FRANKFORT — Gov. Andy Beshear stressed his desire to work together with lawmakers to improve the state in delivering his first State of the Commonwealth address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday night.
“I am proud to report to you tonight that the state of our Commonwealth is strong, coming together, and ready to face our challenges,” Beshear said during his speech.
Some of the challenges mentioned included improving public education, access to health care, the opioid epidemic, domestic violence and families keeping up with their bills.
“We in this Capitol and around Kentucky are responsible for using the power and privilege of office to do right by Kentuckians, to focus our energy not on partisan squabbles but on working together to figure out how to better the Commonwealth that we all love,” he said.
Beshear said while he issued an executive order shortly after taking office which restored voting rights to more than 140,000 Kentuckians who had committed non-violent felonies, “it’s time to pass a constitutional amendment that automatically restores those rights.”
When it comes to job creation, Beshear said, “Our economic approach should be grounded in good-paying, family-supporting jobs across our commonwealth, and not just raising corporate profits. And those good jobs we’re going to create must pay a woman the same as they would a man. In 2020, it’s time equal work results in equal pay.”
On infrastructure Beshear said: “We must focus on completing important projects for families across our commonwealth. It means I’m committed to speeding up the Mountain Parkway project in Eastern Kentucky and building the I-69 bridge to open up western Kentucky.”
“It also means ensuring that every area of Kentucky has clean drinking water. Because our families deserve it and new business demands it. And it means coming together to chart our future to ensure every area of the state has high speed internet.”
Beshear also said, “Let’s pass a state law ensuring no one can lose health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition.”
In addition, he expressed his support for legislation to curb the cost of insulin. “Most bottles of insulin cost just $7 to produce and yet big pharma is charging our people upwards of $300 a vial. It is wrong. It is cruel. We must fight back. There are a number of bills in the legislature right now to curb the costs of insulin. Representative Danny Bentley, a Republican, and Representative Patti Minter, a Democrat, are sponsoring one such bill. Let’s pass it.”
He said there are 530,000 diabetics in Kentucky who are counting on it.
Another health care topic Beshear discussed is legislation that would end surprise billing after a medical procedure.
“Having a loved one in the hospital, going through a procedure, needing emergency services is already hard. Getting an unexpected $10,000 bill is devastating,” he said. “I know nearly everyone here and everyone at home has received one of these bills. My story was receiving a five-figure bill for a procedure and testing my family was told was in network and would be covered.”
Beshear saluted Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s commitment to continue the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, which began when Beshear was attorney general. “Let’s not sugarcoat it. Opioid manufacturers and distributors fueled this crisis. They have the blood of our loved ones on their hands and they must be held responsible and made part of the solution.”
Beshear also repeated his commitment to funding public education, which includes a $2,000 pay raise for teachers, as well as taking care of higher education. “We must end our historic cuts to our universities and community colleges.”
To pay for the additional expenditures, Beshear said new revenue is needed, from expanded gaming. “Rep. Adam Koenig has filed a sports betting bill. I fully support it and we should pass it. But I hope that isn’t the end of the conversation, as all of our neighboring states, most all of them Republican led, have embraced expanded gaming while we are left behind.”
He also wants to tackle criminal justice reform, which he says must do several things:
--Reduce the incarcerated population
--Decrease recidivism and the revocation of probation and parole
--Address the racial bias and racism in the criminal justice system
--Provide meaningful addiction treatment and recovery services.
--Consolidate and not expand state prisons.
“Other states have done this, and they’ve done it while reducing their crime rates,” Beshear said. “ We can do it too, and we should do it together.”
Reacting to the speech, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said they liked the tone of the speech and it was a “very pleasant speech.”
Osborne said while he appreciates the conciliatory tone and bipartisan remarks, “At some point in time you have to move beyond pleasantries and get down to governing. I look forward to a time when we can do that.”
Osborne also did not give passing expanded gaming much of a chance.
“I sponsored every single proposal his dad [former Gov. Steve Beshear] ever came through with, I think. We couldn’t pass it then and I think there is even less support for it now (in the House), and I think even less support in the Senate.”
Work on the budget and how to fund it will begin shortly, as Gov. Beshear will deliver his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Jan. 28.