News briefs from around Kentucky at 1:58 a.m. EST

Thursday, February 20, 2014

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Ky. Senate passes bill creating malpractice panels

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A panel of medical experts would review proposed medical malpractice claims against health care providers before they could be pursued in court under a bill the Kentucky Senate passed Wednesday.

The party-line vote in the Republican-led Senate followed a contentious debate on an issue that has drawn powerful interest groups on both sides.

The measure now goes to the Democratic-run House, where it faces a much tougher challenge.

Sen. Julie Denton, the bill’s lead sponsor, said it is meant to speed up the review process and eliminate meritless medical malpractice suits that she claimed are forcing medical providers out of the state.

“This bill is about ensuring that we have access to the best health-care providers possible in our commonwealth,” the Louisville Republican said. “And we are going to lose them, or we are not going to be able to attract them, if we don’t address this issue.”

Democratic Sen. Ray Jones II of Pikeville countered that inserting medical review panels into the medical malpractice process would hurt “the weakest, most vulnerable people in our society.”

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Senate OKs revised felons’ voting rights bill

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at restoring the voting rights of some felons cleared the Kentucky Senate on Wednesday after being rewritten to include a five-year waiting period.

The measure returns to the House. It passed a much different version last month that proposed automatically reinstating voting rights for eligible felons after completing all conditions of their sentences.

The proposal, which cleared the Senate on a 34-4 vote, would go on Kentucky’s fall ballot if it clears the Legislature.

Some senators said they voted for the stricter Senate version in hopes of advancing it toward a better product crafted by House-Senate negotiators. They said the waiting period amounts to another punishment for people who paid their debt to society and should be eligible to vote.

“Why do we want to punish them again, put another five years on them?” said Democratic Sen. Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville.

Senate President Robert Stivers defended the waiting period, saying he couldn’t support automatic restoration of voting rights for people convicted of such crimes as assault and drug trafficking.

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