shocking photos showing evidence of neglect of some nursing home patients.
After lengthy debate, Senate Bill 9 cleared the State Senate on a vote of 23 to 12, along party lines. It now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration there.
A bill that supporters say will not only solve crimes but also exonerate the innocent and save taxpayer money was before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday afternoon. House Bill 89 would add Kentucky to the 25 other states (and the federal government) that allow DNA collection (by mouth swab) at the point of felony arrest. A New Mexico woman who lost her daughter, Katie, to violent crime in 2003 is an ambassador for the law that bears her daughter’s name. The proposal in Kentucky embodied in HB 89 would allow DNA collection from persons arrested for homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, and burglary. Jayann Sepich testified that in the three-year time span it took to catch and convict her daughter’s killer, he had murdered eleven other women in the meantime.
Later this month, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of collecting DNA at the point of arrest and is expected to render a decision in June. In January, President Obama signed into law a Congressional measure to help states pay for arrestee DNA collection for the first year that states participate in the program. This would translate into a $30 million dollar grant for Kentucky.
Ernie Lewis, with the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, voiced his opposition to the bill. He said even though the power of DNA to convict the guilty and free the innocent is widely known, he believes the proposed statute blurs the line.
Despite objections, Representative Mary Lou Marzian’s House Bill 89 cleared the House Judiciary panel and now heads to the House for consideration by the full chamber.
The House Judiciary panel also approved a familiar human trafficking bill by Representatives Sannie Overly, a Democrat, and Addia Wuchner, a Republican. House Bill 3 enhances current human trafficking laws to create a fund from fines and assets seized for the offense; allows victims of forced labor to sue their traffickers for unpaid wages and punitive damages; ensures that child victims of trafficking are not charged with prostitution and give them services through the Health cabinet rather than committed to the juvenile justice department. The measure now advances to the House floor for consideration by the entire body.
Watch Legislative Update each weeknight during the session for a recap of the day’s events at 11pm ET on KET and follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day.