In final State of the Commonwealth address, Beshear notes accomplishments and lays out agenda for last session

01/07/2015 07:17 PM

UPDATED WITH VIDEO FRANKFORT — Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear urged lawmakers to pass a sweeping agenda that includes curbing heroin abuse, granting dating partners domestic violence protections, implementing a statewide smoking ban and allowing public-private partnerships for transportation projects during his final State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday evening.

The Democratic governor made sure to note that Kentucky has improved in various economic and educational indicators, saying the state is “back with a vengeance.”

But in looking back at the progress made since taking office in December 2007, Beshear said the General Assembly can continue to guide the state forward, in part, by passing a number of initiatives he outlined in his hourlong speech.

“For the last seven years, we have been carrying out a comprehensive strategy to make Kentucky a competitive force in the global marketplace and to improve the lives of our people, both now and for generations to come,” Beshear said to a joint session of the legislature. “And tonight I am inviting you to join with me to move forward on an array of issues that further that strategy.”

Beshear’s legislative agenda for his last session as governor touches a number of areas. Aside from those previously mentioned, Beshear said he will push for a rating program on early childcare facilities, developing a certification program for businesses owned by disabled veteran, banning public agencies and licensing boards from disqualifying job candidates solely on criminal records, requiring booster seats for kids younger than 7 years old and between 40 and 50 inches tall, creating a governing mechanism for a regional development fund as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region effort, and passing a constitutional amendment on local-option sales taxes.

The governor said he’s confident lawmakers of both parties will work with his administration to pass meaningful legislation in the short 30-day session based on past bipartisan compromises in recent years.

“We have fostered a respectful relationship that reaches across political lines, geographic areas and branches of government, and we’ve done so because we have recognized the distinction between campaigning and governing,” Beshear said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers, speaking to reporters after the governor’s remarks, reiterated that they expect to enact bills combating heroin and expanding domestic protections for dating partners. Others mentioned by Beshear, they said, could be on the same path.

“I don’t know how many of those bills will pass, but there’s a good chance that probably one, two, three, maybe possibly all could pass,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “But heroin, dating violence, I think 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.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, echoed the speaker’s comments on heroin and dating violence bills, adding he hopes to see some agreement on telecommunications deregulation and he “will be intrigued” by Beshear’s proposal on offender reentry.

“I could see something happening on (public-private partnerships),” he said.

Beshear’s rosy outlook wasn’t shared by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for governor in May.

The governor singled out Indiana and Tennessee, states Republicans typically point to as lawmakers debate issues like tax reform or right-to-work bills, and said critics “should realize that Tennessee, Indiana and the rest of our neighbors are working hard to be more like Kentucky.”

“I’m looking forward to being the next governor of Kentucky hopefully, but I can tell you, you ask any economic development director on the Tennessee border in Kentucky if we’re a more competitive state than Tennessee and they will say no,” Comer said. “That’s why so many counties on the Tennessee border are passing right-to-work legislation. Counties like Fulton County, which is 90 percent Democrat; counties like Calloway County and Simpson County, majority Democrat counties are passing right-to-work legislation.”

Questions on Medicaid costs

Beshear also said the state will see positive results from his decision to fully embrace the Affordable Care Act by creating the state-based health exchange kynect and expanding Medicaid eligibility, even if detractors express worry at the price tag as the federal government ratchets down its funding for the expansion starting in 2017.

The governor’s mention of the politically divisive federal health law drew Democrats to their feet in applause and left Republicans in their seats in silence.

Beshear painted a rosy picture for an upcoming report from Deloitte, a consultant evaluating Medicaid expansion after its first year. When he issued that executive order in May 2013, he hinged his decision on an estimated $15.6 billion economic impact over eight years.

“From November 2013 to November 2014, the number of core health-services jobs in Kentucky increased by 5,300,” Beshear said, encouraged by Deloitte’s preliminary numbers. “And that pace is accelerating: A little more than half of those new jobs were created just this last October and November alone as ‘kynect’ readied for a second year of enrollment.”

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, who’s vying for his party’s gubernatorial nomination, backs Beshear’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility, calling the political rhetoric surrounding the topic “counterproductive.”

Conway said he’s “eager” to see Deloitte’s report, which Beshear said will be available in the weeks ahead. Part of the $800 million projected budget growth as a result of expansion would need to help pay for the program as the state eventually shoulders 10 percent of its costs, he said.

Ten percent, Conway said, is “still a pretty good deal when it comes to Medicaid.”

“We can figure it out, but I think on the basic issue, the governor’s right,” he said. “If you can bring increased access to health care to over 500,000 Kentuckians, that’s a big deal. That’s a really big deal.”

But Comer, who could face Conway in this fall’s general election, naturally disagreed with Beshear’s stalwart support for the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare by critics. Beshear said hospitals had been scheduled to lose $8 million annually in federal uncompensated care reimbursements, but that move was delayed until 2017. Those facilities have also seen their Medicaid revenues jump $450 million after nine months of expansion, he said.

Comer said he’d heard myriad concerns with Medicaid expansion from about two-thirds of hospital administrators in the state.

“A lot of the providers aren’t getting paid, they’re not getting paid in a timely fashion, and they’re not getting paid a rate that’s even a break-even rate for the services they’re providing to Medicaid,” Comer said.

Beshear’s victory lap

Beshear peppered his State of the Commonwealth address with references Kentucky’s advancements during his two-term administration, calling on legislators to continue that progress this session.

Stumbo said Beshear “earned” the opportunity to trumpet his accomplishments as governor, particularly in leading Kentucky through the recession and helping resolve a number of recent issues like reforming the state’s pension system in 2013.

“Huey Long said he who doth not tooteth his own horn, that horn doth not get tooted,” Stumbo said.

“And the governor had a right to tooteth his own horn tonight. He has done a good job, and the facts bear it out.”

Video from Stumbo-Stivers press conference by Pure Politics anchor Nick Storm.


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