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Beshear: Our Vision Is Working, But Challenges Remain

Josh James

In his eighth and final State of the Commonwealth Address, Gov. Steve Beshear cast Kentucky as a state on the upswing – with momentum in job growth, health coverage, and education. And the chief executive’s prescription for future gains is to “stay the course.”

"Kentucky is back and we're back with a vengeance," Beshear told the joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday.

That applause line came late in the nearly hour-long speech, but the message was sustained throughout, as Beshear touted the state’s manufacturing sector expansion, increased health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and rising graduation rates.

Among his priorities for the current session, the governor called for a comprehensive heroin bill, an offender reentry program prohibiting public agencies and licensing boards from automatically discriminating against applicants with criminal records, and a statewide smoke-free law.

"This is the 21st century," the governor argued. "It's time to accept modern medicine and science, and it's even more time to protect our children and our workers from exposure,"

Beshear also pressed for a bill expanding the role of public private partnerships to include transportation projects, legislation he vetoed in 2014 over a provision barring the use of tolls to fund the Brent-Spence Bridge.

"Kentucky has large gaps in our road and bridge system and federal resources aren't enough to fill those gaps. Using current procurement and financing mechanisms, we are simply not equipped to tackle these mega projects in a timely manner without squeezing out a lot of local projects," he added.

Beshear concluded his address with a plea for collaborative, bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems, a sentiment that earned him kudos from Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers - both of whom credited the executive with fostering a collegial atmosphere in Frankfort during his tenure.

Asked whether the major policy priorities outlined in the speech were feasible, Stumbo answered that many could realistically emerge from this session.

"There's a good chance that probably one, two, three, possibly all could pass. But heroin, dating violence... there's been a lot of work done between the chambers leading up to this session on those two bills, and I think we'll see resolutions on those, " the speaker said.

Stivers, however, took issue with Beshear’s glowing assessment of healthcare reform in the state – questioning the reliability of financial projections cited regarding the state's tab for expanding Medicaid.

"When we get into the session this time next year, what will we have to pay to pick up our tiering or stepping portions of that ten percent that the federal government is full paying for now?" he asked. "There are estimates that it could go as high as $300 million dollars of additional costs to the states."

Still, the governor's remarks praising health reform drew a standing ovation from some Democrats in the chamber. The introduction of new Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen and portions of the speech dealing with heroin legislation generated some of the loudest approval from the chamber. 

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