NewsCovering Kentucky


Kentucky Senate leader plans Purdue Pharma settlement probe

Posted at 4:37 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 16:37:21-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate's top leader said Thursday he plans to forge ahead with a proposal calling for an investigation into the state's $24 million settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters that it's uncertain yet who would be assigned to lead the investigation, which would take place against a backdrop of divided government, with a newly elected Democrat in the governor's office and Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislature. Stivers has complained that the state was shortchanged in the settlement — reached by Democratic former Attorney General Jack Conway at the end of 2015, just a few days before he left office.

Stivers on Thursday raised the possibility that the settlement could be revisited, possibly allowing Kentucky to join the ranks of states pursuing a broader national settlement with the drugmaker.

Stivers reaffirmed his plan, announced previously, to introduce a resolution at the start of the 2020 legislative session to launch the investigation.

Purdue Pharma's decision to file for bankruptcy is one of several matters needing to be reviewed, he said.

“Now that the bankruptcy has been filed and we're not going to get part of our money, does that necessarily give us the opportunity to vacate the judgment and agreement, to go possibly into the master settlement where there may be more money?" Stivers said.

Purdue Pharma is in bankruptcy court in an effort to settle an avalanche of lawsuits over opioids. About half of the nation's attorneys general reached a tentative settlement with Purdue Pharma.

Kentucky has been hard hit by deadly addiction problems linked to opioids.

No decision has been made on who would lead the Kentucky investigation, Stivers told reporters.

“We still have some thoughts and theories about whether it should be outside of the political realm in the sense of the attorney general's office, the auditor, the treasurer, or an outside counsel," he said.

The resolution would need approval from both chambers of the Republican-led legislature. House Speaker David Osborne predicted Thursday that it would be supported by House Republicans.

Republicans also have raised questions after about $4 million of the state's Purdue Pharma settlement was paid out to a law firm that Conway later joined as a partner.

A call to Conway at his law office was not immediately returned Thursday.

Earlier this year, Conway said he had been “walled off” from the law firm’s involvement in the case since joining the firm. He said he was “very comfortable that I acted appropriately.”

The legislature's top leaders were at the state Capitol on Thursday for a meeting of the Legislative Research Commission. Afterward, Osborne and Stivers spoke with reporters about several issues expected to come up in the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 7.

Both leaders expressed support for providing the funding to implement a school safety measure passed by lawmakers this year. That measure didn't provide the money needed, pushing the funding decision to 2020, when the legislature will craft a new two-year state budget.

This year's measure was aimed at boosting police protection and school counseling.

The legislation was in response to the January 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. Two students were killed and more than a dozen others were injured.

Stivers and Osborne on Thursday didn't reveal their top priorities for the upcoming session.

Stivers noted that GOP lawmakers face a new dynamic with the election of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who ousted Republican Matt Bevin to usher in an era of divided government.

Early discussions between Beshear and top GOP lawmakers have been “good in tone and substance," Stivers said without revealing what they talked about.

Asked about working with the new governor, Osborne said: “I think that you will find a group of legislators that are ready, willing and excited about going to work with anybody that's ready to move the commonwealth forward."

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, told reporters Thursday that he hopes to see bipartisan cooperation on funding for infrastructure, education and health care. He also predicted broad support for anti-vaping legislation.