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KY General Assembly 2018 Bill Watch

Senate panel explores medical tort-reform bill:   FRANKFORT – A sweeping measure to regulate everything from trial attorney fees, medical record copying charges and how malpractice lawsuits are brought passed the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee today.

The legislation was described as an omnibus medical tort-reform bill by sponsor Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. Among its many provisions, Senate Bill 20 would require medical malpractice lawsuits to contain an affidavit of merit. That’s a document stating that at least one doctor agrees the claim has merit.

A medical review panel opinion in favor of a patient would fulfill the affidavit of merit requirement. Senate Bill 4 from 2017 created panels of experts to review claims of medical error or neglect. If the medical review panel finds in favor of the medical provider, however, the patient would still have to get an affidavit of merit to advance to court.

A second provision would impose contingency caps on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases. The limits in this provision would still allow a lawyer to make $60,000 of contingency fees if their client wins $200,000 or $140,000 if their client wins $1 million, according to the language in SB 20.

A third provision would attempt to exempt medical peer review discussions from discovery, a pre-trial procedure in a lawsuit to obtain evidence. Medical peer review is used to determine whether accepted standards of care have been met.

Candid peer review can be a source of information for physicians to learn from unexpected events and prevent future errors. Alvarado said confidentiality of these discussions has traditionally been viewed as necessary to their effectiveness.

A fourth provision is known as the “I’m sorry” clause. It would allow health care workers to express condolences or apologies to patients or families without fear of having those words used against them in a lawsuit.

“A simple apology can defuse the anger a patient or their family feels when a mistake has occurred,” Alvarado said.

A fifth provision would regulate fees for copying medical records.

“This bill does not limit a patient from getting their medical records, but it would limit third-parties with a commercial interest from obtaining these records without paying the fees listed in this bill,” Alvarado said.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said SB 20 would do two things to substantially reduce the rights of a patient who has been harmed by a doctor’s recklessness. He said it would be unlikely that any doctor would sign off on an affidavit stating that a patient had a legitimate medical claim against another doctor.

“That is just not going to happen as a practical matter,” Thomas said. “Everybody should have their day in court.”

He said placing artificial caps on attorney fees would discourage lawyers from taking medical malpractice cases.

Alvarado said other states with similar laws on the books haven’t experienced the problems expressed by Thomas.

“I feel it is a protection against predatory legal practices in Kentucky,” said Alvarado. “Delaware and 23 other states have implemented this kind of policy and trial attorney practices in those states are alive, well and profitable.”

SB 20 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.


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Gang violence legislation heading to House floor


FRANKFORT—The first significant revision of Kentucky’s criminal gang laws since Prohibition received the approval of a House committee today.

House Bill 169, sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would crack down on the growing recruitment of criminal gang members in the state by making it a felony for adults to engage in criminal gang recruitment. Benvenuti told the House Judiciary Committee, which approved the bill, that the crime is now a misdemeanor but that stronger penalties are needed.

“Right now, we have 18, 19, 20-year-old men aggressively recruiting young children ages 8, 9, 10, and 11 into gangs,” said the Lexington lawmaker, who filed similar legislation in 2017 under HB 315. “They also recruit women, and they traffic those young women.”

Criminal gang recruitment by a minor would be a misdemeanor for a first offense but would rise to felony level for all other offenses under the bill.

Other sections of HB 169 would define “criminal gang”, “pattern of criminal gang activity,” change the number of people considered to be a “criminal gang syndicate” from five to three or more to mirror federal law, and outline judicial treatment of criminal gang-related cases.

“We have put many, many protections in place in this bill, but we retain the most important protections for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Benvenuti told the committee.

Many believe that gang violence is a big-city issue, he said. But Benvenuti said criminal gangs are found across Kentucky.

“This bill is aimed at making sure that those folks who do that are held to a true criminal standard and, importantly, we believe will deter folks from coming in and preying on our children,” Benvenuti stated.

Among those who shared their concerns with HB 169 was the Rev. Dr. Donald K. Gillett with the Kentucky Council of Churches. Rev. Gillett said the “wider net” cast by HB 169 to crack down on criminal gangs could have the unintended consequence of incriminating someone based largely on where they live or who they know. 

He called the bill “a criminal justice maze with few ways out.”

Several law enforcement officers, however, spoke in favor of the bill. Joining them was Fayette Commonwealth Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn who called HB 169 “specific,” with a heavy burden of proof.

“But in those cases where people need to be prosecuted for their actions, this will help,” Red Corn said.

HB 169 now goes to the full House for consideration.


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Senate moves accountability measure for cities


 FRANKFORT – A bill that would strengthen an existing law that requires Kentucky cities to have yearly audits passed the Senate yesterday.

Known as Senate Bill 91, the legislation would add “teeth” to the audit requirement by allowing the state to withhold money from a city that didn’t comply, said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.

“This is a transparency bill and accountability bill,” said Wilson, who sponsored SB 91. “Most cities already follow the law and submit audits on a timely basis. This bill is aimed at a few who do not comply.”

The second provision of SB 91 exempts cities with less than 2,000 residents from the yearly audit requirement. Those cities would be allowed to have biennial audits. Under current law, only cities with less than 1,000 can legally skip a year in the audit cycle.

Wilson said changing the audit requirements to every other year would provide significant financial savings to about 60 of Kentucky’s smallest cities. He said those municipalities pay around $10,000 per year on the audit. And that does not include mandatory publishing requirements or the amount of staff time it takes to work with an auditor.

