One of the early high points of each legislative session is the governor’s State of the Commonwealth address, which brings together leaders from all three branches of state government while giving Kentuckians a better idea of the challenges and opportunities facing the state.
Early last week, in his first appearance before a joint meeting of the House and Senate, Governor Andy Beshear focused his remarks on what he has done since being sworn into office six weeks ago and the agenda he hopes legislators will enact into law.
Two of his administration’s biggest accomplishments so far will have a positive impact for years to come. That includes extending voting rights to more than 140,000 Kentuckians with a non-violent felony record who have completed all aspects of their punishment and removing the previous administration’s proposed Medicaid expansion waiver, which would have taken away health insurance from as many as 100,000 otherwise eligible citizens.
In laying out his legislative goals, he noted the bipartisan support for such measures as passing a constitutional amendment so voters could have the chance in November to make restoration of felon voting rights permanent; and capping fast-rising insulin costs for many of Kentucky’s 530,000 diabetics struggling to pay for this life-saving drug.
He also advocated for dedicating any future settlement Kentucky receives from pharmaceutical companies to tackling our devastating opioid epidemic; and he backed legislation to stop surprise medical billing, which occurs when patients are charged for care they would reasonably think would be covered by their health insurance.
Governor Beshear also touched briefly on the budget he will present in a second address later this month. He said it would be education-focused, and a hallmark will be an across-the-board raise for our teachers.
As for projects, he said he would push to speed up the ongoing construction of the Mountain Parkway expansion and build a new I-69 Ohio River bridge in Western Kentucky.
While the governor’s State of the Commonwealth was the main focus of last week’s legislative session, the House did move several noteworthy bills through committee and put them a step closer to becoming law.
That includes adding Kentucky to the list of more than 20 states that have made sports wagering legal. Supporters say this would raise $22.5 million for the state from taxes and license fees, and the bill would allow wagers on professional as well as in-state and out-of-state college sports teams.
Another bill to make it through committee designates the Honor and Remember Flag as the official state emblem recognizing those brave men and women in the US Armed Forces who lost their lives fighting on our country’s behalf. According to testimony at the meeting, more than 11,000 Kentuckians have died in combat since World War I.
It wasn’t tied to any legislation, but the House and Senate came together in a bipartisan way early last week to help children at risk of hunger. My colleagues and I filled about 2,000 bags with non-perishable food that will be distributed by Feeding Kentucky and God’s Food Pantry through the BackPack for Kids Program.
Feeding Kentucky says that as many as 200,000 of Kentucky’s children may not know where their next meal is coming from, underscoring the importance of this type of effort.
As we near the one-fourth point in this year’s 60-day legislative session, the pace of bills being voted on will begin to pick up. That makes it more important than ever that I know your views or concerns.
You can read the text of bills and keep up with their progress by visiting the General Assembly’s website at Legislature.Ky.Gov. You also can email me at email@example.com, and leave a phone message for me or any legislator by calling 1-800-372-7181. That toll-free line is open each weekday through the year and has longer hours when the legislature is meeting.
I hope to hear from you soon, and I will be back next week with another update. Thanks for all you do!