“That’s very expensive for these small cities,” Wilson said.

The one-year audit requirement would still apply to any municipality that receives certain grants or federal funds.

Other provisions of SB 91 clarify some outdated and ambiguous language in the current audit requirements, Wilson said. The measure would remove a mandate that a paper copy of the audit be sent to the Department for Local Government. The audit could instead be filed electronically. SB 91 also clarifies the timing for posting notice of the completion of a financial statement.

SB 91 passed by a 37-0 vote. It now goes to the House for further consideration.


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Bill to require teaching of Holocaust passes committee


FRANKFORT— Public middle and high schools in Kentucky would teach students about the Holocaust under a bill approved today by a House committee.

Kentucky passed legislation in 2008 that required the state to develop a Holocaust curriculum for schools but did not mandate that it be taught. House Bill 128, sponsored by House Education Committee Chair John Carney, R-Campbellsville, and Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, would require instruction on the Holocaust and other acts of genocide that have been recognized by an international court of law. The House Education Committee gave its approval to the legislation today.

Several lawmakers said during today’s meeting that it is important that no one deny, nor forget, the mass murder of an estimated 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s. The genocide and mass atrocities, also called the Shoah, was orchestrated by the German Nazi regime led by Adolph Hitler.

“In my lifetime I’ve been lucky to know three Holocaust survivors” said HB 128 co-sponsor Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth. He said the bill is necessary “so we, as a society and as human race, don’t repeat what has happened in the past. If we don’t teach it, it could be repeated.”

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, thanked the sponsors of the bill for what he called “a teachable moment for all of us here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Several eighth grade students from Louisville’s parochial St. Francis of Assisi School spoke about their instruction on the Holocaust and how it has improved their lives. They were joined by Fred Gross, a Holocaust survivor and educator who has taught hundreds of students over the decades.

“I’ve spoken to school children for the past 25 years, invited by teachers who took it upon themselves to teach the Holocaust,” said Gross. Letters he has received from students tell of lives changed, he said, including the life of a student from St. Francis of Assisi School.

“Since you’ve begun talking to my class, all of your wisdom has already helped me in my day to day life. I know I will carry these teachings with me for the rest of my life,” the letter read.

HB 128 now goes to the full House for consideration.


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Relief bill for ailing school districts clears House panel


 FRANKFORT—A total of $7 million in surplus SEEK funds would go to 12 financially-strapped public school districts to help them make payroll this year under a House proposal.

The $7 million in fiscal year 2017-2018 SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) – the main source of K-12 public education funding in Kentucky—would be loaned to the districts out of an existing but never-before-used state emergency revolving school loan fund account under House Bill 141, sponsored by Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville.

“HB 141 will, I think, be one of the most significant things we do this session,” he told the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee before it voted to approve the bill.

The loans would be limited to $500,000, and would have to be repaid within five years at zero interest, said Carney.

Carney called HB 141 a “short term” solution to the financial issues of the 12 districts, located mostly in Eastern Kentucky. Carney said the districts are “legitimately in a difficult financial situation due to circumstances really outside of their control.”

Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, said his home county of Leslie is losing population along with revenues from unmined minerals due to lower assessments.

“So we appreciate it,” he said of HB 141. “Our future is our kids. We cannot say that enough.”

Rep. Jim Wayne, voted for the bill, saying the state needs more revenue to ensure education needs are met.

“This state is in a major, major crisis situation,” said Wayne, D-Louisville. “It’s important that we not pass a budget unless we have new revenue to address situations like you’re presenting today.”

Any funds not used would go to the state’s permanent pension fund under current law, added House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah.

HB 141 now goes to the full House for its consideration.


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Essential skills bill approved by committee


 FRANKFORT—Showing up to work on time and working well with others are among so-called soft skills that students would be learning in public schools statewide under a new House bill.

House Bill 3, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, would require K-12 schools to incorporate basic workplace etiquette and skills, called “essential skills” in the bill, into their curriculum beginning with the 2019-2020 school year. The bill was approved by the House Education Committee today.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, lauded the approach HB 3 would take to teach basic workplace skills in schools.

“We’ve referred to these as soft skills, essential skills … I’m not so sure they’re not critical skills going forward,” said Tipton.

Essential skills criteria would be developed by the Department of Education in collaboration with other groups, including a Council on Essential Skills that would be created by HB 3. Skills learned would be rewarded with certificates in middle and high school based on set criteria.

One school that has already implemented an essential skills curriculum is Garrard County High School, where Principal Diana Hart said personal responsibility, attendance, academic performance and persistence are among eight main standards that are taught.

“When we work with kids it’s a privilege, and I feel like it’s our moral obligation to make sure they’re ready for whatever is next in life,” said Hart. “We not only want our kids to meet the readiness standards that you guys have set but also to exceed them.”

Garrard County requires students to write resumes, practice interviewing with real employers, apply to colleges and complete other tasks as part of its work ethics certification program, Hart said.

HB 3 would also require the state to work with the new Council on Essential Skills and other groups to develop “age-appropriate” drug prevention and awareness standards for K-12 students. Instruction based on the standards may be delivered through a program developed at the school or district level.

Garrard County has partnered with groups to raise funds for random drug testing for students engaged in extracurricular activities as part of its larger program. But Shell said drug testing is an option under HB 3, not a mandate.

“The drug testing that is talked about in this bill is completely optional,” said Shell. “This is not a mandatory drug testing for any school or any student in the state of Kentucky.”

HB 3 now goes to the full House for consideration.


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